Pittsburgh Panther football has been a staple of the Big East since long before I was born and it is still weird to think that it won't be around next year. They have a proud tradition of putting guys in the NFL and boring you to death with a pro-style offense. This year they brought in Paul Chryst from Wisconsin and he has installed a very solid offense and a stout defense.
It took six weeks but Louisville's defense will not have to prepare for a spread offense for the first time this season. Pitt's offense has changed coaches a few times over the last few years but they have pretty much stuck with a pro-style, run first offense each year. Todd Graham was supposed to bring an exciting air attack to Pittsburgh last year, but they ended up being a run-oriented team anyway.
This season Chryst has done a great job of using the run game to open up the passing game. The Panthers have a top-10 passing attack and wide receiver Mike Shanahan is having a big season. Tino Sunseri has protected the ball much better than he has in the past so the offense has been able to move the ball pretty well. Devin Street and Shanahan are both over six foot four so they provide big targets for the veteran quarterback to get the ball to. Unlike most of the teams we've played so far, those two guys are the only real major targets in the passing game. Pitt killed Virginia Tech's zone blitzes a few weeks ago because their defensive backs spent too much time looking into the backfield. Bedford's reliance on man coverage should help Louisville slow down Pitt''s play-action heavy approach.
Pitt has has reloaded at running back for what seems like forever and this year is really no different. Ray Graham has returned from the torn ACL that cut his great season short last year. Looking at Graham on film he really only looks about 75%, but he is still super productive. He can cut like he always has and he is still a nightmare as a release valve for Sunseri. He just really looks like a guy that is carrying a bum leg around. He is spelled pretty regularly by true freshman Rushel Shell. Shell was, in my opinion, the best running back in last years class. He averaged out at #3 among the top four recruiting services and decided to stay home in Pennsylvania instead of going to some of the top schools in the country. Shell had a monster game against VaTech but he missed the majority of their game last week with a back injury. Shell not being 100% this week would be big because the passing game could struggle against Louisville's pressure defense.
This could be the week that Louisville finally makes some plays behind the line of scrimmage. Pitt was plagued by porous offensive line play last season and it really hasn't gotten much better this year. Both Walter Stewart of Cincinnati and (former UofL commit) Brandon Sharpe of Syracuse have had Big East Player of the week performances against Pitt so far and I really think that Marcus Smith could do the same. Pitt doesn't do anything exotic on offense so Louisville should be able to blitz at will and test this offensive line. I think that eventually that will open up a lot of one-on-one opportunities for our defensive ends. That hasn't gone well for Pitt so far in Big East play and I don't see any reason it should change now.
Key Players: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, WR Mike Shanahan, WR Devin Street, RB Rushel Shell
Pitt's defense has had somewhat of an up and down season so far. They started off the year by giving up 35 points to Youngstown State, which is a FCS school. Pitt followed that up by giving up 259 yards rushing and 8.4 yards per carry to Cincinnati the next week. Since that game, Pitt's defense has done very well to keep points of the board for opposing offenses. They're only giving up 13 a game over their last three contest and two of those scores have not come from the opposing offenses. It usually takes a couple of games to settle in with a new coach and it seems like the Panther defense is doing just that.
Pitt plays a base 4-3 defense with a nickel package that they play on third downs and spread packages. Louisville has faced a few different types of defenses this year and this will only be the second time that they really see a true 4-3 defense. Pitt is as old school as it gets and they play, what is in my opinion, a very vanilla defense. They rely on their front four to get pressure on the quarterback and they play their linebackers deep so that they can play angles and beat blockers to the spot. Louisville's offensive line is pretty athletic so it should help negate that.
Pitt's secondary plays a pretty basic ten yard man coverage. The linebackers play underneath zone to try to take away the short pass and their corners line up a few yards shorter than safeties. From time to time the corners will come up and press receivers, but their safeties always line up deep. Jarred Holley drops down as a robber after the snap sometimes but Teddy should be able to read the defense pretty easily and use the short passing game to his advantage. The pass rush hasn't been great for Pitt so they will probably need to bring a few blitzes early. If they don't Teddy will get in a rhythm and it could be a long day for their defense.
- Aaron Donald is regarded by many as the best defensive lineman in the big east. He was picked as a preseason all Big East pick in every publication I can think of.
- Pitt only returned two starters in their front seven this year. It was more than likely a big factor in the large amount of rushing yards they gave up early in the season.
- Ray Graham, Tino Sunseri, Cameron Sadler, Devin Street, Mike Shanahan, and Jarred Holley have been at Pitt for a combined 107 years.
- Tino Sunseri was at one point a UofL commit.