This 2020 Pitt football season has been challenging in many different aspects and has tested many areas of the program including the depth of the roster.
With stars such as Paris Ford and Jaylen Twyman opting out for the 2021 NFL Draft and various players going down with injuries, Pat Narduzzi has been forced to call upon some players probably earlier than what he wanted or anticipated having to do so.
Key members of the roster such as Habakkuk Baldonado, Tyler Bentley, Cam Bright, Keyshon Camp, Grant Carrigan, Daniel Carter, A.J. Davis, Wendell Davis, David Green, Gabe Houy, Lucas Krull, Taysir Mack, Damarri Mathis, Kenny Pickett, Todd Sibley, Jared Wayne and Kyi Wright and have missed time with varying degrees of injuries.
The bright spot that’s emerged from this situation is that the Pitt coaching staff has found out through trial by fire that their roster is filled with a bunch of talented, young players. It’s one thing thing to show promise in practice and something entirely different to translate that talent onto the field on gameday.
The latest example of that was Saturday against Florida State, when Archie Collins’ unit, who was already missing Mathis (injury) was forced to also play without Ford (opted out), Jason Pinnock (suspension) and Marquis Williams (undisclosed). That meant younger players such as Brandon Hill, A.J. Woods, Erik Hallett and Rashad Battle were under the spotlight and all performed well. Hill was named ACC Defensive Back of the week, Woods turned in perhaps the turning point of the game with his first career interception and Battle played more snaps on defense than he had all season.
“Archie Collins and Cory Sanders did an outstanding job getting those guys ready,” said Narduzzi. “Did a great job. We got A.J. Woods some reps, Erick Hallett, all along he’s been kind of Damar’s backup, he plays the star position on 3rd down, he plays corner. He’s like the utility guy in everything. He starts at corner, and he made some plays out there, covered [Tamorrion] Terry, their best wideout a few times. I’m like, ‘He’s not having any problems, he’s not running away.’
First start. First INT. First TD.
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) November 8, 2020
“You just find out different things every week if you recruit the right guys that have talent. And again, it’s not all about the talent, it’s about the character of our guys. And that’s win, loss. I was happy with the way that secondary played Saturday. Not only in the passing game but obviously the run game.”
The Pitt coaches also learned that the situation wasn’t too big for Battle, despite being a true freshman. The four-star cornerback was Pitt’s last commitment last season and is showing the talent that allowed him to get recruited by over 30 college programs.
“Rashad Battle is going to be a great player here,” Narduzzi said. “He’s tall. You look for that mismatch as far as height sometimes, and when he’s on the field you’re not going to worry about, well, he’s too short to play against that guy and not worrying about flopping your corners and is he playing the boundary, he can play the field, and all those things. But he’s a guy that can play anywhere. He is going to be an outstanding corner in this conference. He’s an unbelievable kid. He’ll be going back home this week. I know he’ll be fired up.”
Battle (Fairburn), Hunter Sellers (College Park) and Jaylon Barden (Macon) will all be returning to their home state of Georgia this weekend when Pitt takes on Georgia Tech.