The chance to shake off some cobwebs, make a positive start to the ACC schedule and wipe away a few bad memories are on the table Saturday when Georgia Tech hosts Pittsburgh.
The game will be Georgia Tech’s first game since Sept. 9. After playing two games in a six-day period, the Yellow Jackets have gone 14 days since taking a meaningful snap. That means the team that will take the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday will be well-rested and as healthy as it will likely be for the remainder of the season.
The Yellow Jackets (1-1) may be getting Pittsburgh at an ideal time. The Panthers (1-2) haven’t settled on who will play quarterback and are reeling from back-to-back blowout losses, and their ever-tough defense is breaking in nine new players who have yet to get their footing. Two weeks ago, Pittsburgh failed to stop the Penn State running game and last week was unsuccessful in slowing the Oklahoma State passing game.
Now it’s Georgia Tech, armed with the triple-option, laced with deception and misdirection. The Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 1 in the nation with 372.5 rushing yards per game and won’t pretend to do anything else.
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“Obviously we’ve played some very talented team,” Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narducci said. “You go from facing probably one of the best passing teams in the country a week ago, you go play the No. 1 rushing team in the country in Georgia Tech. It gets no better.”
The Georgia Tech offense has thrived under first-year quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who has rushed for 296 yards and six touchdowns and thrown for 232 yards and three touchdowns. He would rank second in the nation in passing efficiency if he had enough attempts to qualify.
Marshall and B-back KirVonte Benson (150 yards rushing) were extremely effective running up the middle in the first game. Marshall relied more on the A-backs and the passing game (two touchdown throws to Ricky Jeune, another to J.J. Green) against Jacksonville State.
“TaQuon is an electric guy,” Narduzzi said. “He’s scary.”
Pittsburgh is hopeful that the return of junior safety Jordan Whitehead from a three-game suspension will make a difference. He was the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 and has also been used on occasion to make plays on offense.
“Certainly he’s a good player and he brings another quality athlete on the field for them,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “But from what they do schematically, that’s not going to change anything.”
Pittsburgh’s defense has historically been good against the run. This season the Panthers have allowed 119.7 yards, ranking 40th in the country. Under Narduzzi, the Panthers have held 10 opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing, winning nine of those games.
Georgia Tech certainly owes a measure of payback to Pittsburgh. The past two years, the Panthers kicked a last-minute field goal to win the game — two years ago it was a 56-yarder, and last year it was a 31-yarder at the horn. The late-game disappointments are not lost on the Georgia Tech players.
“It definitely has an impact on us because we lost on a field goal the last two years,” said senior Lance Austin. “One thing we’ve been harping on is just finish — make the little things happen.”
Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech
12:20 p.m., Saturday