An in-depth scouting report of Syracuse's next opponent, the Pittsburgh Panthers

PantherDigest.com publisher Nate Barnes gives a detailed scouting report of the Pittsburgh Panthers.

The Syracuse Orange and Pittsburgh Panthers square off in an ACC matchup on Saturday. The teams meet for the 61st-consecutive season, dating back to 1955. Pitt’s last trip to the Carrier Dome in 2013 resulted in a 17-16 win due to an Aaron Donald blocked field goal. Here is a look at No. 25 Pitt (5-1, 3-0 ACC) entering the game.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE

Pitt’s offense is based in the pro style, but offensive coordinator Jim Chaney implemented plenty of additional looks that make it more of a multiple look. The Panthers run primarily out of the I-formation, but also sprinkle in hand-offs out of the Pistol as well as designed runs for backup quarterback Chad Voytik. Much of Pitt’s rushing success lately has come when using two fullbacks, George Aston and Jaymar Parrish, at the same time. Parrish lines up as more of an H-back, but their combined blocking efforts gives Pitt a boost out of the backfield.

PROJECTED STARTERS

QB

Nate Peterman

FB

George Aston

HB

Qadree Ollison

WR

Tyler Boyd

WR

Dontez Ford

TE

J.P. Holtz

LT

Adam Bisnowaty

LG

Dorian Johnson

C

Artie Rowell

RG

Alex Officer

RT

Brian O’Neill

KEY PLAYERS

QB Nathan Peterman: Peterman transferred to Pitt from Tennessee prior to this season and wrestled away the starting job from incumbent Chad Voytik three games into the 2015 season. Since, he’s been one of the nation’s most accurate passers and made Pitt’s passing game more dangerous with more of a willingness to throw downfield. Peterman ranks 13th nationally with a 66.7 completion percentage and three for a career-high three touchdowns in last week’s 31-28 win at Georgia Tech.

HB Qadree Ollison: When 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner went down with a MCL injury in the team’s first game against Youngstown State, Pitt’s running game seemed dead and buried. Instead, Ollison has averaged nearly six yards per carry since in taking over as the Panthers’ horse out of the backfield. In a similar sense to Conner, Ollison is a big, physical back with speed, quick feet and someone who cannot be brought down with mere arm tackles. He’s rushed for 559 yards and five touchdowns on 95 tries this year. Expect Pitt to feature Chris James and Darrin Hall out of the backfield as well.

WR Tyler Boyd: Boyd is the best receiver in the ACC, if not the nation, and became Pitt’s all-time leading pass catcher last week. He already possesses the qualities scouts salivate over at the next level between his speed, refined route running, sure hands and pinpoint body control. He’s caught 41 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns in five games this season (he was suspended for the opener) and is Pitt’s go-to guy on third down.

TE J.P. Holtz: A concern for Pitt’s offense was finding a secondary threat in the passing game to take pressure off Tyler Boyd. While that hasn’t quite happened, Peterman’s found a safety-blanket in Holtz. The senior tight end ranks second on the team with 12 catches, three of which were scores.

WEAKNESSES

The biggest weakness for Pitt is if Tyler Boyd is unable to get open, the Panthers haven’t yet found a reliable secondary threat in the passing game. Syracuse transfer Dontez Ford starts opposite Boyd at receiver, yet only has eight catches this season. If the Orange lock down Boyd, Pitt’s offense could suffer mightily.

OVERALL

Pitt’s offense was expected to be one of the best in the league, maybe the country, with the returns of Conner, Boyd and Voytik. Two of those players aren’t in the equation anymore but Pitt has still succeeded. Peterman has proven himself to be a steady presence in the backfield and the Panthers running game is bolstered by new contributors.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE

Pitt lines up in a base 4-3 defense and will go to its nickel package on passing situations on third down. The Panthers lead the ACC with 3.67 sacks per game and rank third nationally in that category. The cornerbacks play press coverage on the outside to stunt the options available to opposing receivers’ route trees. With fewer quick routes available, there is more time for Pitt to generate a pass rush to create the backfield pressure that has been crucial in Pat Narduzzi’s transformation of the Pitt defense.

PROJECTED STARTERS

DE

Rori Blair

DT

Tyrique Jarrett

DT

Darryl Render

DE

Ejuan Price

LB

Bam Bradley

MLB

Matt Galambos

LB

Nicholas Grigsby

CB

Lafayette Pitts

S

Jordan Whitehead

S

Terrish Webb

CB

Avonte Maddox

KEY PLAYERS

DE Ejuan Price: After an injury-riddled career at Pitt, Price, finally healthy, is receiving his chance to shine. He is the best rusher off the edge for the Panthers at a stout 6-feet, 250-pounds, which affords him leverage against taller offensive tackles. Price is second on the team with 3.5 sacks this season and leads the Panthers with 7.5 tackles for loss.

MLB Matt Galambos: Another veteran, Galambos is in his second season as the starting middle linebacker and has benefitted from Narduzzi’s blitz schemes that frequently send linebackers into the backfield and at the quarterback. 13 Panthers have recorded a sack this season and Galambos leads that group with four this year. The junior also ranks second with 36 total tackles.

S Jordan Whitehead: Whitehead was the prize of Pitt’s 2014 recruiting class and Narduzzi’s first priority as head coach was keeping him in the fold after Paul Chryst departed for Wisconsin. It’s a good thing he did. Whitehead impressed in training camp and became the full-time strong safety by the team’s second game. He leads the team with 45 tackles and has made himself a clear candidate for the ACC Rookie of the Year.  

WEAKNESSES

Pitt’s made significant strides defensively this season under new head coach Pat Narduzzi, becoming a nationally-ranked unit in many categories earlier than expected. But the Panthers have still shown a penchant to allow big plays. From the opener against Youngstown State through last week’s win in Atlanta, opposing offenses have been able to pull off big gains.

OVERALL

Narduzzi arrived in Pittsburgh with a defensive reputation forged by the yearly dominance of his units at Michigan State. He was expected to bring those same principles to Pitt, but the success he’s had so far has been ahead of schedule. Despite allowing 482 yards to Georgia Tech last week, the Panthers ranked 17th in the nation allowing 300.8 yards per game. After preparing for the Yellow Jackets’ spread option last week, Pitt’s defense returns to “real football” against Syracuse.

SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS

PROJECTED STARTERS

K

Chris Blewitt

P

Ryan Winslow

H

Ryan Winslow

LS

David Murphy

PR

Tyler Boyd

KR

Tyler Boyd

KEY PLAYERS

KR/PR Tyler Boyd: Boyd is one of the most dangerous returners in the nation, especially in the punt game. If he breaks through the first wave of gunners, he is too quick for the rest of the unit to catch in the open field.

P Ryan Winslow: Winslow has come on strong lately, downing seven punts inside the 20-yard line in Pitt’s last two games. He averages a tick over 40 yards per punt and has pinned the opposition behind the 20 10 times this season.

K Chris Blewitt: Blewitt’s confidence must be at an all-time high entering this weekend’s game. He made a school-record 56-yard field goal with 1:11 to go that pushed Pitt to its 31-28 victory, and was named the ACC Specialist of the Week as a result. Blewitt has made 6-of-9 attempts on the season.


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