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How the Pitt Defense Rebounded to Win the Second Scrimmage



Pitt cornerback M.J. Devonshire.

It was an aerial attack on the Pitt defense that led to an offensive win in the first scrimmage of summer ball, but as the game plan shifted in scrimmage No. 2, the defense gained the upper hand.

As Pitt’s most important scrimmage of the summer came to a halt after 109 offensive and defensive and 27 special teams snaps, the Pitt defense picked up a resounding victory — reclaiming the blue practice pinnies and ending the summer on a high note. And there are a few reasons why.

Pitt’s offense tried to establish the run against the defense Saturday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and it was tough sledding. Even so, if the offense didn’t turn the ball over, it would have been difficult to lose. But there were a few turnovers, too.

“There are different game plans, both ways, and I think offensively they tried to run the ball more than they had the previous scrimmage,” Narduzzi said before Tuesday’s practice. “They took their shots, but as I said at the first scrimmage, if you don’t turn the ball over, you win the game. The offense won the game. Second scrimmage, if you don’t turn the ball over, you’re gonna win the game.

“The offense turned the ball over, and we had problems. Some turnover issues on the offensive side of the ball. The defense played like they were mad about the last scrimmage. That’s always going to happen. There’s always going to be a little fight back. ‘Hey, it’s our turn to win this jersey scrimmage.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”

It was a team effort defensively in stopping the offense. It took Pitt’s defenders across all three phases of the defense understanding their assignments and fits to be able to stop the ground attack of Rodney Hammond Jr. and company. And it didn’t hurt that M.J. Devonshire’s remarkable summer continued.

“There was some great play in the secondary, some tipped balls,” Narduzzi said. “M.J. had one unbelievable interception, that’s two weeks in a row. He’s had it like, ‘Woah,’ if I was on offense, I would not throw it 12’s way. If you get anywhere near him, he’s like the receiver right now. He’s got a lot of confidence right now in what he’s doing.”

Devonshire was excellent in coverage Saturday, and Marquis Williams, A.J. Woods, Javon McIntyre and P.J. O’Brien Jr. have been just as impressive this summer, but Pitt has also had success throwing the football this summer. Saturday’s performance was Frank Cignetti Jr. wanting to see what he could get from the running backs.

“I talked about turnovers in the scrimmage, but it also came down to where the offense wanted to establish the run game … I think if the offense would have thrown a little bit more, maybe they would have had a little bit more success,” Narduzzi said. “Their goal was not to throw it; they wanted to run.”

The run defense, which was the top-ranked unit in the ACC last season, the only unit to allow less than 100 yards per game, held its structure. And the defensive tackles, linebackers and safeties stuck to their fits. That discipline is vital to Narduzzi’s defense, and it was on full display Saturday.

Pitt’s run defense, which started off slowly against West Virginia last season in large part because of failed fits and playing outside of one’s responsibilities, takes immense pride in selling out to stop the run. It’s priority No. 1 for Pat Narduzzi — and the reason why the defensive backs are left out on islands. If the offense is able to get anything going on the ground against the defense, it’s good work. It wasn’t the case Saturday, but the battle will continue.

How does that saying go? Iron sharpens iron?

The offense has shown the ability to throw the football this season. There’s no doubt that the ground game will be relied upon — often going hand in hand with the passing attack — in the 2023 season.

With the defense winning the second scrimmage, they will finish the summer in the blue practice pinnies. And with just three summer practices left, capped by Friday’s Kickoff Luncheon, the 2023 season is right on the doorstep. It’s encouraging that Pitt’s run defense already appears to be in midseason form.

The offense and defense split the scrimmages this summer, and now that cohesive play will be vital in fulfilling the goals Pitt football has set for itself in 2023.

But of course, after winning all the spring scrimmages earlier this year, Pitt’s defense does hold bragging rights until next year.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Clark Maartineau
Clark Maartineau
1 month ago

How does a scrimmage work between players from the same team? Do offense and defense know each other’s playbook?

John Smith
John Smith
1 month ago

How players made big plays in this scrimmage but was not mentioned?

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