Matchups: Pitt-New Mexico

A look at some of the individual and group matchups for Saturday's game between Pitt and New Mexico.

Matchup Preview | September, 14 2013; 12:30 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
New Mexico Lobos
Pitt Panthers
After facing Jameis Winston in Week One, Pitt gets a different test in New Mexico quarterbacks Cole Gautsche and Clayton Mitchem. Pitt may not see as much of a passing threat with this type of two-quarterback system, but they will have to deal with both Gautsche and Mitchem running the ball. Gautsche should be an interesting challenge, at 6-4, 223 pounds, averaging 7.4 yards on 16 rushes this year. Being this early in the season, Pitt's defense hasn't been tested this way. It's hard to say how involved the defensive ends will be in this offense. There was hardly any pressure from the defensive ends against Florida State. You would hope they could at least control the gaps, to maybe setup the linebackers in making some tackles. It is going to have to be a group effort for both of these units to try to shut down this type of attack.
Kasey Carrier has been the talk all week, leading up to this game. Carrier (5-9, 185) enters the game as he nation's leading rusher with 172.5 yards a game, and is coming off a 291-yard performance in a 42-35 overtime win over UTEP. The quarterbacks are an integral part of the running game, but everything the Lobos do revolves around Carrier. In addition to being quick, and obviously fast, Carrier is tough to bring down.

The biggest question for Pitt overall will be stopping New Mexico's triple threat option attack. The key, is just that--keying in on the ball carrier, whether it be Carrier, Gautsche or Mitchem. From there, it comes down to simply making tackles--something Pitt struggled with against Florida State, and something that will have to progress. This is a big game for Anthony Gonzalez, the former quarterback, who based on his athleticism and gut feeling of what the quarterback is trying to do, has a chance to have a breakout game. One safety who should be able to provide run support, if he has to, is Jason Hendricks. Ideally, the Pitt linebackers need to step up for this game.
The good news for Pitt is that the New Mexico offensive line isn't as big as Florida State. Right guard Jamal Price (6-6, 325) may be a challenge to deal with because of his size. However, the challenge with facing an offensive line scheme for a triple-option attack isn't always about size. Then again, you have to wonder about co-starters at left guard in Lamar Bratton (6-2, 281) and Calvin McDowney (6-3, 345). Bratton could also play at center. McDowney was a high school teammate of Pitt's Shane Johnson.

We didn't hear much from Aaron Donald against Florida State. The Florida State offensive line kept him at bay. Regardless of the linebackers and defensive ends focusing in on their keys, if Donald can get free or be his explosive self, he has a chance to be the difference maker in this game. We expect to see Donald double-teamed, especially with a versatile player like Bratton who can play center or guard. If that's the case, it's also a chance for Tyrone Ezell to step up and make a few plays. Anything these two can provide on Saturday should help set up the linebackers to finish plays.
New Mexico's secondary is led by corners Cranston Jones (5-9, 167) and Saqwan Edwards (6-1, 194). They haven't been tested that much in two games, and the defense as a whole is looking for its first interception of the season. UTEP did complete 15-20 passes in a loss to New Mexico this week. They will probably try to math up Edwards with Devin Street (6-4, 195) Free safety Dante Caro (6-0, 190) leads the team with 15 tackles, and is strong in run support. This is where Pitt has a chance to build off its Week One performance. Despite its offensive shortcomings, Devin Street was still able to get six catches for 141 yards--a career-high in yardage. Tyler Boyd (6-2, 185) didn't get his first catch until he ran the ball three times for 54 yards. Now that we know Boyd has adjusted to the speed of the college game, adjusting well, we should see him touch the ball even more. Manasseh Garner (6-2, 230) should also be more involved. The Lobos secondary hasn't dealt with this kind of size yet, and it should be a golden opportunity for the Pitt receivers to be more active.
Look for Caro, the safety, to be active in run support. A lot of it will depend on if Bob Davie calls for eight in the box. New Mexico employs a 3-4, with a pair of outside linebackers in Javarie Johnson (6-3, 242) and Rashad Rainey (6-2, 205). Johnson forced a fumble in last week's win that was returned for a touchdown. Rainey tied for the team-lead with nine tackles against UTEP. Just like their Pitt counterparts, they will be looking to shut down the run. More than likely, Pitt would like to go to the air to get Street and Boyd involved--their two biggest playmaking threats, based on one game this season. Pitt's ground game needs to be more productive. If New Mexico's linebackers are going to stop the run, how much will it really be a factor?
Isaac Bennett (5-11, 205) and James Conner (6-2, 230) give the Lobos defense more of a power approach than what they're used to seeing. The question is, can it be effective? Each carried the ball nine times. Even without a running game, especially on the opening series, Pitt's most offensive hope was with the passing game against Florida State. The ground game is going to have to be a factor at some point this season. This game would be a good starting point, to see how this group is going to progress.
New Mexico will roll out a 3-4 scheme, led by ends Fatu Ulale (6-2, 280) and Brett Bowers (6-3, 272). Nose tackle Jacori Greer (6-3, 272) led the team with five sacks last season, and recorded his first sack of the season last week against UTEP. It might not be as big a group as the Pitt offensive line had to deal with last week, but the speed of this group will be a challenge. It's also an experienced group. They might not be used to seeing Pitt's powered attack. Again, though, Even though it's Pitt's philosophy, it's an unproven group.
Despite the loss to Florida State, Pitt's offensive line showed promise. Can this group continue to gel and develop? It's certainly in the right direction. Offensive line coach Jim Hueber said this week he wasn't expecting to see a 3-4 alignment against Florida State--at least not as much. However, he made the necessary adjustments, and felt his group did well. Pass protection was okay against Florida State. Tom Savage was sacked twice on a corner blitz. The offensive line help up overall, before getting gassed towards the end. For a unit that has been under scrutiny in recent years, this is a group that is off to a good start. It's not a finished product.
We should see some pretty good special teams overall for both teams. New Mexico kicker Justus Adams is a perfect 47-47 on extra point attempts. Punter Ben Skaer is ninth in the country with an average of 46.4 yards a punt. Chase Clayton (6-3, 204) and Carlos Wiggins (5-8, 155) provide a threat on kick and punt returns. Clayton averaged 19 yards on two returns in the opener against UTSA, while Wiggins had a career-long of 49 yards on a punt return last week against UTEP.
Paul Chryst places a heavy emphasis on special teams, evidenced by putting two players on scholarship (Chris Blewitt, Ryan Winslow) on scholarship for the 2013 recruiting class. Blewitt answered the call in his first game, converting field goals of 28 and 39 in his first collegiate game. Punter Matt Yoklic gave the Panthers a nice boost with an average of 54.3 yards on three punts. Tyler Boyd and Lafayette Pitts have a chance to be even more explosive on returns. At what point will we see both on kick returns?

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