My friends – here is a fantastic and well thought out MMQB article by Jay Kaplan (“6&34” on here) that is a pleasure to read – and to agree or disagree with. Have at it…
Well, Pitt prevailed in the Johnny Major’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) v. Southeastern Conference (SEC) Battle of Mediocrity. It was a game I thought during the week’s lead up to the game was the most important game of the season for Pitt (I heard on a Tennessee podcast it was the most important game for Tennessee as well).
Of course, now its no longer the most important game but Pitt gets to say at least for a while longer that it is better than mediocre.
Not by much, but if Tennessee is mediocre then Pitt is better than mediocre! That’s basic arithmetic. Sort of… Had Pitt won by 14 or more, I might be more enthusiastic about the rest of the season but alas they didn’t. To the contrary, they struggled to keep the lead at seven.
But they won – which makes Monday Morning Quarterbacking a lot more fun than it would have been if they lost. And they won on the road coming from behind an early 10 point deficit against an SEC opponent in front of what I would estimate as 75,000 very loud Volunteer fans.
This team could have quit after the first minute of the game but they didn’t. That says a lot and the team and Narduzzi deserve credit for that.
Pitt almost looked good. Take away the atrocious performance of the special teams and you could say Pitt played outstanding. OK, maybe that goes way too far but think about what the game might have been if special teams played only badly. Instead, they just sucked. They were SOP level bad which is as we all know as about as low as you can go.
Keep in mind though that the botched, pathetic performance on the missed field goal attempt, a spectacularly SOP screw-up of epic proportions does not show up in the score or statistics because the play was nullified by a Tennessee penalty. But it was not nullified in my mind be it conscious or subconscious. Note: Maybe, just maybe if the illegal block had not been committed the Pitt player would have made the tackle and the near disaster would never have occurred.
So it’s fair to ask who is responsible for that atrociousness? On the blocked punt, unless Pat Narduzzi overruled Special Team’s Coach Andre Powell or certain players just took it into their own hands to do whatever they wanted to do, Coach Powell is solely responsible for that seven point embarrassment.
Don’t be mislead by the announcer’s comments about Head Coach Josh Heupel having seen something in their study of Pitt game film they reviewed preparing for the game. What occurred had nothing to do with careful study and planning; what occurred was just an incomprehensively stupid punt protection scheme. Just watch it.
I should move on to something else but for the moment I can’t. I just don’t understand how a special team coach can have a team line up the way Pitt did. If an Alabama special team coach did that with that result (it would be that result every time), that coach would not have a job after the game.
I don’t recall Jaylen Barden on any plays from scrimmage but he did handle two kickoff returns and he did so poorly. I can understand how Barden could elect to run from where he caught that first kickoff. Players can have moments where they have visions of grandeur and make mistakes because of that. But he did it the very next time he caught a kickoff.
Did Powell not reprimand Barden for that first bad decision after Barden returned to the sideline? What are the odds of making it past the 25 yard line on a kickoff return from inside the five or the end zone? It’s a sucker play to run it out. I’ll give Powell a credit for switching Barden with Stovall after Barden’s second bonehead effort. Note: I almost always refrain from disparaging a Pitt player especially a young one but Barden deserves this public criticism for being more me than we.
Two Tennessee kickoff returns (in a row?) resulted in the kicker (Ben Sauls) having to tackle the kickoff returner perhaps to save the day. Two!! And while we are talking special teams let me mention that virtually every extra point seems to barely get over the crossbar. Maybe that’s the way its supposed to be done but if it is, I don’t recall other placekickers other than high schoolers that do extra points that way.
Kenny Pickett was outstanding this game. I need to confess I think his ranking as the 10th best quarterback in the fourteen team ACC is absurd. Yes, Pickett has his flaws, but his overall game is at least good and sometimes very good. I have heard announcers say he runs a 4.7, 40 but to my eye he is marginally faster than James Conner who ran a 4.67 at the NFL’s Combine if my memory serves me correctly.
Pickett’s leg speed is a weapon. He’s no Lamar Jackson but he runs really well and is smart too. Some POVers think that at least in the past he took off too soon. I saw that happen only once against Tennessee.
Pickett was less accurate the 2nd half but that could have been due to Tennessee’s better coverage and defensive penetration during that part of the game. As far as I’m concerned, Pitt has a quality quarterback – even with the second half inefficiencies. Prove me wrong or just focus on his flaws, your choice POVers, but the dumping on Pickett will fall on a lot more deaf ears after this game.
The guy is a gamer and that is high praise for a quarterback. Check out his touchdown pass to Marquise Stovall in the 1st quarter – a cross body bullet to his receiver running along the back of the end zone. Really, check it out before complaining about Pickett’s arm accuracy; it is the first play of this highlight reel…
Many will want to criticize running back coach Powell for the touches Vince Davis got in this game and when he got them especially when most everyone’s favorite running back, Izzy Anabikanda, made some clutch runs. I won’t do that and not because I feel badly about my criticism about Powell’s special team coaching.
Look, it isn’t fair to assert that the offensive line performs poorly on running plays and then blame Vince Davis for being ineffective without being able to show why Davis should have done a better job running with the ball. Yes, I understand that sometimes a player has to “make a play” but Davis has made many plays for Pitt such as his run into the end zone in the 2nd quarter. That was a thing of beauty and linked below.
Really, watch that play and wonder how a 175 lb running back is able to make a run like that. I’ll tell you. He has skills not the least of which are his excellent vision and outstanding balance. Do I want him to be Pitt’s power back? No. But he has at times been that and done it well on multiple occasions.
For the record, I want Daniel Carter or Todd Sibley to be that though perhaps neither of them can block. I did see Vince Davis throw a terrific block on a charging linebacker. Also, Narduzzi in his postgame presser stated it was a joint decision by him and Powell to keep Davis in that role which sort of means it was Narduzzi’s decision.
Pitt only had 93 rushing yards in a game that I thought would require Pitt to establish a strong running game to allow its passing game to succeed. That strong running game didn’t happen – not by a long shot as those measly 93 yards (19 by Pickett) attest.
I had watched the first half of the Tennessee v. Bowling Green game last week, and it seemed to me that Tennessee’s strength was its defensive line especially its play against the run game (Bowling Green had 33 yards rushing in that game).
Of course, that was against Bowling Green but Tennessee’s defensive line looked big, quick and skilled in that game and it seemed to me that they played well against Pitt. So maybe Pitt’s offensive line which did have some good moments in Pitt’s closing drive was not as bad as the stats say it was.
On the other hand, Pitt’s offensive line protected Pickett well throughout most of the game. I think they gave up two sacks. It wasn’t like it was against Bowling Green when Pickett seemed like he could take as much time as he wanted before he settled on a receiver to throw to. But it was decent.
I find it between difficult and impossible to evaluate wide receiver route running when watching on television. With that caveat, Pitt’s wide receivers played an outstanding game. Mack is back and Addison is the star we thought he would be this year. Wayne seems to consistently have high yardage per catch stats and this game was no exception with 18.7 yds per catch.
I’m still waiting for Krull to be a force but three catches for 41 yards is satisfactory. By the way, the touchdown throw by Wayne on the trickerinio play (a quarterback when he was in high school in Canada) was to a receiver who was open but was being covered so if the pass was not as good as it was, it may not have been a completion let alone a touchdown. Credit to Whipple for the call.
As previously mentioned, I don’t recall Jaylen Barden being in any plays from scrimmage and the stat sheets say he had no passing targets . I can’t understand that because he is such an outstanding wide receiver talent. Maybe it was because he was told by Powell not to make another kickoff run mistake after the first one which convinced Whipple, Brennan Marion and Narduzzi to make a Barden an example for the entire team. All this is idle speculation of course.
Pitt’s defense had its issues in this game – the most significant of which was the poor tackling in the second half. This defensive and special team wide loss of such an important skill seemed to come out of nowhere though it looked mighty familiar to this POVer. I have seen this skill loss in two situations: One is where the other team’s offensive players are just too fast for the Pitt defensive players and the other is when the defensive players are excessively tired.
That tiredness could be caused by on-the-field heat (the high temperature in Knoxville was 81 degrees) or just playing a team that is beating your ass. Was it tiredness? I really did not notice Tennessee missing a lot of tackles but then again, I may have perceived a miss tackle by a Volunteer as a result of a good move by a Pitt player.
Also, it seemed there were 40 missed tackles on the Tennessee missed field goal return that was nullified by the illegal block. Also, I didn’t see too many missed tackles by Pitt during the first half so maybe the reason was Pitt was tired.
Pitt made a two play goal line stand from less than a yard from the goal line. Stopping the run has been a Pitt defensive forte for most of the last three years (with some notable exceptions). And they deserve credit for it for sure but only Head Coach Heupel knows why he did not run Hendon Hooker on at least the second of those runs.
In any event, the fact of the matter is that Tennessee had 138 total rushing yards and these included the 54 yard run by Joe Milton. And Hooker had another 54 yards rushing most of which came on runs off of faked pass or a pass play where the coverage forced Hooker to run.
That’s darn good run defense. Yes, Tennessee was missing its best running back and its second best back had to leave the game because of injury but I still think that the stats don’t lie about Pitt’s defense. The fact of the matter is if HC Heupel thought his offensive line was controlling the line of scrimmage, he would have had Tennessee run more.
Tennessee had 240 passing yards. Milton missed on several vertical passes where the receiver had the Pitt defender beat. If those passes had been accurate, this would have been a very different game. You can call that lucky or that Milton – he with the big arm and high velocity throws – was not very accurate.
Hooker played well until he threw an interception by safety Brandon Hill. This gave the Pitt offense the opportunity to run out the clock which they did by achieving two first downs spearheaded by some hard running by Abanikanda and some better run blocking by the left side of Pitt’s offensive line.
This game was important. If Pitt had lost no one would be saying that Tennessee was a terrific team so I suspect that with Tennessee losing no one is saying that Pitt is a terrific team either. Nor would I. But I’ll bet some folks out there might be saying that Pitt has a terrific quarterback.
I’m sure there are some POVers saying that Picket isn’t terrific because it was just one game. I’ll give them that, if they will acknowledge that Pickett was very good this one game. There’s plenty of season left to judge him again in the future.
Hail to Pitt…