Saturday was not a good day for the defense. Simply put, 45 points, a season-high 460 yards, no turnovers produced and just two sacks goes hand-in-hand for any defense in describing a bad day.
Saturday's performance for the Pitt defense is a reflection on some of the units weaknesses and questions marks--none of which includes injuries, according to defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable.
"Everybody is banged up this time of year," Huxtable says. "That's football."
One concern is the pass defense, mainly the corner position where K'Waun Williams gave up a 75-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker, and a couple of other big pass plays. Huxtable dispels the notion that Williams isn't fully 100 percent--being that he was limited and did not start in the first two games. Paul Chryst said earlier this week, that in making a judgment call on whether or not to start a player like Williams, he gets the okay from Williams on whether or not he's ready to go. Chryst has obviously gotten that okay, but Williams is not looking like the same player right now.
"He just got beat off the line of scrimmage too quickly," Huxtable said of the big touchdown play given up. "The first half, we were up there in some press coverage. They made the throw, and they made the catch. He just wasn't able to recover fast enough."
The defense has other issues too, such as the lack of pressure on the defensive line. While both Aaron Donald and Huxtable have acknowledged the fact that the junior defensive tackle is getting double-teamed--a major factor why Donald has just one sack through six games--Huxtable also felt Donald did get freed up on Saturday. The problem is that no one else could capitalize. The line has produced six sacks in six games this season.
"What we didn't do good is have the quarterback contained on the edge," Huxtable said. "We did have Aaron loose a couple times. We need the other guys to keep the quarterback caged up."
The defense could get a boost this week if Todd Thomas is able to start, or t least take more reps. The coaching staff has been taking a cautious approach, bringing Thomas back in the mix gradually. Thomas' play has been noticeable at a linebacker position where the play has been stale the last two games. Huxtable likes what he sees, but also feels Thomas is not quite in game-shape yet.
"Todd is getting stronger and stronger," Huxtable said. "He's getting in better condition. Besides the injury, there was a conditioning factor with him. Really looking,forward to him being a much big contributor."
We could also see Thomas switch from SAM to the WILL, making a start on the opposite side. Huxtable says there's a lot more that goes into it, then just lining up on a different side.
"We're taking a look at it," Huxtable said. "If he continues to progress, we'll start giving him more reps. There's a whole new set of responsibilities. Linebacker is linebacker, a lot of people think, but there is a lot of learning when you flip over to the other side."
"He's big enough, he's stong enough, athletic enough to play multiple positions on defense. It's a learning curve because there are different responsibilities."