In his first two years at Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi returned the Panthers to respectability, but so far into his third season at the helm, his offense has sputtered and the defense remains a sore spot. Pittsburgh will try to snap its first three-game losing streak since 2014 when struggling Rice of Conference USA visits Saturday in a non-conference contest.
The Panthers entered 2017 with consecutive eight-win seasons for the first time since 2009-10, but they lost to highly-ranked Penn State and Oklahoma State by a combined 57 points after an opening the campaign with a win over Youngstown State. Last week, despite recovering four Georgia Tech fumbles, the defense yielded 436 rushing yards in a 35-17 loss. Pitt quarterbacks Max Browne and Ben DiNucci have failed to lead an offense that averaged 40.9 points last season with Nathan Peterman under center. Rice sandwiched a 31-14 win over UTEP on Sept. 9 around losses to Stanford and Houston by a combined score of 100-10 before dropping a 13-7 decision to Florida International last week.
TV: Noon ET, ACC Network. LINE: Pittsburgh -20.
ABOUT RICE (1-3): Through four contests, the Owls rank 119th in FBS in total offense (292 yards per game) and 122nd in passing offense (121.8). Jackson Tyner, who started against FIU in place of the injured Sam Glaesmann (shoulder), completed 15-of-26 passes for 131 yards and ran for a touchdown. Running back Samuel Stewart leads the team in rushing (191 yards) and receptions (10 for 109 yards), but freshman wideout Aaron Cephus is the lone receiver to surpass 100 yards for the season (133) and has the only TD reception. Linebacker Brian Womac had two of the Owls’ five sacks last week and cornerback Justin Bickham snared the first interception of the season for a defense that yields 274.5 yards through the air and 410 total yards per outing.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (1-3): The Panthers, who rank 111th in FBS in scoring (20 points per game), were held to just 37 rushing yards – their lowest output in nearly four years - and converted 1-of-13 tries on third down against the Yellow Jackets. DiNucci got the start at quarterback for the first time this season and completed 12-of-19 passes for 110 yards before Browne took over in the fourth and completed 10-of-15 for 89 yards; the duo has combined for three TD passes and four interceptions this season. A defense that surrendered 35.2 points per game last season is giving up 37 points and 472.5 yards a contest in 2017, but versatile junior safety Jordan Whitehead made his season debut last week, recorded seven tackles, recovered a fumble and ran the ball once for 35 yards.
1. Rice leads the all-time series 2-0, but the schools have not met since 1951.
2. Pittsburgh is off to its first 1-3 start since 2005.
3. Panthers P Ryan Winslow is fourth in FBS averaging 47.3 yards per punt and unleashed four punts that traveled over 50 yards last week.
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 31, Rice 17