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Pitt Looking for Big Special Teams Turnaround



PITTSBURGH — When Pitt takes the field on Saturday against Georgia Tech, a big theme for the Panthers will be overcoming the adversity of their embarrassing 51-6 loss to Penn State a week prior.

Pitt obviously had many mental and physical mistakes last week that they can hope to correct for Week 3, but many of the lessons will have to be put on hold while the Panthers face an opponent of drastically different character in Georgia Tech.

The Panthers didn’t feel like they were particularly stout against the run last week and allowed Penn State’s Miles Sanders too much room to run in the middle of the defense.

“I’d say as a whole defense, we definitely gave up way too many yards on the run,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Shane Roy said. “We pride ourselves on stopping the run and we did not do a good enough job of that against Penn State.”

Miles Sanders (24) September 8, 2018 — DAVID HAGUE

But any lessons learned from looking at the tape against the Lions can largely be thrown out the window, because this week, the Panthers defensive will be all bout stopping the dive, keep, and pitch triple option that Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall has at his disposal.

B-back KirVonte Benson will not make the trip, as he’s been ruled out for the season with a knee injury, but the Yellow Jackets have plenty more talent in their system that is designed to overcome a lack of overall offensive talent in the first place.

“They want to go barreling in that A-gap,” linebackers coach Rob Harley said. “Come hell or high water, they’re picking up yards. That’s their deal. I don’t care who it is … we’ve got to stop those guys, because they’re coming hard, either way.”

Offensively, the Panthers want to provide more protection with their offensive line and have Kenny Pickett do a better job of being patient in the pocket.

“The whole game was a lack of attention to detail,” center Jimmy Morrissey said. “We lost all of our fundamentals.”

But the offensive line’s blocking schemes will be complicated by the Yellow Jackets’ 3-4 defense that disguises blitzes to get mismatches against opposing backs and tight ends, compared to Penn State’s typical 4-3 front.

“It’s just the keys that we have to go through,” tight ends coach Tim Salem said. “You get your eyes set. There’s not a guy in front of you, but it’s who’s standing behind him and and beside you. There’s things we do. We have a blitz pickup every day for us to go over those things.”

Kenny Pickett (9) September 8, 2018 — DAVID HAGUE

About the only area of the game that will look the same this week is special teams, and it’s not like the Panthers didn’t have a lot of room to improve there.

Last week, Pitt was annihilated in field position, turned the ball over with a fumbled punt snap, botched the hold on an extra point and a field goal and had several penalties. As a result, Pitt implemented extra special teams periods during practice this week to refine what was clearly a spot that needed attention.

“We’re going to have to manage the football,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We took extra time. We actually made a little bit longer special teams periods. We practiced a few extra field goals.”

The Panthers face a special teams unit that has plenty of recent success, but that was also humbled a week ago. The Yellow Jackets allowed two kickoff returns for a touchdown in their 49-38 loss to South Florida.

“Our kicking game is not very good,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said bluntly in his weekly press conference. “We’re going to change some personnel, that’s what I’m going to do. We’re going to get some older guys out there.”

Some of the older guys have done well in the past for Georgia Tech, particularly when it comes to blocking kicks. The Yellow Jackets have blocked 16 kicks since 2013. Starting nose guard Kyle Cerge-Henderson blocked one against Mercer a season ago with a hard charge right up the middle.


Cerge-Henderson and company will be charging a beleaguered Pitt field goal unit that didn’t get either of its attempts down properly a week ago. Fill-in holder Kirk Christodoulou couldn’t get an extra point try down at all and on the lone field goal attempt, a high snap and bobble combined to throw off the timing of kicker Alex Kessman.

If regular holder Jake Scarton (left arm) can’t go, Narduzzi will have a decision to make, whether it’s Christodoulou again, wide receiver Kellen McAlone, or maybe even someone else? Holder Kenny Pickett, anyone?

Narduzzi, as usual, kept his cards close to the vest, even when it comes to something as mundane as I holder.

“I can’t give you that,” he said.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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