clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Summer Scheming ‘22: Pitt Panthers, Nov. 26

Pitt has another OC, a new starting QB, and the same tough defense with a great front four.

2021 ACC Championship - Pittsburgh v Wake Forest Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes will host the Pitt Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, November 26th. Miami leads the series over Pitt with 29 wins compared to the Panthers 11 win (the teams have tied one time). The series started back in 1950 with the Hurricanes coming away with a 28-0 victory. Miami has also won the last four meetings between the two Coastal rivals.

Info: Pitt @ Miami (Miami Gardens, FL)

Day/Time/Channel: Nov. 26, 2022 / TBA / TBA

Pat Narduzzi has gone through another OC with Mark Whipple excommunicated off to Puke Island in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Panthers are coming off their best season since 1981. Pitt has been to five bowl games in the last seven seasons, with the 2020 COVID year being the reason for one of those non-bowl seasons (eligible with a 6-5 record).

Will Pitt repeat as ACC Champs? It’s not likely. The ACC Coastal has been a shuffle since its inception, with the Panthers getting there twice since ‘05.

2021 Record: 11-3 (8-1 in the ACC, ACC Champions)

Bowl Game: Peach Bowl loss to Michigan State.

“I remember that guy!”

Craig “Ironhead” Heyward was a Pitt Panther from 1984-1987. Over three seasons at Pitt, Heyward rushed for 3,086 yards and 24 TD’s while also catching two more TD’s for the Panthers. Heyward went on to be drafted int he 1st round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints after his consensus All-American season in 1987.

The five-foot-eleven, 265 pound fullback rushed for over 4,000 yards and scored 34 TD’s over 11 seasons in the NFL. Heyward played for New Orleans from 1988-1992, and then for the Bears in ‘93, the Falcons from ‘94-’96, the Rams in ‘97, and the Colts in ‘98. Heyward rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1995, the last fullback to do so, and was a Pro Bowl selection after the ‘95 season.

Ironhead’s son, Cameron, is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All Pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a defensive tackle. His other son, Connor, is a 6th round NFL Draft pick for the Steelers. Craig sadly passed away from cancer in 2006.

Data & Personnel

Pitt heads into the 2022 season as the SP+ projected 19th best team in FBS football.

SP+ Projection Overall: 19 (Miami 14)

SP+ Proj. Offense: 20 (Miami 21)

SP+ Proj. Defense: 30 (Miami 23)

The Panthers have lost their two best offensive players from the ‘21 season. QB Kenny Pickett is now in the NFL, a potential starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. WR Jordan Addison transferred to USC (and seems to have regretted that decision).

The Athlon preseason ACC All-Conference team has one Panther on their first teams in defensive lineman Calijah Kancey. Last season, Kancey logged seven sacks a forced fumble and 13 TFL’s. Kancey has 20 TFL’s over a two year stint at Pitt and the 275 pound Miami, FL native will be a hoss to handle for an average ‘Canes O-Line.

The second team offense has offensive lineman Carter Warren. On the second team defense, Pitt has DL Habakkuk Baldonado, LB SirVocea Dennis, and Safety Brandon Hill. Baldonado dominated the edge in ‘21, picking up 12 TFL’s and nine sacks with one forced fumble. Dennis, my pick for best linebacker in college football in ‘22, came up with 10 TFL’s, four sacks, 82 stops and an interception for a TD. Hill logged five PBU’s and two INT’s a year ago.

The Panthers finally have offensive skill guys on the list, on the third team offense, in RB Israel Abanikanda, WR Jared Wayne, TE Gavin Bartholomew. OL Owen Drexel and Marcus Minor also made the third team.

Abanikanda rushed for 651 yards on 5.3 yards per carry and seven scores last season. Wayne caught six TD’s on 47 receptions as Addison’s understudy. Bartholomew caught four TD’s of his own from the tight end position.

Kicker Sam Scarton made the third team specialists. Last year Scarton made 17 of his 21 field goal attempts while hitting on 69 or 71 PAT’s.

Notables on the fourth team are WR Konata Mumpfield and S Erick Hallett. Mumpfield, an Akron transfer, caught eight TD’s for the Zips in ‘21. Hallett logged seven PBU’s for the Panthers last season along with 68 tackles and three INT’s.

Pitt Scheme on O

Frank Cignetti Jr. replaces Mark Whipple as OC of the Panthers. Cignetti is Coach Narduzzi’s third OC since the 2016 season. Prior to Whipple (2019-2021), the OC’s were Shawn Watson (2017-2018) and Matt Canada (2016).

Narduzzi chews up OC’s and then bad mouths them on the way out the door. Cignetti Jr. is from Pittsburgh, served as a Pitt GA in 1989, and was the Pitt OC from 2009-2010. Most recently Cignetti Jr. served as the OC at Boston College working with QB Phil Jurkovec.

The Panthers starting QB looks to be USC transfer Kedon Slovis. Slovis is accurate, having completed 68% of his career throws while in Los Angeles. Slovis only averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which is low by college football standards, while throwing 58 TD’s and 24 INT’s.

Let’s look at Pitt’s spring game to analyze what to expect from the Cignetti / Slovis combo at Pitt, but also long time back up Nick Pattis’ work, too.

Above- 12 personnel under center play-action bomb on the post from Patti.

Above- Narduzzi wants to run the ball, well, his O-Line’s run blocking needed to improve, too. A downhill but scatty back doesn’t hurt. Hard to tackle and low to the ground.

Above- Slovis struggles with interceptions and it continues in the spring game. It’s like he has no idea who is CAP’d or UNCAP’d.

Above- And then in honor of Ironhead Heyward, the back drags defenders into the end zone. If you can switch between a scatback and a bruiser, your offense gets that variation.

It’s hard to tell what you’re really going to get from Slovis, Patti, and Cignetti Jr. Narduzzi has publicly said he wants to run the football more, like any DC turned head coach that was used to a boring offense would.

Expect tight ends, more running on 1st and 2nd down, and protecting the QB as far as using play-action, a solid run game, and short to intermediate throws with less frequent deep balls. Whipple has always liked airing it out, all the way back to Jacory Harris and Miami back in 2009.

Pitt Scheme on D

The defense at Pitt will be the same as it’s always been thanks to head coach Pat Narduzzi. The duo of Narduzzi and Charlie Partridge have created a monster of defensive ends, linebackers, and safeties. At times, Pitt’s defense has struggled at cornerback and with finding that right hybrid safety slash linebacker guy to cover the slot and the flats in Narduzzi’s 4-2-5 quarters approach.

We’ll use the Pitt vs. Virginia game to watch the defensive cuts via All-22 film.

Above- Pitt’s standard 4-2-5 look. Narduzzi asks a lot of his cornerbacks and hasn’t always had the most talented group and it has hurt Pitt in the past.

Above- the same coach who tells players to ‘roll your hips’ on a tackle also wants that tackler to ‘run their feet’ which can’t be done.

Above- Coach Herring summing it up for us nicely.

Above- DC’s got into this ‘fence’ coverage inside the 10. It was to prevent rub routes which are ‘legal’ picks in college football. However, it’s like conceding defeat instead of fighting through the pick. You’re watching Pitt concede defeat on these two clips.

Above- The Pitt D-Line is just behind Clemson in ability. Pitt’s DL has been acquired and developed by Charlie Partridge. They’re building technical monsters in the front four.

Above- Pitt D-Line more hand fighting showing their technical prowess.

Above- A weakness for Miami has been inside linebackers who can cover. Pitt isn’t showing that problem here with the LB all over the receiver.

So, what do you do to beat Pitt’s D?

Against a D-Line this good and with the Panthers having two really good LB’s and a pair of above average safeties? You need to 1- attack the corners, 2- force the safeties to freeze up, 3- beat up on the DE’s to slow them down.

Above- Beat up on those DE’s. Read them, screen away from them, then come back and kick them out with a shoulder in their chest. Trap them, etc. But if you face a team like Pitt, beat up those DE’s.

Above- Cat and mouse games are what makes coaching football fun. If you see a defense over running to motion, motion again and again. If you see LB’s and S’s peeking in at backs or TE’s, use them as decoys to hit deep balls in 1-on-1’s vs. cornerbacks.

Every defense has a weakness, attack it.

Canyonero keys to victory

1- Protect the QB. Pitt doesn’t have to bring a ton of pressure because Charlie Partridge recruits and develops so well on the defensive line. In ‘21, Pitt came away with three sacks, eight TFL’s and four hurries. Keeping Van Dyke up right will be the first key to a win in ‘22.

2- Must stop explosive plays. Pitt is going to aim for explosive plays with Cignetti Jr at OC and Kedon Slovis at QB. Slovis comes from an Air Raid offense at USC and has 58 TD’s to his credit. Miami DB’s allowed too many big plays under Manny Diaz and I’m curious to see how the back five play under Kevin Steele.

3- Must make explosive plays. On the flip side, Miami will need explosive plays to offset Slovis. Charleston Rambo is gone, but Miami still has Xavier Restrepo, Will Mallory, Elijah Arroyo and Key’Shawn Smith who can all be big play guys. As can Frank Ladson, the transfer from Clemson.

Way too early prediction: Miami by 4.