Virginia Tech-Pitt Preview: Not Your Father's Panthers

The Hokies travel to Pittsburgh to face a dangerous opponent fresh off a bye week.

[Michael Shroyer]

When you think "Pitt football" over the last two seasons, two things should immediately spring to mind: the Panthers' two tight end power running philosophy, and physical defense that keeps games low-scoring. Pat Narduzzi is one of the most well respected defensive minds in college football, and Heinz Field has been a house of horrors for the Hokies (0-4 all-time).

Although, this Pitt football team has a few surprises up their sleeves. The Panthers have scored at least 36 points against every Power 5 opponent they've played this season, due in large part to one of the top offenses in the country. The Panthers generate big plays via the running game. Pitt compliments its ground attack with a controlled west-coast style short passing game and some play-action shots down the field. On any given run action, multiple players could end up with the football. Screens, jet sweeps, tackles as tight ends, and fullback runs all are mixed in with traditional Pitt looks.

Pitt's Offense Keyed By Jet Sweep/Inside Zone Series

Feel good story James Conner (No. 24, RS-JR, 6-2, 235) and his locomotive running style is the straw that stirs the drink. Pitt still runs the power and counter plays that have given the Hokies fits over the last two years, and Bud Foster noted Pitt's offensive line is, "the best that we've seen to date and maybe the best we see all year."

The Panthers' bread and butter series is an inside zone/jet sweep combination that has produced a ton of big runs for wide receiver Quadree Henderson (No. 10, SO, 5-8, 190) as well as Conner.

The Panthers run this series from a variety of offensive sets, and they mix up whether the jet sweep goes to the strong side and the weak side of the formation. Regardless of the formation, there seem to be three consistent elements to the series.

  1. The slot receiver will start motioning back and forth behind the quarterback before the ball is hiked.
  2. At the snap, the offensive line will zone block away from jet sweep movement of the slot receiver. The Pitt tailback will run the inside zone in the same direction that the offensive line blocks.
  3. The slot receiver crosses behind the quarterback before the quarterback meshes with the tailback. If the slot receiver gets the football, on most plays he turns up almost immediately after exiting the tackle box.

However, that is where the consistency ends. On any given snap, the inside zone could go right and the jet sweep go left, or vice versa. The strength of the formation does not key the defense because Pitt will run both plays to both sides.

On this version, James Conner gets the inside zone handoff running to the left side. Pitt has two tight ends on the right side.

Before Conner gets the football, Henderson motions to the weak side (boundary) and then starts to motion back to the strong side (field) before quarterback Nathan Peterman (RS-SR, No. 4, 6-2, 225) takes the snap. Peterman fakes the hand off to Henderson. The two tight ends both zone to the right instead of the left like the rest of the other offensive linemen. Those two players become lead blockers for Henderson if he were to get the football.

North Carolina ultimately commits three defenders who run away from the real ball carrier to defend Henderson. With a numbers advantage at the point of attack, Conner breaks a long run.

North Carolina overcommitted because Henderson's jet sweeps decimated them. Here is the exact same formation and pre-snap motion. This time, Henderson gets the football.

North Carolina's defensive end gets sucked inside on the inside zone, leaving only two defenders outside to account for Henderson and two blockers. Henderson gets to the corner with ease and gains a first down.

Pitt will also run the jet sweep naked (without lead blockers) to the weak-side while running the inside zone behind those two tight ends.

On this play, Pitt lines up in an I-formation and fakes the inside zone to the strong side (field). Henderson gets the ball on the inside jet sweep and before UNC can react, he is around the corner and almost scores a touchdown.

Essentially, Pitt's heavy look forces the defensive front to load the box, but the Panthers negate any numbers disadvantage by driving the defense to allocate bodies to both sides of the field to combat two possible plays. Often enough, defenders try to read the play and as result they play slow. This allows Pitt to get downhill and gnash long runs. Once the defense over commits in the box, Pitt will pop a play-action pass. Often Conner has been the Panthers' best big-play target in the passing game. On this play Peterman fakes the jet sweep and the inside zone, then waggles out and finds Conner wide open in the right flat for a chunk gain.

The Hokies will have to make the Panthers one dimensional without losing gap integrity or outside contain, win at the point of attack (no easy task given that Bud Foster said that Pitt had the best offensive line on the Hokies schedule), and get negative plays to put the Panthers behind the sticks.

Panthers' Pass Coverage Exploitable

The Pitt defense is also a bit of a conundrum. Defensive end Ejuan Price (RS-SR, No. 5, 6-0, 255) has compiled 13.0 TFLs, 9.0 sacks, 9 QB hurries, and 3 forced fumbles on the season. He will likely be the best pass rusher the Hokies face all season. Jordan Whitehead (No. 9, SO, 5-11, 190) is a dynamic run stopper from his strong safety spot. Nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett (No. 6, SR, 6-3, 335) is a matchup nightmare for centers at 335 pounds. LB Matt Galambos (No. 47, SR, 6-2, 245) had a strong game against the Hokies last season (10 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks).

Pitt has only allowed 96.57 yards rushing per game this season, best in the ACC. Despite that impressive statistic, the Panthers are No. 12 in the ACC in scoring defense (31.4 points per game), and dead last in passing yards allowed per game (298.9). The Panthers secondary is a liability that the Hokies can exploit if they can protect Jerod Evans.

North Carolina had most of their success through the air targeting their slot receivers. Pitt plays a ton of man coverage, even with their outside linebackers and safeties on slot guys. Against that coverage, Ryan Switzer got open with ease, especially in the fourth quarter. Whenever North Carolina needed a first down, regardless of the down and distance, the slot guys seemed to be wide open.

Pitt uses leverage man coverage and robbers the safeties much like Foster does at Virginia Tech. On this play, Pitt has outside leverage coverage on the trips receivers. Whitehead (No. 9) is the safety to the boundary side. At the snap, he runs over to the field side. He is supposed to be reading the quarterback's eyes.

For reasons I don't fully understand, Whitehead robbers underneath the wide slot guy, who is running a deep post against the other Pitt safety, Terrish Webb (No. 2, SR, 5-11, 195). Switzer runs a skinny post against outside linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu (No. 23, RS-SO, 6-0, 215). Idowu is playing outside leverage and expecting safety help inside. Whitehead is nowhere to be found. Switzer easily beats the coverage and breaks off a long run after the catch.

Unlike most Virginia Tech-Pitt clashes, I expect this game to be a high scoring affair. Jerod Evans must complete some third down and long passes from the pocket in order to keep the Hokies' defense off the field. Pitt is going to sustain some long drives even if Tech's defense plays well. Any time either defense forces a punt, it will be a huge potential momentum shift in the football game. Third down efficiency for both Virginia Tech's offense and defense will likely dictate the outcome of this extremely important Coastal Division contest.


Pitt's great at stopping the run and we've had some issues running the ball.
According to eshiben it will be windy, possibly pushing the game to Pitt's offensive and defensive strengths.
Consider me concerned.

It's Pitt. That is enough to have me concerned.

Now finish up them taters; I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters.

Agree that Pitt has always given me concern back when we played them in the Big East. That concern hasn't left me now its ACC play. They always had that blue-collar work mentality which always matched up well against us. And they seem to have our number every time.

I'm, in hindsight, glad that CBF never got the HC job at Pitt despite being considered for it a couple times. He deserved a HC opportunity then and now, but, we are lucky that he stayed home with us, increased salary, and got the associate HC promo too. It would have been an ultimate terror playing against a CBF at another school like Pitt.

Let's Go


We need our offense to show up

Hokies, Local Soccer, AFC Ajax, Ravens

The last three years Pitt has beaten us 13-17, 16-21, and 9-19. That gives me confidence since I believe our offense is much better than the lefty years. This years pitt team seems to be a little more explosive , but I feel CBF has ther number a little bit. If we score 30 we should win. And Pitt has given up at least 27 in 6 of 7 games this year. Even loluva scored 31.

Incorrect. VT beat Pitt 19-9 in 2013. Here is the entire series between the two schools whereby VT leads the series 8-7. From 1993 to 2000 VT was 7-1 against Pitt. Sometimes things are cyclical and here's to the start of a new win streak for the Hokies tonight ! Wheels are cycles and Fuente spins the wheel of Karma and reverses our fortunes with Pitt! The better gameplan and scheme wins. The future is all in the palm of our hands, afterall.

Virginia Tech is (8-7) against Pittsburgh
Average score: Virginia Tech 27.1 Pittsburgh 21.9
Per decade
2010's 1 3 0 16.3 20.5
2000's 1 3 0 23.3 32.8
1990's 6 1 0 35.4 16.4
All games
2015/10/03 Virginia Tech 13 Pittsburgh 17 L
2014/10/16 Virginia Tech 16 Pittsburgh 21 L
2013/10/12 Virginia Tech 19 Pittsburgh 9 W
2012/09/15 Virginia Tech 17 Pittsburgh 35 L
2003/11/08 Virginia Tech 28 Pittsburgh 31 L
2002/11/02 Virginia Tech 21 Pittsburgh 28 L
2001/11/03 Virginia Tech 7 Pittsburgh 38 L
2000/10/28 Virginia Tech 37 Pittsburgh 34 W
1999/10/30 Virginia Tech 30 Pittsburgh 17 W
1998/09/26 Virginia Tech 27 Pittsburgh 7 W
1997/11/22 Virginia Tech 23 Pittsburgh 30 L
1996/10/26 Virginia Tech 34 Pittsburgh 17 W
1995/09/30 Virginia Tech 26 Pittsburgh 16 W
1994/10/22 Virginia Tech 45 Pittsburgh 7 W
1993/09/11 Virginia Tech 63 Pittsburgh 21 W
Last updated: October 23, 2016
Copyright 2013 mcubed.

I've done some of my best work with smoke, mirrors, and a muleta!

Coming off of your last breakdown and pointing out what we all could sense, that Evans isn't a great pocket passer, I'm also worried about this game. Although it sounds like a key to stopping this team is playing great assignment football, something Bud is usually pretty good at preparing our kids for.

Hoping our o-line steps up, as well as Carroll. I was also expecting to see more passes to the tailback in this system than we have seen, so hopefully we can figure out how to get Dragon matched up against some linebackers/safeties, whether through running or passing.

Lastly, this game is on my anniversary, so I hope we can jump out early. My wife likes watching VT games when we are winning, but hates to see us lose...mostly because I turn into a yelling, somber, buzzkill to be around for the rest of the day/night.


My wife likes watching VT games when we are winning, but hates to see us lose...mostly because I turn into a yelling, somber, buzzkill to be around for the rest of the day/night.

so much this

Now finish up them taters; I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters.

Thursday games being so much worse because the buzzkill drags out over the entire weekend....

But after the W, the euphoria carries too. It's a. Great feeling to see teams struggle knowing that 2 days ago, your team took care of its business.

I have to get under the dirty, dark crawl space of our house to put in insulation this weekend and I'll tell ya what--that chore is going to either be bearable or super unpleasant depending on tomorrow night's outcome.

Let's Go...

Historically speaking, since I've been alive, we've gone 2-1 on my birthday, which is tomorrow.

Looks like it may be a wet game.... Pitt can be turnover prone....

Memories of Larry Fitzgerald have been haunting me, I don't know what to feel for this.

VT Marketing Class of 2009
Current Roanoke-Hokie
Go Hokies!

removed original comment. Those odds are slightly better than what is shown in the "By Advanced Numbers" post; I'll take it.

"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

Dont think Pitt has been turnover prone 1 of best in ACC/ country in that dept only thrown 2 int and lost 4 fumbles. thats less than a turnover per game.

Pitt's injury report is significant:

LB Mike Caprara (lower body)
DL Ejuan Price (lower body)

DB Terrish Webb (upper body)

LB Bam Bradley (upper body)
WR Dontez Ford (upper body)
DB Avonte Maddox (upper extremity)

WR Zach Challingsworth (upper extremity)
LB Elijah Zeise (lower body)

Out for the Season
TE Chris Clark (lower body)
DL Zack Gilbert (medical)
OL Mike Grimm (lower body)
DE Dewayne Hendrix (lower body

All of the players in Bold were listed as starters or significant contributors by Phil Steele in the preseason.

Ejuan Price would be a huge loss if he indeed is still hurt from two weeks ago. By far and away the best defensive threat that Pitt has. However, if Caprara is on the field it'll be a boon, he's been out for a good portion of the season.

Known to be a Human Carcinogen.

Lets goooo!!!! Time to get rid of this Heinz field slump!!!!

“I hope that they’re not going to have big eyes and pee down their legs so to speak,” -- Bud Foster

Time to ketchup and start dominating the series matchup!

Let's go!

Let's Go




-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.


Waho's suck
Uva swallows



-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.


Waho's suck
Uva swallows

I'm kind of surprised we're even favored in this game...

If a tree falls in Scott Stadium does it make a sound?

I see this game being a dog fight. Pitt has an uncanny ability to play above our level even given less talent. However, our boys should now know that nothing comes easy (thanks Syracuse) and that you have to bring it every game, no matter if it's at home or away. I see VT winning this game because of a strong performance by Jerod accompanied by Marshawn and Travon wearing down Pitt's D. I think our receivers should have a stellar game given Pitt's secondary's woes. I think our defense limits Conner to under 100 yards rushing and for the most part contains him throughout the game. Tremaine and Motu have big games and Bucky continues to perform at a high level.

VT 31
Pitt 17

"That's Houdini!"

- Jon Laaser 9/24/2016

I like it!

Beat Pitt

I like it too but if we can hold a team that has scored at least 36 on every power 5 team it has played this year to only 17 then we really will have one of the strongest defenses in the country.

Using /s is for cowards.

The exact number I'm unsure of, but I fully expect us to hold them under 36.

This is a poor assumption, you should just throw it every play and turn it into a Big-12/Pac matchup.

Known to be a Human Carcinogen.

I have no idea what your logic behind this is, or if you're being sarcastic because nothing about this makes any sense.

We have a way, way better defense than GT, UNC, or OK State. UNC's defense particularly plays into their hands because they like to play two high safety at the cost of their running defense.

Our offense has been terrible when we start throwing every play, because our passing offense isn't a multi read drop back system, and we have been spotty at best in pass pro this year.

Your score prediction brings back bad memories of previous 31-17 games...

This is a very ambitious prediction haha.

"That's Houdini!"

- Jon Laaser 9/24/2016

We will definitely have to do a better job of stopping them defensively because unlike it seemed earlier in the year, it doesn't seem like this team is ready to win shootouts yet. When teams have gone up on us this year, the offense has been unable to answer the call. Until I see this team respond well when things start poorly, I am going to assume starting off hot will be an important key to this game.

Seems like it could be an interesting game. I'm curious how we'll
defend their offense, especially the jet sweep/inside zone plays.
Have we played a team this year that uses that type of misdirection?

Then you have the fact they seem to give up a good amount of points.
Possible shootout?

Then you have the fact they seem to give up a good amount of points.

This is a huge point, both of their losses were one possession games in shootouts (45-38 Ok State and 37-36 UNC). Are we going to be able to take advantage of their defensive struggles? We certainly didn't take advantage of Syracuse's defensive weaknesses, but we did exploit Miami and UNC. I think our defense will do a much better job defensively than either UNC or Ok State for sure, but how much we need to rely on them will be dependent on if the offense wants to show up and score some points tomorrow.

edit: I'm pretty sure Pitt didn't punt until the 4th quarter against UNC, and lost.

It's interesting because this year's team is such a contrast to last year.
I remember them giving up barely any points and having a really stingy
defense. Now they have this high scoring offense and are giving up 30 points
a game.

I hope it isn't a shootout because wins like that aren't exactly pretty.
But I'd take a win regardless.

Their O has me more scared than Louisville, Clemson, and Syracuse (yes we lost at place-that-shall-not-be-named, but 9/10 we will win against them; I can't say the same against this offensive scheme).

I'm going to cover myself in Mustard tomorrow. FRENCH'S!!!!

"Dick to Hyman? DICK TO HYMAN!" - Guy in Lane Stadium crowd when Richard Johnson hit Josh Hyman on reverse pass in 2004.

A pickle covered in mustard just sounds gross.

I like pickles and mustard on cheeseburgers, but even I gotta admit

Waho's suck
Uva swallows

Sounds like something my 7 month pregnant wife would think up

Waho's suck
Uva swallows

wondering if we see a new/wrinkled bud foster defensive look?

Hmm, Run/ pass options against a D that plays heavy man (backs turned against QB) = Big game on the ground for Evans?

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

We already used up our 'crap-the-bed' game against Syracuse. The rest of the games from here on out are the Coastal Title or Bust. Hope the team plays like that.

The Dude Abides

Pitt's OC is Matt Canada, who was at NCSU last year. You may remember all those end arounds with Hines last year.

Image result for south park canadians gif

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior" Stephen M.R. Covey

“When life knocks you down plan to land on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up, if you fall flat on your face it can kill your spirit” David Wilson

Thanks for that. I had no idea Pitt's OC was the NC State OC. They do a great job of using both elements.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

He's not my buddy, guy!

Hey, well he's not your guy, fwend!

Waho's suck
Uva swallows

He's not your fwend, buddy!

"Oi! What's a Horkie"
"I am ya Grot!"

"Horkies were made for two fings foighten' and winnen'" - Horkie Warboss

"That Gritty git doesn't exactly look like a Horkie, but by Gork and Mork it acts like one!"-Random Horkie Boy

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Thank you for this good sir. I have spent the last few minutes watching this and cracking up at my desk.

You're welcome. It cracked me up too. I had to share.

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Connor is a great back and while Pitt has beaten us before with him I don't recall Connor ever trashing us. We've done pretty well containing him for the most part.

With our lack luster run game and their dominant run defense I think most of our yards on the ground come from Evans on scrambles, designed QB draws and just him reading the defense and keeping. Of course his passing is going to come into play as well. Hopefully our OL can protect him long enough to get the ball out.

If you don't want to recruit clowns, don't run a clown show.

"I want to punch people from UVA right in the neck." - Colin Cowherd

In 2013, Conner was a rather unknown freshman but had really started out strong to the season. He had like 2 carries before getting hurt in Lane Stadium and we won by 10 in the Dadi Nicholas Plays Whip game.

In 2014, it didn't go well for us from the start but we made progress in the 2nd half and we're coming back. I think Conner had a TD or two that just about put it away. That was the Who Knew Chad Voytik Could Run? game. I don't think Conner broke 100 yards, which was pretty good because he had like 3 200+ games that year.

Last year he didn't play, Ollison got us on that big run just after halftime. Interestingly, Ollison has like 10 carries this year as the backup. Conner looks to be getting like 95% of the snaps.

He ran over Williams and Jarrett for a TD run going into the closed end of Heinz Field. 2nd Q maybe?

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Not Jarrett's best game.....too bad, since he decommitted from Pitt to VT.

No actually Ollison is like the 4th option running the ball and the third team RB. TF Moss is second team with about 40 carries averaging 6.2yds a pop

I believe a kid named Ffrench also gets carries.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Yep another Jet sweep option. what will be interesting is to see how many snaps conner at Dend and How many Whitehead at slot/RB

This has been tripping me up for a while...I couldn't figure out why their star freshman running back got moved to receiver last year. Turns out they have a Qadree (the rb) AND a Quadree (the wr). What a time to be alive.
Also weird that Qadree has so few carries, he was good and you'd think they'd want to prevent wearing out Conner coming off an ACL tear.

I just hope we Pitt it in their butt....

VT Marketing Class of 2009
Current Roanoke-Hokie
Go Hokies!

The 65K raucous Pitt fans, as shown below, could play a factor.

I was surprised to see they are averaging 50K per game, but I guess they had the PSU game to boost that up.

People in the stands tomorrow O/U: 15,000

There are tickets on Stubhub in the upper level of Heinz for $6.00. That is not a typo.

Lower level 50 yd lines were like $15-25 yesterday....

Damn I didn't think of it until now but I know a few PSU people that bought season tickets to Pitt to get the PSU @ Pitt ticket...they've been trying to unload the rest of the season for a while now.

When you think "Pitt football" over the last two seasons, two things should immediately spring to mind: the Panthers' two tight end power running philosophy, and physical defense that keeps games low-scoring.

I must be stupid. I thought "F'EM" and Big Ben.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own

French, in Clip 1 the RLB blocks the inner TE #70 instead the outside blocker #35, losing containment. Do you think he executed his assignment properly or should he have tried to get outside and force the ball carrier back inside?

In the second clip you showed how the defensive end gets pinned inside as Quadree takes the sweep to the edge. Since the options on this play are really just the inside zone or jet sweep, would it be better for that defensive end to stay out (like on a zone read) to force the sweep farther into the backfield or be there for the tackle when the play gets spilled back inside? It just seems like the inside zone is so similar to the zone read that it would be beneficial for that defensive end to play it the same to try and help with the sweep.

I preface this comment with the fact that I have no actual football scheme knowledge:

I agree. It seems like the end should ignore the dive, trusting his interior linemen/LB's to cover the running back and to more or less go straight up field to do one of the following:

a) tackle the carrier for a loss
b) eat up one of the lead blockers.
c) force the sweep back inside to a LB
or d) force the ball carrier to take a longer route around give the LBs/DBs more time to see the play.

With all that being said, there could very possibly be an option off of this that would exploit a D-end if he always ran up the field on these plays. I would love to hear French's educated take on this.

Yes I was saying that assuming the sweep and inside zone were the only two options out of this formation/pre snap motion. And maybe if Canada sees the end cheating out he will exploit it. I wouldn't be surprised if Bud tried playing with fire a little bit there.

Hakuna Mihota?

Hakuna Mihota

It means no rushing, for the rest of the game?

It's Bud's problem-free philosophy?

Hakuna Mihota

"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

What a wonderful guy!
Hakuna Mihota
Well ain't he supafly?

Waho's suck
Uva swallows

mihota's the one in the back over the past couple seasons

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

And Dadi is in the front.

Yeah...I wasn't going to say it

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

It's Bud's problem-free philosophyyyy


This game will be decided by the play of Motuapuaka, Tremaine Edmunds, and Mook Reynolds.

Leonard. Duh.

Think so too. Pitt oline will make some creases no matter who is available at Dline. Those second level guys are going to have to make sure tackles. make correct fills, set edge and play with good leverage.

I think getting TFL's or minimal gains, especially on first down and jet sweeps, will be a big key. I'd add Mihota, Ken and Chuck to the list for the latter.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own

Im hoping our offensive misdirection will help the defense in their preparation.

In the first clip (titled Clip2) it certainly appears that the LG is blatantly holding the play-side UNC DT as Conner runs by. The RG also seems to hold the other DT as he tries to move along the line of scrimmage in pursuit. If they consistently get away with that kind of holding we're going to have a bad night.

The way they're doing it inside the numbers and under the pads disguises it well. That's how Dadi practically got his jerseys ripped off in multiple games last year, while holding calls were minimal.

I can't wait it to relish in the victory after we win!

There are wolves and there are sheep, I am the sheep dog

We may find ourselves in a pickle at Heinz field tonight but we just have to put our game faces (dij)on!

There are wolves and there are sheep, I am the sheep dog