Sorry for the wait on this one guys, but here we are, meeting again as our Panthers are set to take the field against what appears to be an inferior opponent; the Rice Owls.
Rice at a Glance:
PPG for/against: 12F/31.8A
Leading Passer: Jackson Tyner (241 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception) and Sam Glaesmann (229 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions)
Leading Rusher: Samuel Stewart (44 carries, 191 yards, 0 touchdowns)
Leading Receiver: Aaron Cephus (7 receptions, 133 yards, 1 touchdown) and Samuel Stewart (10 receptions, 109 yards, 0 touchdowns)
How inferior are they? I’m not quite sure, but I know that after the prior three weeks, what should be a good feeling about this game, is just absent. Let me introduce myself as a Newfound Pessimist over a (-22) line in favor of Pitt.
Yeah sure, it is Rice, a school steeped in an academic tradition, but what has Pitt really proven this season that suggests they will win outright? Nothing, Pitt has proven nothing this season and I really feel this game will fall right into line with that 2017 tradition of just looking pathetic.
As it stands, it appears Pitt will turn back to Max Browne being the man under center, at least to start the game. That’s really the right call in this case and it’s easy, neither has shown anything to rave about, but it’s clear that Browne has the stronger arm that the coaches trust. The mind is the other factor in this case. Hopefully the synapses connect to provide a game on offense we all will still be down on the following week.
This week is do-or-die for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. If the pieces don’t fit after this week, there is no fathomable way he returns to stand absent in front of the media. I fully mean that, if Pitt is unable to break through this week and put 40 offensive points on the board, he is out.
Also, this must be the week they get Quadree Henderson incorporated into the passing game. I said it the last two weeks, and clearly it hasn’t changed. Not that my voice serves as a master to disciple, but I think it is obvious the need to get him the ball, outside of the sweeps. Those just aren’t working. I gushed about Maurice Ffrench last week and I hold true, when he is able to keep his feet, he is the better option to run the sweeps over Henderson.
Players like Jester Weah, Aaron Mathews and Reuben Flowers III should be able to feast on the outside. Against Stanford in a game that both teams traveled to Australia to play, the Rice secondary surrendered 369 yards passing. They were deep, down the sideline throws, ones that Browne can throw, just hopefully not 17 yards out-of-bounds.
In their game against Houston, Rice only mustered three points while Houston racked up 38, all in the first half. While they didn’t score in the second half, Houston ran into some trouble with the adjustments Rice made at the half. Houston quarterback Kyle Allen’s first half efficiencies went out the door and the team faltered, clearly just on the offensive side of the ball.
Not to be outdone, their rush defense has been horrendous, too. Against Stanford, the Owls gave up 8.0/yards per carry to finish the game off by surrendering 287 yards and five touchdowns. Almost Steeler-esque. I like the opportunity for AJ Davis to finally get his hands on the ball and do a lot of the running in the second half with Chawntez Moss and Qadree Ollison starting the game as the bell-cows.
Let’s not forget that Pitt will have George Aston back in the fold, who claims he is/has been the strongest player on the team since the day he walked on the field. There’s not much to suggest otherwise. Aston could make the biggest overall difference in the game.
To be honest, there is really no way to elaborate on the Owl’s offense. While Pitt hasn’t quite been a juggernaut this season, the Owls have been worse; even with their 38-point outburst against UTEP. We all too familiarly understand bad offense in 2017, if those woes continue, it could be a very boring, 12-hour game with 138 punts.
However, what does worry me a tad is Rice’s use of the running back as a receiver. Does anyone remember that Youngstown State game? The wheel route, thing of beauty, wasn’t it?
That’s the sort of thing we should expect in this game as well. Rice will be able to seclude a linebacker on their back, and when done right, will slice our linebackers for big numbers across the middle. It doesn’t take the talent of Saquon Barkley to do that, it’s any sort of talent. It’s also a big reason as to why Henry Miller will be moving up 7 yards to join the linebackers from his safety position.
Pitt will need to be more athletic on the defensive front to put less pressure on the backers to make instinctive reads rather than the right reads. Rashad Weaver will be a big part of that plan along with Kam Carter who was absent from last week’s game.
If you caught me in the act on Twitter(@clogue_32), I thought Kam was going to have a huge game and play a significant role in the defense containing the run last week, only to have him not be on the travel roster announced two minutes later.
We will see a couple of things happen for the first time in the game. I like the ability of Damar Hamlin to get his first career interception in the Blue/Gold. Pat Narduzzi specified Hamlin as being one of the players, along with Jalen Williams, to have wholly improved from the beginning of the season until now.
The second thing we see happen for the first time is a quarterback throw for multiple touchdowns. A big feat on a normal day, not at all, but with the status of the team, it will be huge for a lot of player’s confidence. Jester Weah being the biggest of them all. Max Browne gets the start and will hold on to the ‘starter’ label for the next week at Syracuse.
Chris Logue – I have picked Pitt to win in three-of-four games this season and have been made a fool in two of those. What it has been so far this season is Pitt is inferior against teams that pepper the ball down the field and also the same against teams that like to train their way to the end-zone.
While it automatically suggests the defense is the problem, the offense must do its part in making sure the D isn’t out on the field every three minutes. That’s why I like Pitt in this game; they will finally own the time of possession and give our defense a much-needed rest. Pitt takes this one 47-24.
Reed Kohberger – I’m in a hurry and will predict this evening… but if I was betting I’d sure take Rice and the points.