Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM
North Carolina at Pittsburgh
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A key ACC Coastal contest is lined up for the ESPN game Thursday night with a tight division battle ahead for the right to face Clemson in December.
Here is a look at North Carolina and Pittsburgh, a series with a run of eight consecutive meetings decided by seven or fewer points.
North Carolina Tar Heels at Pittsburgh Panthers
Venue: Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Time/TV: Thursday, November 14, 8:00 p.m. ET ESPN
Line: Pittsburgh -4½, Over/Under 50½
Last Meeting: 2018 at North Carolina (+3) 38, Pittsburgh 35
North Carolina only won once in ACC play last season and oddly enough that victory came vs. Pittsburgh, the 2018 ACC Coastal champion. Mack Brown has brought some life back to the football program in Chapel Hill but ultimately the Tar Heels are just 4-5 with Brown, taking over for Larry Fedora who had a 45-43 record over seven seasons with the program.
The Tar Heels won the ACC Coastal in an 11-3 2015 season, going 8-0 in ACC play before giving Clemson a tough game in the conference championship. Back-to-back 1-7 ACC campaigns the last two years sparked the change however and the 68-year old Brown was a great fit to bring some enthusiasm back to the program. Despite leading the great 2005 national championship team ,his 158-58 run at Texas had grown stale and after being off the sidelines for five seasons and doing TV work, Brown returns to the school that he took from 1-10 to 10-1 in his ten seasons at North Carolina from 1988 to 1997.
Brown’s stature helped the cause in the Tar Heels landing highly regarded freshman quarterback Sam Howell who had originally committed for Florida State. Howell has shown his youth at times this season and is completing just 58 percent of his passes, but with 26 touchdowns and only five interceptions while also providing a flare for the dramatic on the big stage, leading comeback wins in his first two games.
While only 4-5 overall, the Tar Heels have three ACC wins and split a pair of difficult non-conference games. They also had to play Clemson unlike most Coastal teams, and didn’t just play the defending national champions, they put a big scare into the national playoff race by falling a two-point conversion short of the upset. All five losses for North Carolina have come by seven or fewer points including a six-OT loss to Virginia Tech but three of the four wins have come by four or fewer points.
Pittsburgh is 3-2 in the ACC but like North Carolina, one of those losses is to Virginia, who at worst will finish 5-3. Multi-team tiebreaker scenarios are possible if Virginia Tech winds up beating Virginia and the Panthers have a shot to win the division outright in that scenario if they can win out, drawing the Hokies next week. Pittsburgh was a surprise Coastal champion despite being 3-4 in mid-October last season having lost three non-conference games. A 1-2 start this season has also been erased as Pittsburgh will be back in the postseason.
Pat Narduzzi has gone 34-27 in now his fifth season at Pittsburgh, coming from several years as a defensive assistant at Michigan State. The Panthers might have trouble filling the seats Thursday night despite having another successful season as the shared tenant at Heinz Field has a national TV game as the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Cleveland Browns.
Only Clemson has allowed fewer points than Pittsburgh in ACC play this season with just 106 surrendered but that is also the exact amount the Panthers have scored. North Carolina, with one additional game under its belt, has scored 178 points but has allowed 166. North Carolina ranks 29th nationally posting 446 yards per game while gaining a full yard more per play than Pittsburgh.
Neither team has rushed the ball very effectively this season but the Panthers stand out on run defense, eighth nationally allowing just over 91 yards per game, while sixth nationally allowing just 2.8 yards per rush for a dramatic improvement compared to last season. Even as the rushing ability of the offense has declined, Pittsburgh has out-gained six different foes by at least 70 rushing yards including three straight ACC foes. The Panthers are also third nationally behind Wisconsin and Clemson in holding opposing quarterbacks to just over 48 percent completions.
The Pittsburgh offense is led by junior Kenny Pickett who has modest numbers in managing this offense. In ACC play he has thrown eight interceptions in five games but ultimately has been a winner for the program and he sat out the FCS win over Delaware to miss an opportunity to improve his totals. Pittsburgh has lost twice at home this season however and in four of five Heinz field games the Panthers haven’t even topped 20 points.
Pittsburgh is 6-2 ATS in FBS games this season and despite the modest offensive numbers they Panthers haven’t lost the yardage battle in any game since the season opening loss to Virginia in August. North Carolina will still be favored to get to 6-6 and a bowl bid even with a loss this week as they face FCS Mercer next before a winnable rivalry game down the road at NC State. Neither team played last week as both teams should have good preparation in order for this showcase opportunity.
North Carolina is 8-2 S/U & ATS in this series going back to 1982 and is 6-0 S/U and 5-1 ATS in the six consecutive meetings as ACC division foes. All six of those games and eight consecutive games between these teams including a 2009 bowl game have been decided by seven or fewer points.
This game occurred in late September and was the first home game for North Carolina, who started 0-2 last season. The Tar Heels were supposed to host UCF the previous week but that game was cancelled due to the storm. Pittsburgh won its ACC opener the previous week over Georgia Tech to shake off a 51-6 loss to Penn State and the trip to Chapel Hill was the team’s first road game of the season. The Panthers led 28-21 at halftime but North Carolina scored 17 points in the third quarter to take control. Pittsburgh climbed within three with a late touchdown but never got the ball back as the slight home underdog got the win. Pittsburgh had a rushing edge in the game but the Tar Heels gained 10.1 yards per pass attempt behind Nathan Elliott.
North Carolina Trends:
The October win at Georgia Tech is the only road win for North Carolina the past two years with the previous win at Pittsburgh in 2017, 34-31. North Carolina is 3-11 S/U and 6-7-1 ATS on the road since the start of the 2017 season, going 1-2 S/U and ATS this season. North Carolina is on an 11-4-1 ATS run in the past 16 games as an underdog including going 3-1 getting points this season.
Pittsburgh is 21-10 S/U at home under Narduzzi since 2015 but just 12-18-1 ATS including a 4-12-1 ATS record as a home favorite. The Panthers are 2-3-1 ATS as a favorite of seven or fewer points at home under Narduzzi as this is a surprisingly unusual price in recent years at Heinz Field, with Pittsburgh an underdog in nearly half of its home games the past four seasons. Since last November Pittsburgh is on a 5-2 ATS run as a favorite however to break a losing run for much of the previous few years.