Pitt Panthers Will Try To Slow Down Jeff Sims in a Must-Win Conference Opener

Photo courtesy of ACC Media

The Pitt Panthers take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta this upcoming weekend.  This is the Panthers first ACC game of their 2021 season, while the Yellow Jackets are 1-1 in conference play and are coming off a huge upset win against North Carolina.  Although the Panthers are far outscoring Georgia Tech so far this season, the Yellow Jacket offense is not to be taken lightly.  

Pitt Secondary Troubles

Pitt does not have a good secondary.  It was clear in the first two wins against Umass and Tennessee, and it was nauseatingly clear in their loss to Western Michigan.  Therefore, the Panthers are being forced to drop more linebackers into coverage to cover these gaps.  This is affecting their ability to stop the run.  Most importantly, in regards to their upcoming game against Georgia Tech, it is affecting Pitt’s ability to stop opposing quarterbacks from running.

Despite getting the win on the road, Tennessee quarterbacks Joe Milton and Hendon Hooker torched the Panther defense on the ground.  Fortunately, that day, Milton missed several wide-open receivers in the first quarter, but he did rack up 54 rushing yards on just 5 carries.  Milton would have certainly gained more on the ground if he hadn’t been knocked out of the game with an injury. 

The Panthers had no problem leaving their cornerbacks on an island by themselves when Milton, and Umass quarterback Tyler Lytle, were missing receivers left and right the first two games.  However, that strategy was not as successful against WMU.  The secondary was greatly exposed, and quarterback Kaleb Eleby threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns.

Typically, I would believe with Pitt’s strong front seven, a run first mindset for their opponent would be ideal.  However, all of that changes when your secondary has shown they cannot cover receivers on their own.  The front seven loses its run stopping ability when it needs to drop men into coverage to support the secondary.  

So ideally, the quarterback opposing Pitt would be a pocket passer the Panthers can put pressure on and cause errant throws.  Also, with a less mobile quarterback, more personnel can be dropped into coverage.  Unfortunately, Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims is exactly the opposite. 

Sims Running Wild

After getting injured in their season-opening loss to Northern Illinois, Jeff Sims lost his starting job to his backup, Jordan Yates.  Sims spent the rest of the NIU game, plus the Kennesaw State and Clemson games on the bench.  Once he got his second chance against North Carolina, he didn’t look back.  Sims had 10 rushes for 128 yards and three touchdowns against the Tar Heels.  He was also efficient passing, completing 10 of his 13 attempts for 112 yards. 

I expect Sims to have a very effective game unless the Panthers can find a way to put pressure on him, while also supporting the secondary, and keeping him in the pocket.  There may just not be enough Panther personnel to accomplish all three things.  It appears the Panthers will need to keep at least one spy on Sims all game, leaving the secondary vulnerable to his efficient passing attack.  The Panthers can either focus on Sims or leave their corners with 1-on-1 coverage.

Must Win for Narduzzi

It will take a crafty game plan by Defensive Coordinator Randy Bates and Head Coach Pat Narduzzi to figure out how to stop Sims.  Unfortunately, they showed an inability to game plan effectively against WMU, using similar schemes still to what the Panthers were running five years ago.

This is a huge game for Narduzzi.  Georgia Tech is proving themselves to be a tough conference opponent after narrowly losing to Clemson and then upsetting North Carolina.  The Yellow Jackets also offer a unique challenge to the defense with their highly mobile quarterback and overall ability to run the football.  If Narduzzi and the Panthers can open their conference season with a road victory against a tough opponent it would restore some of the good will that was lost after the WMU loss.  It would also show that Narduzzi, who is touted as a defensive-minded coach, can actually game plan against a difficult offense. 

With the ACC being wide open now, Pitt's record is 0-0.  They were not going to compete for a playoff spot anyway so a Coastal division championship along with an ACC Championship victory are the new goals.  Start the conference schedule off with a win and restore some faith in this team.