Pitt Knows What to Expect from WMU’s Offense, Better Execution Will be Key
It’s nearly impossible to hide anything in college football these days. The ease in acquiring information, the heavy dose of film readily available and the general preparedness of every team makes it difficult to catch other teams off guard.
But that doesn’t mean it still won’t happen. It happened to Pitt last season.
Pat Narduzzi said that teams will try to catch you off-guard every week with their formations, schemes, offensive and defensive plans, but it is hard to do so. Pitt worked on stopping Western Michigan’s RPOs last season, but with a dialed-in quarterback, WMU simply beat Pitt in coverage.
“We worked on RPOs, but just the way they executed it was better than what we’d seen out of most people,” Narduzzi said. “Like I said, Erick Hallett was there, but if the quarterback puts the ball on the money, which he did a year ago — I mean, he was perfect. I don’t know if it came down to how we played some of the RPO. It didn’t catch us by surprise because we practiced it; maybe we were surprised by how good they were at executing them.
“So, you’re always going to get caught off-guard. There’s going to be stuff that we did not practice. They’d be fools — we’d be fools — to go in there and just do things that we practiced all week, that they practiced all week, and see who’s better. We know they’re a talented football team, and you expect the unexpected.”
While Western Michigan may have surprised Pitt last season, it was more so the efficiency with which the WMU offense operated as opposed to what the Broncos operated.
Kaleb Eleby completed 23-of-34 passing attempts for 337 yards and three touchdowns, and he made use of both Skyy Moore (11 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown) and Corey Crooms (eight receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown). And the precision and maximum effect of the RPO for WMU was made possible by strong days from Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson — combining for 162 yards and three touchdowns.
Eleby and Moore have both since left for the NFL, but Crooms and both Tyler and Jefferson in the backfield return for this season’s squad. And in order to stop the RPO from wreaking havoc upon Pitt’s defense, Narduzzi wants to make sure the WMU rushing attack is completely suffocated.
“We have to stop the run,” Narduzzi said. “That will be the number one key. The RPOs. They can’t run the ball and also throw RPOs. Last year, what caught us off-guard is that they were running the ball and then we tried to stop the RPOs — they weren’t really running the ball early, they were just throwing it, and I think it frustrated our kids to the point where we didn’t stop the run. So, we’re going to be sold out on stopping the run; that’s got to be the number-one thing. And then hopefully our guys do their jobs, and we have the answers. We have more answers right now than we’ve ever had.”
Hallett felt like Pitt was caught off-guard early against WMU last season, falling behind 20-7 early in the second quarter. And despite Kenny Pickett’s best efforts (383 yards and six touchdowns), Pitt wasn’t able to keep up with WMU because the defense wasn’t able to consistently string together stops. Like Narduzzi, Hallett said it wasn’t what the Broncos ran but how effectively it was run.
“Just the RPOs, the tempo they were able to run plays,” Hallett said. “We knew what they had, we knew what they were capable of, but I think it just caught us off-guard, the efficiency that they had ran it.”
It was a tough afternoon at what-was-then Heinz Field for Hallett — and the entire Pitt defense — but it also helped Pitt grow as the season wore on. And it wasn’t just the secondary that was caught off-guard, it was the defensive line up front too.
“Yeah, they definitely caught us off-guard,” David Green said. “They found spots in our defense that we knew we had spots, and they hit those spots. Now we have stuff to prepare for it.
“They run a lot of slashes, so we put in a defense to keep our secondary in position to be able to stop that and stop the run at the same time.”
And while Western Michigan’s RPO frequency is down from last season, 70% going into last season’s game to roughly 40% going into this season’s game, Narduzzi isn’t letting that dictate planning. As in, if Pitt isn’t able to stop the WMU offense, that 40% could quickly jump to 50 or 60%. He respects WMU offensive coordinator Tim Lester, and he knows that Greg Harbaugh Jr.’s impact on the offense will still be apparent — even though he’s now at Minnesota.
And while Moore has vacated that No. 1 wide receiver spot, Crooms has stepped in that spot. While he’s only caught 15 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown this season, he fills the sort of role that Jared Wayne has filled for Pitt in the receiving room so far this season.
“He’s their go-to guy on almost every down,” Narduzzi said. “He’s the guy, and they’ve got other playmakers as well. But he’s tall, he’s rangy and he catches the football. He’s a playmaker. He’s kind of like a Jared Wayne-type guy that you can count on and they’re going to get him the ball as much as they can. We have to know where No. 4 is.”
When it comes to limiting Crooms’ impact, stopping the two-headed rushing attack of Tyler and Jefferson and counteracting Western Michigan’s offensive scheme, while Pitt has certainly made adjustments for WMU, it’s not as if the defense has had to completely change. It’s just another week of preparation at the end of the day.
“I think it’s, again, RPOs, glances backside, run game,” Hallett said. “I think it’s the same Xs and Os you always see with anybody else, I think a lot of the teams try to attack us in kinda the same ways and they try to find the weaknesses in our coverage, so I think the things we see from week to week don’t really change a whole lot, it’s just the personnel. How they run it, that type of thing.”
Eleby played the best game of his life last year…even he will tell you that. With both him and Skyy gone, I doubt we’ll see a repeat of last year.
do you also think you will see 383 and 6 TD’s from a Pitt QB? Without Pickett last year Pitt loses by 3 TD’s
You only comment here to be a penis and to needle at Pitt fans.
Do everyone a favor and follow PSU as they are your boys. We know PSU fans and coaches love boys. Be positive about your team, enjoy their Big 10 run and quit being a jerk. It is far past getting old.
Funny, you can comment here and say what ever you want disparaging about the football program, but someone that is a season ticket holder for football and basketball gets their comments censored.
Say all they want, Narduzzi ran a base defense against WMU because he didn’t want to show the ACC anything. With WV and Tennessee behind us, WMU and the ACC have seen everything Pitt’s defense has to offer. No base defense tomorrow.