Hello all, Maestro here. I’m going to be standing in for Richard Hefner for the next few weeks.
And standing in is an appropriate theme, because Pitt will have plenty of stand-ins on the field this week. So the question we should be asking ourselves is not “Can Pitt can beat Rhode Island?”, but “Can Pitt beat Rhode Island with their third and fourth string?” Or maybe even, “Can Pitt beat Rhode Island with their third and fourth string convincingly enough to remain in the top 25”. Because no matter what Pat Narduzzi says, we really aren’t battling the Rhode Island Rams this week, as much as we are battling attrition and Pitt’s propensity to get overlooked in the polls.
About that attrition: Pittsburgh Sports Now took it upon themselves to cobble together a sort of Injury Report last Sunday. There were eleven (11!) contributors listed on said report. (That’s 25% of the two-deep folks.)
Regardless of what 2-1 Rhode Island is bringing to the party, you’d have to think Pitt is going to be trotting out some backups. Maybe even backups-to-the-backups. Here is what we know so far:
QB – Kedon Slovis – Narduzzi said he “could have played” against WMU. Now that that game has been nicely salted away in the record books, we are all glad he didn’t. Personally, I’d hold Slovis out against Rhode Island too. It sounds like Narduzzi is of a similar mind (I think the words “we are going to have to tie him down” were used at the presser).
QB – Nick Patti – “Ankle Injury”. I thought I read something about Patti that said High Ankle Sprain but you when you have a full time job and two toddlers running around things tend to get foggy. Anyway, according to the Cleveland Clinic “It might take you six to eight weeks to heal from a high ankle sprain. If you’re an athlete it might take an even longer time”. That puts us well into the back half of the schedule, and if Yarnell keeps building on his ACC-Rookie-of-the-Week debut, he may very well Wally-Pipp Nick Patti out of the #2 job.
C – Owen Drexel – Nobody really knows what’s wrong with Drexel, but speaking of Wally Pipp: Chris Carter reported on Tuesday that Narduzzi indicated “that the Panthers starting lineup could be subject to change based on performance”. Based on what we saw out of the running game on Saturday, I don’t think many would complain about that.
RB – Rodney Hammond – Supposedly he wants to transfer. (I’m KIDDING). But for real, I did see a tweet from PSN that included the words “bull—-“, “speculation”, “Hammond”, “injury”, “transfer” and “controlling the narrative”.
WR – Jared Wayne – I tried to find something out about Wayne’s status on Twitter, but when I typed in his name all I got were Tweets from one “Jared Wayne Gifford”, who apparently writes comic books for a living. Getting back to Pitt, I *think* Wayne has a concussion / head injury / upper body injury. Wayne – who appears to be the only reliable WR on the team right now – would probably do well to rest up before we get into ACC Play.
DE – Haba Baldonaldo – Rivals’ Jim Hammett on 1/7/2022: “Pitt’s top four defensive ends for next season: Deslin Alexandre, Haba Baldonaldo, John Morgan and Dayon Hayes have combined for over 40 sacks and 64 tackles for loss in their careers.” Three of them are now injured. La-dee-da.
DE – Dayon Hays – PSN gave Narduzzi’s injury non-disclosure policy a bit of the finger this week when they leaked that Hays had a torn meniscus and would miss the rest of the season. I say good on them.
DE – Deslin Alexandre – He dressed for the WMU game. He probably dresses for URI. I don’t think he plays unless they really, really need him though. Which they won’t.
DE – Nate Temple – Nate Temple is the guy who’d make you say “well yea, Haba’s out and Dayon’s out and Deslin is out; sure is a good thing we’ve got Nate Temple”. Soooo…about that.
DT – Devin Danielson – Did not travel to Kzoo. Will he travel to Acrisure stadium? I’m…not…SURE.
CB – Marquis Williams: Wore street clothes for the second half of the WMU game. PSN says could be a foot or ankle injury. Get ready to see AJ Woods give up lots of long passes. Woof.
With all of that said, the biggest question is defensive end. The quarterback position has already been much-discussed. Seems like we have a million wide receivers, many of them underworked. Running back depth is just fine, as is Defensive Tackle and Corner (despite my comment about Woods, he’s not a terrible CB). But four defensive ends injured? Three of them starters or co-starters? There’s not an FBS team in the land that can survive that. Right?
Right. Well sort of. This isn’t going to be a hot take, but DE is the one area where Pitt can absorb some injuries. PSN said as much when they alluded to Nahki Johnson (rFR) potentially getting some playing time. However, Narduzzi seems to value experience, which would suggest Redshirt Senior and former walk-on Chris Maloney will see the field. He’s no Nate Temple (haha), but I think he gained a couple of mentions from Narduzzi in the spring (Duzz also mentioned Maloney during a recent presser). Narduzzi also complemented redshirt Junior Bam Brima, saying “[its] certainly worth noting how well he played [against WMU]”.
Okay so now that the injury problem has been addressed. What about the actual opponent?
The Rhode Island Rams sport a 2-1 record, having dispatched the winless Stony Brook Seawolves, and the equally winless Bryant Bulldogs. The Rams lost to perennial FCS power Delaware last week, 42 – 21.
Rhode Island is quarterbacked by fifth-year Senior Kasim Hill, who’s got some good size at 6’2”, 234. Hill finished last year with 2170 yards, with 18 TD’s and six INT’s, so he’s pretty good at taking care of the football. What he’s not so good at is actually hitting his target, as evidenced by his 53.2% completion percentage last year (and his 52.8% YTD). Maybe he takes a lot of deep shots. Maybe his receivers drop a lot of passes. Either way, he completed just 43% of his attempts against Delaware, for 179 yards so you’d have to think that Pitt’s style of defense should do well here. Hill also doesn’t seem to be much of a running threat, having amassed just 26 net rushing yards in three games, with a long of 12.
Speaking of rushing, URI’s stable of running backs looks pretty solid. Local (to RI) sophomore Jaylen Smith from Pawtucket averaged 5.3 per touch last year. He’s averaging 6.7 per tote this season…albeit on just 29 carries. He went 7-for-36 (3.6 YPC) against the Blue Hens. New Jersey native Marques DeShields (possibly related to Solomon?) has carried 32 times this year for a 5.8 average. DeShields ran for 767 last season, averaging 4.6. He had some tough sledding last week, going 15 for 30 yards against Delaware. I’d also be remis to not mention sophomore Gabe Sloat, who took his one carry against Delaware and turned it into a 65 yard touchdown. Watch out for Sloat!
Realistically though the “law firm” of Sloat, DeShields and Smith needs to watch out for Pitt’s front seven. We all know Pitt is pretty good at stopping the run, and I suspect they’ll be hungry.
URI’s Receiver group is pretty much a two-man show. It’s headlined by diminutive (5’9”) senior Ed Lee. Lee has racked up 15 catches so far, for 265 yards, (17.7 average) and 2 TD’s. If you extrapolate that out through a season that’s 60 receipts for just over 1000 yards, and 8 TD’s. Not too shabby if he can keep up the pace.
If Lee is the speedy short guy, then his counterpart, senior Kathero Summers, is the tall physical guy. Listed at 6’ 3” and 213 lbs, he’s got FBS size, which he used to good effect against Delaware, pulling in 5 receipts for 78 yards and 2 TD’s. He’s got 11 catches for 191 yards on the season, which comes out to 17.4 per catch, so he’s either breaking tackles for RAC, or he’s got some wheels of his own. As usual, you should expect Pitt to give up some long passes…most likely to Summers.
Now about the Rams’ defense…
In a bizarre twist of fate, URI comes into this game with more sacks than Pittsburgh. (11 to eight, by ESPN’s count). I would expect that ratio to flip by the end of this game. Pitt’s defensive line, although depleted, should be able to feast on the apparently immobile Kasim Hill.
I’m not even sure I need to highlight the rest of Rhode Island’s defense. We all know what’s going to happen here. Yarnell will get his second start. Cignetti will cut-and-paste the Western Michigan game plan. Pitt will then smash-mouth their way to another twenty-seven points (before any turnover-or special teams scoring), which will be about twenty-four more than they need.
Hail to Pitt