BTP: It's been a difficult start to the season for the Panthers this year. What's the general feeling around the fanbase about Pat Narduzzi?
AW: I think most are still on board with Narduzzi. He won sixteen games the last two years and also had some pretty big wins during that time, including beating Clemson and Penn State last season. This year has been a train wreck but I think most fans understand he is rebuilding. The Panthers lost a lot of players last year, including five that were selected in the NFL Draft. They also had some early suspensions and just haven't played all that well.
There are certainly a pocket of fans that aren't happy with him but I don't know how you objectively look at the last two years and throw all of that out the window because of a down year where you're replacing an offensive coordinator, starters at quarterback/running back/offensive line, and also your best defensive player. I remain convinced Narduzzi will be fine once he is able to reload and get his own guys on the field in the next couple of seasons.
BTP: What's the current status of Max Browne? Will he be able to play Saturday?
AW: Browne is definitely out for this week and likely out for at least a few weeks. Pitt will turn to backup Ben DiNucci, who is a vastly different player. DiNucci doesn't possess Browne's accuracy but he is considerably more mobile and will at least be able to escape the several sacks a game that Browne takes. I don't know that he's a particularly better option, especially given that Browne had looked decent as of late. But he does bring a little bit of a spark to the offense and probably makes it a little more diverse because of his scrambling ability.
Backing him up is true freshman Kenny Pickett, who the staff seems high on. They were redshirting him this season but when Browne went down, he lost his redshirt after DiNucci lost his helmet at the end of last weekend's game and had to exit. That raised all sorts of questions since it was the last play of the game and a mostly meaningless one since Pitt would have needed a miracle play to get a game-winning touchdown. I maintained (and still do) that the coaches should have been more prepared there and had redshirt freshman Tom MacVittie (the fourth quarterback) come in and take the snap but it's water under the bridge now. With Pickett's redshirt burned and DiNucci a questionable option, I would be stunned if he didn't play the rest of this season and he might play as soon as Saturday if DiNucci struggles.
(WT: After Anson sent me his responses, it was announced that Max Browne is unfortunately done for the year due to injury).
BTP: Who on the Wolfpack gives you the most concern heading into the game?
AW: For me, it all starts with quarterback Ryan Finley. If Pitt is going to win a game like this, they'll probably need some turnovers and good luck getting them from Finley, who hasn't thrown an interception all year. Pitt's pass defense is slowly getting better from the dumpster fire that it was last year but it's going to be heavily tested yet again this weekend.
BTP: What is one matchup you feel that Pitt can best exploit against the Wolfpack?
AW: I don't think it's necessarily something Pitt can exploit, but I'll be watching to see if their defense is able to make plays when they face NC State in the red zone. Both offenses have struggled a little there and are in the bottom 1/3 of the FBS as far as converting those opportunities into points. If Pitt is going to have a chance to come out on top, at the very least, they'll have to get a few 'wins' in the red zone, both offensively and defensively. On defense, they may give up points but holding the Wolfpack to field goals could go a long way to winning the game.
BTP: This is the first time that NC State will have played in Pittsburgh against the Panthers since 1987. What are some local places that Wolfpack fans that are going to the game should hit up ahead of time?
AW: There are a lot of great options on game day for fans traveling to the game. If you're not tailgating, there are several restaurants and bars right near the stadium. Bettis' (Jerome Bettis' restaurant) is a somewhat popular option. There's also a new Southern Tier brewery/restaurant nearby and several other alternatives.
If you've got a lot of time to kill and want to see more of Pittsburgh afterward, head into the Strip District, which is only about ten minutes from the stadium. Lots of restaurant/bar choices there as well and during the day, it's a big marketplace with lots of vendors, etc.
BTP: Any other major injuries to report?
AW: Browne is the big one but it's also extremely difficult to get injury updates out of Pitt. Narduzzi is notoriously tight-lipped about those sorts of things and I chuckled a little when the sideline reporter in last weekend's game essentially said getting info on Browne would be difficult because of that.
One to watch is fullback George Aston. Pitt has missed him most of this year and his absence is one reason the running game has been slowed so much. His status for this weekend is up in the air after not playing last weekend.
BTP: Let's get a prediction. Who walks out of Pittsburgh with a victory on Saturday?
AW: It's hard to pick Pitt in this scenario. The Panthers get the game at home and might get a boost from a nice crowd there for Homecoming but little on paper would suggest the team will win this one - especially without its starting quarterback. Can win? Sure. Anything's possible after beating Clemson on the road last weekend and maybe they catch NC State napping a little. Likely to win? Nah. I'll say something like NC State 34-21.