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Line of Scrimmage: Discussing Florida State vs. Pittsburgh with Corey Cohen of the Pitt Talk Network

What to expect from the Pitt Panthers.

The Florida State Seminoles sit at a perfect 8-0 on the season after their victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons this past Saturday. The Seminoles jumped out early before cruising to an easy 41-16 win.

This weekend, FSU heads north for a showdown with the Pittsburgh Panthers. It’s been a rough season for the Panthers and head coach Pat Narduzzi. After opening the season with a victory, the Panthers have struggled to only one additional win on the season. Heading into Saturday, Pitt stands at a record of 2-6 with a tough four game stretch (including Florida State) to finish the season. Can the Panthers turn their season around on Saturday with a win over the Seminoles? We’ll discuss that more with Corey Cohen of the Pitt Talk Network.

Each week, as part of our Line of Scrimmage series, we’ll be speaking with members of the beat that covers FSU’s upcoming opponent, getting all the details from those who know those teams best.

Listen below, as well as on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen to your shows, or check out an abbreviated version of the conversation.

Entering this season Pat Narduzzi had compiled a 62-41 record at Pitt, with his worst season being 6-5 in 2020. The Panthers came in as a possible dark horse for the ACC championship game but this season has been far from successful. Phil Jurkovec went from NFL draft prospect just two-three years ago to demotion, the Panthers are 2-6. High level, what do you feel has gone wrong for Pitt?

Heading into this season, I thought this could be a preview for the ACC Championship Game — the Seminoles have held up their end of the bargain, the Panthers have not. The number one thing overall that’s gone wrong has been the offense and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. He was at Boston College and did an okay job there, but he runs kind of a decades-old offense — which Narduzzi wanted that. But the hire has not worked out at all, his offense is run like it was before the forward pass was invented. He’s not sure how to get players involved, he’s not sure how to coach players up and he ultimately went all in on one player at the most important position in sports who lost this team over three games. And Narduzzi is a defensive guy, so he puts a lot of trust in his offensive coordinator including personnel decisions. And Jurkovec was atrocious — there’s no other way to say it. They made a change after the bye, but the stubborness to stick with Jurkovec as long as they did really hurt this team and at that point it was too late.

Let’s focus on the quarterback position (if not covered already). Jurkovec transfers in from Boston College and was rather abysmal with a 50% completion percentage. He was moved to tight end and Christian Veilleux has been behind center since the Louisville game. What should fans what to expect from Veilleux?

He’s a transfer from Penn State who had just one start there and came into this program — lot of talent, but people weren’t sure. They bring him in during the bye week and coming out against Louisville, he has a phenomonal game — they win, he looks good on certain drives, others he looked like he could use some work, but ultimately he did what they needed him to do. The offense put up points and he looked like a promising quarterback — he also looked pretty good against Wake. Now, the offense is still bad because the offensive coordinator is not getting the right personnel involved, still calling frustrating play calls, so there’s only so much Veilleux can do. He has talent, he has arm strength — he does need to work on his accuracy and getting on the same page of his receivers but he’s got a lot of raw talent. And he also has that intangible x-factor — he’s got that dog in him.

The backfield is a two-headed monster in C’Bo Flemister and Rodney Hammond Jr. The two backs are pretty close in carries and yards but do they have similar styles on the field?

Hammond has a bit more talent, he can be more explosive. The problem with him is two-fold — he’s been apparently banged up (they’re not being incredibly transparent), and then he’s not getting the carries that he should. In my and many people’s opinion, he should be the number one back but instead, Flemister is getting more of the snaps. And I like him — I think he’s got talent. But in my opnion, Hammond can be a game breaker and hasn’t been in the position to do so. you can’t get into that rhythm unless you get the snaps and carries.

The Panthers have a pair of talented wide receivers in Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means. But for the first time this year, I think FSU is facing a pretty legitimate tight end receiving threat as well in Gavin Bartholomew. How might we see Pitt get these three involved on Saturday?

That’s a question even Pitt fans are asking — Bartholomew is arguably the most talented player in the offense but does not get nearly as many targets as he should. When he catches the pall, it’s often for big gains, but it doesn’t happen much. He’s just not getting involved. We’ll see if they’re able to do it this game because he’s got the talent.

Finally on offense, let’s take a look at the line. The big guys have allowed 16 sacks on the season and only allowed the Panther to average 3.5 yards on the ground. It’s a young offensive line with four underclass men and one senior. Where has this line struggled and is there an area they’ve been successful?

They have struggled with injuries — the starting offensive line from game one compared to last week has just one player that’s the same and that’s all due to injury. The new guys, they seem to have talent but they’re young and lack experience they need to gel. I think it’s going to be valuable for them moving forward, but this season, there’s not much they can do.

Flipping over to defense, it’s a defensive line that has accounted for 14 of the team’s 23 sacks. The Panthers appear to have a decent rotation on the inside with David Green, Deandre Jules and others while Dayon Hayes and freshman Samuel Okunlola are the names to know on the ends. What has allowed this group to have success in the backfield and is there an area teams have found success against this defensive line?

There have been a lot of players from this defense that have been drafted since Narduzzi took over — so he knows how to get after the quarterback. That’s what he wants to do, put pressue on opposing quarterbacks, get after them and force mistakes. And often, they’re able to do it. We’ve seen it throughout the season, even in a year that they’ve struggled. The problem is, and I know I keep coming back to this, but the offense can’t stay on the field. And in a lot of these games, the defense plays incredibly well throughout but then they just fall apart because they can only hold opposing offenses off for so long. It happened against Wake, it happened against Cincinatti, it happened against West Virginia. They just haven’t been put in a great position to succeed.

Solomon DeShields leads this linebacking corp. On paper, this has shown to be a solid group stats wise and PFF grades wise. How would you grade the this group so far?

This is probably the most experiened unit this season for the Panthers — they have talent. DeShields can come up with some huge plays, Bangally Kamara can as well and Shayne Simon has been solid. This is the one unit that Pitt shouldn’t have to worry about too much.

Let’s jump back to the secondary. Donovan McMillon is the safety that flies over the field making the tackles while Phillip O’Brien and MJ Devonshire have split four interceptions on the season at cornerback. This appears to be a solid group. How do you think they stack up against Keon Coleman and the talented Seminole receivers?

It’ll be interesting — on one hand, it’s tough to stop the passing game for Florida State particularly Keon Coleman. That said, in the Boston College game, Florida State was right up against it and Keon Coleman was not involved. The roadmap is there — it’s unclear if the Panthers can get there but Boston College was able to, so it shouldn’t be impossible to replicate. Devonshire is “Big Play MJ” — he can come up with absoloutely huge plays. Not just interceptions, but pick sixes. He won the Backyard Brawl aginst West Virignia last year with a huge pick six. He showed up against Wake Forest — the game was over if the team didn’t choke it away on top of the controversial referee call — but his interception should’ve ended it. If he can get involved vs. FSU, that would be huge. O’Brien can also make plays — Dononvan McMillon is hot and cold. He’s prone to mistakes, but also has a good amount of talent.

And finally, give me your thoughts on how Saturday plays out?

Pitt is known as a Death Star team — one that can potentially blow up team’s hopes that are winning to win a national championship. 2007 against West Virginia, 2016 against Clemson (though they ended up winning the title), 2017 vs. Miami and to a lesser extent, this year vs. Louisville. Pitt is a team that when you don’t expect anything, they pull off a huge upset, so it’s possible — I just don’t think it’s going to happen. They don’t have enough on offense — this game could be close, maybe somewhere in the third quarter this can be like a one-possesion game but the offense doesn’t put the defense in a position to succeed. So if it’s a one-possesion game around halftime, around the fourth quarter, Florida State starts pulling away. It doesn’t look to be particularly bad weather, so I don’t think that’s going to be much of a factor. FSU is right now I think 21.5 point favorites — I think they win by 17 or 20.