Tell me if you've heard this story before.
New up and coming coach from Conference USA lands at a Big East school after the previous coach was fired after an alleged assault. The new coach has an exciting new offense that racked up the points in C-USA, but so far it hasn't lived up to expectations. It turns out that their 2nd year starting quarterback is struggling grasping the new offense, and its led to some pretty bad decisions. Receivers overthrown, misreading the defense, interceptions at the most inopportune time. It's gotten so bad that fans are clamoring for the backup to replace him, even though he's a walk-on true freshman.
Teams are stacking 8 and 9 players in the box because of the quarterback, but also because their running game has been carrying the offense so far this year.
Thankfully, the defense is quality and keeps the team in each game. The stable of linebackers are the team's strength and they have consistently shut down the opposing team's rushing offense. The defense gets in 3rd and long situations most of the game, but for some reason can't seem to kill off drives and allow opponents to convert in these scenarios.
And while they have had some success this year, the team couldn't finish off a couple of high-profile victories due to the offense's inability to run the two-minute drill in pressure situations.
Does this sound familiar? If you would have guessed last year's USF team you'd be right, but this is exactly how Pitt's year has gone so far this season. Yes, even down to the walk-on true freshman backup in Trey Anderson.
Pitt is trying to convert to Head Coach Todd Graham's "High Octane" offense, but so far, it hasn't been anywhere close to the final product Graham had while at Tulsa. The big problem is that Tino Sunseri just hasn't had enough reps in the system to figure things out. His stat line looks ok with 823 yards with 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a 65% completion percentage, but he can't hit the open receiver downfield and the large amount of screen plays to Ray Graham pad his stats up. Tino is holding onto the ball far too long, and he has 17 sacks to prove it. Like B.J. Daniels last year, he didn't have enough gametime experience to see what defenses would do.
While the rushing attack for USF was a mix between Moise Plancher and Demetris Murray last year, Ray Graham is the 1st-3rd options at RB for the Panthers. Graham is a perfect blend of speed and power, and he will be the focus point of the defense tonight. Graham's 508 yards have come at a nice 5.8 YPC and has the ability to grind out yards and tire defenses like he did last year. Graham has also done a great job catching balls out of the backfield catching a team high 21 balls this season for 121 yards. Big challenge for Sam Barrington, Mike Lanaris, and DeDe Lattimore tonight.
Other than Ray Graham, Sunseri has three other options that he goes to in TE Hubie Graham (12 REC/ 151 YD/ 1 TD) and WRs Devin Street (17 REC/ 251 YD/ 1 TD) and
Thee offensive line is subpar, and even more so now that G Chris Jacobson is out for the season with a torn ACL. They do a decent job run blocking, but the OL is giving up over 4 sacks a game, including 5 last week to Notre Dame. Part of the fact is that Sunseri is holding the ball far too long, but they aren't giving him enough time to make quality decisions either.
Pitt runs a 3-4 defense, and that would normally be a problem except we've already faced 2 3-4's already this year in Notre Dame and Florida A&M. The strength of the defense lies in the front seven, with DE/OLB Brandon Lindsey, LB Max Gruber, and LB Tristan Roberts leading the way. The run defense has been stout, giving up only 106 YPG on the ground, but USF will have focus on exploiting the passing defense. Pitt is giving up over 300 YPG through the air, and that isn't skewed by some insane numbers from one team. They've been consistently picked on all year from Maine to Notre Dame, and I wouldn't be surprised if Daniels has a big game tonight through the air.
One quick note on special teams. K Kevin Harper has missed 6 of his last 7 attempts, including chips from 25, 24, and 23 yards away.
What do I think will happen? Daniels is going to have a big day passing the ball, Graham will keep this close for Pitt, but Sunseri will be pressured into a big mistake and the Bulls will coast into the bye week with a big 31-14 win.