Matchup to watch: Boyd vs. Stewart
Two impressive ACC teams square off Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Panthers host the North Carolina Tar Heels. Both teams are undefeated in conference play and will try to stake their claim atop the Coastal division. While there is plenty of talent on both squads, the premier matchup is outside with lauded Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd taking on Tar Heel cornerback M.J. Stewart.
Boyd, a 6-2, 200-pound junior, is a familiar name after becoming the first player in ACC history to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. The 2015 first-team preseason All-American is coming off a career-high 12 catches against Syracuse last week, and is considered by many to be a future first-round NFL draft choice. After being suspended in Week 1, Boyd has been on a tear, grading positively in every game (+11.0 overall grade) this season. Two of his best traits are his body control and route-running knowledge. He has above-average speed and quickness for a player his size and can make contested catches look routine.
Stewart is the highest-graded defensive back (+7.3) for the Tar Heels and is looking to get back on track after being suspended the past two weeks. The 5-11, 200-pound sophomore hauled in three interceptions through the first five games and has really stepped up in his second season in Chapel Hill. He owns the second-best opposing QB rating (12.7) when targeted this year and is well on his way to becoming a shutdown cornerback.
Boyd wins if…
He creates separation and displays great hand strength when hauling in passes. By running precise routes and selling his fakes, he can create large throwing windows in the intermediate passing game. Boyd can get to top speed quickly and is faster than Stewart. To open up a game-changing deep strike, he will need to catch a handful of underneath routes to force the Tar Heels to reduce their cushion.
Stewart wins if…
He plays with strong technique and gets his hands on Boyd. Boyd’s versatility makes him an extremely hard receiver to cover and any cornerback has to be prepared for the full route tree. One advantage Stewart has is his strength. Boyd usually relies on speed and quickness to beat press coverage and if Stewart can jam him at the line of scrimmage, he can throw off the timing of the route. Stewart has shown the ability to be a playmaker with five passes defensed to go along with his three interceptions. If he can maintain these top-notch ball skills, he can prevent Boyd from having a major impact.
Prediction: Boyd over Stewart
Boyd’s production through three seasons speaks for itself, and his savviness and experience will show in this matchup. An aggressive Stewart will get caught out of position more than once, and a touchdown or two are in order for Boyd. The Panthers’ star will carry the offense on his shoulders for a victory at home.