November 8, 2017

Healthier After the Bye

Filed under: Football,Players — Chas @ 8:28 am

If you are wondering, Pitt is 1-1 after a bye week under Head Coach Pat Narduzzi. A win at Virginia Tech in 2015 and then a loss last year on a Thursday night game — also against Virginia Tech.

As usual after a bye, a big thing is players getting a chance for a little rest and recuperation. And that is mostly the case for Pitt.

The defense, at least has players coming back.

Cornerback Avonte Maddox, defensive end Dewayne Hendrix and defensive tackle Keyshon Camp are expected to dress, if not play.

Maddox, a senior co-captain, injured his arm in the victory at Duke and was on the sideline — wearing a sling — the following week. Maddox appears ready to return to the field, but Narduzzi might decide to give him another week to recover, if the position is being handled ably by the younger replacements.

Phillipie Motley, a junior who missed most of training camp with an injury, started against Virginia and recorded two tackles and one of Pitt’s three pass breakups. Also, freshman cornerbacks Jason Pinnock and Damarri Mathis have received occasional playing time in recent weeks.

“I think the progression has been in the quality of depth that we’ve got,” Narduzzi said. “I think they understand what they’re supposed to do.”

Considering how well the D-line played against Virginia, it should be encouraging to see how they can look with more players to rotate tomorrow night. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge is not holding back on what the unit could become.

“You’re really starting to see the fruits of their labor show up in their production,” Partridge said. “It hasn’t necessarily shown up in the stat line up until the Virginia game, but this has been a thing coming for a long time since I got here eight months ago.”

There never was a question about the group’s athletic ability or stature. Weaver’s 6-foot-5 frame can be intimidating when he’s charging the quarterback. It’s the playbook and technique everyone needed to master.

“We really started from ground zero in terms of techniques and how we approach the game on a daily basis,” Partridge said. “Down there, if you step an inch out of place, you’re in trouble, especially on this level in the ACC.”

But the group’s inexperience also offers plenty of encouragement. Partridge is eager to see what the future holds.

“This group can be and has the potential to be — and those are dangerous words, can and potential — one of the best D-lines here,” he said. “Trust me, I know what that statement means.”

When the D-line just wasn’t getting penetration and getting to the QB,  at the beginning of the season, it was making the whole defense look like a wreck. As the season has progressed you could see the line getting closer. It took help at times with the linebackers, but the pressure up front was beginning to get closer.

Injuries on the offense, though, aren’t improving. Along with the loss of Max Browne at QB and FB George Aston remaining mysteriously injured in the lower body. Tight end Mike Flanagan is out for tomorrow’s game.

Tight end Matt Flanagan, a graduate transfer from Rutgers who has started every game, is designated as “out” for this week with an undisclosed injury. Flanagan is fourth on the team in receiving with 17 catches for 160 yards, and while it’s unknown how much time he’ll miss, it’s never a good sign when a player pops up on the injury report and is ruled out immediately.

With the emergence of Arujo-Lopes as the sure-handed receiver over the middle and having Chris Clark as the 2d tight end, it isn’t a huge hit for Pitt. It still hurts the depth and a bit of the blocking.

It is worth noting that North Carolina is 112th in punt defense. When Quadree Henderson gets the ball punted his way, he’s 7th nationally in punt return yardage. Just hard to imagine why they would even punt it near him. But we can hope. And also hope that he can be more then just a decoy on offense.

Henderson remains a threat in the Pitt offense, but he set a high bar in 2016 that turned out to be difficult to top. His numbers are down in several areas this season.

Defenses are catching on to the jet sweep, and he’s rushed for only 160 yards after amassing 631 and five touchdowns in 2016.

The jet sweeps remain a threat, even as a decoy. Henderson said he noticed the Duke defense leaning his way when he went in motion, opening a huge hole for Darrin Hall’s two long touchdown runs.

“Three guys are coming with me, and he has (only) eight people to get away from,” he said. “The safety, the linebacker and a corner all looked at me, thinking I had the ball. Carrying out all my fakes sprung D-Hall on both of those big runs.

“I’m never a selfish player. I do whatever I have to do to get my teammates open for us to win.”

Not sure a defense has lost track of him yet this year. The same could be said for WR Jester Weah.

He’s still the leading receiver but has just four grabs in this two-game winning streak, and he’ll have to really get hot down the stretch to surpass his 870 yards and 10 touchdowns from a year ago.

Narduzzi has said that Weah is seeing more double coverage with a safety over top of him, and it helps that Rafael Araujo-Lopes has stepped up as a reliable target in the middle of the field, so don’t expect DiNucci to start forcing it to his senior target the rest of the way.

“In the pass game, you can’t look for a guy,” Narduzzi said. “I think you get in trouble when you look for a guy. … You have to do what your quarterback coach tells you to do and read your coverage.”

That is some of it. But it is also that Weah has been terribly inconsistent this year. For such a big leap he took last year, this year has seen regression. He has had a ton of drops. It probably isn’t, but it seems like every time the ball is thrown to him, it is 50-50 whether he holds on to it.

So, not sure of the frame of reference for “beginning of the season” was exactly. Also not sure when people believe the defensive line made the marked improvement. I strongly suspect it coincided with beating Duke and UVA.

Anyway, Pitt has 8 sacks and 18 TFL over the past 4 games (since Rice). Two of those 8 sacks were by Maddox and Jackson against Duke. I also believe that sacks count as TFL. That’s an average of 2 sacks and 2.5 non-sack TFL per game for the entire defensive unit.

Two of the sacks against UVA were by Roy and Folston, who are fourth year players.

Partridge should probably save the hype.

IMO the two areas that the d-line has recently shown improvement is rushing defense and short yardage.

Comment by Barvo 11.08.17 @ 1:11 pm

Pitt needs to play hard in the first quarter and score a couple of TD’s. Don’t let NC in the game.
Ball control and strong defense, pressure their QB’S. This will equal a win.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.09.17 @ 2:34 am

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