I’m going to start a new series this week, and hope that I’m able to maintain it now that I’m mostly out of the woods on the COVID-19. For those of you who haven’t gotten the COVID, I wouldn’t recommend it. While my main symptoms were akin to a mild cold (chest congestion and a cough), the secondary symptom of fatigue is real and it doesn’t go away quickly. Three weeks later I’m still having to limit activity so that I don’t completely wear myself out. I also had a minor myocardia related scare but the initial prognosis on that is positive, pending more tests next week. With that said, I still believe that playing college football is absolutely the right thing to do. Nothing would keep an athlete more focused than having games to play, and the protocols that are in place will identify any COVID issue sooner than if there were no season and no screenings. Heart screenings absolutely need to be in place, but by all accounts the ACC seems to have enacted that safeguard. I will also say from personal experience that the mental health of fans is greatly improved by having football to watch; even if it is the maddening sort of “win ugly” football that Pitt tends to play 🙂
Speaking of football, I’m throwing MMQB out the window (you can post your good, bad and ugly on Sundays if you wish) and Mondays will now be devoted to grading all the units on the Pitt football team. After everyone has weighed in, I’ll post the PFF grades so show how your analysis compared to the “experts” who watch the tape. My grades will be my own and I won’t look at PFF prior to writing this.
Here goes. We’ll start with the Offense.
Quarterback: Kenny Pickett played well for the most part. He made one bad mistake (the INT). I thought he could have done a better job throwing the ball away when under pressure, or stepping up and dumping it off to a safety valve – the hallmark of a west coast offense. Instead he typically tried to tuck and run which most often ended up as a loss of a few yards. I also thought he could have taken a couple of deep shots. Looked like he was playing very conservative in that respect. You can’t argue with either of his touchdown passes though, and he he also did a nice job getting up behind Morrissey for his rushing TD. B
Running Backs: Vince Davis Ran hard but his average YPC (2.9) sucked and I thought he looked a little slow out there. He also didn’t seem to make a ton of people miss. He got the tough yards when it mattered though, and he helped ice the game with his last few totes of the rock. AJ Davis looked as pedestrian as ever. Sibley looked great out of the Wildcat, but he got only two carries and one was called back due to holding. Carter averaged 7.5 YPC on two runs but pulled up lame and was later seen with ice on his ankle. Still, 127 rushing yards and just 2.9 yards per rush on 44 carries earns you no better than a D+.
Wide Receivers: Nothing about the receivers seemed to stand out to me. Maybe it was the conservative game plan. Maybe they did their jobs in a workman-like way. Sure the Jordan Addison touchdown route was a thing of beauty, and yes, Jared Wayne came out of nowhere in the second half to keep a drive going and nab a touchdown, but where were the guys running free in the secondary? Where was the run after the catch? There were no bad WR drops though (that I can remember), so that was a blessing. They appeared to do what was asked of them and little more. C
Tight Ends: The much ballyhooed Lucas Krull made his debut, and his stat line read like a career backup: 1 Reception, 6 yards. That included two drops and one pass that missed him completely. Bad throw or bad route? Given what we’ve seen out of Krull (and Pickett for that matter) I’d put even money on the route. Kyi Wright caught 1 pass for 2 yards. Walk-on-hero Jake Zilinskas left the game with an injury. It’s though to weigh in on TE run blocking but given Pitt’s meager 2.9 YPC, it doesn’t seem like much was getting done. F
Offensive Line: I thought the run blocking was solid in the first half. Syracuse consistently stacked eight and nine in the box in the second half (I was counting), and Whip decided (or was under orders) to run it down the ‘Cuse’s throats anyway. Still, in 2018 we used to see those types of situations go for 60 yards more often than not and it just didn’t seem like the running lanes where there. Just like Vince Davis though, the O-Line manned up at the end and bulldozed for the first downs we needed. They also did a nice job creating a push for Kenny in an obvious running situation on the goal line. As for Pass blocking, I thought it was adequate. There was one obvious breakdown. (On the play the Kenny threw the INT a man came unblocked on a stunt from the right side.) And maybe I was seeing it wrong, but *for the most part* Kenny had a pocket to step up into. Sometimes he made the wrong decision and ran, usually after holding the ball for quite a while. The Line did give up three sacks though, so that knocks them down a peg. C-
And now the Defense.
Defensive Line: The defense posted seven sacks and 13 TFL. Six of those sacks went to Defensive Linemen. Patrick Jones was held on every play that I watched him (probably about a half-dozen). Not one penalty was called and he still ended up with a couple pressures and three solo tackles. Rashad Weaver was Named Walter Camp Player of the Week.
Per the Pitt SID: The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Weaver accounted for two of those sacks. After accumulating a pair of assisted sacks in the first quarter, Weaver made one of the game’s defining plays, sacking Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito on 4th-and-3 from the Pitt 44 to end an Orange threat in the third quarter. In his first game action since the 2018 Sun Bowl, Weaver finished with seven total tackles, three total tackles for loss and two total sacks.
Yes the Syracuse offensive line is undermanned, but the Pitt DL took full advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet. A+
Linebackers: I thought they played very well. Cam Bright posted seven tackles, half a sack and 1.5 TFL. Backup Sirvocea Dennis (who is really starting to grow on me after I threw some shade his way in the preseason), finished with five total tackles and was a force on special teams. Wendell Davis and Chase Pine combined for four tackles and 1.5 TFL. And most importantly no mistakes were made. When you hold a team to just 51 rushing yards it means your linebackers are calling the right plays, reading their keys and tackling well. And in my book, that earns you an A.
Corners: I was pleasantly surprised by Marquis Williams. He replaced an injured Jason Pinnock in last year’s Syracuse game and proceeded to get torched mightily. This year I don’t think I saw him get beat once. Of course it didn’t help that neither of Syracuse’s quarterbacks had any time to throw, but … they didn’t have any time last year either. Williams also posted five tackles. Flipping over to Pinnock he did appear to get burnt on the one Syracuse TD pass, but according to Narduzzi he was supposed to have over the top safety help. That may or may not be true but you hate to see any corner let a man get two steps on him, double coverage or not. I’ll give Pinnock the benefit of the doubt though. 120 yards passing is nothing to sneeze at, and just one mistake all day is solid work. Grade: A-
Safeties: Ford and Hamlin were Great: Ford turned the momentum with his diving inception of Culpepper’s errant screen pass. A+. Backup Erick Hallet apparently was supposed to have over-the-top coverage on the long touchdown, which he clearly did not execute. B-
Alex Kessman / Field Goal Unit: Kessman was 0 for 2 on kicks where the snap and hold was executed correctly. He was 0 for 1 on tries where it was not. Sorry fellas. F-
Kirk Christendoulou / Punting Unit: 4 punts for a 39.3 average. Meh. C
Return Units: One returnable punt that I can remember. Addison ran backwards trying to create something and was tackled by the backup Tight End. He did a fine job securing fair catches though, and after last year’s adventures with Maurice Ffrench, securing fair catches is a welcome upgrade. C
Kicking game brings down the overall grade to a D
The offensive game plan was conservative but it worked. The defensive game plan was masterful and well executed. I counted four “five men in the backfield” penalties though. Feels like that one should have been corrected. A sloppy win over a weakling rival earns you a C+.
Editor’s Note: I’m still not going to be able to actively monitor comments due to COVID related fatigue syndrome and other factors. I will continue to expect you to self-police, and the zero tolerance policy for rule breaking is still in effect. So to remind you, if I get just one email regarding political, social or personal attacks, the whole thing gets shut down. Don’t be the bad apple. Thank you.