So as we sit here at the quarter-pole (three games into an 11 game season) we can start to make some observations about the team. The first is that the Defense is Really Good. Perhaps even better than last season. The second is that the kicking game is a mixed bag, but it has the opportunity to improve. Third, the offense is still trying to find its way, which is a bit frustrating given we have a senior quarterback and we’re in the second year of Mark Whipple’s tenure.
And so it’s the offense I’d like to talk about, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe our expectations were a little too high. The Austin Peay game did nothing to change that. Pickett looked as good as he’s looked in his career. Passes were for the most part being caught. Deep shots were being taken. The running game looked fairly crisp. Yes it was just Austin Peay, but it was safe to say the fan base was pretty geeked about year two of Mark Whipple.
Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi gave his weekly Monday Presser today, and our crack team here at the Pitt POV is here to help Pitt fans read between the lines.
PAT NARDUZZI: All right, guys. It is Monday again. Obviously coming off a nice win against, I think, a very talented Louisville team. Obviously we joked last week about the speed that they had, and obviously we’ve got some speed, as well.
Translation: Actually, despite what you all may think, I kinda know what I’m doing on the recruiting trail.
Our kids played hard. We obviously weren’t perfect, and there’s a lot of stuff we watch on Sunday night in really all phases that obviously we could fix, but defensively we were pretty strong. Had a busted coverage for a touchdown, really two busted coverages for touchdowns, one in the passing game in the red zone after a turnover in a sudden change situation.
Translation: We need to stop busting coverages.
And really in the run versus an unbalanced formation it was a little bit different. Popped us. And again, we didn’t line up perfectly, which I didn’t know from the game field. I thought it was just a fit problem. Obviously always things we can clean up on defense.
Translation: Yeah, no we didn’t see that one on tape.
Offensively really did some good things. Encouraged with our run game and how we’re moving the ball and what we’re doing in that part of the game, which is better than where we’ve been a year ago, and I think just every week if we can continue to get better there. But hurt ourselves in the red zone when we get down there.
Translation: We need to get better in the run. You know that.
As much as I’m happy for Kessman, if he sits on the sideline and kicks into a net all day I’ll be excited for him. He can just kick in the net. He’s never missed one in the net yet.
Translation: I’d kiss him if I could. But as you can see I didn’t need to. Not ruling it out for the Clemson Game though.
I have to dash this one off because I’m late for work but wanted to at least wrap things up. Note this will not be my finest writing. But it will be my hastiest!
Special Teams / Kicking Game: I want to start here because without Alex Kessman’s performance we don’t beat Louisville. 3 for 3 FG coming off of 0-for-whatever spells R-E-D-E-M-P-I-O-N. The entire Pitt fan base thanks you for your resilience Alex! A+
Quarterback: I’m chalking Kenny’s bad day up to the alternate uni glove on his throwing hand. C-
Running Backs: Saw more Izzy than we’ve seen all year and I liked it. Vince Davis seemed to round into form in the second half. AJ looked good until he got targetted (no foul called). Missed Wildcat snap by Vince a minus. Would have liked to see some Todd Sibley. B-
Wide Receiver: Lots of ho-hum punctuated by flashes of brilliance. Jordan Addison’s TD. Addison snatching the ball away from a defender and going for a first down. The Mack Miracle, which was maybe the headiest play I’ve seen by a wide receiver, ever. These three plays helped us score just enough to win. B+
Tight End: I’m calling it now. Danny Moraga needs to get more balls thrown his way. Had a key third down catch to move the sticks and dragged a tackler for a couple of yards. Nearly made a highlight real catch down the seam in Q4 – full extension, got one giant mitt on the ball and then got whacked by the safety. I’d say better than 50% chance he came down with the catch if Louisville didn’t have that defender overt to top. It was the most athletic play I’ve seen out of a Pitt Tight End in a long time. C+
Offensive Line: The run blocking is starting to come together in fits an starts. The pass blocking is still way better than we expected. Ironically it’s the tackles that have been leading the Way. Carter Warren’s Pass PFF pass-block grade was right around 88. Carson Van Lynn came in at Right Tackle for Gabe Houy, logged 40 snaps and his pass blocking graded out at 81+. The guard play still has a way to go (at least according to PFF), and I want to see the run blocking a little crisper, but so for, not bad. B
Defensive Line: “These guys were … different”. Scott Satterfield. A+
Linebackers: Looked like a possible mental lapse by Chase Pine early on that 75 yard touchdown run, but after that he settled in an played a very good game. I didn’t see them giving up many passes and I saw them in on a lot of tackles. B+
Defensive Backs: Pitt made literally three mistakes on defense all day. One was by the linebackers on that 75 yard run, per above. One of them was on personnel – AJ Woods at Corner on Tutu Atwell on 4th and 4. Louisville made us pay. The third was a blown assignment on the first Tutu TD (After a very questionable call on a “fumble” by Pickett). But for the most part Pinnock and Williams locked down the X and Y, and the safeties did the rest. Hamlin had a great play knocking a long reception out of Atwell’s hands even though he was a step behind him. A-.
Discipline: A-. I think three penalties all day? Maybe four. One on defense that I can count and then Patrick Jones used his offsides as motivation and notched a sack right after that so all was forgiven. If Pitt plays like this every week, they have a chance to win every week.
Coaching: Solid with one exception. Defensive timeouts on third down seemed to work. Going for it on 4th down seemed to work, except one dropped ball by DJ turner at the end, but that was not the coaches’ fault. Duzz did get out-thunk on that penalty / fake punt though. And they should lose points for having AJ Woods in on that fourth down. B-.
Pundits: Pitt beat a ranked opponent and dropped from 21 to 24 in the AP poll. Tennessee, who squeaked by unranked South Carolina now sits at 21. North Carolina who has beaten one team sits at 12. Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State have yet to play, and all sit above Pitt. Even BYU is ranked higher. F-.
Well here we are. Week 3 versus Louisville. A battle of two top 25 teams. Offense versus defense. Some old Big East Flavor on the banks of the Allegheny. It’s nearly everything that anybody could have asked for…other than the fact that Louisville lost to Miami last week (and boy didn’t Miami look good?) and of course the 12 o’clock kick. (Duke at Virginia at 4? NC State at Virginia Tech at 8? It’s alright ACC, we know you don’t care.)
We also know the storyline. Louisville brings 501 Yards of Offense Per Game to Heinz (34 pts and 519 yds vs Miami…) Pitt brings 154 Yards Allowed. (But who have we played, really?) Louisville features speed, speed and more speed. (Quarterback, Running Back, Receiver). Pitt brings a no-name secondary (Damar Hamlin? He wasn’t even all ACC. Paris Ford? Not even a Jim Thorpe Award finalist. Marquis Williams? Jason Pinnock? Who are these guys?) The consensus is that Pitt isn’t going to be able to keep up. Pat Narduzzi was defiant when asked.
Pitt, coming off a victory over Syracuse is now 2-0. Our next opponent Louisville is 1-1 with wins over in-state rival G5 opponent Western Kentucky & a loss to Miami (34-47). This may be the best match-up in the ACC this week, but it is currently scheduled to be a noon kickoff on ACCN. The ACCN 4pm (Duke @ Virginia) & 8pm (NC State @ Virginia Tech) are slots filled by the Virginia schools 1’st games of the season. Disappointing for all Pitt fans who do not have access to ACCN.
For those who read my comments on Syracuse, I will basically talk about the players – recruiting, transfers, “star” players to watch on both sides of the ball, & whatever else I feel like discussing.