This Saturday, Oklahoma State is back on the road for their first real test of the season. The Cowboys may be facing Pittsburgh for the second season in a row, but this is not the same Panther team they beat 45-38 last year.
That’s why I reached out to Matt Harkins of Dream Backfield to talk about this Panther team. Matt has been writing about Pitt since December and is a 2012 Pitt graduate. He had some great insight on Pitt’s offensive line struggles, Pitt’s one-two punch in the ground game, and what he thinks the Panthers need to do to win.
Phillip Slavin: Let’s start with the offense. Who are the quarterback and running back OSU fans need to know about this week?
Matt Harkins: It looks like they’re going to stick with Max Browne, from what he (head coach Pat Narduzzi) said after the Penn State game and in his press conference.
Fans and media members are trying to start up a QB controversy saying that Ben Dinucci should get a look and Narduzzi said that they would love to get Dinucci some snaps here or there, but that’s easier said than done. Dinucci’s the more mobile quarterback, but Browne … you’re obviously going to go with more experience right now. He’s sort of a ‘pocket passer’ only, not very mobile like Peterman was last year, from what we’ve seen from him the first two weeks.
Running backs.. Qadree Ollison has done a great job.
You’re not going to replace James Conner, but the productivity is still there from the running game. Then you have Chawntez Moss from last year and Darrin Hall, two good speed backs, and they show some power every now and then. But the running back most fans want to see in the years to come, the games to come is A.J. Davis. He scored a touchdown against Youngstown State, but we didn’t see much of him last week against Penn State because they were behind for much of the game. It’s not the same offense as last year, but the offense can still put up some points this year as well.
PS: The offensive line has had some struggles this year. Is that something that will be an issue for Pitt this weekend?
MH: Fans hope not, but as (Pitt Head Coach Pat) Narduzzi said in his press conference, he’s a little concerned about it. Too many sacks in the first two weeks of the season. Week 1 against Youngstown State they didn’t do a good job at controlling the line of scrimmage, obviously in the second half when Youngstown State came back and tied it up and forced overtime. They did a better job last week against Penn State. In the first half, they controlled the line of scrimmage, they controlled the time of possession, they controlled rushing yards. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem.
PS: Turning to defense, who is the player OSU should be most concerned about?
MH: I wish I could say Jordan Whitehead but he’ll be serving the third week of his three week suspension on Saturday. So probably Avonte Maddox.
He is the number one defensive back. It’s sort of him and the kids. You’ve got Dane Jackson who stepped up on the other side, but Avonte Maddox is definitely a playmaker in the secondary. He will need to be if Pitt’s defense wants to have a shot against OSU’s offense, that we all know loves to pass the ball.
PS: One of the things Pitt did a good job with against Penn State was not giving up the big plays. That wasn’t the case last year against OSU. Can Pitt do a better job defending those kinds of plays this year against the Cowboys?
MH: After the Youngstown State game I was a little concerned about it. But after what I saw last week… they kept Penn State’s offense in check. Yes Saquon Barkley still had a good day, but Barkley I would put as the number one player for the Heisman trophy right now. When Pitt’s defense started on Penn State’s side of the field, they were pretty good at stopping them. After a turnover, that’s when you saw Penn State’s quick strike offense. Narduzzi said in his press conference that this game is a redemption game for the secondary after last year.
This year I think, it’s going to need to be a lower scoring game if Pitt wants to have a shot to win this one. I don’t see a shootout going Pitt’s way even at Heinz Field.
PS: What does Pitt need to do to win this game?
MH: If Pitt is going to win this game, Max Browne is going to do what he did last week against Penn State. He put it in there, but the receivers will hopefully catch the ball. Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall I say will have two big games on the ground. On the defensive side, putting pressure on Mason Rudolph and keeping on the ground, and the secondary trying to keep James Washington in check. Making the 2 and 3 wide receivers beat them instead of last year where Rudolph was able to find Washington all day long.
If you’ve got 12 minutes, take a listen to the full interview, including what to expect from the crowd if you’re heading to Pittsburgh for the game!