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Five Pitt Questions at Five: DiNucci, Aston and More



If Pitt fans are down and out about the team after a 1-2 start, they didn’t show it this week in my inbox. I think I had the hardest time picking just five this week. Great stuff, folks. Let’s dive right in.

@halvybuckets: Who starts at QB?

Thank you, for asking the most obvious question imaginable. Some weeks, it needs answered.

It will be Ben DiNucci, unless I’m totally misreading the situation. But there’s a big difference between starting and finishing. I would not expect him to get a particularly long leash if things don’t go well.

Pitt quarterback Ben DiNucci (3) signals for a block as he rushes against the OK State Cowboys. — Matt Durisko

If it’s not DiNucci, it’ll be Max Browne. Those two are leaps and bounds ahead of Thomas MacVittie, who I’m told has fallen behind true freshman Kenny Pickett amongst the youngsters. I don’t see a situation that the team would be willing to burn Pickett’s redshirt.

Morgan @mport56: Is George Aston the savior of the Pitt offense? Yes? or Yes?

Well, since you didn’t give me much of a choice, I’ll go with yes.

Seriously, though. I asked Chawntez Moss about what it’s been like this year so far without Aston in the mix and he admitted it’s been different. I think Aston will make the biggest difference in the red zone, where he can be a weapon blocking, rushing or pass catching unlike pretty much anyone else on the team. Any time a team can put 10 touchdowns back on the field, that’s a big plus.

George Aston October 27, 2016 (Photo credit: David Hague)

Drew Nedzinski @drewneddy: Will GT’s week off before help or hurt against Pitt?

I think this is an underrated issue that no one is talking about. Georgia Tech got an unexpected bye week thanks to Hurricane Irma, when the Yellow Jackets’ visit to UCF was canceled due to the weather.

That has given Paul Johnson a definite leg up on Narduzzi when it comes to game planning. It’s a big advantage when Johnson’s scheme is so similar from year to year. They could put in an entire new package and take the Panthers completely off guard with something they haven’t sen yet.

Carlo Veltri @vetchy119: Can Jordan Whitehead play right tackle?

No. But someone else might be.

Alex Bookser and Jaryd Jones-Smith were listed as co-starters this week at right tackle. Last week, Bookser played a little tackle and Mike Herndon came off the bench to fill in at guard. But Herndon picked up a holding penalty and didn’t see much action after that.

This week, guard/tackle Brandon Hodges is expected to return from his injury absence against Oklahoma State. That gives Pitt a more experienced option at guard if the Panthers want to move Bookser to tackle and I would be surprised if we don’t see that alignment at some point this week.

I’ll say this, though. Jones-Smith has done a lot better in run blocking than pass blocking. If they’re going to run the ball more or do more option or RPO looks with DiNucci under center, that might solve a lot of the issues at right tackle all by itself.

@pridefulpsu: When will (Pat Narduzzi) change up his defensive scheme / get rid of (DC Josh) Conklin?

I like a big-picture question about once a week and this is a good one.

Here’s the thing. Pitt’s defense under Narduzzi/Conklin has been pretty bad through two years and three games. But it’s Narduzzi’s defense. Conklin may call the plays, but he’s calling them from Narduzzi’s playbook. The two of them game plan for opposing offenses together. So when it comes to what the defense does on any given week, Conklin doesn’t have a lot to say that’s independent of what Narduzzi is saying.

Pat Narduzzi September 2, 2017 — David Hague

Now, maybe if Narduzzi ends up with enough pressure that his own job is in jeopardy, firing Conklin becomes something that might be come as a way to save his own skin. But I don’t see him deciding to move on from Conklin because of the performance of their defense.

On the other hand, I’ve heard that the departure of defensive line coach Tom Sims over last offseason was tied mostly to perceived losses in recruiting. If Conklin is having a hard time closing on Pitt’s top defensive targets (think Kwantel Raines), then that might be an impetus for Narduzzi to make a move.

If Conklin is fired to save Narduzzi’s skin, I would think that would also mean an outside hire and probably some type of scheme change. If it’s just about recruiting, Pitt would have two solid internal candidates in Rob Harley and Charlie Partridge. But I wouldn’t expect Conklin to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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