Pittsburgh (2-1, 0-0 ACC) will be taking on Rhode Island (2-1, 1-1 CAA) in its last non-conference football game of the season at home this Saturday. The Panthers will then play eight straight ACC games to end the regular season. Pittsburgh is 19-1 lifetime against FCS opponents. This is the first time that Pittsburgh has played Rhode Island on the football field. Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi is a graduate of Rhode Island (1990) and was a three-year starter at linebacker (1987-1989). The Panthers have been battling injuries on both sides of the football since the start of the season. Pittsburgh beat Western Michigan last week on the road 34-13. Rhode Island lost it’s first game of the season to Delaware last week by a score of 42-21.
Pittsburgh is currently ranked as the No. 24 team in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll this week. The Panthers fell out of the Coaches Top 25 poll somehow after winning last week on the road with its Nate Yarnell, its third-string quarterback. Pittsburgh’s starting lineups on Saturday, both offense and defense, will most likely look different from the one that was released on Monday. Pittsburgh has suffered injuries in every game it’s played so far this season. The Panthers may be able to afford to rest some of those athletes who are recovering from injuries and not have them play against Rhode Island. Pat Narduzzi doesn’t give any information about player’s and injuries, so everyone will find out on game day.
Here is a look at the key players at each position for both Pittsburgh and Rhode Island.
Kedon Slovis | Senior | 6-3 | 215
Nate Yarnell | Redshirt Freshman | 6-6 | 215
Slovis is listed as the starter, but it was Nate Yarnell who played against Western Michigan last week. Yarnell completed 9-of-12 passes for 179 yards and one touchdown in a 34-13 win for the Panthers. Let’s not forget Nick Patti, who originally replaced Slovis in the second-half against Tennessee in Week 2 and hasn’t returned since due to an undisclosed injury.
RHODE ISLAND QUARTERBACKS
Kasim Hill | Redshirt Senior | 6-2 | 234
Hill completed 16-of-37 passes for 179 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a loss against Delaware last week. He was also sacked twice.
PITTSBURGH RUNNING BACKS
Israel Abanikanda | Junior | 5-11 | 215
Abanikanda carried the football 31 times for 133 yards (4.3 ypc.) and one touchdown against Western Michigan.
Rodney Hammond | Sophomore | 5-9 | 200
Hammond did not play against Western Michigan.
Vincent Davis| Senior | 5-8 | 180
Davis carried the football 11 times for 83 yards (7.5 ypc.) last week.
RHODE ISLAND RUNNING BACKS
Jaylen Smith | Sophomore | 5-10 | 205
Smith had a rough time trying to run the ball against Delaware last week. HE carried the football seven times for 27 yards.
PITTSBURGH WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Konata Mumpfield | Sophomore | 6-1 | 180
Mumpfield caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown last week.
Jared Wayne | Senior | 6-3 | 210
Wayne caught three passes for 94 yards against Western Michigan. He did not return to play in the second-half.
Bub Means | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-2 | 215
Starter: Gavin Bartholomew | Sophomore | 6-5 | 255
Bartholomew caught one pass for 37 yards last week.
RHODE ISLAND WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Ed Lee | Redshirt Senior | 5-10 | 185
Lee caught four passes for 43 yards last week against Delaware.
Kahtero Summers | Graduate Senior | 6-3 | 213
Summers caught five passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns last week.
John Erby | Redshirt Sophomore | 5-10 | 185
Caleb Warren (TE) | Senior | 6-3 | 245
Warren caught three passes for 32 yards last week.
PITTSBURGH OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Carter Warren | Senior |6-5 | 325
Marcus Minor | Senior+ | 6-4 | 325
Owen Drexel | Senior+| 6-3 | 305
Jake Kradel | Redshirt Senior | 6-3 | 305
Gabe Houy | Senior+ | 6-6 | 325 or Matt Goncalves | Junior* | 6-6 | 315
RHODE ISLAND OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
Sebastian Delasoudas | Redshirt Junior | 6-2 | 305
Ajani Cornelius | Sophomore | 6-5 | 310
Nick Correia | Redshirt Junior | 6-6 | 330
Michael Scibelli | Redshirt Junior | 6-3 | 290
Lorenzo Thompson | Redshirt Junior | 6-7 | 295
PITTSBURGH DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Starter: Habakkuk Baldonado | Redshirt Senior | 6-5 | 260
Baldanado made three total tackles (two solo) last week against Western Michigan.
Starter: Deslin Alexandre | Senior+ | 6-4 | 275 or John Morgan III | Senior* | 6-2 | 265
Alexandre did not play in Pitt’s past two games.
Starter: David Green | Redshirt Senior | 6-1 | 280 or Devin Danielson | Redshirt Senior | 6-2 | 300
Green made two total tackles last week. Danielson did not make the trip to Western Michigan.
Starter: Calijah Kancey | Redshirt Junior | 6-0 | 280
Kancey made three total tackles, all solo, against Western Michigan.
RHODE ISLAND DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
James Makszin | Redshirt Junior | 6-3 | 290
Makszin made four total tackles against Delaware last weekend.
Malachi Burby | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-3 | 265
Westley Neal. Jr. | Sophomore | 6-0 | 315
Starter: Bangally Kamara | Junior | 6-2 | 225
Kamara made two tackles last week.
Starter: Sirvocea Dennis | Senior | 6-1 | 230
Dennis made three total tackles (all solo) and sacked the quarterback once last week.
Starter: Shayne Simon | Redshirt Senio | 6-3 | 235
Brandon George made four total tackles and deflected a pass against Western Michigan last week.
RHODE ISLAND LINEBACKERS
A.J. Pena | Freshman | 6-2 | 235
Jake Fire | Redshirt Senior | 5-11 | 230
Fire made 10 total tackles (seven solo) last week.
Evan Stewart | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-0 | 225
Stewart lead the team in tackles against Delaware last week with 13 total (eight solo).
Henry Yianakopolos | Redshirt Senior | 6-1 | 225 (safety)
Yianakopolos made three total tackles last week.
PITTSBURGH DEFENSIVE BACKS
Brandon Hill | Redshirt Junior | 5-11 | 195
Hill made three total tackles last week against Western Michigan.
Erick Hallett | Redshirt Senior | 5-11 | 195
Hallett made two tackles and intercepted two passes last weekend.
A.J. Woods | Senior | 5-11 | 195
Woods made three total tackles and broke up one pass last week.
Marquis Williams| Redshirt Senior | 5-9 | 180
Williams had a pick-six against Western Michigan. He sat out the second-half due to an undisclosed injury.
RHODE ISLAND DEFENSIVE BACKS
Antonio Carter II | Redshirt Sophomore | 6-1 | 200
Carter made eight total tackles (four solo) last week.
Jordan Jones | Redshirt Senior | 6-0 | 180
Jones made three total tackles last week against Delaware.
Malik Gavek | Redshirt Senior | 5-10 | 195
Gavik made six total tackles (four solo) last week.
Oneil Robinson | Senior | 6-2 | 203
Robinson made six total tackles (three solo) last week.
Kicker Ben Sauls leads Pittsburgh in scoring through the first three games with 27 points. Sauls has made 5-of-8 field goals and has made all of his extra-points. He hit a career-long 48-yard field goal against Western Michigan last week. Sauls, who is the kickoff specialist, has 12 touchbacks on 0n 20 kickoffs. Punter Sam Vander Haar is averaging 40.0 yards on nine punts so far this season. Israel Abanikanda has returned seven kickoffs for 134 yards.
Ed Lee has returned five punts for 93 yards. Randy Jordan has returned six kickoffs for 187 yards (31.17 yards per return). Davey Schaum-Bartocci is averaging 42.1 yards per punt (12 punts for 505 yards). Kicker Michael Debolt has not made any field goals this season.
PITTSBURGH ON OFFENSE: BY THE NUMBERS
Israel Abanikanda leads the ACC in rushing (64 carries for 304 yards and two touchdowns). Abanikanda has also rushed for over 100 yards in each of the past two games. According to the PittsburghPanthers.com, he is the first Pittsburgh player to log back-to-back 100-yard games since Darrin Hall in 2018. Abanikanda’s emergence during the past two games has helped the Panthers offense in both a close loss to Tennessee and a late blowout win over Western Michigan. Pittsburgh accumulated 417 total yards (Passing-179 and Rushing – 238) last week against Western Michigan. Pittsburgh is averaging 33 points per game and 405 yards per game of total offense (151.7 rushing yards per game and 253.7 yards per game passing). The Panthers have converted 14-of-40 third-down attempts (35%). Jared Wayne (13 catches for 265 yards and one touchdown) and Konata Mumpfield (12 catches for 140 yards and one touchdown) lead the Panthers in receiving.
PITTSBURGH ON DEFENSE: BY THE NUMBERS
After giving up a ton of yardage to West Virginia in the season-opener, Pittsburgh has held its last two opponents (Tennessee and Western Michigan) to less than 100 yards. The Panthers currently lead the ACC in defensive touchdowns with two. Pittsburgh is currently averaging 2.67 sacks per game (4th in the ACC and 27th nationally). They currently are ranked No. 18 nationally and No. 4 in the ACC with seven turnovers (four interceptions and three fumbles). Western Michigan was held to 180 total yards and gained only 10 first downs about Pittsburgh last week. Pittsburgh is allowing opponents 26.0 points per game so far this season. SirVocea Dennis leads the Pittsburgh in total tackles (20). Brandon Hill (19 total tackles) and Bangally Kamara (18 total tackles) are right behind him. Dennis also leads Pittsburgh in total sacks with 2.5.
RHODE ISLAND ON OFFENSE: BY THE NUMBERS
Rhode Island is averaging 30.33 points per game. Offensively, they are averaging 396.0 yards of total offense per game (161 yards per game rushing and 235.0 yards per game passing). They’ve converted 14-of-32 third-down attempts and have scored seven touchdowns in the red-zone (13 attempts). Kaseem Hill has completed 47-of-89 passes for 705 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions in the first three games. Jaylen Smith (29 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns) and Marques DeShields (32 carries for 185 yards and two touchdowns) lead Rhode Island’s rushing attack. Ed Lee (15 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns) and Kahtero Summers (11 catches for 191 yards and three touchdowns) are Rhode Island’s leading wide receivers.
RHODE ISLAND ON DEFENSE: BY THE NUMBERS
Rhode Island is giving up 25.67 points per game this season. Opponents have averaged 374.7 total yards per game on offense (130.3 yards per game rushing and 244.33 yards per game passing). Rhode Island held opponents to 14 total points in the second-half of their first three games. Jake First leads the Rams in total tackles with 17. AJ Pena leads the team in sacks with 3.5. Rhode Island gave up 610 total yards (379 passing yards) to Delaware last week.
THREE KEYS TO A PITTSBURGH VICTORY OVER RHODE ISLAND
1. STAY IN BUSINESS MODE, PUT RHODE ISLAND AWAY EARLY
On paper, this should be a blowout win for Pittsburgh. The Panthers need to establish their dominance early and don’t allow Rhode Island to gain any confidence on either side of the football. It would be easy for Pittsburgh to take Rhode Island lightly. I’m expecting Pittsburgh to come out swinging from the opening kickoff and put away Rhode Island early. That’ll allow the Panthers to play some of the reserve players and get them some in-game experience.
2. ESTABLISH THE RUN TO SET UP THE PASSING GAME AGAIN
Israel Abanikanda is currently leading the ACC in rushing. Stick to the script and keep feeding him and whomever else is in the backfield for Pitt. They’ve had success running the football in the last couple of games and should this week against Rhode Island. Regardless of who is at quarterback for Pittsburgh this week, the Panthers should be able to exploit a Rhode Island secondary that gave up over 350-plus passing yards to Delaware last week.
3. PUT PRESSURE ON DELAWARE QUARTERBACK KASIM HILL
Pittsburgh should be able to shut down Rhode Island’s running game and make them one-dimensional at some point on Saturday. I don’t think the Rams have the playmakers to make the Panthers worry too much about giving up big plays downfield. I expect SirVocea Dennis, Calijah Kancey, and the rest of Pittsburgh’s defense to make life hard for Hill in the pocket.
There isn’t a betting line on this game, but I’m taking Pittsburgh to win by a very big margin on Saturday.
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