Here is the Gameday Thread for PITT football as we play the Clemson Tigers at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA at 3:30 pm Saturday October 23th. Following are some items that might help you all get ready to cheer the Panthers to a win.
For those of us who will not be attending the game, you can watch or listen to the game on:
Television – ESPN Sean McDonough (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst), Molly McGrath (reporter)
Radio – Pitt Radio • 93.7 The Fan & Pitt Panthers Radio Network Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play), Pat Bostick (analyst), Larry Richert (reporter)
For those attending the game, cheer the Pitt Panthers to VICTORY and treat the Clemson fans with respect. (unlike my experience at Clemson – though that may be due to wearing the Garnet and Black of the Gamecocks and a feisty wife),
A couple of years ago, I donated $150 to the Pitt Football Championship fund. In return I got a handwritten thank you card from Kenny Pickett. It wasn’t much, just the words “thank you” and “Kenny Pickett #8” scrawled on a Pitt logo 3×5 card, but it was in real honest-to-goodness ink, and I would like to think that it was actually Pickett himself that wrote it. I stuck it in my office window and went about my business. Pitt went on to have a mediocre season, and when we moved house the next year the card ended up in the trash. Turns out that may have been a pretty stupid move.
At the time of writing, Pickett has been picked as a first-team “midseason” all American by no less than three National publications. (The Athletic, The Sporting News and CBS Sports). He’s also been getting legitimate Heisman buzz from all corners of the college football world. His stats have been blistering: 69.8% completion percentage, 9.4 yards per attempt and 21 TD’s against one (count it) one, interception. He’s also added three touchdowns on the ground, and a handful of key 3rd and 4th down conversions. Which all begs the question: Does anyone still want to fire Mark Whipple?
The answer of course is no, although there are (unsubstantiated) rumors in certain Pitt circles that coach Whip would have been gone if Kenny hadn’t returned. Well, they both did return, and it’s pretty clear to see that that was a good thing.
But this article isn’t about Mark Whipple. Well at least not directly. It’s about Kenny, and about whether or not our Midseason 1st team All-American can keep up his momentum through the meat of the schedule. If he does, he’ll almost certainly finish the season in the same place (1st team All American), have a legit shot at the Heisman, and possibly break into day 1 of the NFL draft. If he doesn’t he’ll just be another “Same Old Pitt” story.
To be clear, while this article may strike a somewhat skeptical tone, I am absolutely rooting for Kenny to succeed. I’m a Pitt Man and a Pitt Fan, and I want dearly for #8 to prove all the doubters wrong, and to finally deliver excellence to us longsuffering Pitt fans. But, as we know, this is Pitt, and…things happen. And so, I think we can all agree there are a lot of factors that could lead to #8’s second half demise. What if the so-far-pretty-good pass blocking falls apart? What if all of the sudden the receiving corps gets an extended case of the dropsies? (We got a preview of that in Blacksburg….shudder) What if Kenny sustains a non-contact injury running to the sideline? (okay unrealistic and kind of a cheap shot, but hey it could happen). The biggest risk however, I think would come from a step-up in class as Pitt enters the second half of the season. And so, I’ve prepared a little analysis to help us think through what might be in store.
Here are pass efficiency defensive rankings for Pitt’s first six opponents, compared to Pickett’s pass efficiency in each game:
UMass: 122nd – 162.1 / Pickett 152.6
Tennessee: 33rd – 120.4 / Pickett 151.5
WMU: 105th – 148.1 / Pickett 235.1
New Hampshire (FCS): NA / Pickett 265.5
Georgia Tech: 113th – 151.7 / Pickett 191.3
Virginia Tech 37th – 121.1 / Pickett 123.4
The good news is that Pickett has over-delivered in every single game, with the “six dropped passes and a really bad Izzy Tripping Penalty” Virginia Tech game being the only outlier.
The bad news is that Kenny’s midseason All-American stats came at the expense of some pretty bad pass defenses, with one FCS team thrown in for good measure. Still, there were a couple of bright spots. Kenny picked up the offense and put it on his back down at Rocky Top, beating Tennessee’s 33rd ranked unit into submission with 2 TD’s and 285 yards (plus one TD on the ground), and he played well enough on National TV against Virginia tech to keep the pundits on his side, so he’s got that going for him.
Here are the pass efficiency defense rankings for the next six games:
Clemson: 12th – 108.1
Miami: 69th – 131.6
Duke: 96th – 143.5
UNC: 77th – 144.5
Virginia: 74th – 133.4
Syracuse: 89th – 140.0
Honestly, none of them scare me all that much. Except Clemson. But let’s double click into that. I’ve listed the quarterbacks they’ve faced below. Tell me how many of them scare you? Maybe two of six? I’ll give you bonus points if you can name the team each one of them plays for (or you can just scroll down to reveal the answers, and their pass efficiency rating vs the Clemson Tigers)
JT Daniels – UGA – 104.5 – Daniels is a Junior and shredded the Cincy defense to the tune of 392 yards in the 2020 Peach Bowl, as well as posting a 178.5 rating in three games vs mid-grade SEC competition last year, so he’s legit. A 104.5 rating is not what you’d have expected of him.
Cory Fields – South Carolina State – They’re an FCS punching bag that scored three points against the Tigers. Not even going to waste time hunting for stats.
Jordan Yates – Georgia Tech – 112.3 – Yates is GT’s second QB, a RS freshman who came in in relief of an injury Jeff Sims in the previous game and got the start against Clemson. Led them to 8 points. Yawn.
Devin Leary – NC State – 148.2 – Leary is considered by many to be a legit, albeit injury-prone, FBS QB. You’ll remember he beat Pitt last year, and he looked pretty good doing it. He threw four touchdowns against NC State’s win against Clemson this year, although two of them were in OT. He dinked and dunked his way to victory though, with 32 completions for just 238 yards.
Denis Grosel – Boston College – 112.8 – Unlike Leary, Grosel is generally not considered a legit FBS QB. Like Leary, he also beat Pitt (albeit two years ago). Unlike Leary Grosel did not dink and dunk against Clemson. He threw for 311 yards against the Tigers this year, but he only completed 58% of his passes, and he also threw two interceptions and no TD’s.
Garrett Shrader – Syracuse – 92.8 – Transfer portal QB who is completing 53.7% of his passes for 5 TD’s and 3 INT’s on the season. He also plays for Syracuse. Need I say more?
So yeah, not exactly a murder’s row, and with the exception of Leary and (maybe) Daniels, Clemson has not faced a QB anywhere near Pickett’s caliber. Still, Clemson’s defense will be the most talented Pickett has faced all season. They’ll be deeper than Tennessee, and better coached than Georgia Tech. They’ll definitely be more motivated than the Hokies. Pickett will have more pass-rushers in his face. He’ll have tighter windows in which to put the ball. He’ll have wily ball-hawking safeties reading his eyes. And of course, he’ll have the contend with The Monkey.
The Monkey? What Monkey?
And this one:
Pitt fans will remember those two stat lines as Kenny’s two games against the Clemson tigers… not exactly stellar. Granted, Pickett is a different guy this time around, and his supporting cast is the best it’s ever been, and Pitt for the first time ever gets Clemson at Home, but it’s still enough to make you wonder. Is Pickett different enough to kill the Monkey? Is Pitt? This is absolutely the kind of game Pitt has laid an egg in time and time again. Literally all the boxes are checked:
Recently earned National Ranking: Check
Positive fan Buzz around the program: Check
Playing at home against a nationally-recognized and generally more talented program: Check
Opposing offense who has struggled recently and seems to play to Pitt’s strengths: Check
Game televised on national TV: Check
So yes, there is a monkey on Pickett’s back. And yes, there is a monkey on Pitt’s back. And I’d lay at least 50% odds on the fact that that Monkey is still going to be in place around 7 p.m. Saturday. Of course, I hope to heck I’m wrong. Pitt hasn’t had a midseason All-American quarterback since you-know-who (and I’m not even sure midseason All-American was a thing back then). And we all know that quarterback play is a differentiator. And we all know that the third times a charm. And we all know the stage is set for Kenny Pickett to complete the trifecta: Kill that Monkey, increase his draft stock and thrust himself squarely in the center of the Heisman conversation. If he does all that, I might just have to increase my Football Championship Fund Contribution, and of course send #8 a thank you card, handwritten.
Pitt is coming off another dominating win over a Coastal division opponent – the Virginia Tech Hokies. Pitt is now in sole possession of first place in the Coastal division ( 5 – 1, 2 – 0 ACC).
The Clemson ( pronounced Clempsum, be sure to accent the “P”) Tigers. The scourge of the ACC since 2015 has shown signs of vulnerability. Their record going into the game is ( 4 – 2, 3 – 1 ACC).
The ACC standings and year to date (YTD) schedules:
Just one common opponent – Georgia Tech. Clemson squeaked by while Pitt conquered.
If you took the time to study the above charts, what did you see?
In the ranking chart, only seven ACC teams have completed their Out of Conference (OOC) schedule. Wake has at Army this weekend and at North Carolina (yes this is a OOC matchup. Clemson has UConn and their SEC rivalry game. Florida State plays UMass this weekend and their rivalry game. Louisville plays their rivalry game. Virginia has at BYU and Notre Dame (ND). North Carolina still has to play Wake, at ND and FCS Wofford. Georgia Tech has the season ending rivalry game.
For those who are still doubting Pitt stats due to playing UMass and New Hampshire, the YTD stats of Clemson is impacted by their 49 – 3 victory over South Carolina State. Do the math. Clemson’s scoring, without their FCS opponent is only 74 – 72. With UConn yet to play, do you expect their stats will not be impacted? (BTW, UConn lost to UMass 13 – 27).
Here are the NCAA stats for team and individual comparison. Those highlighted in yellow are Tiger advantages.
Clemson’s strength is their defense but I see one hole in the defensive stat categories. Pitt’s offense is better in all offensive categories. Special teams stats go slightly to Clemson.
On to the individual stats. Of course, starting with the QB’s:
D.J. Uiagalelei (DJU) wasa preseason Heisman contender. Kenny Pickett is currently a long shot Heisman contender. That’s the QB comparison. DJU has a great arm, size and speed but so does Joe Milton at Tennessee. Both have all the attributes that a college football head coach wants but both need further development. Hopefully, DJU does not find whatever he lacks this Saturday.
Before I start on individual stats, I found this in an article early in the week Clemson played Georgia Tech(GT). It is a list of Clemson players who are out for the season or suffered an injury prior to GT. I have also added the three players that Clemson lost to the transfer portal since the season started. You will see I colored coded them.
Did you notice the dates on the last two Transfer Portal entries?
What about the running backs and receivers?
A comparison of Clemson and Pitt players using ESPN stats and compared to NCAA totals.
Clemson misses QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne.
Some defensive individual stats. From ESPN team stats and compared to NCAA statistics for accuracy.
I again used the top 15 in tackles for both teams. In total, Pitt has 37 and Clemson 41 players who made at least one tackle (solo or assisted)/sack/pass defended (PD)/interception/forced fumble(FF)/ fumble recovered(FR).
I did add some stats to compare the “chosen fifteen” to Team totals.
As usual, I do not have any stats for offensive line play. But I do have sacks and tackles for loss (TFL) allowed.
As to turnovers here is a comparison:
The Clemson faithful are not mad at head coach Dabo Swinney. They are furious with the offensive coordinator, the QB coach, the running back coach, the tight end coach, the Oline coach, the offense graduate assistants, the recruiting analysis for offense and whoever else has any control over this year’s Tigers offensive production.
The faithful are not happy with Dabo’s stance on using the TP to fill perceived holes in the roster. He does not use the TP. Clemson only had 18 recruits in 2021, so he would have space under the NCAA limit of 25 recruits per year. Clemson currently has 82 roster scholarships but that includes at least 6 walk-ons.
With all that being said Pitt wins 31 – 17. A potent offense overcomes potential.
Pitt is coming off a bye week. They will enter Saturdays game with an overall record of 4 – 1 (1 – 0 ACC). Their opponent the Virginia Tech Hokies (VT) are 3 – 2 but are tied with Pitt for the Coastal division lead. Here are the standing from the ACC season web site.
The Hokies are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame (ND). After taking an eight point lead with about 3:45 left on the clock, VT allowed ND to first tie the game with a touchdown and 2-point conversion. After a VT punt, ND won the game on a field goal with 16 seconds left.
Here are the standing from the ACC season web site:
Year to date schedules for both Pitt and VT.
Both Tech’s (Georgia and Virginia) have played North Carolina. Georgia Tech won by 23. VT won by seven. Does that mean anything? Nah. Just a factoid.
Here is the NCAA stat comparison. Those highlighted in yellow are Hokie advantages. A new layout. I hope it makes it easier to compare.
The Individual NCAA stats. Same old Layout. Those in a pale orange are transfer portal entries. Those in blue are out either for the year or this game. I will be using those coding throughout this article.
On to the individual stats. Of course, starting with the QB’s:
VT is concerned with the loss of Conner Blumrick for this game (and probably more). Blumrick, in for an injured Braxton Burmeister, was the QB who was leading the charge to VT last score when he was injured. Burmeister in obvious pain replaced Blumrick.
Will Burmeister be fully recovered? If not, VT is left with Knox Kadum (Rivals 2019 5.5 3*) and Tahjamell Bullock (Rivals 2021 5.6 3*). I would be concerned if Pitt was down to Davis Beville and Nate Yarnell as the backup to Kenny Pickett.
What about the running backs and receivers?
A comparison of GT and Pitt.
See anything interesting?
Some defensive individual stats. From ESPN team stats and compared to NCAA statistics for accuracy. I did find a discrepancy in the NCAA stats. The NCAA in the above individual leaders has Nasir Peoples with 40 tackles. But he has only 39 in his individual NCAA stats.
I again used the top 15 in tackles for both teams. In total, Pitt has 36 and VT 28 players who made at least one tackle (solo or assisted)/sack/pass defended (PD)/interception/forced fumble(FF)/ fumble recovered(FR). I did add some stats to compare the “chosen fifteen”.
As usual, I do not have any stats for offensive line play. But I do have sacks and tackles for loss (TFL) allowed. Maybe I need to open my shackled wallet and subscribe to Pro Football Focus (PFF).
As to turnovers here is a comparison.
The below is a question from the SBNation Notre Dame site One Foot Down and an answer from the VT site Gobbler Country. Read the whole article at:
2. How do you and the Hokies faithful feel about Justin Fuente? Obviously following a legend is always tough, and he started his tenure strong, but he’s 22-19 since 2018. Do you still think he’s the right guy for this job? Is this a critical season for him to prove himself?
Bryan D. Manning: Justin Fuente is a nice guy. A good family man. But Virginia Tech fans have been ready for a new regime for two years — at least. He came here as a “QB guru,” but yet QBs get worse under his watch and leave.
The offensive scheme is boring and unimaginative. Be ready for 20 jet sweeps on Saturday. Fuente has never endeared himself to the fans, the community, or to former players, so he isn’t a popular guy. If he won more games, people could overlook that. He doesn’t. Some big streaks have ended under Fuente’s watch.