Defense and Pitt football seem like a perfect match but that hasn’t always been the case under Patt Narduzzi. But, he made a change in 2018 and the Pitt defense has been one of the best in the ACC over the last two years. Randy Bates brought a more aggressive approach to the defense and he’s been fortunate to have a handful of talented players that fit the scheme perfectly.
Up front, Pitt had the best defensive line in the ACC before Jalen Twyman opted out to prepare for the draft. After two games, I think it’s still fair to say that their front four is the best in the conference. They may not have the talent of Clemson but they are super productive and they make it hard to do anything. Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver are two of the best ends in the league and Deslin Alexandre is a guy that they can bring in that would likely start for most teams in the conference. Jones is the veteran hard worker who has developed into a NFL talent. Weaver is the super talented guy who hadn’t played a game since 2018 before last week and ended up with 3 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks in his first game back.
With Twyman out, the interior of the line doesn’t have the play making ability it had last season. But they have been stout against the run so far this year. Pitt has done a really good job of plugging the middle as well as eating up blocks and their second level defenders have feasted. It’s hard to get anything going in the run game when you have one or more unblocked guys containing everything and shooting gaps to stop plays before they get started.
I haven’t seen much from the Pitt Linebackers so far but they can all run well. Cam Bright is the veteran of the group and he’s been a beneficiary of the play up front. He plays the Star position which is similar to UofL’s Card spot. He’s done a good job setting the edge but I do wonder how he will handle beating blocks against Louisville. The rest of the group is pretty productive but I am surprised that they don’t register more tackles with the line they have in front of them. I think Louisville could have some success running the ball if this group has to make plays.
Pitt is solid at Cornerback but these guys can be beat in man coverage. Austin Peay and Syracuse had big plays where they were able to just run past the defense and Pitt will leave these guys on an island a lot. Maquis Williams is the only new starter in the secondary and he is very green. Williams is also only 5-8 so he is at a disadvantage on an island. I would imagine UofL will try to go after him a bit. Jason Pinnock is a veteran but he gave up a long touchdown against Syracuse last week. These guys aren’t big time athletes but they are sound in their technique. Louisville has to find a way to exploit the former while not getting shut down by the latter.
The Panthers have the best Safety combo in the country, in my opinion. Demar Hamlin and Paris Ford are outstanding football players. Hamlin is at his best in run support but he can cover ground as a Safety. Ford excels at just about everything and he already has two interceptions on the year. Both of these guys can and will come up and cut down outside runs consistently and they both bring some serious force when they hit you. Pitt is so aggressive up front because they have these two in the back to clean things up and they can cover slots and Tight Ends well.
I believe that Ford and Hamlin will be the key to this game. Pitt’s scheme asks a lot of them and they answer the call routinely. Can Louisville find ways to get their receivers in advantage situations? Can they run the ball well enough that Pitt brings these guys into the box for good? They have to find a way to neutralize these two guys or they’ll make plays all day.