At 1-3, Pitt's football team is starting to lose quite a few fans from its bandwagon. Pitt will have a chance to continue efforts to salvage its season against Rice this weekend.
No, a win won't make many feel like the season is getting back on track per se, but a loss here would be catastrophic.
Rice is, in a few words, not very good. Like Pitt the Owls are 1-3 on the season. Their sole victory was against a winless UTEP team. The Owls' 31-14 win over UTEP was also the closest margin of defeat for UTEP all season, so that tells you how bad they are.
Rice's other games? A 62-7 beatdown to Stanford, a 38-3 blowout to Houston, and a 13-7 loss to FIU. The best thing Rice did in those three games was nearly beat FIU - and they themselves lost to Central Florida, 61-7. In other words, the Owls are bad, folks. This should not only be a game Pitt wins, but wins easily.
If there was ever a game that Pitt needed to use to right the ship on offense, it's this one. Things will only get more difficult from here. The Panthers need to go out and use this game to establish an identity on offense. At this point, it's hard to tell exactly what Pitt wants to do on offense. They haven't been able to rush the ball too effectively and they've had an equally difficult time trying to pass the ball. In past years, Pitt's focus has generally been on the run but the Panthers haven't been able to do that all that well with an offensive line that has struggled.
What I'd like to see is Pitt really take some more shots down the field. The Panthers can't afford to take this as a warm-up or practice game but they do need to try to get some guys a little more confidence on offense. Part of the reason the offense has struggled is a lack of involvement of Jester Weah, their best receiver. Weah has been completely taken out of games and, as I wrote recently, Pitt has to find a way to get him involved.
I think it's also important to get Ben DiNucci some confidence. If I'm Pat Narduzzi, I stick with him and try to get him some opportunities to make plays. Playing on the road against a pretty good team isn't the ideal way to break in a new quarterback. And DiNucci also was forced into action against Oklahoma State after the offense struggled with starter Max Browne. This can be a good game to sort of let him get his feet under him before the Panthers get back to ACC play.
Defensively, I really want to see those guys dominate this one. There's just no reason not to. Pitt needs to bring a ton of pressure and get their secondary out there making some plays.
Again, I don't think Pitt is good enough to use any game as a practice. But the Panthers certainly need to win this one comfortably enough that they can get some key players a bit more confidence heading into the rest of the conference games. Much better teams will come along and if Pitt can't win this one easily, it probably won't bode well for the rest of the year.