PITTSBURGH — There were a few big plays in Pitt’s 37-34 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday that involved players that were eligible and ineligible.
With Pitt using a lot of unbalanced sets this season, I thought it would be a good time to focus on that during this week’s film study.
Let’s dig in.
O’NEILL FOR PIESMAN
The Piesman Trophy is a real thing — well, it’s a real thing on the internet, at least. I’m not sure if they have an actual trophy.
Brian O’Neill and the Pitt offensive line is probably in consideration for this play that scored the Panthers’ first touchdown Saturday.
O’Neill was lined up at left tackle, with Adam Bisnowaty flipped to the other side of the formation. Jaymar Parrish was a tight end on the right side, but he was covered up by Jester Weah. Only the outermost players of the formation on the line of scrimmage are eligible, meaning Weah and O’Neill would have been the eligible receivers and Parrish was ineligible.
But O’Neill can never be an eligible player, because he wears 70. In college football, players with numbers between 50 and 79 can never be eligible. In the NFL, they can report in as eligible before each play.
Because O’Neill isn’t eligible, the pass from Peterman needed to travel backwards, which makes it a lateral. The only legal ways to get the ball to a lineman are to lateral it to him for to intentionally fumble the ball.
As you can see, Nate Peterman and O’Neill do a nice job of making sure the ball traveled backwards.
Pitt has used an unbalanced line like this to confuse opposing defense about who is an eligible receiver all season. Having to account for the tackle brings one more wrinkle to it.
Part of that confusion that Pitt hopes to sow can have a downside: it gets confusing for the officials, too.
On this first-down play, George Aston gained about 11 yards on a shovel pass, but it was called back due to a Pitt penalty.
Scott Orndoff was flagged for being an ineligible receiver downfield. As you can see, Orndoff is covered up by Aaron Mathews, making him ineligible on the play. Ineligible players can’t travel more than three yards downfield on a passing play, and Orndoff far exceeded that.
But, there’s an exception to that rule — lineman and other ineligible players can travel downfield on passes that are caught before the line of scrimmage. The typical example for that is a screen pass, but Peterman’s pass to Aston was caught behind the line of scrimmage, as well, which means the flag on Orndoff was unwarranted.
With Georgia Tech driving in the fourth quarter, quarterback Justin Thomas scrambled around for what seemed like an eternity and found a wide-open receiver for a touchdown.
The receiver was open because Pitt cornerback Dane Jackson abandoned his man to pursue Thomas. It turned out to be a smart play, as the Yellow Jackets were flagged for an ineligible man downfield on the play.
The play started with some play action, and as part of that, the Georgia Tech offensive line was run blocking. The center and both tackles got five yards down field before stopping. At that point, it would be illegal for Thomas to make a forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage.
When Thomas rolled left, Jackson smartly left his man in order to cover the only legal way Georgia Tech had to advance the ball — the quarterback.