This week UNC will take on their first ACC opponent of the season and I, for one, could not be more excited. This game has all the makings to be one of the most fun Carolina games this year.
It’s honestly a matchup of strength vs. weakness. UNC has shown that it is capable of having an incredible passing offense under Mitch Trubisky while Pitt has had a tough time stopping the passing games of almost every team they have faced so far this year.
Pitt’s M.O. is running the ball. That’s what Pitt football is under Pat Narduzzi. Narduzzi has adopted and brought over Michigan State’s mentality of smash mouth, we are going to run on you until you break, football. UNC has shown that they have some trouble at times stopping the run.
Both teams will be tested, and one team’s weakness is going to have to step up in order to win this game. It’s going to be real interesting and real high scoring. Man, I’m excited for this game. Let’s do this preview y’all.
We have three games now to evaluate Pitt’s offense, and it is one of the strangest to break down. In the first game of the season against Villanova, Pitt’s offense looked as stagnant as ever. It took Pitt over twelve minutes to get a first down, and they ended the game with just 261 yards of total offense. They ended up with just 175 yards passing, and only 86 yards on the ground.
Some people thought that maybe Pitt was saving a lot of their playbook for the Penn State game the following week, and that they didn’t want to reveal as much about their offensive scheme. This may have some truth to it, seeing that against rival Penn State, Pitt accumulated 432 yards of total offense, with 341 of that on the ground.
One thing anyone who watched Pitt vs. Penn State could notice is the amount of jet sweep plays that Pitt ran. It seemed as though every drive they put together, at some point, a jet sweep play was called. This is seemingly true, as they ran 10 the entire game.
Pitt also ran a ton of different sets and formations to help expose Penn State’s run defense, and a total of eight different players ran the ball 56 times for the Panthers. In the end, the offensive schematics that Pitt ran weren’t overly complex, I mean they just ran the ball a ton, but all the different formations, misdirections, and players toting the rock really took a toll on the Penn State defense.
In week 3, the Panthers took on Oklahoma State. Pitt stayed true to themselves, running the ball 54 times between nine different players for 290 yards. The Panthers only gave up 100 yards rushing, but gave up a whopping 540 passing yards, which eventually led to their first loss of the season.
Pitt’s defense has also been all over the place this year in terms of passing defense, but two things have remained constant, limiting teams in their ability to run the ball, and forcing turnovers and sacks.
Against Villanova they allowed only 172 yards of offense, including 53 on the ground, no offensive touchdowns, and six sacks. Against Penn State they did give up 332 yards passing, but only 74 on the ground. They also forced four turnovers and four sacks. Against Oklahoma State they gave up 640 total yards, but only 100 of that was rushing. They also accumulated three sacks and forced two turnovers. All these sacks find Pitt ranked 5th in the country in total sacks this year.
When you think Pitt defense, the first name that comes to mind is Pat Narduzzi. I personally loved watching Michigan State’s defense the past few years under Narduzzi, so I know what the man is capable of. In year two at Pitt, we should see the Panthers’ defense start to take a little more form in becoming what Narduzzi wants out of them.
One thing MSU was most famous for when Narduzzi was a part of their coaching staff was the 1-on-1 coverage played by the corners virtually the whole game. The corners dubbed this the “no-fly zone,” as quarterbacks struggled to pass on these physical pressing cornerbacks. As Narduzzi settles in as coach, look for more press coverage from the Pitt corners as they try to emulate MSU’s “no-fly zone” mentality.
Overall, Pitt still runs a traditional 4-3 Over defense, which is essentially what most teams seemed to run whenever I played NCAA football growing up. The difference is that this defense is combined with a Cover 4. The 4-3 entails four defensive linemen and three linebackers behind them. This base looks like man, but is actually zone, which confuses quarterbacks and gives them fits, in theory.
What they usually like to do is pull down their safeties so that they essentially have nine men in the box at the beginning of plays. This stops teams from being able to run the ball much at all, and also helps to contain read option plays.
As mentioned earlier, the corners like to play a lot of press coverage. The reason behind this thinking is that a player is limited in what routes they can run while being pressed at the line of scrimmage. Also, Narduzzi thinks that when a player is pressed he has to work harder to get his route started, which forces the play to develop slower, making the quarterback hold the ball longer, and possibly producing a sack.
Press coverage may be interpreted as a 1-on-1 coverage scenario, leaving these guys on an island. Well, that’s not really the case. Since it is still a zone, the linebackers and safeties help out the corners. The safeties usually will cover the deep ball throws with the corners, and the linebackers will cover the short to intermediate passes.
Narduzzi also likes to run three deep and two underneath zone blitzes. This is essentially sending 6 men to blitz with only five men in coverage, leaving cornerbacks on an island by themselves. UNC can exploit this by protecting Trubisky and letting UNC’s dynamic wide receivers break free from coverage and make plays on the ball.
Special teams may play a big role in this matchup Saturday. Pitt wide receiver Quadree Henderson leads the country in kick off return yards average, with 40.8 yards per return. It should be an interesting battle between him and Switzer for who dazzles the crowd the most in Kenan.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
Mitch Trubisky should have a field day passing the ball, and the running back by committee combination with James Connor should have a field day running the ball. These two things are almost certain. However, if UNC can also run the ball against Pitt, the Panthers could be in a whole world of pain come Saturday.
On offense, Pitt uses so many different formations, misdirections, and shifts that film work combined with a disciplined defense will be key in stopping their offensive scheme. Pitt’s strongest asset is running the ball. The run defense will be tested heavily, but if UNC can control this and force the Panthers to throw it more, then they will have a chance to win Saturday.
I don’t think Pitt is quite there yet in terms of being where Pat Narduzzi wants them to be. It’ll be a close game, but Carolina should come out on top.
Prediction: UNC 49 Pitt 42