Headed into the FSU game, I gave six ways Pitt could win and five reasons FSU should win. Now that the game is only four days away, here are four key questions that will be answered on Monday that will heavily determine if Pitt can pull off the upset.
Question #1: Can the defense contain FSU’s RBs?
This is a tough one. FSU has a lot of speed at the RB position and while Pitt is stout up the middle with Aaron Donald, Tyrone Ezell, and Shane Gordon, the OLBs and DEs are still a big question mark and will be largely responsible for containing FSU’s outside runs. I have a lot of confidence in the secondary and our LBs are pretty good at coverage due to their speed, so the stopping the pass is less concerning. FSU will try to run outside and if their RBs get to the corner consistently, it’ll be a very long night.
Question #2: Will the OL step up?
There’s no position group with a larger range of potential outcomes than the OL. They could be anywhere from awful to great. OG should be fine with upperclassmen there, but with 3 new starters at LT, OC, and RT, it’s scary to think how bad things could be. If edge rushers are getting pressure on Savage, we’re doomed. If the OL doesn’t get push in the run game, we’re doomed. If the opposite happens, the offense will be in great shape. While obviously it’s a lot to expect for them to be great against FSU in their first game, it’s probably necessary for an upset to be possible.
Question #3: Who the #$%& is going to run the ball?
With Isaac Bennett and James Conner injured, no one knows (other than the coaches possibly) who will carry the ball. If both Bennett and Conner are out, that essentially puts Pitt down to their 4th string RB (assuming Shell would’ve been top 3 had the fiasco not happened). 4th string RB going behind an OL with 3 new starters against a defense full of NFL talent? Yikes. If Bennett and Conner are healthy, it’ll be a great lightning/thunder combo if the OL gets the job done. A huge key will be how many yards the RBs get after they get in the open field. Bennett has the speed and Conner has the power to get extra yards in the open field.
Question #4: Will anyone step up?
In order to pull off an upset, you need players to step up and make huge plays. Take the Notre Dame game last year (even though it was a loss). Ray Graham was the best player on the field and embarrassed ESPN darling Manti Te’o. K’Wuan Williams was everywhere (even when the refs incorrectly penalized him). Shane Gordon snuck onto the field and made a huge stop. There are plenty of players who can really step up and make a difference. Aaron Donald is a monster. Someone on offense, whether it’s Street, Garner, Holtz, Savage…anyone. There needs to be a player on offense who plays out of his mind. On defense, turnovers are going to be a necessity. If we see a few players step up to the challenge, maybe, just maybe, Heinz Field will be a happy place.