After two straight losses, the Pitt Panthers are on the ropes. A tough loss at Chestnut Hill will not make their season any better, especially with a trip to Miami coming up on Saturday. With a tough sled ahead for the Panthers, they will want to get their season back on track. An upset against the Hurricanes, who just suffered a loss at the hands of Clemson, would be a great way to put that season back on the rails. So, what is Pitt facing when they take a trip down South on Saturday?
New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee came over from SMU after guiding the Mustangs to an electric offense last season. The Mustangs put up impressive numbers and it is no question as to why. Lashlee’s scheme is an odd mix of the Air Raid, Guz Malzahn concepts, and Kyle Shanahan inspired builds. In this way, while it certainly has the college feel to it as a high octane, up-tempo offense that will keep defenses on their heels, it also has some aspects of pro schemes.
The keynote of Lashlee’s scheme is that everything runs through the shotgun. Unlike Boston College’s scheme from last week, Pitt will not face many two tight ends looks, but instead a bevy of 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) and 10 personnel (4 WR, 1 RB). This is where the air raid concepts make a lot of sense for Lashlee’s offense and they are the core of his base passing scheme. He tends to ride the line more so towards the Kliff Kingsbury side of the air raid branch than the Mike Leach side of it. That is the modernization of the air raid to a degree where it meshes those concepts of Malzhan and Shanahan.
Everything in the modern air-raid builds upon itself. It is not just the spacing of routes anymore, but the run game has a legitimate place in the modern air raid. Ask any Miami fan, they will say that Miami’s reliance on running the football has been a bit surprising given Lashlee’s background, but given the pro-style air raid that Lashlee uses, it makes a lot of sense. With mobile quarterback D’Eriq King as well, Lashlee builds his running and passing game off a number of concepts. Zone reads and read options are at the pass of it. However, the most important part of keeping defenses on their heels is the play-action part of this offense.
Lashlee’s offenses love to give stacked looks like the one pictured here. RPOs are often shown out of looks like this, and bubble screens and other quick plays to get skill position players in space will be employed. Against Louisville, this is where the Cardinals really had trouble defending the Hurricanes. However, they also keep defenses honest from keying in on the run just off of this. Defenses have to focus on King, the running back, the obvious screen, and thus they forget about the tight end. The Lashlee scheme loves to weaponize the tight end up the seam and as a flex blocker. With all the other weapons and responsibilities to watch, these tight ends, especially talented Junior Brevin Jordan can act as a mismatch weapon that carves up defenses all day.
In the running game, most of their runs are zone runs. They run lots of split, inside, and outside zone with motion implemented as well to occupy the defenders. As always, King is a threat with his legs and almost all of these have an option to throw it to a general area. Factored in with the tempo the Hurricanes love to run and it creates a mess of information for defenders to process as the entire offense builts off of itself.
As far as Manny Diaz’s defense is concerned, this is a guy that loves to bring the heat. The Hurricanes defense is the definition of a high risk, high reward 4-3 defense. Diaz loves to fire off what is known as ‘fire zone’ blitzes. Pittsburgh fans may recognize this scheme because this is a huge part of what the Pittsburgh Steelers run as their blitzing scheme when they rush five. Miami is the same way, and that pressure can come from the slot cornerback, linebackers, or anywhere on the field. The aggressive defense is part of what allows Miami to disrupt fronts, but surrender lots of big plays as well. At the second level. Miami has speed, and that is part of what Diaz loves in his defense. They are hybrids that can drop back into coverage and work in Tampa 2 and Cover 3 schemes that are bases of the Diaz defense.
Players to Watch
QB D’Eriq King
A transfer from Houston, King is a fascinating player. With a live arm and great elusiveness on his feet, King has the ability to extend plays and make plays down the field. In terms of fitting into the offense, he is a perfect fit for the quick reads, as King makes good decisions and is a proficient processor. However, King’s size and throwing mechanics are big issues that have plagued him. Last week against Clemson, he threw a few bad interceptions due to poorly thrown balls. It is these same wonky mechanics that make him a volatile passer with his accuracy. King is a talented football player, but make no mistake, he is turnover prone.
RB Cam’Ron Harris
Off to a great start to the 2020 season, Harris has proven to be the bread and butter of the Hurricanes ground attack. A dense, tough runner, Harris has a thick frame that makes him hard to bring down. His contact balance, vision, and acceleration in the open field allow him to hit the home run play. Miami likes to get Harris involved on quick swing passes and texas routes over the middle of the field, which is where he can extend his impact past just the running game.
TE Brevin Jordan
The mismatch chess piece of Lashlee’s scheme, future NFL tight end Brevin Jordan is the Hurricanes’ most potent weapon through the air. Despite struggles as a blocker, Jordan is a seam buster who has fantastic hands and will grab almost anything in his catch radius. Jordan is an athletic freak for the position and can line up all over the formation, sometimes acting as a fourth wide receiver. Similar to Hunter Long last week, it will be Jordan’s size and athleticism that make him an issue. Jordan is the best tight end in the ACC, and the Pitt defense will be tested.
DE Quincy Roche
A transfer from Temple, Roche stepped up to the Power-5 this season in an effort to boost his draft stock. Thus far, he is proving that he is an ACC caliber pass rusher and one to be feared by any offensive line. Roche’s rare blend of flexibility, explosiveness, and polished hand usage is one that is rare to find in college football. While he could stand to add more of a power element to his game, in the college world, an elite speed rush will do as it is, and Roche has speed rushing prowess in spades.
Matchup to Watch
Carter Warren vs Quincy Roche
The general matchup of the Pitt offensive line against the blitzes of this Miami defense is something to highlight, but the most important thing will be Carter Warren holding up against the fierce pass rush ability of Roche. Make no mistake, Roche will get pressure this game, but it will be up to Warren to lose slowly and use his athleticism to slow down Roche on his speed rushes. Especially with a potentially hobbled Kenny Pickett starting at quarterback, the Panthers will need to keep him upright. That starts by shutting down Roche.