Welcome to the rivalry week edition of Five Questions at Five. Let’s get right into it:
@zimmerman_esq: Win or lose, what specific player or scheme improvement will you be watching most closely for against Penn State?
To me, it all comes down to Max Browne. If Pitt loses to Penn State, but Browne is able to direct the offense down the field like we saw Nate Peterman do so often in 2016, I think that’s a pretty good sign for the Panthers going forward.
On the other hand, if Browne struggles under pressure or is unable to keep the chains moving, it could not only be a long day for the Pitt offense, but portent a long season for the Panthers, as well.
Even if the pass defense improves as the season goes on, it doesn’t seem likely that unit will be a strength of the team. That means Pitt will always be vulnerable to quick-strike offense and to be consistently competitive, they’ll need the ability to respond in kind.
I’m particularly interested in seeing how Pitt uses Jester Weah and Aaron Mathews to spread the defense down the field, something they didn’t do at all against Youngstown State.
@412_h2p: You have to sell out and stop Barkley right? And then just pray McSorely makes some timely mistakes?
I think that’s absolutely the game plan. It’s the status quo game plan for Pitt on almost any Saturday and the fact that Barkley single-handedly buried Akron and is a Heisman Trophy candidate will only enhance that.
Pitt fans should feel pretty good about their chances of success, too. Pitt was able to keep Barkley relatively bottled up last year and over the years, Narduzzi’s defensive scheme has been able to shut down top runners more often than not.
Jump balls down the field are going to be part of the game plan for any offense against Pitt’s scheme, but I think there’s been significant improvement in the play of Pitt’s cornerbacks from a year ago. Offenses are still going to get some, but I don’t see this as the glaring issue it was in 2016. Except maybe against Oklahoma State.
The places I think Penn State has the biggest advantage over Pitt is Barkley running passing routes out of the backfield and tight end Mike Gesicki, who is a matchup nightmare.
@BrunoPittsburgh: Always had this question. What is the breaking point for driving/flying 2 a game for teams (pro & college)? Pitt to PSU? Fly?
Pitt bussed to Penn State this week and they have done the same when traveling to nearby schools that are about four hours away or less. Other teams with bigger budgets may fly slightly more often, but that seems to be about standard.
In other sports like basketball and baseball, where the team is smaller and travels with less equipment, teams seem to fly more often than they do in sports like football and hockey.
This will probably be Pitt’s only bus trip like this of the season.
@GrndCntrl2MajTom: All the pressure is on them to beat Pitt at home. Is PSU overrated?
The short answer is probably.
Thanks to the wonderful statistical wizards at FiveThirtyEight, I can tell you pretty definitely that certain teams get pretty consistently overrated by the pollsters, and Penn State is one of them.
Penn State is the fourth-most likely school in the country to be overrated when comparing their preseason ranking to the end-of-year mark.
That being said, Vegas started this game out with a 19-point spread, and it keeps creeping in the Nittany Lions’ direction. Just this week, Bovada started out at Penn State -20.5 and it’s now gone all the way to -21.5.
I think that’s probably more of reaction to the lack of enthusiasm Pitt fans had after watching near disaster in Week 1 and the possible overconfidence in the Penn State fanbase at drubbing Akron than it has to say about the way the game will play out.
@9timevictor: Status updates on Moss and Hamlin?
I would be shocked if Chawntez Moss doesn’t play. He was hobbled a bit in training camp and I think him not playing against Youngstown State was more precautionary than anything. I thought Qadree Ollison did a pretty good job against the Penguins, but it was pretty clear the offense lacked the burst of speed that Moss can provide.
As far as Hamlin, I’m going to do a complete 180. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see him for some time. Obviously, I didn’t see practice this week (thanks, Pat!) but Hamlin hadn’t been a full participant in practice at any point this season. It’d be pretty tough for him to play this Saturday even if he went full all week and there’s no guarantee that he’d unseat any of the current starters even if he did.