Western Michigan doesn’t boast the same electric quarterback-wide receiver duo as it did last season, no offense to new quarterback Jack Salopek, but it’s not a team Pitt is taking lightly.
Pitt and Western Michigan will kick off under the lights at Waldo Stadium at 7:30 p.m., so who are some WMU players that need to be monitored?
Corey Crooms — WR
Skyy Moore isn’t around anymore, which is good news for Pitt defensive backs, but Crooms isn’t a bad bet to continue Western Michigan’s run of producing NFL wide receivers.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound wideout has produced a modest 143 yards and a touchdown on 15 receptions. But he has as many receptions combined as WMU’s No. 2 (Jehlani Galloway) and No. 3 (Blake Bosma) wide receiver this season.
And of course, Crooms burned Pitt to the tune of eight receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown last season. He doesn’t have a player like Moore to draw double teams this season, but he’s still a player who has the speed to take the top of Pitt’s defense.
Sean Tyler, La’Darius Jefferson — RB
It would be unfair to mention Sean Tyler without La’Darius Jefferson, or vice versa, even if Tyler has seemingly taken a hold of that No. 1 running back spot.
With 176 yards and two touchdowns, at 6.3 yards per carry, this season, Tyler has been the top offensive weapon for WMU. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back isn’t the biggest player, but he’s sturdy and tough to drag down.
Jefferson is the big, bruising back (6-foot-1, 235 pounds), and while the former Michigan State transfer has been inefficient this season (averaging just 3.7 yards per carry on 26 carries), he’s a goal-line threat on every possession.
The pair combined for 162 yards and three touchdowns last season against Pitt, helping to establish an efficient RPO that Pitt’s defense was unable to stop. Pat Narduzzi has said that stopping the run will be his defense’s No. 1 goal tonight.
Braden Fiske — DL
A big, physical run stopper up the middle of the WMU defense, Braden Fiske will be tasked with testing the interior of Pitt’s offensive line.
With the uncertainty at quarterback this week, a game-time decision that is trending further and further away from a known entity making a start against WMU, the Pitt offensive line will need to establish the run game early.
Fiske has racked up 11 tackles (six solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles and recovered one and batted down a ball at the line of scrimmage. If WMU can force turnovers against Pitt, as Tennessee did, it could be the recipe for success.
Dorian Jackson — CB
Pittsburgh native and former St. Francis transfer Dorian Jackson has made an impact since arriving in Kalamazoo. And it started last season against Pitt — picking off Kenny Pickett at what-was-then Heinz Field.
Jackson recorded 25 tackles (19 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups last season, establishing himself as one of the more reliable cornerbacks in the MAC.
While Jackson hasn’t had much of an impact so far this season, just four tackles (three solo) and a pass breakup through two games, he’ll be tasked with slowing down the likes of Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield — no matter who is under center for Pitt.