Pitt scrimmaged again this weekend, and another video was released. Since our crack team of video analysts did such a great job last time, I’ve decided to bring that back in for a second go round. Enjoy the double-click into what the Pitt SID really wants us to see.
As we sit here, 14 days away from a college football season that came perilously close to not happening (and still may yet not happen), the time has come to ask ourselves, “what do we have?”. In many ways, we already know. A good defense. Questions on offense. A coach that can motivate his team to greatness on any given Saturday and at other times lead an undisciplined rabble onto the field. And yet, for all his perceived shortcomings, (questionable in-game decisions, high rates of penalization, lack of focus on offensive recruiting), Narduzzi has won more than he’s lost, against tougher schedules than any other Pitt football coach since Jackie Sherrill. And that in and of itself is something. He’s also maintained a clean program, ranked fourth in the ACC in APR, and by all rights built a team culture that is one of the strongest in recent memory.
But APR does not win games. Players do, and to some degree scheme. Pitt has the players on defense (except for a newly-formed question mark at corner) and certainly the scheme. Offensive talent is…well behind the defensive curve, but the scheme is there with Mark Whipple, who made a living for four years at UMASS coaxing an effective passing game out of questionable talent. If ever there was a situation that called for that skill set, that situation is Pitt right now.
Let me lead into this by saying that Devin Danielson is clearly a man of few words. Not that that is a bad thing. His answers were straight and to the point, which is what you’d expect from a hardworking, blue-collar Pittsburgh guy.
Devin played 238 snaps last season and graded out at 68.7, which is knocking on the door of “above average” as far as Pro Football Focus grades go. He’s supposedly got the inside track on the starting defensive tackle job for Pitt to replace Jaylen Twyman. Generally speaking Danielson’s run defense was better than his pass rush last season (as long as PFF grading is concerned), and that’s actually not a bad thing if Pitt has three other pass rushers on the line. I’m looking for Devin to take the next step this year if he breaks into the starting lineup. Here are the nuts and bolts of his interview:
On what he learned from Bill Cherpak (his high school coach: Ilearned a lot. How to work hard.
What are some examples of hard work: Running hills. Doing ladders. Just conditioning every day.
As a Pittsburgh guy, you’d expect Danielson to have a strong work ethic. I don’t think there are any surprises here. This is one of the reasons why I think we should expect him to improve.
On his thoughts when Jaylen Twyman opted out: I was a little confused at first, but I understand why he did it, and I wish him the best of luck and it just created an opportunity for me and all the D tackles.
On what it was like playing behind Jaylen: He really taught me how to watch film. How to truly watch film. Dive into the smallest details in a o linemen’s stance, the keys to a good get off and a whole bunch of things.
This is not be underrated, and is one of those intangibles that sets guys like Twyman and Aaron Donald apart from the rest.
Some things he needs to work on: Just mainly footwork and getting the fundamentals sound and consistent.
Spoken like a true student of the game.
How does it feel about knowing who the first opponent will be: Very excited.
Did I mention he was a man of few words? But really, what else are you going to say here?
What’s it like to have a bunch of experienced guys on the D Line: I learn something new every day.
So it was kind of a bombshell newsday for Pitt. Starting Corner Damarri Mathis is out for the season with a “non football injury”. And then, as if to make up for the loss of Mathis (and it’s a big loss, more on that in a bit), Pitt announces they’ve added FCS power Austin Peay (pronounced Pee) as their September 12th game. Oh yea, and on top of that Pat Narduzzi held a press conference, which we will also dive into with our usual Pitt POV gusto.
First lets talk about Mathis. Anybody who thinks his loss will not impact this defense is either not following this team very closely or drinking so much kool-aid that they are [insert verb ending in “ing” here] red in the morning.
On the surface, Mathis was a slightly above average 2nd / 3rd corner on a good defense, and his 2019 stat line was not super-impressive. 23 tackles, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended. Wait, what? 11 passes defended? Actually that IS kind of impressive. Upon further reveiw, it was second on the team behind Dane Jackson (12) and, and right above Damar Hamlin (10) and Paris Ford (9). Hmmm…
If we double-click into Mathis’ stats we learn that actually he was pretty doggone good. A quick look at the numbers: Mathis logged 372 coverage snaps last season. He was targeted on just 57 of those snaps, so basically he either had good coverage or the quarterback did not look Mathis’ way 85% of the time. Of the 57 times he was targeted, he allowed 21 receptions for 323 yards, and he gave up one touchdown. Meanwhile, Senior cornerback Dane Jackson was also targeted 57 times (although he logged 100 more coverage snaps that Mathis). Jackson gave up 27 receptions for 278 yards and FIVE touchdowns. Opposing QB’s passer rating vs Dane Jackson? 82.8. Against Mathis? 47.6. In fact, Mathhis’ 47.6 opposing passer rating was the best on the team (Kylan Johnson – surprise! – was second at 53.5, and Paris Ford was third at 60.9). Yea, Mathis had the propensity to give up the long ball, but despite what you may think, he was statistically our best corner last year, and it’s likely that he got better during the off season. That kind of skill set will not easily be replaced.
But it must be. So who will be replacing him? Well the conventional wisdom says there are two candidates:
Lets start with Williams. He’s small (5’9″) but was highly recruited (23 offers – Mich State, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Clemson –commitable? – being his best outside of Pitt), has some pedigree (5.7 on Rivals), and hails from Miami (always a plus).
“Tight ends and backs have to be very sure handed, and their run after the catch has to be equally good, because you may throw the ball short to one of those guys, or intermediate and they still get you a first down.“
-Mike Sherman, Former Green Bay Packers Head Coach on the prototypical West Coast Offense Tight End
If you ask any dyed-in-the wool Pittsburgher what was wrong with Pitt’s offense last year, they will immediately go to one of three places: Offensive Line, Fullback or Tight End. In at least two of those places they’d be justified. (Sorry, but I’m just not convinced Whipple’s west cost offense is going to make much use of a fullback – even if he can find a good one. We were spoiled by George Aston’s talent and equally spoiled by Matt Canada’s ability to make use of it, and then we were kind of spoiled by the fact that Shawn Watson didn’t screw it up that badly.) Anyway, as you can tell by the opening quotation of this article, today I’m going to talk to you abut the Tight End position (or lack thereof) at Pitt. I’m sure you are all very excited.
First, the Positives. The Tight End position was targeted 62 times last season. Sixty two! Why that’s just one less targets than the running backs got all season, and a full 13% of the targets all year. It’s 45 more targets than the Tight Ends got in all of 2018! In fact you’d have to go all the way back to 2016 to find a year where the Tight Ends received more targets than last season. (Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish combined for 63).
Sadly though, our two Senior Grad Transfer Tight Ends caught only 61% off those targets – the lowest catch % for any position (Want to guess the highest? It was the running backs, who caught 75% off the passes thrown their way…I guess RBU is kind of alive and well after all, in a weird West-Coast sort of way). And yet despite their poor ball skills, Griffin-Stewart and Gragg were the 5th and 6th most targeted players on the team. Perhaps Whipple was trying to send recruits a message, and that message was “Look, we DO throw to the Tight End, no matter what”.
Somehow with only two drops, Will Gragg was nearly as bad a receiver as Nakia Griffin-Stewart, who totaled seven.Route running?
For comparison the average “Catch Percent” for the NCAA is 66.8% (min 20 targets). And the top eight receiving Tight Ends in the ACC all averaged north of 70% last season. Most averaged in the 80’s. A far cry from Pitt’s Tight End platoon.
So yes, we have a long way to go.
But we all knew that, and hope springs eternal.
This year we have a brand new Grad Transfer and He is from Florida where pass catching Tight Ends Grow on trees and second and third string players are good enough to make honorable mention all-ACC.
Enter Lucas Krull, who much like the hero in the 1983 Sci-Fi-meets-Robin-Hood fantasy film that shares his surname, has been transported to a strange and distant land, and against all odds will use his magical catching abilities to save the world from utter destruction (and eventually rule the galaxy).
Heck, he even kind of looks like the film’s protagonist.
If you haven’t heard, Pitt scrimmaged on Saturday.
And in all seriousness, you may not have heard because the only news of it that has been released are four pictures and a short video reel. Still, I put our crack team of football analysts on it, and here is what they came up with:
Two guys high-fived. One looks like a kicker. The other like a longsnapper. We can infer that a field goal was made. Perhaps an extra point.