CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Pittsburgh’s offense, which is known for power runs up the middle by junior running back James Conner, has a new weapon at its disposal: the jet sweep.
The Panthers (2-1), who face UNC (2-1) on Saturday in Kenan Stadium, have run the play to perfection this season. Sophomore wide receiver Quadree Henderson has been the go-to guy for the jet sweep, rushing for 153 yards and two touchdowns on only 11 carries. That type of production has earned the attention of UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
“They’ve got a really good, explosive offense,” Chizik said. “They’ve got guys at key positions that are really good. They’ve run the jet sweep for almost 200 yards of rushing up to this point, so they’re getting a lot of mileage out of that. It pulls the defense apart so sometimes they give it, sometimes they don’t. It’s been a very effective play.”
Part of Pittsburgh’s success with the jet sweep has to do with the Panther’s offensive philosophy in open space.
“They like to get one-on-one situations and make sure that everyone does their job,” sophomore middle linebacker Andre Smith said. “As a defense we’re focusing on making sure everyone does their job because what they like to do a lot is split the defense in half. They split a group of guys one way, run zone the other way.”
For UNC’s defense, preparing for the jet sweep isn’t new, but extra emphasis has been put on the play this week in practice.
“We are preparing for it just like any other week,” senior cornerback Des Lawrence said. “We see a lot of teams run it, so we’re always constantly training for it. They do do it a lot more than other teams so we know it’s going to be a big focal point to the game. So we’re paying a lot of attention to it.”
As for what that actual preparation looks like, Smith says the Tar Heels are spending a lot of time working on movement and synchronization.
“We’ve been working really hard on communication,” Smith said. “We’ve been simplifying our defense and playing fast so everyone can move with gyration so that we can line up and everyone can know how to adjust.”
The implementation of the jet sweep into Pitt’s offense is thanks to new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who was the offensive coordinator at N.C. State from 2013-2015.
“(Pitt) ran it just a little bit last year, but Canada ran it quite a bit when he was at the other school, so we’re familiar with what he did over there and now he’s taken it to another level at Pitt,” Fedora said.
With Canada’s recent tenure in Raleigh, the Tar Heels know that they have a wealth of Wolfpack film from over the past few years to study in preparation for this weekend.
“We’ve looked at a lot of (N.C. State) film, especially from the recent year and a couple years back,” Smith said. “We’ve went back and watched our game against them and the N.C. State versus Louisville game they played last year.”
Even though UNC has experience playing against Canada, they’ve never faced him with the kind of offensive talent he currently possesses at Pitt.
“Knowing his background, knowing that he came from N.C. State, we’re just trying to pick up anything that we can and get a start on it,” Lawrence. “They have different bodies, they’re doing the same things, but they have a good running back in James Conner that they didn’t have at N.C. State. We’ve just got to get a lot of guys to the ball.”
It could be Henderson, not Conner, who causes the most trouble for the Tar Heels’ defense on Saturday.