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Monday Morning Report Card - Pitt

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“Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.” - Carl Sandberg

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Pitt at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Good Morning. For those that read last week’s edition, I am back on the fence when it comes to fall weddings...

I had to look up that Sandberg quote, but I’d say it’s a pretty good summation of the Geoff Collins era. This feeling sucks. There is no other way to put it. Very few positives spring to mind when reviewing the game, thus making it much less fun to write this column. In case you had to miss Saturday’s action, or if for whatever reason you want to relive the pain, check out Robert’s postgame recap here. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising at this point, but the Yellow Jackets found a way to seemingly squander away all previously achieved progress on Saturday afternoon. I realize how dramatic that sounds, but this flag is tattered. A team that looked hungry and prepared against UNC came out and looked tired and sloppy against Pitt, and the grades reflect such an effort. Enjoy (if you can), and feel free to critique in the comments.

Here we go.

Quarterback: C+

Yes. The two first quarter interceptions are bad, but both are the result of lackluster OL play. On the first, utter confusion on the left side of the line led to a tipped pass and easy interception, and on the second, Jeff Sims didn’t even have enough time to say “Jeff Sims” before two Pitt defenders were driving him into the ground.

I give Sims a lot of credit, because after the rough start, he came back out and went 3/3 on the next drive with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Nate McCollum. With pressure in his face most of the day, he finished the game with 359 passing yards and 2 TDs, along with the aforementioned interceptions, while completing 73% of his passes (most passing yards so far this year and highest completion % against FBS opponents).

Running Backs: C

The three-headed monster (no sarcasm intended) of Dontae Smith, Jordan Mason, and Jahmyr Gibbs rushed for a whopping 35 yards on 21 attempts, for an average of 1.6 yards per carry. Much like the Clemson matchup, this group was faced with a difficult task as the offensive line couldn’t establish much of a push the entire game.

The top receiver on the day was Jahmyr Gibbs, thanks to a couple big screens out of the backfield. I mean if the offensive line can’t block the defensive line, why make them do it, am I right?? Jahmyr showed off his athletic ability once again with about 3 minutes to go in the first half, scampering 71 yards to give the Jackets a chance at making the score respectable in the first half. Did it pay off? Absolutely not. More on that later.

Wide Receivers/TEs: C+

If it weren’t for a couple untimely holding penalties committed by WRs, one of which erased a TD early in the second half, this group may have scored in the B’s despite getting blown out as a team. Four different receivers caught three or more passes. All four of those receivers averaged over 10 yards a completion, and there were some pretty big plays made in the process. Freshman Malik Rutherford channeled his inner Megatron and made a spectacular diving catch on the first drive of the third quarter to get the Tech offense inside the red zone. Did it pay off? Once again, absolutely not.

Good to see more depth being added to the WR corps, as fellow freshman Nate McCollum also reeled in three catches for 49 yards, including an acrobatic catch in the end zone in the first quarter.

Offensive Line: F

In what was a pretty bad performance overall, the offensive line only gave up two sacks, but the 10 TFLs that Pitt amassed surpasses the mark that Clemson set a few weeks ago. The most successful run play was a well-timed QB draw that allowed Jeff Sims to use his speed and beat an aggressive pass rush. I’ve already mentioned the two plays that led to the early interceptions, so I won’t beat that horse too much longer, but the same problems occurred throughout the game.

Pitt’s defensive line ran a few stunts that confused everyone on the field wearing navy blue, but for the most part this was another demonstration of the Tech offensive line being overpowered and outmatched. The push we saw against UNC was non-existent against Pitt, only making way for 73 total rushing yards on 2.4 yards per carry.

Total Offense: F+

Explosive pass plays and nice individual stats don’t mean much if you can’t get the ball in the end zone. As a unit, this group failed to execute when and where it mattered most, early in the game and in the red zone. One of the more promising things about this season is the fact that Tech has been able to protect the football. This was the first game this season in which Tech lost the turnover battle (still +3 on the season). Bad penalties killed drives on multiple occasions, and further evidence that the Tech offensive line cannot hold its own consistently is a primary reason shrapnel continues to rip through Sandberg’s flag of hope.

Secondary: F

There was a play where Pitt WR Jordan Addison caught the ball lying down. The coverage was actually pretty good on that play, but that’s the type of day this group had. Football is a system, so the fact that Kenny Pickett had enough time to read a book every time he dropped back certainly doesn’t help, but it seemed as though Pitt receivers, tight ends, and running backs were wide open on most plays. It looked like an unorganized fire drill out there.

Of the ELEVEN different players that caught a pass for Pitt on Saturday, nine averaged double-digit yardage, six caught multiple passes, two surpassed 100 receiving yards, and four reeled in TD passes. The season’s limitation of explosive plays evaporated in the Georgia sun as four different Pitt pass-catchers had plays of 20+ yards. “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Linebackers: D-

The secondary isn’t the only group responsible for the woes of Saturday’s pass defense. Not only did Pitt’s RBs and TEs combine for 102 yards receiving, but the LB group also failed to get any serious pressure on Kenny Pickett throughout the game. The Tech defense didn’t blitz very often, but when they did, it looked slow and uncoordinated. You’ll see plenty of film when Justin does his Back Seat Coachin’, but here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Game captain Quez Jackson made a few individual plays, leading both teams with 14 total tackles (twice as many as the next Tech LB). Love to see his effort. So far this season, the LB unit has been pretty solid across the board, but clearly there is still a lot of work to do.

Defensive Line: F

I would need to re-watch the game (again), but I can remember at least four or five times when a Pitt offensive lineman basically slapped a Tech defensive lineman to the ground during pass rush. The unwillingness by the coaching staff to consistently bring pressure from different places allowed the Pitt OL to get comfortable, double-team effectively, and essentially manhandle the Tech DL for the majority of the afternoon.

A bright spot of this team has been Tech’s ability to hinder the opposition’s run game, but even that was put on notice Saturday afternoon. On 41 carriers, Pitt ran the ball for 181 yards, the most given up by Tech all year, for an average of 4.4 yards per attempt. Only 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 QB hurries on the day.

Total Defense: F

For all you degenerate gamblers out there, the Over/Under here was 57.5 according to CBS Sports. Thankfully Pitt was feeling generous at the end of the game, taking a knee on the Tech 1-yard line, or else they would have hit the over by themselves.

The 52-point performance by Pitt is only 6 shy of the combined point total of Tech’s three other FBS opponents. The 580 yards given up are only 91 shy of Clemson’s 2020 drubbing of our beloved Yellow Jackets. Also worth noting - this was the first game of the 2021 season without forcing a turnover. If it feels like the defense has taken a step back, it’s because they have. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t bounce back, but right now they have to do some serious soul searching.

Special Teams: C+

Cimaglia had an inconsequential kick blocked, but he was perfect on XPs. Punting was improved, with an average of 45.5 yards and a long of 54. Punt and kick coverage were stellar again (Gavin “The Leg” Stewart continues to do really well on kickoffs). Jahmyr showed more flashes of greatness with a few near house-calls. One or two more blocks and he would have taken at least two of those kickoffs back for TDs. Special teams really hasn’t been too bad this year, and that’s a good thing.

Coaching: F

This isn’t true (it can’t be...), but it’s almost like Tech forgot there was a game on Saturday. Whether it was exhaustion from the Clemson/UNC stretch or overconfidence from a big win a week ago, the coaching staff clearly did not do a good job focusing the players both in-game and prior to the game. Outside the red zone, the offensive game plan actually made sense. In a game where Tech had to throw the ball more, it did so pretty dang effectively. Again, the problem is, there was zero effectiveness inside the red zone. Costly penalties completely eliminated chances to punch the ball in the end zone on two consecutive drives (right before halftime, right after halftime). If Tech scores on those, a 14-point deficit with 10-11 minutes left in the third quarter is far more surmountable.

However, I’m not sure it would have mattered because the defensive game plan and execution were the worst they’ve been all season. I’ve already mentioned this, but there wasn’t much that Kenny Pickett had to figure out. The Pitt offense was often in max protect, but that should mean you try to bring more pressure since RBs and/or TEs aren’t running routes. They also looked stagnant, whereas the past few weeks the defensive front has show some different looks to try and confuse the OL and QB. It kinda looked like Tech was standing around at times. Kenny Pickett is great, but he was basically duplicating walk-through practice, just chillin’ in the pocket for 5-6 seconds on many occasions.

Lastly, the fourth down call halfway through the second quarter inside our own territory was pretty awful. I loved going for it, but handing the ball off in the shotgun on 4th & 2 when you haven’t been able to establish a push is the equivalent of snapping the ball, walking up to a Pitt defender, and handing it to him. This was after an unofficial timeout and chance to form a strategy since Jeff Sims had the leave the game for a play. Jordan Yates has proven he’s capable of more than just a simple handoff. It didn’t even look like there was a read involved... Sad.

Postgame Handshake: A+

As pictured at the top of the page, this was much improved over last year’s shoddy performance.

Wrap Up

Tech has to move on. This was undoubtedly a tough experience for the fanbase and the program, but what made it tougher was the hope instilled and progress shown over the past 2-3 weeks. Will the Jackets bounce back and get an impressive win on the road against Duke? Or will they let this setback affect their performance for weeks to come? At this point, I can’t buy a new flag, so I sure hope it’s the former.

See you next week. Go Jackets!