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Players to Watch Pitt Panthers

The noteworthy players on one of the most underrated teams in the ACC.

Pittsburgh v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Wake Forest had a game for the ages last Thursday. Having lost their true freshman quarterback to a season-ending leg injury the week before, the team headed into Raleigh with a QB who would make his first career start at the collegiate level.

After facing a double-digit lead through the end of the third quarter, the Deacons, under Jamie Newman, were able to rally back with a critical touchdown with only seconds left.

This win was a true upset, as NC State was ranked 14th in the nation. It looked like the whole roster was able to gain the momentum at the same time and put it all together. It was a game to remember.

Before that game, I mentioned keeping an eye on receiver Jakobi Meyers and linebacker Germaine Pratt.

Here’s how those two performed.

Meyers: 10 receptions, 117 yards

Pratt: 12 tot tackles, 1 pass deflection

The two both lived up to my forecast of their play. Having earned the reputation of being a consistent, and valued figure on each side of the ball, each had a well-rounded individual performance. They were an intricate part of the team’s offensive and defensive momentum early on.

This week, the Deacons play its final home game against the Pitt Panthers. The Panthers have quietly been one of the better teams in the ACC as they’ve been dominating their conference opponents. With a record of 5-1 against their rivals, the team has asserted themselves as a pretty successful group.

In fact, as many of you know, Pitt were to win this game against the Deacons, then they would clinch the ACC Coastal Division.

Their play has been highlighted by sophomore Kenny Pickett under center and Quadree Olison at running back. Both players have over 1000 yards in their respected statistical categories and both have proven to match up against the tough opponents of the ACC. Having a running back and quarterback duo is always a good thing to have, as it providess balance to the team’s offense. The combination of these two has certainly proven that to be the case.

However, I’m going to talk about the other playmakers who don’t get the same spotlight as those do.

That said, here are the players to watch out for on the Pitt Panthers.

Darrin Hall

The senior back has been a reliable contributor on this Panthers offense. Having been the team’s second option in the running game, Hall has made it his mission to find the emphasize the game in his secondary role, and he has excelled in doing so.

This season Hall has one-upped his performance compared to his three previous campaigns. Notching a career-high 8.8 yards per carrying, he has been a true factor out of the backfield.

His north-south style of running makes him a nightmare for opposing defenders to stop. Although not as physical as the Panthers number one option Qadree Ollison, Hall still manages to break tackles here and there in order to gain more yards after contact. Explosive speed is his true calling card and he uses that momentum to pass by defenders early in the play development. As a result, he’s able to reach the second level of defenders faster than other running backs in college, giving defenders a hard time adjusting to make the tackle.

His play on the ground has really opened up the Pitt offense. It allows them to run not just one, but two key backs who can be relied upon to make chunk plays at any given notice. This helps in not only managing the two’s level of fatigue but in schematics whenever they design a certain type of run play. It gives more breathing room, and more areas to frustrate a defense then it does having just one mainstay back.

Another way that Hall is similar in a sense to Henderson is his catching ability. Mostly through short, intricate passes, Hall is able to use his explosive initial speed to gain the yards needed to move the chains. He’s not a feature back out in the open catching the ball, but still, somebody to watch out for nonetheless.

Hall will be a contributing factor for the Panthers offense on Saturday. Similar to Syracuse’s Moe Neal, Hall has become a true number two back for his team. We should expect the Panthers running game to remain consistent throughout, whoever is out there on the field.

Dane Jackson

Jackson has been a hybrid for the Panthers defense this season. As a safety coming out of high school, he has used those skills in his transition over to cornerback.

The one thing you’ll immediately notice from Jackson’s game is his tackling. His versatility in the open field to help limit big plays gives defensive coordinator Randy Bates a whole list of options where he can place the junior back.

This level of play across the defensive positions allows Pitt to become a creative, schematic team on defense. They can hit you with many different patterns and uses Jackson in the majority of those plans.

Through his transition to cornerback, he has developed to become a phenomenal pass defender. He leads the team in pass deflections with seven, showing his ability to capably contest when the ball comes between him and the receiver. This adjustment to the ball’s direction demonstrates his intellect for the game. Assessing where the ball is intended to be and reacting in such a way to defend that pass has helped the Pitt defense is limiting team’s shot plays from their receivers outside.

Occasionally, he can also hit you with interior pressure. His initial speed combined with his previously mentioned tackling ability make him a dark horse corner blitz man. He can come after the quarterback, forcing him to speed up his routine out of the snap. This also works in the screen game as he’s shown to be a key defender in limiting the yards after screen catches. In essence, he can be relied on to do a number of things asked by his coach.

What you’ll see in Dane Jackson on Saturday is a man that’ll be all over the field. His tackling combined with his ability to limit passes may cause to be a key problem for Jamie Newman and the Deacons offense.