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.
That’s why we play the games. We’re going to find out. But we’re not slow, OK. And they’re really fast. So we’ll take our untalented, slow guys to Heinz Field and we’ll try to maybe we’ll give them a little extra game before the game and maybe somehow we’ll have a chance to be in the game at some point. But we’ll take our no-name guys with no speed and we’ll find out what we got. That’s why we play the games to find out. They’re really fast, they’re quick, and they look really good and we’ll find out what the Panthers got Saturday at noon.
And then you have Pitt’s offense. Sure the run blocking has improved, but has it really? (A sickly 2.9 YPC against the ‘Cuse, and just 4.2 against Austin Peay.) And then the passing game. Pickett’s stats are up, but the downfield game is perceived to be lacking. Of course there is a reason for that. Pat Narduzzi:
We’d like to, but our guys are slow. So it’s hard to push it deep when you’re slow, so we’ve got to be slow throwing it down the field to slow people. We’re going to take what they give us. We’re going to take what they give us, if you look at the Syracuse defense, they were really good on the back end and they didn’t give us much opportunity. It was a nice one to Jordan Addison and if we had the ball at our own two-yard line that would have been a 98-yard reception. And we had another opportunity where it would have been a touchdown as well, but we just didn’t throw it to him and he was wide open. You take your opportunities and you know what you’re going to get and that’s the coaches’ job to find our how deep can we go, how many times do we take shots? There’s nothing worse than someone taking a deep shot and now it’s second and ten and you put yourself behind the sticks. So we just want to move the sticks and score touchdowns. I don’t care how long or how short they are, we’ll just take our slow guys out there and see if we can get a first down, that’s the first thing.
Scoring touchdowns. That is the name of the game, especially when your kicker is struggling. Fortunately, the Cardinals defense is nothing special. Miami hung 47 on them after putting up 31 against UAB. Even (badly outclassed) Western Kentucky scored 21 against the ‘Ville. If Pitt can’t score at least 30, well then it might be time to re-evaluate Mark Whipple.
The good news is that Kenny Pickett tends to play well against bad defense (who’d have thought?) Last year his QBR was 172, 137 and 142 against EMU, BC and UNC respectively. Not exactly a murderer’s row. Pitt, of course, went 2-1 in those games, and that bring us to the crux of the issue.
Potential. If Pitt plays mistake free and executes to their potential, they are more than a handful for any team in the ACC (Except maybe Clemson). If Pitt gets called for a half dozen procedure penalties, picks up a couple of dumb unsportsmanlike calls, and loses three fumbles, they are not just going to lose, they are going to lose badly.
So yes, the opportunity to earn National Respect is here. It is being served to Pitt (like it has so many times in the past) on a sliver platter. All Pitt has to do is take the dish in both hands (firmly and confidently), set it on the table, grasp their utensils (cleanly), systematically commence eating, and not let up until every single scrap on that platter is gone.
Historically they’ve done just the opposite.
Lets see if this year is different.