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Schedule Preview: FSU takes on Pitt to kick off November — can Seminoles handle Panthers’ defense?

For just the third time since Pitt joined the ACC, Florida State will face off against the Steel City squad

Peyton Baker/Tomahawk Nation

For just the third time since the Pittsburgh Panthers joined the ACC, Florida State will face off against the Steel City squad.

The two faced off in 2013 — Jameis Winston’s infamous debut where he went 25-27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-13 win — and then once more in 2020 in one of the more unfortunate games of the Mike Norvell era, a 41-17 loss that saw Jordan Travis leave at halftime with an injury and James Blackman booed off the field.

Obviously, on both ends, things are much, much different now.

FSU heads into the year as the No. 8 team in the country and Pitt, who won an ACC title in 2021, has finished the year ranked in the AP Top 25 for two straight seasons as its established itself as a defensive juggernaut within the conference.

With the ACC eliminating divisions starting this season, this game has the chance to determine postseason placements on multiple levels.

Florida State vs. Pitt

Date: November 4, 2023

Location: Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, PA

Previous matchup: 41-17, Pitt win (2020)

All-time series: Pitt leads 6-4

Pitt Panthers: Team Preview

2022 record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)

Two things to know:

  • The Panthers are 20-7 over the last two seasons

Under head coach Pat Narduzzi, Pitt has been pretty consistently average — not too hot, not too cold, averaging 7.75 wins a year — but over the last two seasons, the team has found an elevated level of success. The Panthers won 11 games and an ACC Championship in 2021, fielding a Heisman Trophy candidate in now-Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, winning nine last season but falling short of the ACC Championship Game due to a loss to North Carolina.

  • Pitt returns just five starters on defense

Pitt’s defense was a monster in 2022 — No. 2 in the country in sacks, No. 8 in points allowed per game, No. 4 in total yards, top 25 rankings in tackles for loss, interceptions and a rushing defense that allowed just 98 yards per game (No. 1).

The problem? The majority of that unit has left, including ACC Defensive Player of the Year Calijah Kancey (18 tackles, 13 for loss, 7 sacks).

The counterpoint? Narduzzi is one of the nation’s best defensive minds, and while the defense will feature new faces, they’re not new to the system that has enabled the Panthers to establish themselves as a hard-nosed squad under his tutelage (over 40 sacks in four straight seasons). The defensive line (with plenty of game experience complimenting youth) figures to be plug-and-play and the secondary should still be strong (especially with athletic cornerback M.J. Devonshire holding things down) but the linebacker group, according to camp reports, is the one that will really need to step up to maintain the level of defensive dominance the team has enjoyed.

Three key players:

  • Quarterback Phil Jurkovec

Yes, you’re reading that right — for the third time in five years, FSU will face off against Jurkovec.

And for the third time, he’ll be on a new team.

The first time, in 2018, barely counts as Jurkovec was a backup for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (logging just one carry for 2 yards in a 42-13 win) but the Pittsburgh native, in two games against Florida State as Boston College’s starting quarterback, threw for 250 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions combined in the two losses.

  • Defensive lineman Dayon Hayes

One of the most experienced players on the Panthers’ defense, Hayes is being looked at as the anchor for 2023 and is expected to have a breakout year after finally earning his first start last season in the Sun Bowl vs. UCLA. He logged his best performance of the season — and his career — against Miami, where he logged five tackles (four for loss) and three sacks. He came to the Panthers as a four-star recruit, the No. 12 defensive end in the country according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings, and the coaching staff is hoping this year is the season that he lives up to his lofty expectations.

  • Offensive tackle Matt Goncalves

Part of a trio of returning starters on the line, Goncalves was the lone preseason All-ACC selection on the Panters’ offense. Pitt allowed just 19 sacks last season, and the offense averaged 31.3 points and 406 rushing yards per game. If Pitt is going to be successful in 2023, it’s going to be replicating the tried-and-true Narduzzi formula of a strong rush game and Goncalves figures to be key there.

Florida State vs. Pitt: Game Preview

Best Case

At this point in the season, Florida State should be humming — November is where champions are made, conference or otherwise, and this matchup has a chance to solidify it after an October that should be the most manageable part of the schedule.

FSU’s weapons across the board are too much for the Panthers’ blitz-heavy defense to handle, while the Seminoles’ defensive line makes Jurkovec feel like he’s once again playing behind Boston College’s offensive line in 31-17 game.

Realistic Case

Pitt’s defense, doing what it does best, manages to make FSU sweat through four quarters.

The Panthers, however, are never able to fully take advantage of the tight matchup due to the limitations of the offense and, in a low-scoring affair (think 21-17), a back-and-forth game results in a Seminoles’ defensive stand to secure the win.

Worst Case

It’s not quite fair to call it a “trap” game, given Pitt’s recent success, but with FSU set to face off against Miami the week after, there’s a possibility that an overlook factor combined with the fatigue and wear and tear of the season catches up to Florida State on the road.

Pitt manages to lean on its strengths — the run game and domination in the trenches — to overpower a Florida State squad that can’t quite find a rhythm on either side of the ball. In a frustratingly close game, FSU falls short in an avoidable loss to shutter any high postseason expectations.