Panthers Digest publisher Tony Greco offers Irish fans five players to watch when Pittsburgh has the ball Saturday night.
Three games into his Pitt career, Savage had one of the best games a Pitt quarterback has ever had. He threw for 424 yards and six touchdowns in a 58-55 shootout at Duke. Since then, both he and the Pitt offense has been looking to get back to that level of play. While Savage has thrown just five touchdown passes since that game--a five game span--he's thrown just one interception in his last four games. The two numbers may go hand-in-hand. Savage is very good on the deep throws, very accurate. We saw a lot of the deep ball in those first three games. At the same time, when being aggressive and taking chances, the risk is as great as the reward. If Pitt can get back to throwing the deep ball, Savage's numbers may go up. It's also a risk for more interceptions. Against a tough Notre Dame
secondary, it's doubtful we'll see Paul Chryst's game plan for Notre Dame to be too aggressive.
Early on in the season, it looked like freshman James Conner
was going to get the majority of the snaps. After the first three games, Pitt's ground game was non-existent. Pitt managed just 31 yards on 56 carries in a two-game stretch against Virginia Tech and Virginia. Then, Bennett took a big step forward with a 240-yard performance against Old Dominion. Though his numbers dropped in the last two games, he is gaining more confidence from the coaching staff in terms of how the carries are distributed. Conner has battles fumble problems, and also has a nagging shoulder injury that's limited him at times. Bennett doesn't have that big-play ability that other Pitt running backs have had in the past, but his confidence--in himself, as well as the coaching staff's confidence--has increased in this recent three-game stretch. However, Pitt's running game is still a work in progress.
Entering the season, Street was the one proven player in Pitt's offense. Despite an up-and-down season for the offense, Street has continued with a high level of play, despite having to miss one game due to a shoulder injury. He's already set the Pitt career receiving record for receptions (191). He needs another 300 yards to set the record for receiving yards. With Street's numbers, and his progression since Paul Chryst got here, he isn't considered a player that needs to carry the team on his back. However, he hasn't been asked to do that, yet. With four games left, and Pitt needing two wins to become bowl eligible, we might see Street targeted even more.
Tyler Boyd has been a fine compliment to Street. In fact, his numbers for the season (45 catches, 644 yards, 6 TD) are right on par with Larry Fitzgerald's freshmen numbers in 2002 (38 catches, 549 yards, 4 TD in first eight games). Pitt is at its best when both receivers are on. In some games, like Navy, Street has the bigger numbers (9 catches, 96 yards, TD) supplemented by Boyd (3 catches, 35 yards, TD). In others like this past week against Georgia Tech, Boyd had the bigger game (11 catches, 118 yards, TD) followed by Street (5 catches, 45 yards). When both have big games, which is possible in this offense, Pitt wins.
Johnson was a highly-regarded offensive lineman coming out of high school, and from day one of training camp, he's just as good as the coaching staff hoped he would be. As a result, they've moved him around in a lot of roles. That has included giving him a number 85 jersey in two games, used as an extra tight end. That also included Johnson's first career start against Georgia Tech last week. Starter Adam Bisnowaty
isn't able to go due to a back injury, Johnson will make his second start. If Bisnowaty is able to go, expect to see Johnson used in another role. The offensive line is deeper than it's been in quite awhile for the program, yet Johnson is the one this coaching staff will look for a way to get on the field.