Pitt plays Georgia Tech on Saturday, and while Tech sports a 2-5 record (good for last in the Coastal division), they are plenty capable of giving Pitt a good tousle, and even knocking Pitt off if things break their way.
After all, The Jackets beat Miami on the road, just a week before Pitt lost to the Hurricanes at home.
Still, Tech is transitioning from a triple option offense to…something more modern. Everyone knows that this is going to be a multi-year project. Tech fans are invested in it, and in their coach. Geoff Collins is a hard nosed guy with Georgia roots and a (short) track record of success. Although to be fair, Collins took over a Temple program that had won 10 games back to back and went 7-6 and 8-4, but…he’s got a bowl win on his resume and that’s more than we can say for Pat Narduzzi.
The interesting thing about Collins is that it seems like the guy can recruit. He’s currently got the 22nd ranked class on Rivals for 2020. A lot of that is due to the fact that he’s already collected 22 verbals. There are only two four stars in that bunch, but the rest are all from Florida and Georgia so if his talent evaluation and player development are on point, Tech could be competitive (at least in the Coastal) in the next few years.
As far as on the field coaching goes, Collins appears to be making the most of the talent that he has. His biggest challenge of course is transitioning an offensive line that was designed to cut-block into one that can actually execute an honest-to-goodness collegiate blocking scheme. How has he done? Well…if you think about where they came from, not too bad.
The Jackets rank 78th in “Line Yards” which is a measure of how much running room the offensive line creates for running backs. Tech average 2.48 line yards per run. For comparison Pitt averages 2.45, and our offensive line was ostensibly recruited for what they are doing today. Just so you know what “good” looks like, the University of Georgia leads the country. They are averaging 3.3 Line Yards per carry.
However, run blocking is feast-or-famine with the Yellow Jackets. Their running game garners at least four yards per carry 50% of the time (37th in the nation), but they are also stuffed (tacked for zero gain or a loss) 25% of the time, which is 121st in the country. What we don’t know is how much of these “stuffs” occurred early in the season, and how many occurred in the last couple games. I watched a good portion of the Miami game and I did not see very may TFL by Miami, so it’s probably fair to say the Tech’s line is probably getting the hang of run blocking. Pitt will need to be focused and physical to make sure they slow down the Jackets’ running game.
And that is what Pitt is going to have to do in order to win. Tech averages 169 yards per game on the ground (62nd in the country). They ran for 207 against Miami. They ran for 173 against Duke. They ran for 211 against UNC. So yea, they aren’t an option team, but the can still pound it.
They like to pound it with Jordan Mason, their 6’1″ – 220 lb running back who has power, burst and just enough wiggle to average six yards per carry. He ran for 141 against the ‘Canes. Interestingly enough he only has 95 carries on the season, and 38 of them are in the last two games, so featuring him has been a relatively recent development. A Pitt linebacker (or safety) needs to account for Mason at all times.
The passing game is…developing. Tech ranks 120th in passing offense with 145 yards per game… which means that they will probably throw for about 280 against Pitt. Tech recently inserted redshirt Freshman Quarterback James Graham into their starting lineup. He’s a four-star who can run and throw. His passing stats are just okay, but he is dangerous with his feet, and just good enough with his arm to make you pay if you sell out against the run.
Here are Gram’s stats, courtesy of espn.com
Interestingly enough, Graham has a higher passer rating against the ACC than our own Kenny Pickett. Although Graham’s completion percentage is admittedly pretty dismal.
All this adds up to an offensive average of 314 yards per game and 18.1 points. It’s a low bar to clear, but we’ve seen Pitt do worse against similar competition.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tech is pretty consistent, at least from a yardage perspective. The better offenses tend to score more against the Jackets, but Tech has held each of their last four opponents under 400 yards. They have given up the following yardage and points totals in their last four games, (with team average yards and points in parenthesis):
- Miami: 357 / 21 (384/ 27 – Miami also missed two field goals and had 1 blocked)
- Duke: 373 / 41 (363 / 30)
- UNC: 321 / 38 (434 / 28)
- Temple: 325 / 24 (402 / 28)
- Pitt averages 381 YPG and 21 points. (It’s entirely possible they post just 300 yards and 16 points in Atlanta.)
If you look inside the numbers, Tech allows a lot of points and not that many yards (which is the exact opposite of what Pitt does on offense…) That tells me that The Jackets are losing the field position battle pretty consistently. They appear to have reversed that trend against Miami, but if anyone can help a team out in that department, it’s Pitt.
Fortunately for the Panthers, Georgia Tech has registered only 12 sacks on the season, so if there was ever a time for Kenny Pickett to settle into the pocket and not worry about getting hit, that time is now. AS LONG AS THE LINE STEPS UP AND DOES THEIR JOB. I noticed that Pitt’s Left Tackle and Right Guard positions had an “or” on the depth chart this week, so that means we could see more of Van Lynn and Kradel if Warren and Houey aren’t sharp (finally). You’d expect that to help us out in the pass protection department, especially given Warren’s recent struggles.
Tech’s secondary is actually pretty good…they allow only 186 yards per game, and they have 23 passes defended and five interceptions to their credit. For comparison’s sake Pitt has 52 passes defended and 6 INT’s, so it’s all relative. But Pitt has also had 102 more passes thrown against them, so Tech’s int rate is better than Pitt’s. (285 passes have been thrown against Pitt, just 183 have been thrown against Georgia Tech.)
The reason so few teams are throwing against Tech is because their rushing defense is not very good. They rank just 124th in the country, giving up 225 yards per game (in comparison to Pitt’s sixth-ranked unit giving up 86 yards per game…), but if there was ever a team that could give the faltering Jacket’s unit its confidence back, that team is the Pitt Panthers, who have flat out sucked at running the ball for the entire first half of the season.
Also lets not forget Pitt’s propensity to Pitt. Miami’s offensive line came in ranked 127th in the country in sacks allowed and gave up only two sacks last week. Still, Pitt is starting to figure out the running game in fits and starts. They’ve rushed for over 140 yards two games in a row, and if Pitt’s O-line and backs buckle down and commit to executing, this game could be very good for their confidence. On the other hand, if they take Georgia Tech too lightly, then Saturday could be an embarrassing setback.
Tech’s special teams are tough to get a read on. The Jackets have only attempted four field goals all season. The problem is that they’ve made only two of them. As far as punting goes, well there aren’t any readily available stats on that, and it’s late, so I’ll just leave that one as a surprise.
Finally, that brings us to the intangibles. Tech is coming off of a bye week, and they’ve just recently gotten their first real taste of success. You can be sure that they will be hungry. Second, it’s homecoming. For Pitt, that typically means there is a slightly reduced chance of winning. For Tech, I’ll assume it means a slightly increased chance. Lastly, Pitt was battered and bruised by a physical Miami team last week, and while Pitt lost and should be humbled by that, there is every chance that Pitt will take Tech and their 2-5 record too lightly. Yes Narduzzi has a winning record against the Jackets, but he also had one against Virginia. I’m going to give Tech the edge in intangibles , but I’ll be extremely pleased if Pitt’s senior leaders get the team together and prove me wrong.
Should be an interesting game. Prediction thread coming tomorrow.
Hail to Pitt