Just in time for Pitt's big game against Virginia, we've got a Q&A with our good friend Paul over at SB Nation's resident Hoos blog, Streaking the Lawn. Be sure to head on over there and check out what they have to say about the Pitt game. In addition, they'll have my answers up there to their questions for me on the game.
First, I've got to ask you - what are your thoughts on the new Virginia Tech helmets for their game this week?
KILL IT WITH FIRE. Just terrible; turrible, in fact. We at Streaking The Lawn applaud ingenuity in uniform design; in fact, we spent one week's roundtable discussing nothing but (this is what we get from having a girl on staff). But there are limits, and these things are just an affront to humanity. That said, those fellas don't exactly have the best track record when they try and change things up.
VMI was really a "don't push it" game when it came to injuries. Nothing official yet, but I would feel very comfortable saying they'll be on the field in some capacity on Saturday. Khalek's explosiveness is a major asset to the ground game: even Oregon fans were giving him props for his play against the Ducks. Smoke is still young and you can see where he needs to develop a bit more maturity as a runner—hitting his hole, moving north-south for the first 3–5 yards—but he just runs different than anyone who's been at UVa in a looooong time. Kevin Parks is still the bell-cow when it comes to toting the rock, and true freshman walk-on Daniel Hamm dazzled in his debut last week, so it'll be easy for the coaches to ease Shepherd and Mizzell back into the rotation.
David was a big get for us when he came out of Hampton. He's definitely a part of the 757 legacy: the Vick brothers, EJ Manuel, Ronald Curry, all guys who used their mobility to bring in a lot of the spread-option/read-option game we see all over the place. Watford split time as starting QB in a terrible rotation system his freshman year, then took a redshirt last year while Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims drove us into a 4-8 ditch. There are still growing pains that are obvious. But against VMI he showed more propensity to use his natural speed, both to escape the pocket and on designed read-option plays. He also had a nice deep ball to Tim Smith in the back of the end zone. The question we've batted around as fans is whether the problem is play-calling or execution. Very few of Watford's passes go to routes where the receiver has his momentum moving upfield. We'd all like to see the Hoos stretch the defense a little more, because we've seen Watford's arm and think he can do it. Whether he will…ah, there's the rub.
Oregon is reeeeeally good. Seriously. Marcus Mariotta is just freakish, and D'Anthony Thomas might well make people look silly on Sundays, too. Oregon has speed, they know exactly what they want to do with it, and then they've got maulers on the inside that help them get to either the edge or the defense's soft underbelly. We seemed to do ok against the pace—not a lot of hands on hips or vomiting on the sidelines. Oregon is just way better than us.
The defense has definitely been the brightest spot so far. Football Outsider's S&P ratings put our defensive unit as 19th in the country, and 5th best against the pass. That reflects our athleticism upfront and depth in the secondary. Eli Harold is a monster off the edge: 225 lbs of muscle and speed. On the other side, Jake Snyder is a run-stuffing end who doesn't let a back out of his grasp once he gets them. Brent Urban has been a revelation up the middle, and David Dean next to him has performed admirably as well. We have at least three guys who are legit starter-quality CBs: Demetrious Nicholson, Maurice Canady and Drequan Hoskey. Our safeties have been surprisingly competent this year, with Anthony Harris winning national defensive player of the week after the BYU win. All those guys have been brought up to their best by Jon Tenuta's pressure, attacking system. They don't sacrifice aggression for discipline and have really made us proud this season.
I think the game will be closer than the touchdown advantage that Vegas is giving the Panthers right now. Pitt's ability to throw the ball—especially on early downs—is going to be met by our ability to get after the QB and stop the passing game. On the other side, Pitt seems to have some issues on defense that Virginia could exploit. But we'll need to continue taking big steps forward, as I think we've done so far. I think Virginia's offensive futility will be compounded by it being our first game on the road with a relatively young team. I think Pitt wins, but by less than you'd think: 21-17.