Scouting Report: Jurkovec to Long Connection Will Stress Pitt Defense
The Panthers will look to get back into the win column after a disappointing loss to NC State. However, they will have to overcome a 2-1 Boston College team in order to do that. The Eagles gave North Carolina some trouble last week as they fought the Tar Heels in Boston only to lose in 26-22 nail biter. With Head Coach Jeff Hafley building a culture and new quarterback Phil Jurkovec looking to step onto the bigger national stage, what should Pitt expect from the Eagles in Boston?
Boston College’s Schemes
This is not the Boston College team that the Panthers saw last season. Steve Addazio’s team loved the ground and pound aspect of the offense. However, Frank Cignetti has a little different view of how things will work. First off, the ground game is still a feature in this Eagles offense. They have a versatile running scheme that includes zone and gap runs that employ pullers as their guards. Cignetti has noted his love for designed quarterback runs and there is no doubt that it has shown through thus far on the year. Still, the Boston College offense is a pro-style scheme that employs runs from the shotgun and under center. Cignetti mixes up the looks he gives defenses.
One great example of a run is this inside zone run out of the shotgun. Boston College, especially in short-yardage situations, loves to use zone runs and space defenses out. A core part of their scheme is pre-snap motion and misdirection all over the place. It stresses linebackers to really be able to read through their keys given the pro-style complexity of the looks that this Eagles offense shows.
In the passing game, Cignetti loves to use 12 personnel (2 TE, 2 WR, 1 RB) or spread out the defense. When thinking of a scheme similar to the one Cignetti employs, Clemson is the one that comes to mind. They go heavy more than the Tigers, but it is the same concept. The Eagles spread out defenses to try and give room for their route combinations to work or to allow their running backs open space. The screen game is something that Cignetti loves to use as well. Between slip screens, bubble screens, and more, the Eagles have taken some pages out of Kyle Shanahan’s playbook on some of their designs.
Play action has been the key to unlocking this offense, however. RPOs and play-action passes are prevalent in the Cignetti scheme. That is to keep defenses honest and especially in heavy formations, it opens up a bevy of opportunities for the tight ends downfield. From the shotgun, the Eagles like to take a lot of deep shots off the play action, and they employ some double moves to play cornerbacks as well. All in all, it is an extremely versatile scheme that hangs its hat on a bunch of concepts from the NFL-level down through high school.
This is an aggressive defense that Hafley lets rip often. Similar to his defense at Ohio State, Hafley really likes his defensive line to rush upfield. They run a four-man front that has explosive defensive tackles on the interior. In conjunction with that at the second-level, this is pretty much a 4-3 scheme that they run. However, the Eagles have some versatility as well. They have a hybrid safety-linebacker role that allows them to play essentially a 3-3-5 at times. Hafley tries to make the defense easy on his linebackers with fewer reads and an aggressive defensive front. In many ways, Hafley runs a full NFL defense. When Pitt may go to four-wide receiver sets, Hafley has a dime package to really throw out there. Make no mistake, while at its base this is a 4-3, Hafley does not rely on the linebackers all game. In terms of what he shows on the back end, there is lots of man coverage with a defense that likes to send the house. When they lie back in zone, they run a lot of Cover 3 as well.
Players to Watch
QB Phil Jurkovec
The Pine Richland alumni is known well around the Pittsburgh area. After transferring from Notre Dame, Jurkovec has started off well in Boston. On top of the traits that he has showcased are fantastic escapability and contact balance. Jurkovec simply does not go down on first contact and it is impressive. Containing him will be the key for Pitt to slowing down this offense. Jurkovec has a fine arm, but it is not a hose. Overall, he is a solid quarterback that is growing. Even with some instances of spotty accuracy, Jurkovec is tough, extends play, has a good feel in the pocket, and sees the field well.
TE Hunter Long
The team’s leading receiver Long is one of the best tight ends in the ACC. Long is an athletic, sure-handed target that is a mismatch weapon for the Eagles. Pitt has not seen anyone quite like Long just yet on the season. Long has an NFL route tree for the tight end and smooth mobility in and out of his breaks. He will win above the rim consistently due to his size and athleticism to really get up there. Long is going to be playing on Sundays, and while he is only a modest blocker, he is a safety blanket for Jurkovec.
OL Zion Johnson
It is rare to highlight an offensive lineman here, but it has to be said that Johnson is a stud. Cignetti has tried him at both tackle and guard this season, but he will stick at guard more than likely for the rest of the season. That is a good thing for Johnson, as it is his best spot. Johnson has fantastic mobility and reaches the second level with ease. His hands are strong and pack a real punch to stun defensive lineman. Everything that an NFL team would want in a guard, Johnson possesses it physically. This is an NFL prospect, and Johnson will be a test for this talented Panthers defensive line.
Key Matchups to Watch
Hunter Long vs SirVocea Dennis
It is yet to be seen how Pitt attacks Hunter Long and he likely will face off on some defensive backs, but more often than not, he could wind up being covered by SirVocea Dennis. If he can not suit up, the Panthers will sorely miss Cam Bright’s presence with Long here. Dennis is only a freshman, and while he has looked rather solid, Long is a huge step up in competition for him. Thus far, the young linebacker has not been tested all that much in coverage, and his competency in coverage will be revealed in this matchup.
Pitt Defensive Line vs Boston College Offensive Line
There are multiple NFL players along both of these lines. The game is won in the trenches, and that will be no different in this matchup as well. The Panthers defensive line was neutralized by the quick passing game last week, but in this arena, Jurkovec will stand in there for some time. The Eagles offensive line not only has Johnson but also Tyler Vrabel and Alec Lindstrom who will give the Panthers everything they can handle. This is a great game for guys like Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver to improve their draft stock if they want to, and getting pressure on Jurkovec will be key to throwing off the rhythm off this Eagles offense.