The Penn State-Pitt game is upon us — and so we delve deeper into the Panthers.
In our weekly Q&A with an opposing beat writer, we caught up with Lance Lysowski of DK Pittsburgh Sports to ask him about Max Browne and more.
Check it out:
Q: I’ll start off with a question that might have an obvious answer, but what does Pitt need to do to beat Penn State on Saturday? How do the Panthers surprise the Nittany Lions?
A: Largely, the offense has stayed the same with Shawn Watson taking over (as offensive coordinator), but there are going to be some differences and we really don’t know what that is yet. As was the case of last year, Pitt hid quite a bit in its season opener against Youngstown State. They were using two running backs and three-tight end formations; that’s not what they’re going to do. They’re going to spread it out. They’ve got to find a way to get Quadree Henderson involved in the passing game. That was the huge talk in the offseason with Watson and Pat Narduzzi. Because, let’s face it, defenses are going to double-cover Jester Weah downfield after he was second in the nation in yards per reception. They’re going to need to get those deep routes going with Henderson or Maurice French. Penn State’s probably going to go with a two-high safety look. This is common sense, but they’re also going to have to block. Penn State’s defensive line is talented; that entire defense is talented. Pitt’s offensive line lost two starters from last year. There are a lot of moving parts. Alex Bookser, a two-year starter, was suspended for the season opener. He started 13 games at right guard last year. There’s just a lot of things going on. You’re going to see the identity of this offense. I’m just curious how it matches up with Penn State.
Q: With Penn State and Pitt both playing early afternoon games last weekend, most of our readers didn’t watch the Pitt-Youngstown State matchup that went to overtime. The Panthers were up 21-0. What happened?
A: You could tell the offensive playbook was dialed back significantly in the second half when they got that 21-point lead. Not only that, but they also took Quadree Henderson out of the game and stopped using him. When they took that element out, there wasn’t much to do. Once Youngstown State crowded the box with eight guys, Pitt wasn’t able to run the ball because its offensive line was struggling. When they got to third down, they were only running short to intermediate routes with their receivers. There wasn’t a whole lot you could do there. And then defensively, Pitt got beat on the wheel route. Youngstown State threw a couple wrinkles in there to make it interesting, setting picks to prevent the linebacker from getting into coverage. But, yeah, that led to three quick touchdowns. That’s something to watch this week. They have two inexperienced linebackers that really struggled in coverage last week, and Penn State’s going to try to exploit that.
Q: You mentioned some of the checkdowns on short to intermediate routes. So overall — with 140 passing yards on 17 completions — what did you see in Max Browne’s first action for Pitt?
A: Well, they didn’t run a whole lot of plays. A lot of the passing patterns were the same. Pretty much just play-action bootlegs to the right side with all the receivers going right. Really lacked creativity. Youngstown State picked it up quickly. People are going to panic and read into the numbers too much, but Max Browne really only made two bad mistakes all game. He didn’t force any bad throws, even though he didn’t have a reason to with the way the offense was being called. I’m interested to see how he responds. This is a much, much more talented defense this week.
Q: This starts a really brutal stretch for Pitt. After traveling to Beaver Stadium, the Panthers host Oklahoma State and travel to Georgia Tech. What’s a realistic record in that span? Is 1-2 deemed successful in your opinion — is starting 2-2 on the season a positive?
A: I would say 2-2, and I don’t want to say it, but I think it’s the best they can hope for in my opinion. I think they’re incredibly overmatched against Oklahoma State and Penn State. It’s not only injuries and suspensions; I just don’t think they have the personnel to match up with the passing game and the running game of those two teams. And Georgia Tech won’t be a gimme, especially when Pitt struggled against that triple-option two years ago in Narduzzi’s first year in 2015.