Today and through the non-conference season we will be doing some Q&A's with opponents blogs or media members (most blogs). Today we talk with the Pitt Script Blog, so make sure to check out their site as well leading up to the game.
1. What do you expect from RB Dion Lewis who is going against a rebuilt Utah front seven, but a line that is traditionally very good under Utah coach Kyle Whittingham?
I think the defenses on both teams is going to be pretty similar. Both teams will be counting on their front four to generate pressure and take the burden off their new corners. Dion's success will ultimately hinge on the offensive line. Now, I think Lewis is a very, very good running back and will be able to create his own runs to a degree, but Pitt's rebuilt offense line has potential to be a complete and utter mess. If Utah's defensive front is as good as reports indicate, the Utes should be able to get some penetration down the middle.
That's not to say all is lost for Pitt. The Panthers' tackles are both all-conference players, with left tackle Jason Pinkston likely to be earning an NFL paycheck this time next year. Fullback Henry Hynoski is one of the best (and few) at his position and does a stellar job opening lanes. Then, of course, is Dion Lewis himself, who hit 100 yards 10 times last season (and 150+ 7 times).
2. How will new quarterback Tino Sunseri fair in his first start on the road against Utah who is 24th in the coaches poll?
It will be baptism by fire, no doubt. I'm cautiously optimistic for a couple reasons. First is Pitt's offensive coordinator, Frank Cignetti, Jr., who did a very good job last season with significant question marks going into the season. Second, he has a very good supporting cast in running backs Lewis and Ray Graham as well as receivers Jon Baldwin and Mike Shanahan. Third, Sunseri seems to have a fair amount to athletic ability. I'm not suggesting that he'll tuck-and-run like Pat White, but he could be able to keep some broken plays alive with his feet.
The key for Pitt is to not fall behind Utah's high powered offensive attack. Pitt needs to build some long, sustained drives (hopefully resulting in points). Wynn can't score if he's not on the field.
3. All the focus is on Dion Lewis what other weapons do the Panthers have on offense?
The aforementioned Jon Baldwin is a serious Biletnikoff contender. He's every bit of 6'5", which he supplements with incredible leaping ability. Back-up running back Ray Graham is expected to play and is probably good enough to start for any other Big East team, save WVU.
One area where Pitt may take a big step back is at tight end. Last season, the Panthers were fortunate to have two great TEs in Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham, each of whom excelled at their specialty (receiving and blocking, respectively). Replacement Mike Cruz has enormous shoes to fill and likely won't be able to match their tremendous production.
4. How does Pitt expect to defend the Utah spread attack?
Pitt runs a lot of base 4-3 defense. A LOT. Rarely do they ever deviate from it and rarely do they blitz. The defensive scheme is almost entirely predicated on generating pressure with the front four from a cover-2. Behind talented defensive ends in Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, they were able to lead all of college football in sacks last season.
One deviation I expect to see is Pitt's "bandit package," which used a player as a safety/linebacker hybrid instead of a traditional nickle defense. Last year's bandit was dismissed from the team for allegedly being a little to bandit-y off the field, so there's the question of who is going to replace him, if anyone.
Of course, one has to only look back to the Pitt-Cincinnati game to see Pitt's most recent example of struggling against the pass-first spread, allowing 440 yard of offense and 45 points in a stunning fourth quarter collapse.
5. Who wins and why?
I'm going to pick Pitt, of course! Dion Lewis is simply incredible. He has done the incredible and made Pitt fans completely forget about losing LeSean "Shady" McCoy to the NFL (t-shirts last season read "Shady Who?"). If he is able to do enough to take the burden off of Sunseri, I predict the new man under center will be able to manage the game effectively in a close contest. 24-20, Pittsburgh.