The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets eagerly return to the gridiron in week four to open Atlantic Coast Conference play against the Pittsburgh Panthers following the cancellation of their week three inter-conference game against Central Florida due to the effects of Hurricane Irma. In this week’s edition of “In Context”, we will look back at the history of the series between Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, and then make a prediction based on this history.
It may surprise Yellow Jackets fans, since Pittsburgh only recently joined the ACC in 2013, but Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech share a history which dates back a century to Georgia Tech’s first national championship season in 1917. Saturday’s game will be the twelfth meeting all-time between Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, with the Panthers leading the series 7-4-0 and holding a two game winning streak against the Jackets.
The first meeting took place in 1918—, which the Panthers won in a blowout, 32-0. Yet, the two could have met a year earlier, as Georgia Tech’s legendary head coach John Heisman attempted to arrange a meeting in 1917. Heisman’s motivation to play Pittsburgh in 1917 was to force a national championship game, for both the Panthers and Yellow Jackets finished their seasons undefeated at 10-0 and 9-0, respectively. Pittsburgh’s head coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, under whose leadership Pitt became a national power in the 1910s, declined Heisman’s offer and thus the determination of 1917’s national champion would be left to the pollsters. Ultimately, it did not matter: the polls unanimously declared Georgia Tech national champions in 1917.
Prior to the AP Poll Era (i.e., before 1936), Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech met in three consecutive years from 1918 to 1920, with the Panthers winning all three contests. In the AP Poll era, however, the series became more competitive—since 1936, the series is tied at 4-4-0—starting with consecutive bowl game meetings during the 1955 and 1956 seasons: first, the 1956 Sugar Bowl (Tech won, 7-0) and, second, the 1957 Gator Bowl (Tech won, 21-14).
Most Baby Boomer Yellow Jackets fans were introduced to the Pitt-GT series in an unpleasant fashion with double-digit losses to the Panthers in 1974 and 1976. Indeed, some fans may still harbor bitterness over Pittsburgh and eventual Heisman Trophy-winning running back Tony Dorsett’s thrashing of Tech, 42-14 (en route to Pitt’s national title) in 1976.
After 1976, Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh would not meet again for another 37 years until 2013, with Pitt’s joining the ACC. Tech won 2013’s meeting, 21-10, largely due to the Yellow Jackets stingy defense—highlighted by defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu’s two sacks on Pitt quarterback Tom Savage—limiting the Panthers to negative rushing yardage and 228 yards total.
The second meeting as ACC foes in 2014 was the antithesis of what transpired in 2013, with both offenses exploding for over 500 yards each: Georgia Tech won, 56-28. The 2014 meeting has achieved notoriety not for its offensive explosion, but for Pittsburgh’s ball security (or, rather, lack thereof). Pitt’s first six plays from scrimmage alone resulted in four lost fumbles, all of which were capitalized upon by the Tech offense, resulting in Georgia Tech taking a commanding four possession lead in the first quarter.
The past two matchups in 2015 and 2016, however, many Jackets fans will remember in the same (agonizing) vein: that is, Pittsburgh winning on kicker Chris Blewitt’s game-winning field goals, 31-28 and 37-34, respectively. Suffice it to say that it seems that Georgia Tech spent two years’ worth of good fortune for a single quarter of football with Pittsburgh’s four fumbles in six plays in 2014. Panther's fans doubtless see 2015 and 2016 as karma. If that is truly the case, let us hope that 2015 and 2016’s gut-wrenching losses to Pittsburgh repaid that karmic debt in full.
We can draw the following conclusions from the series history between Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. One, in Pittsburgh’s seven wins, they have won by margins as high as 32 points and as low as three points. Two, Pittsburgh has won by at least 10 points four times (in 1918, 1919, 1974 and 1976), whereas Georgia Tech has done such only twice (2013 and 2014). Three, in all four Georgia Tech wins in this series (1956, 1957, 2013 and 2014), they have won by at least seven points. Therefore, if Tech is going to win, history tells us that they will win by at least seven points. However, if Pittsburgh is going to win, history isn’t as clear: it might be a blowout or it might come down to a late field goal.
Historically based prediction: Georgia Tech defeats Pittsburgh by a score of 42 to 24.