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Vukovcan: Pitt D Not Only Living Up to, but Exceeding Hype



Football fans in the city of Pittsburgh have had the pleasure of watching a number of very talented defenses over the years, many coming from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Something special is going on at Heinz Field this season but because of COVID-19, unfortunately no fans have been able to see it in person.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, led by T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, not surprisingly have been one of the better defenses in the NFL through the first two weeks.

The Steelers’ partners on the North Shore entered this season with high expectations and after the the first month, they haven’t let anyone down.

The Pitt Panthers entered the 2020 season with sky-high expectations and to their credit, they’ve somehow managed to exceed what was expected of them.

The No. 24 Louisville Cardinals entered Saturday’s game averaging an ACC-best 501 yards but left Heinz Field realizing the Panthers not only have one of the best defenses in the ACC but also in the entire country as they smothered and limited Micale Cunningham and company to 223 total yards.

It’s never been easier to pass the ball in college football but for the third straight game, Pitt has held an opposing quarterback to 100 yards or less.

Here are some more eye-opening stats from Randy Bates’ unit’s dominating effort Saturday afternoon.

• 12 tackles for loss, tying a single-game high under Narduzzi.

• Seven more sacks, giving them 17 in just three games.

• Five interceptions this season. They collected just nine total interceptions in 13 games last season.

Considering they’ve been able to accomplish this without All-American candidate defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman and starting cornerback Damarri Mathis is scary. Considering that, they may even be exceeding expectations, but don’t tell that to Pitt.

”I wouldn’t say [it’s been] impressive because it was expected,” said cornerback Jason Pinnock. “But it’s exciting that it’s coming into play.”

To the credit of the players and coaches, they didn’t let all the preseason hype and pats on the back get into their heads. To this point, they’ve been able to talk the talk and walk the walk, which isn’t always easy for young, college kids.

The big question is how long can they keep this up?

Fortunately for Pitt, they’ve already shown the ability to overcome losses/injuries because of tremendous depth. Players like redshirt freshman Calijah Kancey, Marquis Williams, Tyler Bentley, Devin Danielson have done well in bigger roles while veterans Patrick Jones, Rashad Weaver, Cam Bright, Damar Hamlin, Paris Ford and Pinnock have played above the line from the very first snap against Austin Peay.

No doubt this Panthers biggest tests are still ahead of them.

Following what appear to be two winnable games against NC State and Boston College, the level of offensive talent that this defense will face will increase big time with games against Miami, Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

It will probably be difficult to come close to what they’ve done so far but I also wouldn’t put anything past this Panther defense because they’re that good.

Want to know one thing that can really help this defense and the team in general?

Kenny Pickett and the Panthers offensive unit being able to get the ball in the endzone instead of settling for field goals. While they’ve done OK, just being OK won’t be good enough the rest of the way.

And being OK surely won’t be good enough for Pitt to reach their ultimate goal of playing in the ACC Championship Game.

2020 has been a strange year for everyone but if Pitt gets a few more touchdowns and this defense continues to play at an elite level, competing for an ACC title would follow the strange script of this crazy year.

Stay tuned!

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Ken Ken from Connecticut
Ken Ken from Connecticut
3 years ago

You hit the nail on the head Mike!

Roy McAvoy
Roy McAvoy
3 years ago

Yes, the defense is fantastic for every reason you lay out.

To get to 8-9 wins, Pickett and the offense, including better play-calling at times, needs to step up.

This is the same Pickett. I see no improvement from last season. He is who he is. For people to say he’s NFL draft worthy, either that’s a by-product of lousy college QB’s or the evaluation of him is extremely over-valued. But then Ben DiNucci made the Cowboys so go figure.

3 years ago

The offense no doubt needs to step it up but it’s only been three games and Pitt undoubtedly has more weapons this year that they can rely on in the passing game and the backs have also performed well. The offensive line seems improved from last year as well. Pickett is doing a nice job and he is also a threat with his feet. The only component they need to iron out is finishing out drives. That’s all that needs ironing out. They need to find the passion and the drive of their defense.

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