Pitt Defense Preview Sports Illustrated West Virginia Mountaineers News, Analysis & More

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West Virginia and Pitt will renew the Backyard Brawl Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. in a sold-out Acrisure Stadium and broadcast on ESPN.

Pitt’s head coach Pat Narduzzi brought his hard-nosed defense to Steel City and his Panthers defenses have been one of the best units in the ACC since his arrival. Running a 4-2-5 pattern, Narduzzi is known for pressing and leaving his corners on an island.

The Pitt defense ranked 39th nationally in total defense last season, giving up an average of 353.6 yards per game. However, he ranked fourth in the ACC in points against with 23.6 points per game.

The Panther defense was second in the nation in sacks last season, averaging 3.86 per game and third in total sacks with 54, also ranking 15e nationally in third down percentage last season at 33.5 percent. Both stats highlight a haunting defensive line with two All-ACC players in defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado and tackle Calijah Kancey with the pair combining for 16 sacks a year ago.

November 11, 2021;  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado (87) sacks quarterback Sam Howell (7) of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first quarter at Heinz Field.

November 11, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Habakkuk Baldonado (87) sacks quarterback Sam Howell (7) of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first quarter at Heinz Field.

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The d line also anchored a rush defense that ranked sixth nationally, allowing just 89.3 yards per game.

The linebacking corps returns SirVocea Dennis, the team’s leading tackler in 2021. He has racked up 87 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Dennis will be joined by Notre Dame transfer Shayne Simon, who made 32 appearances for the Fighting Irish, including eight starts, totaling 27 tackles, three TFLs and five pass breakups.

Despite the high school experience, the unit was one of the worst in the country last season, giving up 264.3 yards per game. However, with the defensive line, the safeties will look to assert their position as the best unit in the country, with Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett. The two combined totaled 151 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, 5 interceptions and 15 pass breakups. Returning cornerback Marquis Williams had one interception during the year.

The Panthers will need to replace corner Damarri Mathis, the team’s leader in pass deflections, but will have experience rotating with AJ Woods and MJ Devonshire.

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