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:
- Marquis Williams
- AJ Woods
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).