Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi didn’t mince words when asked to describe how the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium will affect his team in week two.
“We’ll be prepared and we’ll be ready to go,” Narduzzi said. “Any time we’ve had noise issues, our guys have stepped up and done a nice job. They’ll be prepared for it. It shouldn’t be an issue.”
Calls for Tennessee fans to fill Neyland Stadium for Saturday’s contest began soon after his statement Monday. If Neyland were filled to full capacity of 102,455, it would be the third largest crowd the Panthers have ever played in front of.
Pitt beat UMass 51-7 in week one and now travels to Tennessee to take on a team that matches the Panthers well in terms of raw talent. It’s sure to be a close affair for the Vols when compared to last week’s 38-6 victory against Bowling Green.
The Panthers’ suffocating defense is a big reason why. Pitt‘s pass rush is one of the best in the nation, racking up 97 sacks over the last two years. The dominant group, led by John Petrishen and Calijah Kancey, set that precedent early this season by collecting five sacks in week one.
Starting quarterback Joe Milton III will have to adjust to have success against the Panthers. The Michigan transfer struggled in the pocket against a lackluster Bowling Green pass rush Thursday, especially concerning given the amount of time he had to work with.
The going gets better if Milton can escape the pocket. Pitt’s secondary struggled at times against the UMass squad, and presents the perfect opportunity for a receiver such as Jalin Hyatt to have a bounce-back game after underperforming in week one.
Pitt’s offense performed as expected against a low-level opponent, but also leaves plenty of room for improvement against a Tennessee defense with a lot to prove. Fifth-year senior Kenny Pickett leads the Panthers at quarterback, winning the starting job for the fourth consecutive year.
Pickett is a competitive, seasoned veteran that has experience against teams with talented defensive fronts. Josh Heupel has experience of his own against Pickett from his previous stint at UCF (University of Central Florida).
“I couldn’t believe he is still around,” Heupel said. “He’s got the ability to make plays, and is uniquely able to extend plays. They put a ton of pressure on him, and when I say that, they put the ball in his hands a bunch and trust him (to make the right play).”
Pickett and Milton will headline the third all-time meeting between the storied programs. The Panthers ended on top in both previous match ups.
The Johnny Majors Classic
Former Tennessee and Pitt head coach Johnny Majors played an instrumental role in the history of both schools. Majors first took the job at Pitt after several years at the helm of Iowa State, before leading Tennessee to three conference championships and 12 bowl appearances. Majors returned to Pitt to finish his coaching career after his 16-year stint at Tennessee.
Majors also finished second in Heisman ballots as a player for the Vols in 1956. Following his passing in June of 2020, Pitt and Tennessee came together to commemorate his memory in week two’s matchup.
“It’s unique that Coach Majors had such an impact on both programs,” Heupel said. “As a player and a coach, his legacy lives on here at Tennessee. I think it’s a fitting opportunity to pay tribute to him from both programs.”