Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pitt Football Final Unit Grades for 2014 season- Defense

Defensive Line: This is where things start to get ugly. The one thing that stands out in this unit is that Aaron Donald's greatness made up for a lot of holes last season. Senior David Durham, a former fullback, was the best defensive end. That's a problem. Durham was better this year than last year but he still had just 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery. Shakir Soto, who the defense was depending on entering the season, was even worse. For the year he had 30 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, no sacks, no pass breakups, and no fumble recoveries. Throw in his embarrassing tirade against Miami and he was a total disaster this season.

At least there is some hope with the reserves, especially true freshman Rori Blair, who ended up with 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. Redshirt freshman Luke Maclean was looking good through the first four games, but an ankle injury cost him the rest of the season. But in those first four games he had 7 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks. In other words, in just four games he did more than Soto did all season.

At tackle, like Soto, much was hoped for from Darryl Render. The replacement for Donald was never going to live up to that level, and he surely didn't, but he played much better than Soto. On the season he had 31 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 4 pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Beside him, nose tackle KK Mosely-Smith had 27 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, no sacks, a fumble recovery, and 3 pass breakups. The numbers don't wow, but the nose tackle in Pitt's system is to hold the line so those numbers are actually pretty solid.

Redshirt freshman Justin Moody played little but when he did he showed flashes. He totaled just 8 tackles on the season, including a tackle for loss, a half of a sack, and a pass breakup. Yes, even he joined the "more production that Soto" group. Tyrique Jarrett was the primary backup up at nose tackle until he missed the last five games of the season with an injury. He still hasn't lived up to his potential and totaled 7 tackles (all assists). He didn't record a tackle for loss, sack, pass breakup, fumble forced, or fumble recovery.

Bottom line: Obviously another Donald was not expected, but this was a bit ridiculous. The pass rush was virtually non-existent, and it wasn't much better against the run. The Panthers were No. 51 nationally against the run but they also gave up 4.4 yards a carry and 24 rushing yards. Pretty bad. And how bad were the defensive ends? Donald had more sacks as a sophomore tackle than the entire group of ends. The good news is, Blair and Maclean appear to already be better than Soto and Durham.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: C
Midseason Grade: D+
Final Grade: D

Linebackers: Big things were expected from returning seniors Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas, and while they had decent seasons, they did not progress from last year. Gonzalez had 74 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup (compared to 6 last year), and one fumble recovery. Thomas had 71 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, no sacks, 2 pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Again, these aren't bad numbers from these two but they aren't necessarily good numbers for starters either. Middle linebacker Matt Galambos got the start in the middle but he also disappointed. He finished with 64 tackles, one tackle for loss, no sacks, one pass breakup, and one interception. He did finish better, though, with 23 tackles in the last 3 games. That projects to 92 tackles over the season.

Bam Bradley was solid, if not spectacular, in reserve, with 32 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, one sack, 2 pass breakups, and an interception. Fast Nicolas Grimsby had a position invented for him that would enable him to make big plays. It didn't work. He finished with 24 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and no sacks. He was actually better the year before when he had no position invented for him.

Bottom line: This was supposed to be the strength of the defense but they weren't much better than the other units, even with the return of veteran starters Gonzalez and Thomas.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C
Final Grade: C

Defensive Backs: With offseason losses this unit was looking like a disaster, but to be honest thanks to Troy Douglas this unit wasn't as bad as it looked like it was going to be.  In fact, it was the best unit on the defense. Let's start with the weak link, despite his experience, and that's Lafayette Pitts. The redshirt junior had 36 tackles, a tackle for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. That doesn't look bad until you realize that he was picked on more than any starter. That's especially bad when the other starting cornerback, Reggie Mitchell, was never a cornerback until the offseason. He did very well and ended up with 55 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 pass breakups.

True freshman Avonte Maddox struggled at times but he clearly made strides as the season progressed. He finished with 27 tackles and 3 pass breakups.

At safety, Ray Vinopal had 62 tackles (down from 83), and 2 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. He was probably the best player on defense but statistically he actually had a better season last year. Terrish Webb began the season as the other starter and played well until he was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Through the first eight games he had 33 tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, 3 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. Pat Amara took over for Webb and performed very well, especially for a true freshman. He ended up with 18 tackles, a tackle for loss, one pass breakup, and an interception.

Bottom line: Thanks to Mitchell's successful move and the development of true freshman Maddox and Amara, this unit was actually pretty good. They finished No. 21 in pass defense, No. 34 in pass efficiency defense, and No. 39 in third down defense. On the downside, the Panthers finished No. 74 in interceptions.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: C-
Midseason Grade: C-
Final Grade: B-

Overall: This defense finished No. 28 nationally in total defense but they weren't nearly that good. When you look at the personnel and some of the stats it's amazing that they managed to rank so highly. The defense had no touchdowns, and they were also No. 113 in fumbles recovered, No. 65 in red zone defense, No. 110 in sacks, No. 121 in tackles for loss allowed, and No. 107 in turnovers gained. That's quite awful.

On the bright side, the secondary was good and could get much better next season. Also, the young players on the team seem to already be better than the upperclassmen.


  1. What were they in scoring defense? The total defense stat is going to be skewed by how our offense controlled the clock all season while half the country plays no-huddle ball. The lack of takeaways was inexcusable this season.

  2. What are the odds Pelini or Muschamp are coaching this D next year?? Less than 1%?? A man can dream, right??!!

    1. Ok, what are the odds Pelini is HC of Pitt next year?
      He grew up in Ohio. I believe Youngstown.

      Can't believe Nebraska hired Riley of Oregon State. going backwards.

    2. Well, considering Pederson interviewed Pelini for Nebraska HC and refused to hire him, and the fact that Pitt would have to eat $3.5M on Chryst's contract, not good.

  3. Pelini should be coaching this team next year.

  4. The front seven is one gigantic ?. I really pray that Wirginis, Folston, or Davis make a splash at LB. Galambos is young and still servicable, but you have to have more than 2 TFLs in 2 years from your MLB. And the lack of sacks from Gonzalez and Thomas has to be improved upon. You can 4 All Americans in the defensive backfield and youll still get torched if you cant get any pressure on the QB. More production from the front 7 is essential to any improvement for the team

  5. You're right on regarding Soto. I remember the Ga Tech game, 2nd half, and he lazily pursued a ball carrier as if he was out of the play. The runner cut back. If Soto was hustling he could've made a tackle. Instead the ball carrier made him look silly. That was his moment for me. Hope he sits the rest of his career.

  6. Thanks for the review of the Offense and Defense. Will you be making any predictions on changes to the coaching staff (for either good or bad coaching)?

  7. Soto is too big (see fat) and slow to stay at DE. He needs to move inside, preferably for the bowl game. Render should be moved out to DE. He's only 275 even now, and he was recruited as a DE. I bet he produces there. KKMS was a 4 Star recruit, so having him back next year is a nice plus at NT. Moody really impressed when he got to play. He absolutely passed the eye test. I look forward to seeing him play more. Blair has the speed and really looks good, especially when you consider he's trying to add back the weight he lost from the stroke. MaClean really has the size and look going for him at 6'5".

    LB is the biggest question going into next year. i have never been a Thomas fan. Galambos really was poor for 9 games but then picked it up a little. He's still really bad in pass coverage, I mean really bad. I like Bam, I think he'll do a lot better next year. I dont know what to make of Freeze. I hope he takes some solid strides this off season because if he can't become a starting OLB we're in deep deep trouble at LB next fall.

    I agree on the DBs. Douglas really made a difference, I am very pleased with him. He's honestly the only defensive coach I would keep. Pitts needs to be demoted to Nickle or just general back up. He's absolutely useless. I love Maddox. He's probably my favorite player to watch along with Blair and Amara - 3 true freshmen. Maddox has wicked speed and tackles very well in the open field for his size. He got burned a few times, but the kid's 18. Ditto Amara. I am not a fan of the Clairton kids not named Boyd. The 2 remaining were 2 star recruits and I really don't see anything from them.

    Overall, the redzone defense numbers are really the key in my opinion. There was quite a while this season where offenses scored TDs on 100% of their red-zone possessions. The defensive stats only look this good because of our heavy ball control offense and the extremely weak offenses we faced. Matt House desperately needs to be fired, but I truly don't see it happening. And that makes me sad.

    1. Galambos should have been red-shirted this year... It's not his fault the only competition keeping him off the field was 5'10, 175lb Caprara..

      I bet you wouldn't use all the fingers on one hand counting the number of starting MLBs in Power 5 conferences that are true freshman..

      It's ridiculous that he had to play this year.

    2. Whoops!!

      Still don't think he should be starting...

      The path on D is simple IMO... Redshirt the freshman year... cut teeth on special teams second year .. Start pushing for time as a RSSo.. That's three years to get faster and stronger.

      Unless you're a rare athlete... which he is not.

    3. Great kid tho... rooting for him very much so.

    4. Next year's LB core less any incoming freshmen looks like this:

      rsJr. Bam Bradley LB 3 stars 5.6
      rsJr. Devon Porchia LB 3 stars 5.5
      rsJr. Mike Caprara LB 2 stars 5.4
      Jr. Matt Galambos LB 3 stars 5.6
      rsFr.Jamal Davis LB 3 stars 5.6
      rsFrJames Folston LB 3 stars 5.5
      So. Quintin Wirginis LB 2 stars 5.3

      There're really just no difference makers there. The best we can hope for is competence.

    5. If Kevin Givens sticks at LB he could be a factor right away. I think Wirginis can be good. He has a nose for the football. Flotsam and Davis have talent, too. Not sure about Galambos yet. Doesn't seem fast enough. Porchia and Caprara will probably never see the field.

    6. I agree completely about Givens. A lot of people are calling for him to move to DE, but he really could be special if he can stay at about his current weight but transition more to muscle. I am big fan of Fulston and Davis as well. I think Wirginis would've been a higher rated product if not for his injury just like Blair.

  8. Surprising grade for the defensive backs. Higher than I thought it would be. If you take out Pitts the grade would even be higher. Per the comment above I am also looking forward to your grading of the coaching staff.

  9. 28th ranked defense? That should come with an asterisk next to it. All that really matters is ACC stats. Not as flattering.

    11th Total Defense
    14th Sacks
    11th Rushing Defense
    5th Pass Defense Efficiency
    12th Fumble Recoveries
    10th Opponent First Downs
    10th Opponent First Down %
    12th Opponent 4th Down %

    Amazing pass defense was as good as it was with NO pass rush. They are who we thought they were.

    1. John R, good, pertinent stats


    2. Add that Pitt had a "soft" ACC schedule being in Coastal, etc.
      11th out of 14 ain't good.
      How the defensive coaches keep their jobs after this season is beyond me.
      Note... 14th out of 14 in sacks. Who said Breckerfield was good at developing Dline due to Donald? I said, Donald was "self-made" and the year he had last year had nothing to do with Breckerfield.

  10. Chris
    Seems like each recruiting class is O heavy which is understandable for the first couple. The current has only 4 D players. Obviously there is a need for more. Why?

    1. There are currently 5 defensive players committed, Whitehead, M. Henderson, Howe, Givens, and Jackson who will play DB per Douglas. In last year's class there were 12 defensive players and 11 offensive players. DBs Amara, Maddox, Motley, Williams, DEs Blair, Roy, and Trahan, DTs Dintino and Herndon, and LBs Davis, Folston, and Wirginis.

      The big discrepancy was Chryst's first class in 2013 which was about 3:1 offensive players. The class he took over in 2012 had 1 more defensive player than offensive, in terms of guys currently with the team. This year when all is said and done, they'll take about 18, of which, it's safe to assume a minimum of 8 will be defensive players and likely 9.

  11. A couple things come to mind. The offense ate up so much time in many games so the defense was able to look good statistically because of the limited possessions the other team got.

    What was the goal of this Pitt D? Were they a pressure team, a bend but don't break team, a pressure on 3rd down only team? a man-to-man team? They were so awful I couldn't tell what House actually wanted them to do. With the lack of pressure, sacks, defensive TD's and the consistently long drives by other teams, I'm assuming Pitt wanted to play it safe and let everything happen in front of them and then make the tackle? I'm serious, what was the goal? I watched every game and couldn't tell. If the goal was to be a pressure team then the defensive numbers are even worse than Dokish states. pghfan1992