PITTSBURGH — 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.
I’m assuming you’ve been to a concert of a once-great act before. You know, the kind of artist that hasn’t made a relevant song this decade, but can still sell out venues and inspire crowds by playing the same songs for 20 years or more.
Walking into the arena, you probably can guess the setlist to within a song or two, and yet, there’s no sense of disappointment when Bruce Springsteen plays Tenth Avenue Freeze out, Elton John hits the high notes of Rocketman or James Hetfield’s guitar comes to life.
There’s an inherent value in being great at what you do, and — taking things sharply back to football — Pitt is incredibly good at running the ball.
It doesn’t matter that they don’t run a ton of different plays. It doesn’t matter that their balance is heavily tilted toward the running game and away from the passing game. They’re still great.
Saturday, against Virginia Tech, Pitt was a rock band on stage, playing the hits like they’ve been playing them for years.
One of the signature plays for Pitt over the last few years has been the jet sweep, and they executed one to perfection in the red zone in the second quarter, with Maurice Ffrench taking the handoff to paydirt thanks to Quadree Ollison cutting not one, but two defenders and Aaron Mathews holding his block all the way down field.
With the jet sweep established two years ago, Pitt has also frequently run a jet sweep action that opens things up on zone handoffs. Here’s Darrin Hall nearly taking an inside zone to the house. He gets a great block by George Aston at the point of attack, but watch how the free safety comes up to respect V’Lique Carter’s action, leaving him without an angle to catch Hall.
One of the plays I’ve been highlight from this version of Pitt’s offense, from the very start of the season, has been a power trap. Here, Pitt scores with it in the first quarter.
And hey, who doesn’t love an encore? Pitt dialed it up on a 4th and 2 and Ollison ended up going 31 yards for a score thanks to the pulling block of Connor Dintino and Alex Bookser’s seal. No one ever lays a hand on him.
After a turnover on downs, Pitt took over at the 3-yard line and needed to get a few yards of space and called the same play. I guess 97 is a few.
Last week, I highlighted Pitt’s use of a twins formation to make Virginia decide whether or not to play “corners over” and match. Pitt did some of that against the Hokies, as well.
Here, Maurice Ffrench runs off one safety, Hall out-angles the second and is way downfield before he’s caught.
Again, Ffrench runs off a safety. This time, the second over-pursues to the twins side of the field, leaving Hall with a massive cutback lane.
Here, Pitt used the same concept with a trips formation. Virginia Tech stays in base defense, putting a linebacker on Rafael Araujo-Lopes. The same linebacker is too far wide to make a stop on Ollison in the hole.
Here’s a toss sweep that Pitt called in the first half, with a pull from center Jimmy Morrissey and a lead block from Stefano Millin.
Here’s the same play in the fourth quarter.
Pitt’s run blocking and backs are so good, that at times, it didn’t seem to matter what Shawn Watson called, but it’s clear that the band has figured out what the audience is looking for.
SOMETHING FROM THE NEW ALBUM
We’ve seen Pitt run the ball well. Maybe not quite THAT well. But Pitt’s running success wasn’t out of nowhere. But Pitt’s offensive line also did something it hasn’t done much this year: protect Kenny Pickett.
Pickett wasn’t sacked all game and had time to make throws down the field, something that has been an issue all season. Here, he’s well protected against a five-man rush and finds Ffrench for a long touchdown.
Here, it’s a four-man rush in an obvious passing situation close to the end of the first half and Pickett has all day to hit Taysir Mack down the sideline.
NEW LOOK ON D
Ever since Pat Narduzzi came to Pitt, the Panthers have relied heavily on a quarters or Cover 4 coverage scheme. But they played a good bit of Cover 2 on Saturday. Here, Dane Jackson passes his receiver to Dennis Briggs, something Pitt has very rarely done.