Pitt Thursday Crunch: Three Pressing Questions Against YSU


Notoriously the Pitt Panthers have had extreme difficulty, excluding the dismantling of Delaware 62-0 last season, in putting away weaker opponents. Buffalo, Akron, Youngstown State come to mind, all of which occurred while under the direction of an unstable head-to-toe program from 2011-2014.

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Strides were made under former coach Paul Chryst and have seemingly grown larger in the short time under new head coach Pat Narduzzi. With his experience and championship pedigree transferring over from Michigan State, the minds of the players should be much less about whether they can defeat the weaker opponents and more about by how much will they defeat them all, while not taking them lightly.

Take care of your responsibilities and your responsibilities will take care of you.

Looking at this first weeks’ opponent in Youngstown State, the Panthers could have a lot to deal with. No, really.

The Penguins have a decent amount of Power 5 transfers that came over with new head coach Bo Pelini from his time at Nebraska. They also have an above average attack on the ground which is an area that plagued Pitt last season. I take that back, just an opposing offense plagued Pitt last season. Not to be harsh, but it’s true.

With that statement comes the first question:

Will Pitt’s retooled defensive line be able to make a push up front and become a “difference maker” against the Penguins?

My answer is: yes.

The 2015 version of the defensive line should be much improved over what we witnessed last season. Anything over abysmal should do, actually. Okay I’ll stop.

Honestly, the addition of Mark Scarpinato who played under Narduzzi’s defensive scheme as recently as 2013 at Michigan State, should improve the mental and physical toughness of the unit. Playing on such grand stages as the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl, Scarpinato should bestow about the line what it takes to get to the next level and that is all that Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render should need to get motivated. Despite Render potentially having to miss the opener, it should be a message heard loud and clear by others on the depth chart.

Against the Penguins, the overall athleticism of Pitt’s defensive line is enough to overpower the smaller yet talented line that Youngstown State brings to the field. Tyrique Jarrett will demand the double attention and make room for K.K, Shakir Soto, and Ejuan Price to crash the backfield for disruption.

Pitt has some big boys on the second line with the likes of Jeremiah Taelni at 6-foot-2 and a massive 295 pounds and Justin Moody standing at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds that will see time to spell the others. For once, depth could be an option on the line and should be on display against YSU.

With the optimism that brewed during the spring and the fall camps the Panthers have emerged relatively unscathed. The biggest blow came a couple of weeks ago when third-string and talented running back Rachid Ibrahim was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. All of which leaves question marks about who will take the reps of Ibrahim.

Who will step up in the absence of Rachid Ibrahim and behind the James’?

As spring ball concluded, I was extremely optimistic about the possible emergence of redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison. He looked very focused and on the verge of making plays at a higher place on the depth chart, although behind James Conner, Chris James and Ibrahim, the opportunity to play would be slim. Then enter Darrin Hall, prized freshman out of Ohio.

All it takes is seizing the advantage of whatever chance presents itself and he had done just that as coaches on both sides of the ball have been raving about his composure and maturity as a freshman. Against YSU, I expect to see the coaches leaning heavily on what Hall can do early and often when breathers are needed for the others. With the change of pace and the elusiveness, he can make the Penguins look like fools in his first college game.

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  • It could change from week-to-week if neither Hall or Ollison can separate themselves from each other but in week one, I see Hall getting the early nod for the chance to see what he is capable of against a defense other than his own.

    Unlike the previous seasons, especially since Dave Wannstedt, Pitt has not been able to land the best of the best in Pennsylvania and the WPIAL. That all of a sudden changed when Narduzzi put the full court press on freshman Jordan Whitehead who was the number one player in the state out of high school. It has been an intriguing story line during all of camp as to where he will see time and when he will see time. It leads us to the third question.

    Where will Whitehead make a difference first?

    Maybe we are all just jaded and wrapping ourselves around OUR player, the one who stuck close to home and has the talent to rival anyone, but in reality, Jordan Whitehead is just that good of a player and athlete.

    What we know is he will see time as a nickel back on defense to start but is that really going to be it? I don’t think so.

    I look for him to get an early few snaps on the offensive side of the ball: a reverse, jet-sweep, or even a little wild-panther action. What makes me think so is that he contains the same level of explosiveness as teammate Tyler Boyd, who sits out with a suspension week one.

    That’s a slew of big plays missing from the field right away and a void that Jordan can fill. Not to take away from the other receivers, but the staff knows everyone is overly eager to see what he can provide, no matter where it may be. As a receiver, it would be the most recognizable way to get the look we are all waiting for to happen.

    Now it’s time for the fun stuff, the predictions. Fellow staff-writer, Brett Tunno, suggests the final will be 45-10 in favor of the Pitt Panthers and I think he is almost spot-on!

    Highly optimistic score: 68-3 — Pitt

    Slightly pessimistic score: 27-24 — Pitt

    How I project the final score: 52-17 — Pitt

    Next: Pitt Football: Looking at defensive backs & special teams

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