Standing in the way of Navy and trying to spoil Christmas for everything is a battle tested Pittsburgh Panthers team that cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Here is a look at their credentials.
Season so far
The 8-4 Panthers will bring their own run heavy style to Annapolis and as the fourth best team in the ACC, they will be a force to be reckoned with. The Panthers started the season with a couple of wins over teams they would be expected to beat (Youngstown State and Akron) before losing on a 57-yard field goal as time expired to an Iowa team that went on to become one of the biggest stories in college football this year. The Panthers finished 2-2 in non-conference play after losing to Notre Dame 42-30 later in the season. In conference, the Panthers went 6-2 with wins over the likes of Louisville and Duke to go along with losses to ACC Championship game loser North Carolina and Miami. Interestingly the one triple option team the Panthers faced in 2015 ran them off the field as they gave up 276 yards, three touchdowns and over nine yards per carry in a three-point win over Georgia Tech in the middle of October.
Injuries and Suspensions
It looked for Pittsburgh like their season would be over before it had started after their best player, and 2014 ACC Player of the Year, James Conner tore his MCL in the first game of the year. Conner has since been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and his team has rallied around his uplifting presence as he battles through rounds of chemotherapy. That Pitt was able to put its season back on track given this loss is a testament to the character of the team and the system in which they play.
The biggest challenge here is going to be running the option against an opponent that has had time to prepare. Playing a triple option team on a regular season schedule, with just a week to plan the defense and switch the mindset of players is difficult. It is, however, easier to do the more time that is available to watch film and run practices with a scout team. With that in mind, the Mids may look to throw the ball a little more and bring in one or two wrinkles that Pitt will not have seen on film. If Navy can do this and run the option successfully then the game is very winnable.