On Sunday, we reviewed the offense's performance of Saturday's game. Today, let's take a look at the defense and special teams.
The defense had a great first half. I really liked how they blitzed, which was something that almost never happened under Wanny. Todd Graham wanted the defense to work out of various defensive formations (3-4, 4-3, 4-2-5, etc). They clearly got tired once the second half started though, and that will be something to work on.
Position-by-position breakdown after the jump:
The strength of the defense, as usual, had a great game - especially Alecxih, whose interception helped swing momentum back in favor of the Panthers. They were great against the run, holding the Bulls to a 2.9 YPC. They had trouble getting to the QB, however, as Pitt only recorded two sacks. But as was the theme with the offense's review, it was only the first game in a new defense where they worked primarily out of the 3-4. In time, this will get better.
I was impressed with the play of the younger guys (Mosley-Smith, Donald). Despite only recording two tackles each, they seemed to play well in the snaps they were on the field. On the other hand, I was a little disappointed that Tyrone Ezell did not see any action at all. He had a decent camp and is pretty good at the position, so it was a little odd that he didn't see the field.
Linebackers: Brandon Lindsey (seven tackles, one TFL, one sack), Max Gruder (eight tackles, one TFL), Tristan Roberts (four tackles), Greg Williams (four tackles), Todd Thomas (four tackles), Juan Price (three tackles), Shane Gordon (three tackles), Andrew Taglianetti (two tackles), Joe Trebitz (two tackles)
I'll say one thing about this group. The outside linebackers: Okay. The inside linebackers: Not so much.
Lindsey was obviously the highlight of the group, helping record one of the two sacks and really getting to the ball carrier. I was worried how he would handle the transition from having his hand on the line to standing up as a linebacker, but he seems to be dealing with the transition well. I don't think he is as explosive as he was last season as he isn't able to push off the ground and get that extra burst. The one thing he has to work on is pass coverage if Todd Graham is going to keep him as a linebacker ... clearly, not something one works much on as a defensive lineman. Hopefully with time he can improve with his coverage abilities.
Price did play well in the limited playing time he saw. I'm looking forward to seeing how he progresses over the next few seasons.
The inside linebackers...Oy, it was rough. Gruder has his moments when he gets involved in plays, but other times he just disappears. If I have to watch Greg Williams once again miss a tackle I'm going to explode. Seriously, it's been a few years and the guy still can't angle himself correctly so he can tackle the ball carrier. Roberts and Gordon were so-so. Tags did decent in coverage when he was at the spur linebacker.
There just isn't enough depth at the LB position for Pitt to significantly alter the starting lineup. And the talent, like that on the offensive line, just was never the main recruiting area under Wanny. Yes, there were Clint Session and Scott McKillop, but for some reason many of the bigger talents never ended up being at LB. The hope is that Graham can recruit the right players for this system, but for now he'll have to work with what he has.
Secondary: K'Waun Williams (nine tackles, two TFL, one FF), Jason Hendricks (five tackles), Antwuan Reed (four tackles), Jarred Holley (three tackles), Saheed Imoru (two tackles), Buddy Jackson (two tackles)
The secondary played decently in the game. There were a couple of times where they were clearly beaten but thankfully the Buffalo receivers couldn't come up with the ball for whatever the reason was.
I'm still amazed Saheed Imoru is getting a lot of playing time. He came into Pittsburgh last season as a highly regarded JUCO recruit and just hasn't lived up to the hype. I was also hoping that Lafayette Pitts would see playing time as Todd Graham has been playing him at the bandit safety position so he would get on the field more.
The CBs would sometimes not play the WRs tight enough, allowing Buffalo to continue drives. It was something that we would see occasionally under Wannstedt and I expected it for at least this game. When you've spent a lot of time in one system, it's hard to move to another system just like that.
Overall: 93 plays. That is how many plays Buffalo's offense ran on Pitt's defense on Saturday. Again, this excuse is getting old, but a new defensive scheme is going to take time to get used to and in the first game, it's expected - even more so with Pitt's quick strike offense. The defense is going to see a lot of time on the field as a result of it. The heat on Saturday definitely affected the players as we saw in the second half. They looked tired and in addition to the heat, it may also be conditioning, as Graham said it normally takes three years before his teams are conditioned correctly. Whatever the reason, the defense ran out of gas in the second half and it'll be something to watch as the season progresses.
Take the opposite of how the special teams were under Wannstedt and you'll have Todd Graham's special teams in Game 1. Pitt, for the first time in a while, had great returners. Ronald Jones, Buddy Jackson, and Corey Davis all seemed to actually gain some yards on returns - something that Pitt never seemed to do under Wannstedt for whatever reason.
On the other hand, the kicking game was not great. One kickoff that went out of bounds and there were the two pooch punts (only one of which was successful), and the two missed field goals. It was shocking to say the least, and probably would've made the halftime score at least look a little more respectable than 7-3. Simply put, Kevin Harper will need to get better.