2017 Football Scouting Report: Pittsburgh Panthers
The Pitt Panthers squeaked a win by Penn State last year at Heinz Field, 42-39, and they opened up their season in a similar way this year, beating FCS foe Youngstown State in overtime, 28-21. The Nittany Lions are heavily favorited in this year’s installment of the Keystone Classic, but have no reason to overlook the Panthers and some of their very explosive players.
Quarterback: Senior transfer Max Browne moved to the East Coast this year after losing the starting job at USC to Heisman favorite Sam Darnold. Expected to be a beacon of leadership for Pitt this season, Browne started off his campaign with a very lackluster performance in Week One, completing 17 of 24 passes for 140 yards. Browne does not have a lot of high profile targets to throw to, so in order to succeed, his friend is throwing as many passes as he can in order to get any sort of big drives going.
Running Backs: James Conner left a big hole for Pitt to fill and they have given junior Qadree Ollison the keys to the backfield for this year. Ollison started his season off on the right foot, rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns on 22 rushes. The run game has been Pitt’s bread and butter the past few years and this year is no exception. However, this year the Panthers do not possess the experienced offensive line they did last year, losing two starters, so it will be up to the shifty junior tailback to make defenders miss and get yards on his own.
Wide Receivers: If there is one area of the Pittsburgh offense the Nittany Lions should be concerned with, it’s the outside threat, specifically wideout Quadree Henderson. The junior receiver torched Penn State last year in the run game as well as the air attack, rushing for 58 yards and tallying 47 yards and a touchdown through the air. He continued that theme last week, rushing for 77 yards on nine attempts. Expect Henderson to be all over the field, being a big contributor up and down the stat sheet.
Offensive Line: This is an area that got hit hard in the offseason. The Panthers lost two starters in Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson to graduation. This year though, Pitt looks to rebound, picking up Texas transfer Brandon Hodges and filling the other gaps with the depth they possessed last year.
This offensive line is supposed to match the great protection and blocking from last year, but that performance will take time to achieve. The offensive line is a unit that requires a lot of chemistry and bonding to succeed, and this group doesn’t possess those traits yet this early in the season. That inexperience showed last week as Max Browne hit the turf three times against Youngstown State. This unit is crucial in Pitt’s success this weekend if they want to get any offense going against a stout Nittany Lions defense.
Defensive Line: There is not too much to be expected from this group come Saturday. Pitt’s leading sack man from a year ago, Ejuan Price, graduated and no one has really shown the ability to fill his shoes. He was an outside linebacker brought in on passing downs for added pressure because the defensive ends were so lackluster to begin with. Sophomore Amir Watts was the only man to get pressure on the quarterback last week, recording the lone sack. Penn State’s offensive line should handle this group with ease
Linebackers: This is another group that did not improve much in the off season and lost key players. The aforementioned Price was a presence on the outside, but other than he, the linebacking core was very average and now Pitt has called upon three young guys to try and shore up that position. Seun Idowu, Saleem Brightwell, and Elijah Zeise all come in with little previous experience; Zeise especially as a freshman is a wildcard. The three only combined for 18 tackles last week against Youngstown State and none of them lead the team in tackles. The physical presence that Pitt had at linebacker last year has yet to be recovered.
Secondary: Pitt’s secondary last year was absolutely atrocious and it doesn’t look to be any better this year. Penn State thrashed Pitt with 332 yards and a touchdown through the air. Pitt also lost defensive leader and safety Jordan Whitehead to suspension for three weeks to start the season. The one area the secondary does excel at is stepping up on run defense. Pitt held Saquon Barkley to only 85 yards rushing last year, with big support coming from the secondary as Whitehead and former DB Ryan Lewis combined for 16 tackles. Penn State will need to look to Barkley more through the air this week, along with the receivers, in order to get to the end zone.
Travis Sutton is a sophomore majoring in telecommunications. To contact, email him at email@example.com.