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2018 Wake Forest Opponent Previews: Pitt Panthers

How will Wake pan out against a never-before-seen opponent?

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first time that Wake goes up against the team from the Steel City.

Background

Last year, the Pitt Panthers had a disappointing season to say the least. The team had an overall record of 5-7, with a 3-5 record in conference play. They also went a whopping 1-4 on the road that season. They did however finish the season on a strong note, knocking Miami off in a late season tilt.

The main problem for them was on offense was their lack of success the running game. The four years prior to this season, the team experienced a new renaissance of establishing the run before the pass.

This came in way of 6’2” 235 pound back, James Conner. He rushed for a total of 3,733 yards while receiving ACC Offensive and ACC Player of the Year Awards back in 2014.

However, with Conner selected in the second-round of the NFL draft two seasons ago, Pitt was unable find a true successor to one of the team’s all time greats in the backfield. They attempted with Darrin Hill and Qadree Ollison, but none of whom were able to crack 700 yards on the ground last season.

Heading into the upcoming year, the Pitt roster will look very different to the casual college football fan. That’s because the team lost a large amount of players to the NFL, six starters to be exact.

On defense, they lost two key secondary players in Avonte Maddox and Jordan Whitehead. Both players were top ten on the team in total tackles while also grabbing an interception. But, most importantly, the two were top three on the team’s pass deflections list, with Maddox having a team leading eleven, and Whitehead having four respectively.

The losses of these two players put a significant hole in the team’s defense. No longer are they able to rely on those two successful playmakers in the secondary. All they can hope for is a rise in play from corners Dane Jackson and Dennis Briggs.

The team also lost a couple of key significant players on offense. Their starting right tackle, Jaryd “Hamburger” Jones-Smith, leaves a hole on that side of the frontline.

Pitt also lost the team’s leading receptions and touchdown leader in Jester Weah. Weah was the face of the team’s passing game, and now it leaves a big question mark into who is going to be the number one guy this upcoming year.

On special teams, Pitt lost an enormous and impactful player in Quadree Henderson. Henderson was the team’s main specialist last year, and strived in that role for his three years at the university. He averaged 21 yards per kick return and scored twice on punt returns this season alone.

Here’s an example of some of the juice that will be missing from the special teams department.

Offense

Under center, the team also has some question marks. This is because the team’s starting quarterback last season, Ben DiNucci, transferred last December to go play at one of the best Subdivision schools in the nation, James Madison.

In his only season as the team’s starting quarterback, DiNucci posted mediocre numbers, throwing for 109.1 yards per game. His touchdown to interception ratio was .500 at five each.

The best option for them this season is Kenny Pickett. Entering his sophomore season, Pickett brings a whole new schematic approach to the team. As DiNucci was a between the tackles type of quarterback, Pickett brings a dual-threat package to the table. With that said, expect a lot more RPO’s and bootleg plays that allow Pickett to have open running lanes.

Here’s a great sample of just how elusive Pickett is on the run.

Defense

On defense last year, the team was not complete to say the least. They allowed nearly six yards per play, while giving up 397 yards per contest. On the front line, there were also not very intimidating. They managed to record only 23 sacks in their twelve games, a two sack per game margin. These numbers placed them 69th in the nation in total defensive efficiency.

The defense this year is once again headlined by their two linebackers, Saleem Brightwell and Oluwaseun Idowu. For Brightwell, he stepped up and showcased himself as a legitimate inside linebacker in college ball. He has a knack at blocking the B gap, so watch out for how Dave Clawson and Nick Tabacca adjust to this come November.

Oluwaseun Idowu on the other hand enters his final season as the leader on the defensive unit. The six foot, 225 pound outside linebacker will no doubt cause trouble for Matt Colburn and company in the outside run game. He was also the team leader last year in sacks (five), so watch out for him to be a major impact player come November 17th.

All in all, what Wake is going up against in Pitt is full of mysteries. With an limited experience quarterback, to an overall defense that has many holes, Wake should be ready to capitalize and gain a marquee win in Winston Salem come November.