MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — 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.
In Pitt’s 24-3 loss to Miami on Saturday, the Pitt offense frequently found itself behind in down and distance.
That’s a bad situation for any team, but particularly for the Panthers, which rely heavily on their ground game to move the ball down the field. Pitt does not do well in third and long.
One of the ways Pitt found itself in those situations was by committing penalties. Pitt had two delay of game penalties, committed a hold and a false start on offense.
But there was another way Pitt got behind the sticks: negative plays. Miami had 14 tackles for a loss, including the Hurricanes’ six sacks of Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pitt only ran 62 offensive plays. That means they failed to reach the line of scrimmage 23 parent of the time.
That seems like a lot, but Miami was actually averaging over 10 tackles for loss per game coming into the game against the Panthers and Pitt had to reshuffle its offensive line after the season-ending injury suffered by Jimmy Morrissey at the end of Pitt’s win over Wake Forest the previous week.
It was a talented Miami defense against a reshuffled Pitt offensive line, and the Hurricanes clearly got the best of the matchup overall.
But I wanted to take a look at how they were able to have success. Did Miami exploit Connor Dintino’s move to center and the first start of redshirt sophomore guard Bryce Hargrove? Were the protections not called out right with a new man in the middle of the line? Or were the Canes just man-for-man better than the Panthers?
To find out, I broke down each of Miami’s 14 tackles for a loss to see if there was some kind of pattern. Here’s what I found:
We’ll get started in the first quarter on Pitt’s first drive. It’s 3rd and 7 (the on-screen graphic is wrong) and Pickett is looking to throw. Miami rushes five, Qadree Ollison stays into help, so Pitt has a numbers advantage.
The Hurricanes run a stunt at the top of the field, with the blitzing linebacker darting inside of defensive end Joe Jackson. Left tackle Stefano Millin and Hargrove don’t pick it up at all, with Jackson blowing past Hargrove and flushing Pickett and the linebacker left totally unblocked. Ollison is left with a solo block on a blitzing linebacker, which doesn’t seem ideal, but he handles it pretty well. If Pickett had been able to step to his left, Aaron Mathews was wide open at the first down stripe in the extreme top of the screen.
Here’s a 3rd and 1 on Pitt’s second possession. The call is a power handoff to Darrin Hall, but he’s immediately met in the backfield.
The first issue is Jackson knifing in between Millin and Hargrove once again. George Aston picks him up, but Jim Medure passes weakside linebacker Michael Pickney on the edge. The play is for Medure to leave Pickney for Aston and get either the safety or middle linebacker and seal a big play for Hall. But because Aston had to help at the point of attack, he’s unavailable and Pickeny makes the TFL.
Here’s a 2nd and 4 in the second quarter. Miami blitzes five and Hall stays in to block. Again, it’s five on six.
Dintino takes the tackle lined up over his left shoulder, but middle linebacker Shaq Quarterman loops around Dintino to rush to his right. Hargrove never gets there, Hall whiffs badly and Pickett gets railroaded.
Later in the second quarter, Pitt was backed up thanks to a pair of penalties. One, a false start called on right tackle Alex Bookser, looked like it happened because Dintino was slow to snap the ball. The second was a delay of game that Pickett said happened because he was trying to get the protection set with Dintino.
On 2nd and 19, Pitt is just trying to get some room to work with a read-option run. Hall is supposed to fit just inside left tackle Millin, but Miami defensive tackle Pat Bethel plows through Dintino and cuts Hall off, forcing him to cut back, where he’s wrapped up.
Here, Pitt is facing a 3rd and 7. Miami runs an overload blitz to the right side of Pitt’s line, but it’s still five rushing six.
Millin passes defensive tackle Gerard Willis inside so that he can deal with the blitzing Quarterman. But Hargrove doesn’t pass his man on to Dintino, leaving a gap for Willis to rush through. Ollison is in the backfield, but his attention is turned toward the overload side and isn’t expecting there to be penetration from his left.
One play after Pitt punted, the Panthers got the ball back after Rashad Weaver forced a fumble. Looking for a big play, Shawn Watson dialed up an end around to Taysir Mack. Mack took the toss from Pickett and looked to have the speed to take the edge, but he’s forced to give ground because of Miami penetration.
Jackson beat tight end Carson Van Lynn cleanly to the inside, making Mack give ground and giving linebacker Romeo Finley time to close the angle.
In the second half, Pitt tried an inside handoff to Hall on the second first down of a drive. Willis blows past Dintino and again forces Hall to cut back and into the arms of a waiting Miami defender.
On the next play, Miami runs a corner blitz. It’s five on five, but the linemen and Pickett never recognized the blitz until it’s far too late. Pickett had a hot read in Hall available if he’d seen the blitz coming.
Here’s a 1st and 10 later in the period and it’s a handoff to Ollison. Right guard Mike Herndon gets dragged across the formation and into the hole by backup Miami defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo, who stuffs Ollison for a loss.
Facing another third down, Pitt calls a screen pass and Miami is completely un-fooled. Maurice Ffrench is literally the only Pitt blocker that gets two hands on someone. Terrible execution everywhere.
Here’s another corner blitz by Miami and again, no one recognizes it. Pickett again has options open, but doesn’t make a quick enough decision.
The next play is the first play of the fourth quarter and Pitt is facing 3rd and 16. Miami rushes just four, but Bookser is beaten inside by one end and Millin is beaten outside by Jackson, who loops around and snags Pickett from behind.
Here’s a pass completion for a TFL. It seems like either Ffrench didn’t hold his block long enough or Rafael Araujo-Lopes got too wide or some combination of the two.
Finally, here’s a Todd Sibley handoff up the middle in mop-up duty. No one blocks the middle linebacker, who sprints down hill and stops Sibley in the backfield. Not sure what went wrong on this one.
Whew, that’s a lot of bad blocking.
The key takeaways here aren’t easy to sum up. Dintino and Hargrove had their fair share of issues. Pitt’s experienced linemen also were beaten more often than they had been all year, while facing the most talented defensive line they’d faced.
Pickett’s pocket awareness wasn’t good enough and some of the play designs (particularly the screen) seemed to be lacking.
The good news is that most of those things seem correctible heading into Charlotte this Saturday. The bad news is that Clemson’s line is even better.