First, I would like to congratulate the #6 Pitt Women’s Volleyball team for defeating the #10 Oregon Ducks on Wednesday night in four sets. That folks, is what athletic excellence should look like. Enjoy these highlights and Hail to Pitt.
Second, Pitt Football’s Tre Tipton (WR, Apollo Ridge HS) was named to the AllState AFCA Goodworks Team.
Tipton is one of 22 players nationwide named to this year’s team, which was selected from a pool of 137 nominees by an esteemed panel of judges, including ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit and former Florida Gators and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.
As a reward for being named to the team, Tipton will be invited to the 2020 Allstate Sugar Bowl to join Tebow and Allstate volunteers to give back to New Orleans through a special community service project. Allstate will recognize the team during the halftime show.
Not too shabby. Tipton’s perseverance in the face of adversity has certainly paid off.
Most importantly, you should vote for him to be named Captain by clicking this link. You can vote once per day, so get out there and vote for this outstanding Pitt Man. And do it more than once!
Okay now lets talk some Pitt-Penn State.
A little hope can be a dangerous thing.
I could feel myself starting to believe this past week, starting to believe we might win. And there were so many ways I could convince myself: Penn State really hasn’t played anybody. They showed some weakness against Buffalo. They have a redshirt freshman quarterback and questions on the offensive line. They gave up over 400 yards of offense to the Buffalo Bulls. Sure they hung 79 on Idaho, but Idaho sucks. Our defense is really good. Texas Panther has been posting uncharacteristically positive things… Yes, there were plenty of good reasons to believe we could win.
But hope, as pleasant a feeling as it might be, is not a strategy, and as I listened to Chris Peak’s Pantherlair Podcast today on the ride home yesterday, I was brought back to reality.
Did you know that Pitt hasn’t scored a second half touchdown since Wake Forest? Did you know that by the time the Penn State game rolls around that will be 301 days since Pitt has scored after halftime? Yes there is an offseason in there but for the love of God, 301 Days! Take the offseason out and that’s still five full football games. That’s ten full second half quarters across two different offensive coordinators where Pitt has been held scoreless.
If that doesn’t scare the hope out of you, I don’t know what will.
But lets say that you are still optimistic. That is great. That is really good for you. There are plenty more metrics that will cut you down. ESPN FPI is one. It’s a broad measure of team power. Pitt is ranked 63. Penn State is ranked 5. ESPN gives Pitt a 6.3% chance of success.
Still clinging to a shred of hope? Are you familiar with Jeff Sagarin’s football ratings? Sagarin is an MIT mathematician (okay well he only has a bachelor’s but still…) who’s been doing statistical power ranking for USA Today since 1985. He gives Pitt an overall ranking of of 75.58 (Good for 41st in the country). Penn State? 89.27 (9th…). Oh yea, Sagarin also says you should add +3 points for home field advantage. That bumps Penn State to 92.27. For reference he gives Ohio a 70.00 (#67) and Virginia and 82.70 (#22). So far, so good for Mr. Sagarin.
So yes Pitt faithful, despite all the positive momentum, it would be wise to keep your expectations low on Saturday. Very low. A win in Happy Valley would be an upset of epic proportions.
And yet, in college football upsets do happen, although probably less than 6.3% of the time. And that, coupled with our undying (and completely irrational) love for the Pitt Panthers is why we will watch the game, perhaps even in person.
So what should we be looking for? I’ll compare the teams unit-for-unit for your reading pleasure.
It all starts in the trenches…
Pitt’s Defensive Line vs. Penn State’s Offensive Line: The success of Pitt’s defensive line is well documented. They are coming off a six-sack performance vs. Ohio, and they also accounted for three sacks and many pressures vs. Virginia. You’d have to think Penn State will be a sterner test than either. Idaho (who dropped to FCS a couple of years ago) notched six Tackles For Loss (TFL), but no sacks and just one QB hurry. Buffalo (#94 in the Sagarin ratings, FYI) sacked the Penn State Quarterback three times and accounted for seven TFL. If you listen to Peak’s podcast, his PSU counterpart claims that most of PSU’s protection breakdowns came when the Nitters were playing their second string guys. Did they? Because I see a couple of inexperienced dudes up front for the Lions. Left Tackle Rasheed Walker is a true Sophomore who played only three games on offense last year. You have to expect he can be taken advantage of. Oh and PSU’s starting Right Guard Position seems to be up for grabs. It’s a battle between Redshirt Sophomore CJ Thorpe (who played some on the OL last year before being moved to the defensive line mid-season, and then back to offensive line) and Redshirt Sophomore Mike Miranda, who started one game last year. The fact that neither has seized the starting job is telling. Pitt will likely need to attack these two weak points in order to get pressure, but they should have the personal and the scheme to be able to do it. Advantage Pitt.
Pitt’s Offensive Line vs. Penn State’s Defensive Line: While Penn State is breaking in two new starters on the OL, Pitt is breaking in four, and based on what we’ve seen through two games, the break-in process is by no means over. Pitt has given up five sacks and 15 hurries this season. Penn State has generated eight sacks and 15 hurries. They’ve also accounted for 21 TFL. We know Penn State has talent up front, and we know that 80% of the Pitt offensive line is still learning. If Penn State’s DL shows up, it’s probably going to be a long day for Pitt. Advantage Penn State.
Penn State’s Running Game vs. Pitt’s Front Seven: Well, we know that PSU’s offensive line is still a work in progress (well at least 40% of it is). We also know that State ran for only 78 yards against the Buffalo Bulls. On the other hand they ran for 331 vs Idaho. But…Idaho. Meanwhile Pitt is tied for #24 in rush defense nationally. They shut down Ohio, who is a pretty good running team, and until the end of the game they pretty much held Virginia in check. Pitt’s linebacking corps is fast and deep. Pitt’s linemen are pretty good at playing the run. Penn Sate still doesn’t have an answer at running back. I’m going to go ahead and say Advantage Pitt.
Pitt’s Running Game vs. Penn State’s Front Seven: Pitt’s offensive line has literally had two series in two games where they consistently opened some running lanes. That is not a good thing. Pitt does seem to have found two running backs who can play in Davis & Davis (AJ and Vincent), but… running against Ohio is not the same as running against Penn State. Did I mention Penn State has tallied 21 TFL so far this season? Advantage Penn State.
Penn State’s Passing Game vs Pitt’s Secondary: Well this should be interesting. Penn State has a redshirt Freshman quarterback who has shown a propensity for the long ball against weak competition. Pitt’s secondary on the other hand is supposed to be one of the strengths of the team. Still, Senior Safety Damar Hamlin has gotten burnt at least four times in two games, so you can expect that he will get picked on. I predict he’ll give up at least one long touchdown. Additionally Pitt’s corners have gotten away with some very physical play at Heinz, and that’s not going to fly at Happy Valley. Yes, we’ve got at lot more talent than Idaho or Buffalo, and our guys are seasoned. They’ll pull a receiver off his feet and take the 15 yards sooner then give up a touchdown, assuming they aren’t beat by three steps. The question is will they get beat by three steps? In the case of Penn State receiver KJ Hamler, the answer is probably yes. He’s a 5’9″ speedster that averages 25 YPC. Jahan Dotson is a 5’11” guy that averages 24 YPC. He can probably fly too. The other guy to watch out for is 6’5″ TE Pat Freiermuth. Pitt has yet to show that it can cover a quality TE, and Freiermuth has nine catches for 124 yards and two TD’s on the season. As much as I want to say our secondary will shut these guys down, you have to know that this one is Advantage Penn State.
Pitt’s Passing Game vs. Penn State’s Secondary: It’s tough to truly gauge State’s secondary since neither of their opponents has much of a passing game. Then again, you could argue that Pitt also does not have much of a passing game. Oh sure we have Mark Whipple and he’s a guru yadda yadda yadda, but the fact is the Kenny Pickett still has pretty bad instincts and he’s only thrown for more than two hundred yards twice in seventeen games. He’s done it once against a pass defense ranked in the bottom ten in FBS (Wake Forest), and he did last week against MAC-favorite Ohio (who also has a pretty poorly-ranked pass defense). If Pickett plays well you can probably expect his performance to be something better than against Virginia (185 / 1 TD/ 2 INT), and something worse than Ohio (321 / 1 / 0). It’s likely he’ll throw at least one INT. If he throws any more than that Pitt has zero chance of winning. The other aspect that we need to consider is protection. Can Pitt’s O-line keep Kenny upright against a talented front seven that is sure to bring some heat? Until they prove otherwise, it’s got to be Advantage Penn State.
Special Teams vs Special Team: PSU’s kickers are 4/4 on field goals. Pitt’s Alex Kessman is 2 for 4 and he’s playing on the road. Punters are probably equal. Pitt Punt returns are anybody’s guess with Ffumble-prone Maurice Ffrench back there. Kick returns are probably a Pitt advantage if Ffrenchy gets a chance, but how many chances has he gotten in two games? Advantage Penn State.
Narduzzi vs Franklin: Well the good news is that if there exists a worse game-day coach than Pat Narduzzi, he probably works at Penn State. James Franklin’s gameday decisions have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory more than once, and I’m sure he’s not done yet. Yes Franklin will run up the score if he gets a chance, but that doesn’t make him any less of a bonehead. Advantage Pitt.
Penn State vs Karma: We all know about the morally reprehensible things that happened during Joe Paterno’s watch. We all know how they were swept under the rug in the interest of winning football games and keeping football dollars flowing. We all know that the thousands of sheep (and I use that term both literally and figuratively) that Penn State produces each year are brainwashed into thinking this is not an issue. Or at the very least they choose not to believe it is. And while it would do little to ease the pain and suffering of the many victims of this tragedy, there would be no sweeter on-field justice than for the Football Gods to deliver defeat to the perpetuators of this crime on their home field, to their “little brother”, in the final game of what was once a storied rivalry.
My Prediction is Hail to Pitt
That is all.