Louisville has faced off against two defenses over the last two weeks that haven't done much this season to gain much respect. Pitt is an entirely different beast. It's coached by 2014 Broyles Award nominee Josh Conklin and we all know how good of a coach 2013 winner, Pat Narduzzi is. Pitt doesn't have the guys that fit the system just yet, but good coaches get the most out of what they have and Pitt has done just that.
The defensive front is led by defensive end Ejuan Price (Pronounced "Juan" if you want to sound smart). Price is among the league leaders in tackles for loss and sacks. He's had his best games in some of Pitt's biggest games. If you like comparisons, Elvis Dumervill is a decent one. Price is a short guy that uses leverage better than anyone I've watched this year. He can walk a tackle back into the pocket by getting underneath them or he can use his speed to blow by them. Price doesn't have a bag of pass rushing moves he can reach into but he does understand how to utilize his size very well and it gets results.
Tyrique Jarrett is the best interior linemen for the Panthers. He has 5.5 tackles for loss on the year and he is absolutely massive. Louisville will likely have to double team him if Pitt forces them to run between the tackles. Rori Blair is an interesting player for Pitt, also. He is a lanky guy that plays opposite Price and he's made a good amount of plays over the last two weeks that won't show up in the stat sheet. Blair is also apparently partially deaf after having a stroke. He relies on weakside outside linebacker Mike Caprara to tap him when adjustments are made.
The group of linebackers for the Panthers is very good. Matt Galambos is the middle linebacker and he does just about everything that is asked of him well. He can play the inside and outside runs and he's a good blitzer. He doesn't make a lot of "wow" plays like a Steven Daniels or Jerod Fernandez, but he makes solid plays and gets enough impact plays. Nicholas Grigsby is the player on this defense that will likely have the biggest assignment. Grigsby is used in coverage pretty often and he's plenty athletic enough but he will likely be lining up against UofL's athletic tight ends and slot receivers Saturday. Pitt runs a quarters-man concept that sometimes puts Grigsby against an inside slot receiver and he will have to be able to hang with some really talented players.
Mike Caprara fills the quota for "scrappy undersized guy" that Pitt is required to have. Caprara is the best blitzer for Pitt and he's had a good amount of success in that department this season. UofL has struggled with weakside blitzes from linebackers for two years and I don't really see that changing this game if UofL finds themselves in third and long. They have to account for the backside pressure or Kyle Bolin will be rushed all day.
Pitt is the first team I've watched this year that not only runs man coverage exclusively, but also doesn't use a fifth defensive back. Pitt runs their base defense and makes you beat it. This is the spot where they really don't have the personnel to do what they want but that hasn't stopped them at all. The "Quarters Press" as it has been described is just what it sounds like. The four defensive backs cover a quarter of the field and they press on the corners. Their safeties are typically 7-10 yards off of slot receivers and their is no one deep. If a safety is responsible for a tight end or back that stays in to block, that safety goes into a zone. The corners are on an island and they have to make the play. Plenty of times this year, they haven't made that play and Pit has been burned. Will Fuller of Notre Dame was open for what seemed like 20 catches and 10 touchdowns. Pitt's corners couldn't run with him (No corner in the country can run with Fuller) and Pitt gave up 42 points.
Lafayette Pitts is the top corner for the Panthers and his seven passes defensed is a very respectable number. However, the rate that he is beaten bodes well for Louisville. Pitts is a physical player against the run but he's not a great press corner and from everything I've seen it looks like Pitt's corners are being coached to not bump at the line. That leads to easy releases where the receiver is already even with the corner and as the saying goes "If he's even, he's leavin". Pitts and Avonte Maddox are not bad players by any stretch but sometimes you wonder if they'd be better off putting a safety over top from time to time. The pass rush hasn't had a lot of success getting to the quarterback so the defensive scheme isn't really working the way it's supposed to. At some point you have to think about changing things up. However, after the Notre Dame game Narduzzi made it obvious that he's sticking to his guns.
The safeties for Pitt are a really good combo. Jordan Whitehead is maybe the best freshman in the entire conference and Terrish Webb has been really impressive in coverage as well as against the run. I tend to become enamored with good safeties and Whitehead is the next in line for my adoration. He does just about everything you could ask of a safety. He's slightly undersized at 5-11, 195 but you would never know by the way he attacks ball carriers. Whitehead is second in the conference in solo tackles which is very impressive for a freshman. He will be a player that UofL will definitely have to account for. Webb has missed some time this year but he's a very solid player that does well in short area coverage. Where UofL can exploit Webb is if he has to line up against a guy like James Quick in the slot. Webb doesn't have the speed to keep up with a guy like that and, if the protection can hold up, UofL would do well to look his way.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Ejuan Price, SLB Nicholas Grigsby, MLB Matt Galambos, WLB Mike Caprara, SS Jordan Whitehead