Having to write good things to say about West Virginia is making me feel sick and dirty. I'm gonna have to re-watch 13-9 while listening to Pitt fight songs to feel clean again. On to the defensive preview.
One of the best decisions Holgorsen made when he came to Morgantown was keeping defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel on his staff. Casteel, a master of the 3-3-5 defensive scheme, has the Mountaineers ranked 26th in total defense and 37th in pass defense, including just 12 passing touchdowns allowed all season. The problem is that the Mountaineers have been lit up on occasion this season. LSU scored 47, Syracuse scored 49, Rutgers scored 31, and Louisville scored 38. Of that group, only LSU has a particularly strong offense. They seemed to play well against a quality offense in Cincinnati, holding them to 21 points, but you have to wonder how much of that was due to the injury to Collaros. Can an inconsistent Pitt offense exploit West Virginia?
Staples of the defensive line are NT Jorge Wright, who has started every game for WVU this season, and DT Julian Miller, who has started 32 games in his career. Surprisingly, one of the more talented players on West Virginia's defense, Bruce Irvin, is actually not the starter at DE. That honor goes to Will Clarke. Irvin, however, has more tackles (31), sacks (5.5), and tackles for loss (12). Figure that one out. #ThingsThatOnlyMakeSenseInWestVirginia
At linebacker, West Virginia has a linebacker capable of playing multiple positions in Najee Goode, who also leads the Mountaineers in tackles. For the Brawl, look for Goode to start at the weakside linebacker position, where he has started the past three games, but don't be surprised to see him at the other two positions as well (particularly on the other side where he has 13 starts). After Goode, the Mountaineers are a little young with a sophomore and a redshirt freshman occupying the other two starting spots. Sophomore Doug Rigg is starting at the strong side linebacker while redshirt freshman Jewone Snow will be the middle linebacker.
Starting at cornerback will be Keith Tandy and Pat Miller, who have nearly 50 starts combined between them. They'll be guarding Ronald Jones and Devin Street on the outside. Unlike most secondaries that make use of two safeties, the 3-3-5 obviously has three: a free safety, a strong safety, and a bandit safety. West Virginia has a boatload of game experience at the starting positions, with each player having started every game for West Virginia this season. The starters are Terence Garvin at SS, Eain Smith at FS, and Darwin Cook at BS. Each starter in this secondary is in the top six for tackles on West Virginia's defense and the group has eight interceptions amongst them.
Opposing offenses have been able to exploit this defense, so what did they do?
They didn't turn the ball over. In West Virginia's three losses, this defense only forced one turnover. They also threw the ball well. Against Syracuse and Louisville, the Mountaineers allowed Ryan Nassib and Teddy Bridgewater to complete over 75% of their passes ... and they weren't throwing long passes, either, as both averaged around ten yards/completion (which is perfect for Tino, obviously). Let me say it again. West Virginia allowed Ryan Nassib and Teddy Bridgewater to complete 75% of their passes. Now watch as Tino completes 40% of his passes and gets picked off 3 times.
A strong running game also helped LSU and Syracuse beat West Virginia as the Tigers and the Orange rushed for nearly 200 yards each against the Mountaineers. The Panthers ran for 200 yards on Louisville, who have a stronger rushing defense than West Virginia, so that can be an area Pitt takes advantage of.
The wildcard, as is almost always the case, is Tino. If Tino can complete those intermediate throws at a high percentage and not turn the ball over, Pitt can win on Friday.