CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Welcome to the PSN Film Study. In this space, we’ll break down some of the big plays and tactical mismatches from each Pitt football game.
If you’re new here, I tend to build onto concepts I’ve already explained in the past at times, so if you feel like you’re missing something, the archive is a good place to check.
After re-watching Pitt’s 23-13 win over Virginia from Friday night, it’s pretty clear that Pitt’s rushing game is really, really good.
Virginia has as a very talented defense that Pitt abused at the point of the attack, with four seniors and Jimmy Morrissey controlling the line, Grant Carrigan, Carson Van Lynn, Jim Medure and George Aston blowing up linebackers and Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison gashing through truck-sized holes.
But there was something different schematically about the way Pitt attacked Virginia’s 3-4 defense in the running game, and I wanted to highlight that in this space.
They used — heavily — a concept we’ve talked about briefly already this season. In fact, I even highlighted a play Duke ran out of the formation last week.
Here’s Hall’s 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Pitt is lined up with twin receivers to the field. That forces Virginia into a choice — to put their boundary corner “over” to cover Maurice Ffrench in the slot, or leave a linebacker on Ffrench to keep the formation balanced.
Virginia choses the latter, which leaves left outside linebacker No. 11 Charles Snowden out of the tackle box and replaces him with corner No. 5 Tim Harris.
Kenny Pickett makes a check at the line of scrimmage to an outside zone handoff to the left.
Jim Medure lets the inside-driving outside linebacker go, leaving him for George Aston, and gets up to the second level on Harris. Stefano Millin seals the right inside linebacker to make the hole.
The safety gets sucked up into the wash and Snowden never has an angle on Hall because of how wide to the field side he’s playing.
Let’s fast forward to the third quarter. It’s the same formation for Pitt. This time, Virginia does send its corner over.
Pitt runs at the twinned corners now, with vertical routes from Ffrench and Dontavius Butler-Jenkins clearing space, Millin setting the edge and Hall beating the inside linebacker to the corner for a nice gain.
Here’s a 3rd and 1 on that same drive. It’s the same formation and Virginia doesn’t send the corners over, leaving Snowden and safety Brenton Nelson to deal with Ffrench.
Again, Pickett checks to the boundary outside zone, and this time Ollison is one flailing arm tackle away from taking it to the house.
Each man at the top of the screen blocks a different defender, but the concept is identical. The outside linebacker stays in his lane instead of driving inside, so Carrigan handles him. Millin seals at the second level. Aston shoots through the hole and hits the safety, leaving only the unblocked corner to make a shoestring tackle to save a touchdown.
Same drive, same formation and Virginia tries a different tactic. The field corner is now playing off coverage, with Snowden pressed up against the slot receiver Ffrench.
Watch Snowden as the play gets started. He doesn’t realize that it’s a run until Ffrench starts to block him six yards down the field. The safeties do a good job of fitting this one to hold Ollison to a seven-yard gain, but Pitt completely neutralized one of Virginia’s best defenders by sending Ffrench into a six-yard pass route.
The same drive, a few plays later, and Pitt unveils a wrinkle. This time, they motion into the formation on the boundary side of the field.
Virginia doesn’t send a player with Ffrench, so outside linebacker No. 13 Chris Peace is responsible for him. Watch as Ffrench runs Peace so far out of the play that Alex Bookser doesn’t even have anyone to block.
I also want to highlight two individual blocks on that one. Watch Mike Herndon do a 180-degree spin in the hole to get off his double team and find his linebacker and Mathews still blocking his man 20 yards down field.
Now for the big one.
One play after Virginia’s field goal made it a one-point game, Pitt had the ball at its own 25-yard line. This is the same formation, with twins to the field. Virginia rotates again, with Snowden and Nelson over Ffrench.
This one is blocked differently, as Connor Dintino is pulling, but the concept is the same. Mathews and Ffrech run their men off, no one has to account for Snowden, the strong safety gets sucked in, and no one ever lays a finger on Hall.
Pitt’s offensive line run blocks so well and Hall had an incredible game, but Pitt also decisively won this cat-and-mouse game and neutralized Virginia’s outside linebackers, which are its best playmakers.
CARTER, VOLUME 2
V’Lique Carter didn’t have a big impact in his second game, as Virginia was mostly able to shut down the jet sweep game.
But his abilities did open other things up for the Panthers.
Watch here as Carter’s motion, combined with action from Aston, send three Virginia defenders sprinting to the field side of the defense.
Free safety Joey Blount recovers, but not in time, giving Hall room to gain a first down.
DEALING WITH PERKINS
Bryce Perkins is an elite ballcarrier from the quarterback position. Pitt’s defensive ends had to play it extremely cautious on the pass rush to both try to impact his throwing routine and keep contain of an explosive player.
Here’s a few examples of their tactic.
Watch Dewayne Hendrix here. He makes his initial rush up the field and creates separation with his block, but instead of continuing up the field and creating a rushing lane, he turns straight inward, collapsing the pocket and flushing Perkins.
Here’s Rashad Weaver doing something similar. He comes up field creates separation, but then spins back into the hole he created to trap Perkins.
Here, Weaver is unblocked, so Hendrix is free to come all the way around the end to pressure from the back side.
Perkins had 15 carries for a total of negative seven yards on the day, mostly thanks to the five sacks and the containment play of Pitt’s defensive ends.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!