Over the last few years UC and Pitt have locked horns in some very entertaining and borderline legendary games. Of course that is all from a Cincinnati perspective. It seems the prevailing opinion among Pitt fans is that both games were abominations. Games that Pitt shouldn't have been playing because UC is just beneath them. As you can probably tell from this intro, I don't know that many Pitt fans, and all the ones I know are catastrophic douches. So the point is that UC and Pitt have played very close games, last year aside. This is just a little preview so you know what to expect Saturday night.
In schematic terms the Pitt offense bears a more than passing resemblance to the terror unleashed on the plains last year, and the out of nowhere Juggernaut at Clemson this season. This is all for a very good reason. The masterminds behind the offenses for both Tigers were both the offensive coordinators for Todd Graham while at Tulsa. Unsurprisingly they have imported the same general schemes and attack defenses in more or less the same way. That being said the performance of the Pitt offense in no way resembles the Auburn or Clemson results. This is for two main reasons
One is the personnel. Outside of the recently lost of the season Ray Graham the Panthers were utterly devoid of play makers. Graham accounted for fully 1/3 of the Panthers offensive output before he went down with the ACL tear in the UConn game. With Graham out of the picture the Panthers will turn to Zach Brown in the running game and a host of Freshman backing him up. The receiving core is filled with big physical, tight end sized wide receivers that the previous staff loved, but they don't fit in with this scheme. Consider this, on the season the Panthers passing game has come up with just 20 plays of 20 yards of longer, good for 85th in the country. Simply put the receivers on this Panthers team aren't fits for the offense. Given Ray Graham and the running game the play action passing game should be there theoretically. But there is a problem, a big one with going that route.
It is also the second huge problem for the Panthers offense in this, the first year of the Todd Graham experience. The offensive line sucks. Like worst in the nation taking a run at last year's Rutgers group for worst line of the decade honors sucks. Part of it is the adjustment from a pro style, power based, ground and pound blocking scheme to the basically straight inside/outside scheme needed for this offense to work. Another part is that the personnel doesn't quite match the scheme for the simple reason that zone blocking requires a different type of lineman. The final part is ongoing injury concerns. Basically the offense is fine if Tino Sunseri can stay upright, but the offensive line struggles to do that.
The Panthers run a 3-4 officially, but they do some weird things in terms of moving defenders into the box. For a while this year their personnel groupings were all messed up. They had multiple players playing out of position. For example Brandon Lindsey was playing OLB early this year. UC fans should remember how much fun it is to have a DE playing linebacker from last year.
The statistics for the defense as a whole are OK. 44th in scoring, 30th against the run, 50th against the pass, and 45th in total defense. My read is that Pitt is above average to good at everything, but great at nothing. The one thing they are great at is rushing the passer. Their 27 sacks ranks 5th in the country. So they clearly have a talented front, but they can't leverage that advantage very well. And that's a problem because they have nothing to really hang their hat on when games get tight. Pitt plays solid defense, but they don't do one thing so well that Mike Bajakian is going to stay up at night thinking "How I am going to combat that?" In terms of defenses UC has faced I would rank lump Pitt in with Tennessee, USF and surprisingly Miami. But they aren't as good as Louisville.
When you think of Pitt special teams you think of individual brilliance, Derrell Rivas doing Rivas type things. Dave Brytus being a better MMA fighter than punter. ect. I also think of this oh and this one as well. In short Pitt has had individuals who have excelled. But they have not hung their collective hat on special teams in quite some time. This season is no different. Phil Steele ranks their special teams 66th in the country.
The Final Word
I am of two minds on this game. I see two likely outcomes. In one UC and Pitt play a close, sloppy game punctuated by turnovers, penalties in which the team who makes the fewest mistakes (read turnovers). In the other scenario Derek Wolfe and Co. eat the Pitt and Tino Sunseri for lunch and a Pitt team that was already going to be one dimensional down their only dynamic offensive player becomes no dimensional and UC wins going away. As of the writing of this I am leaning towards the first scenario. But that is obviously subject to change