5 things to know about Georgia Tech-Pitt

The conclusion of a tumultuous week for Georgia Tech brings a road contest against a team with no desire in doling out consolation. After the firings of coach Geoff Collins and athletic director Todd Stansbury on Monday, the Yellow Jackets will play Pittsburgh at the Panthers’ Acrisure Stadium (formerly known as Heinz Field) on Saturday night. It will be interim coach Brent Key’s first game ever in the top position. Tech is 1-3 and 0-1 in the ACC. Pitt (3-1) will be playing its ACC opener.

“We’re going to prepare for our first ACC game like we’ve got Clemson walking in the door,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “It doesn’t matter who the head coach is. They’ve got a lot of good talent.”

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Here are the five things to consider about Saturday’s game:

Meet the Panthers

Pitt’s record has come all against non-conference opponents. The Panthers have leaned heavily to the run on offense (61/39 run/pass ratio) and depend heavily on running back Israel Abanikanda, who has cleared 100 rushing yards in each of the team’s past three games.

The offense ranks 65th in FBS in total offense at 419 yards per game. The defense ranks 35th at 321.5 yards per game.

“You know where they’re going to be,” Key said of the defense. “You know what they’re going to be playing. Every play on normal downs, first and second down, it all looks the same.”

That is, two safeties deep, two linebackers close to the line behind the defensive line, a third linebacker over a slot receiver, two cornerbacks and four linemen.

Out of that alignment, Pitt uses different blitz packages, rushing as many as six players at the quarterback.

“And the fact that it all looks the same is what is the challenging part of it,” Key said.

The Pitt roster has one former Tech player on it, tight end Dylan Deveney, who transitioned to Pitt during the offseason as a grad transfer. Deveney, one of the initial players whom Collins recruited after his hire in December 2018, has dealt with injury but could play against the Jackets.

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Key joins line

Key becomes the fifth Tech alumnus to ascend to the position of head coach at his alma mater. The first five were William Alexander (1920-44), Bill Fulcher (1972-73), Pepper Rodgers (1974-79) and Bill Curry (1980-86).

“I want to say I’m honored and proud to take responsibility of leading the football team over the next eight games,” Key said. “It’s something I take very seriously as an alum and former football player here at Georgia Tech, so this is a responsibility that I will take very seriously and give everything I have.”

Key was a team captain and an All-ACC offensive linemen playing for coach George O’Leary. In his final season, in 2000, the Jackets were 9-3 and finished 17th in the season-ending AP poll.

Among his first actions as interim head coach was adding the title of special-teams coordinator to linebackers coach Jason Semore, who will be assisted by the rest of the staff. Tech has had four punts blocked in its first four games, one every 6.5 punts. After becoming the interim, Key said he led a 2½-hour staff meeting to address special-teams issues.

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Seeing red

Another area of concern for Tech is its performance inside the red zone. The Jackets were most ineffective there against Central Florida, failing to score on five red-zone trips because of two missed field-goal attempts, two lost fumbles and one turnover on downs.

With four scores in 11 red-one tries this season, Tech is last in FBS in red-zone conversion rate (36.4%). The Jackets were 97th last season at 78.4%.

Not helping is the fact that the Jackets have made two of six field-goal tries, including misses from 25, 32 and 37 yards.

The Jackets may be playing the right opponent in that regard. Pitt has given up 13 scores in its opponents’ 14-red zone possessions (92.9%), including nine touchdowns. That puts the Panthers in 113th in FBS in defensive red-zone efficiency.

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So long

At his weekly news conference, Narduzzi expressed his disappointment over Collins’ dismissal Monday.

The two had been painted as something less than friends after their awkward postgame handshake following Pitt’s win over Tech in 2020 at Bobby Dodd Stadium, when Collins appeared to pull away from Narduzzi’s grip after a cursory exchange.

“It’s never easy,” Narduzzi said of firings. “Geoff Collins is a great guy. I know you (media) guys are going to talk about the handshake, but he’s a good dude. He was mad at the officials. He’s a really good football coach, and you never like to see that happen to anybody, I don’t care who it is, I don’t care what his record is. He’s got a family.”

The two met at the ACC Kickoff in July 2021 and made peace there.

“He’s done a nice job down there in the time he’s been there,” Narduzzi said.

Key will be the third Tech coach that Narduzzi has faced in his eight seasons at Pitt, following Paul Johnson and Collins. He is 6-1 vs. the Jackets.

Numbers not favorable

Tech faces tall odds against the No. 24 Panthers, the defending ACC champions. The Jackets are a 22-point underdog and are given a 9.4% chance of defeating the Panthers, according to ESPN’s metrics.

The Jackets have not defeated a ranked opponent on the road since 2016, when they defeated No. 18 Virginia Tech 30-20 in a game in which Tech was without its starting quarterback, center, right tackle and B-back and was a 14-point underdog. Tech has lost six road games to ranked opponents since then.

During Collins’ tenure, the Jackets were 3-12 in road games.