THE MATCHUP: Pitt (2-2) vs. Marshall (1-2)
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST
WHERE: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
WATCH: Root Sports Pittsburgh
LISTEN: 93.7 The Fan & The Pitt IMG Sports Network
The Panthers return to Heinz Field Saturday as they look to rebound from a pair of closely-contested road losses. Pitt will face their final non-conference opponent of 2016 in the Marshall Thundering Herd; another team on a two game losing streak.
Marshall, under 7th year head coach Doc Holliday, began the 2016 season with a decisive 62-0 victory over FCS opponent Morgan State. In week 2, they were beaten at home by the Akron Zips, 65-38. Last weekend, Marshall lost 59-28 to the now 3rd-ranked Louisville Cardinals. 21 of the Herd’s 28 points were scored in the 4th quarter once the Cardinals had already established a comfortable 52-7 lead. Marshall, having won 10 or more games in the previous 3 seasons, will look to return to winning ways Saturday in their first road game of the season.
The Herd are led on offense by 6’6” 211 pound sophomore quarterback, Chase Litton. Litton began the season by throwing for 722 yards, 10 touchdowns, and three interceptions through Marshall’s first two games—with all 3 interceptions coming against Akron. However, he missed the Louisville game after sustaining a 4th quarter concussion against Akron. In his place, Garet Morrell completed 9 of 21 passes for 59 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception against the Cardinals. Per ESPN, Morrell’s performance earned a QBR of 3.3. After practicing on Tuesday, Litton is expected to return to the starting lineup against the Panthers.
Litton, and even Morrell in his limited passing attempts, have distributed the ball evenly amongst a corps of receiving options. Their top two targets thus far are Josh Knight and Ryan Yuracheck. Knight, a 6’1” 195 pound senior receiver, leads the team with 10 receptions for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. Yuracheck, a 2015 Conference USA honorable mention at tight end, sits right behind Knight with 7 receptions for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns.
When running the ball, Marshall disperses their carries between four backs: Keion Davis has 36 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown; Hyleck Foster has 33 carries for 142 yards; Tony Pittman has 16 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns; and Anthony Anderson has 20 carries for 76 yards. The Herd’s leading rusher, and their leader in attempts, have alternated each game. On Tuesday, Coach Holliday announced that Pittman will start at running back against Pitt, and that the 6’2” 252 pound Anderson will receive more reps. Regardless of how many backs carry the ball, they will run behind an offensive line that returns 4 starters, including 6’5” 305 pound right tackle, Clint Van Horn. The 2014 first team All-Conference USA honoree returns after missing all but 3 games in 2015 due to injury.
Marshall will face a Pitt defense whose scouting report remains the same as last week. After allowing 18 yards rushing on 22 attempts against UNC, their reputation against the run remains intact. The Panthers rank 3rd in the nation against the run, allowing just 61.3 yards-per-game. However, just as the run defense performed to its high standards, the Panthers’ secondary continued to struggle. Mitch Trubisky went 35 of 46 for 453 yards and 5 touchdowns through the air. Four UNC receivers registered receptions of over 20-yards, with Ryan Switzer recording a game-long of 58-yards. Also, Ryan Lewis conceded 2 touchdowns to Bug Howard on fade routes—including the game winner—despite committing pass-interference on both plays. To date, Pitt’s secondary ranks second-to-last in pass defense. Their 361.0 yards-per-game rank ahead of only Arizona State in the FBS. On Monday, Pat Narduzzi explained the cause behind Pitt’s performances against the pass this season:
“I would say details in the backend. There are some playmakers out there offensively that have got us. Teams have done a great job on offense…When you face a good football team, the attention to detail and fundamentals have to be perfect. If they aren’t perfect, you’re going to give up some yards. We really only had one busted coverage. Other than that, it was details in the coverage that need to be worked on.”
Should Chase Litton be 100% on Saturday, Pitt fans may have reason to worry: 9 different receivers on Marshall have recorded a reception of over 20 yards this year when Litton plays.
Defensively, Marshall ranks 113th in total defense despite shutting out Morgan State in the opener. As College Football News’ Rich Cerminiello detailed prior to the 2016 season, the Thundering Herd faced uncertainty on defense following the departures of 6 players who earned at least honorable mention All-Conference USA. Statistically, Marshall has not fully replaced the production of those 6 players (though it should be noted that Heisman trophy frontrunner Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals have registered video game-esque statistics on offense all season). As Cerminiello also illuminated, the Herd have replaced some of their departures with transfers from Power-5 teams. Linebacker Davon Durant (Arizona State) is 4th on the team in tackles, and safety C.J. Reavis (Virginia Tech) ranks 5th with 17. Transfers aside, safety Corey Neely has registered a team-high 23 tackles, while adding 1 forced fumble and an interception. Also, 6’7” 260 pound defensive end Ryan Bee leads the defensive line, with 11 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss, and 1.5 sacks.
Marshall will look to stop a Panther offense centered on the run game. Currently, Pitt’s 249.5 rushing yards-per-game rank 15th in the FBS. James Conner, who has scored a rushing touchdown in each of his last 12 games, continues to lead the attack. Wide receiver Quadree Henderson, the nation’s leader in net all-purpose yards, has become Pitt’s second leading rusher this season. The 5’8” 190 pound sophomore even led the panthers in rushing versus UNC with 107 yards on 9 carries.
Below is how Pitt and Marshall compare:
|Points Per Game||36.0||32.0||42.7||41.3|
|Points Off Turnovers||35||13||41||38|
|Yards Gained Rushing||1108||435||568||543|
|Yards Lost Rushing||110||190||89||78|
|Average Yards Per Rush||5.0||2.1||4.0||4.3|
|Average Yards Per Game||249.5||61.2||159.7||155.0|
|Average Yards Per Pass||6.7||9.1||8.0||8.9|
|Average Yards Per Catch||11.1||14.3||14.6||16.2|
|Average Yards Per Game||160.8||361.0||272.7||323.7|
|Average Yards Per Play||5.6||6.1||5.8||6.6|
|Average Yards Per Game||410.2||422.2||432.3||478.7|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||12-371||14-251||18-388||10-189|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||7-67||11-123||6-30||6-62|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||2-0||2-11||2-6||4-73|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||30.9||17.9||21.6||18.9|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||9.6||11.2||5.0||10.3|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||0.0||5.5||3.0||18.2|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||5-3||10-7||3-3||7-6|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||25-232||24-186||34-345||33-345|
|Average Per Game||58.0||46.5||115.0||115.0|
|PUNTS – YARDS||26-1092||24-1018||18-696||15-499|
|Average Yards Per Punt||42.0||42.4||38.7||33.3|
|Net Yards Per Punt||36.5||38.8||35.2||31.3|
|KICKOFFS – YARDS||26-1632||24-1498||21-1314||22-1293|
|Average Yards Per Kick||62.8||62.4||62.6||58.8|
|Net Yards Per Kick||41.6||35.5||42.9||36.6|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||36:03||23:57||30:54||29:06|
|4th Down Percentage||100%||71%||100%||50%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||17-149||3-30||7-49||6-39|
|PAT’S MADE / ATTEMPTED||19/19||15/15||17/18||16/17|
For the second week in a row, the Panthers will face a team struggling to maintain composure on the field. Marshall ranks dead last in the FBS when it comes to penalty yards-per-game, conceding an average of 115 yards over three games. Against Louisville, starting safety Kendall Gant was ejected in the 2nd quarter for targeting.
Marshall is a little banged up, but healthy overall. As previously mentioned, Chase Litton is set to return from his concussion. Ryan Bee, who left the game against Louisville due to injury, has been named a captain for Saturday. It is expected that the rest of the Thundering Herd will be ready to go.
On the other side of the field, there are no new injuries to confirm for the Panthers. Mike Caprara’s status remains uncertain after missing the UNC game with a lower body injury. Elijah Zeise, Dewayne Hendrix, and Dontez Ford will all sit. And while Pat Narduzzi mentioned on Monday that Damar Hamlin is “progressing nicely,” no date has been set for the freshman’s debut. However, as reported by Pittsburgh Sports Now’s Alan Saunders, Hamlin participated in full during the media portion of Tuesday’s practice.
This weekend’s matchup will be aired at 7:30pm on Root Sports, and can be heard on 93.7 The Fan. As always, PSN’s staff will provide updates and in-game observations via Twitter.
Saturday will be the first time Pitt and Marshall meet on the field. Aside from head coach Doc Holliday’s years as a player and coach at rival West Virginia, no real history exists between the two teams. However, the pressure of avoiding a 3-game losing streak should present enough narrative for Pitt and Marshall fans alike.