Pitt Snap Counts: Tighter Rotations and Some New Wrinkles

By Dan Smith on September 12, 2017 at 11:27 am
Sep 9, 2017; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Grant Haley (15) reacts after his sack with teammates linebacker Jason Cabinda (40) and defensive end Ryan Buchholz (97) against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the first quarter at Beaver Stadium.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports


Last week, Penn State easily handled Akron with a 52-0 win that saw plenty of playing time for the second and third units. The Nittany Lions did not dominate Pitt in the same way, so we did not see as many players Saturday. What adjustments did the coaching staff make? Let's break it down.

Offense (52 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team / Reserves
QB Trace McSorley (52)    
RB Saquon Barkley (45) Andre Robinson (5) Miles Sanders (3)
WR-X Juwan Johnson (41) Irvin Charles (10)  
WR-Z DeAndre Thompkins (34) Saeed Blacknall (17)  
WR-H DaeSean Hamilton (44) Brandon Polk (8)  
TE Mike Gesicki (37) Jon Holland (7) Tommy Stevens (2) / Tom Pancoast (1)
LT Ryan Bates (52)    
LG Steven Gonzalez (52)    
C Connor McGovern (52)    
RG Brendan Mahon (52)    
RT Chasz Wright (31) Andrew Nelson (21)  
  • Andrew Nelson Returns: A knee injury ended his redshirt junior season during last year's home game against Maryland. After a long road of recovery Nelson made his return against Pitt. He held his own and played here and there throughout the game, though the healthy Wright still remains ahead of him in playing time. Having another veteran in the mix at tackle is huge, as the next men up at this time are redshirt freshmen Will Fries and Alex Gellerstedt.
  • Leaning on Barkley: The offense did not run many plays in this game, which made it easier to play Barkley through most of the game. But it may not have all been by choice after Sanders fumbled in his third and final snap of the game. This was an issue for Sanders as a true freshman, and it is undoubtedly a concern to see it rearing its ugly head again.
  • Stevens at Tight End: This is probably not the best way to describe it, but Stevens did play two snaps in the fourth quarter in place of Gesicki, lining up in the slot as Gesicki often does. This is a wrinkle, as in the past Stevens has replaced the running back when they have run the 2-quarterback sets.

Defense (86 plays)

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team / Reserves
DE Torrence Brown (41) Shane Simmons (19) Shaka Toney (16)
3-DT Curtis Cothran (36) Kevin Givens (35) Tyrell Chavis (13) / Antonio Shelton (7) / Colin Castagna (2)
1-DT Parker Cothren (29) Robert Windsor (26) Tyrell Chavis (20)
DE Shareef Miller (40) Ryan Buchholz (38) Yetur Gross-Matos (10) / Colin Castagna (9)
WLB Manny Bowen (70) Cam Brown (16)  
MLB Jason Cabinda (63) Brandon Smith (23)  
SLB Koa Farmer (61) Jarvis Miller (5)  
CB Christian Campbell (61) Tariq Castro-Fields (15) Lamont Wade (13)
SS Troy Apke (31) Nick Scott (31)  
FS Marcus Allen (73)    
CB Grant Haley (58) Amani Oruwariye (48)  
  • Fewer Backups Playing: Despite the defense playing a ton of snaps, the defensive coaching staff did not delve into its depths as frequently as it did last week. This is likely the line of demarcation between the rotational reserves and the true depth players. DE Daniel Joseph, DT Ellison Jordan, LB Jake Cooper, CB Zech McPhearson, and S Garrett Taylor are all players who saw snaps last week but were unseen this week.
  • Passing Down Lineups: We have seen Penn State play Ryan Buchholz at tackle before on passing downs, but in this game he stayed at end the entire time. Castagna took on this role late on passing downs during Pitt's final drive. Meanwhile, we saw most of the snaps for Simmons, Toney, and Gross-Matos in these situations. It's clear that Brown, Miller, and Buchholz are the ends Sean Spencer trusts to defend the run in the early going this season.
  • Chavis Playing Both Defensive Tackle Positions: An interesting development in this game was Chavis playing 3-tech defensive tackle at times. He did this early last season, but settled in at 1-tech (nose tackle) after Cothran returned from suspension. Today, we saw him swapping back and forth. Of his 33 snaps, 13 of them came playing next to Cothren or Windsor, both full-time 1-techs. His positional flexibility is an asset Spencer and Brent Pry aren't afraid to use.
  • Injury Scares: Allen was shaken up early in the second half, but did return. At one point it seemed Cabinda might have been shaken up after exiting one play into a Pitt drive, but he also returned. Oruwariye was shaken up and left the game on Pitt's final drive. He did not return, but until we hear differently it should not be a big concern as it did not appear serious at the time.

Special Teams Notes

  • Monroe Returns: Safety Ayron Monroe did not play last week against Akron for whatever reason, but he made his return on a couple of the special teams units this week. It is good to see Monroe healthy, and the hope is that he and fellow special team safety Garrett Taylor can have a big development year with Allen and Apke set to graduate.