Backyard Brawl could be a day at the track
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Pitt and West Virginia run the no-huddle offense, and both teams try play at a fast pace. So, the Backyard Brawl could feature a lot of possessions, and that would translate into a high-scoring affair Friday night.
Certainly, that would seem to be the case, Pitt coach Todd Graham said.
"West Virginia does [the no-huddle] for the same reason why we do it," Graham said at his weekly news conference. "We are trying to extend the game. We want to get more snaps on offense.
"I don't care if I ran pro-style, two-backs, one-back or no-back. We would run the no-huddle because we believe that it is such a challenge for a defense. With three days to prepare it is tough if you don't practice it every day."
- Game: Pitt (5-5, 3-2 Big East) vs. West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), 7 p.m.
- Where: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.
- TV: ESPN.
All of it sounds good, but the reality is that it hasn't worked out that way for Pitt this year, and the Mountaineers are not nearly as prolific as West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen had hoped they'd be, either.
Last season, Pitt ran a pro-style offense based on the running game and looked to control the tempo of games and win the time of possession.
Starting a first-year quarterback, the Panthers were able to average 26.3 points per game and ran, on average, 64 offensive plays per game.
This year, the Panthers run, on average, 73 offensive plays per game but average 25.6 points per game -- so despite averaging nine more plays per game, the Panthers are scoring less.
West Virginia improved its offensive efficiency and is scoring more, but in terms of total plays, it hasn't been a noticeable difference. The Mountaineers averaged 70 plays and 25.2 points per game last year and average 74 plays and 36.8 points per game this season.
No matter what system a team runs, the most important thing on offense is execution and protecting the football, and if players don't make plays, it is hard to score no matter how fast a team goes.
So far, West Virginia has been much better than Pitt at executing, which is why the Mountaineers are averaging almost 10 points per game more.
Still, the Panthers had some games where they were able to execute and score some points, and if they are able to avoid negative plays, they will have an opportunity to make this a track meet.
Graham said that if that's the case, the key for the Panthers will be getting off the field on third down on defense because the more plays West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has, the more big plays he is likely to make.
"Where [Smith] poses the biggest problem is his ability to throw the football down the field," Graham said.
"He has a tremendously strong arm, he is a seasoned veteran and he has a great feel for his receivers. Those guys have a great synergy amongst each other, you can tell. You can't ignore their running game. They are very good at throwing screens, so you have to account for that.
"We have to try to keep them off-balance and try to impact the quarterback without giving up cheap big plays. That is the big challenge for us."
Graham said that both teams should be better equipped to handle the tempo because they face it every day in practice. Many of their opponents also have tried to incorporate the no-huddle into their offenses.
One point that Graham wanted to make clear is the misconception that Pitt's offense is similar to West Virginia's, other than the fact that both play at a fast pace.
He said that the tempo is something his team is used to, but the Panthers scheme is much different, so it will be a game of adjustments for both teams.
"Our offensive systems are different," Graham said. "Ours is more run and play-action passes. Theirs is more pass to set up the run.
"They use the same principles with the no-huddle, spreading the field and creating mismatches, but it is just a different presentation. We are more run-oriented."
First Published November 22, 2011 12:00 am