One key matchup to keep an eye on Saturday will be USF’s offensive line battling Pittsburgh’s defensive line, one of the most talented squads in the country.
Led by defensive ends Brandon Lindsey and Jabaal Sheard, Pitt’s defense is ranked 14th nationally, averaging 2.78 sacks per game.
Sheard and Lindsey are tied for sixth in the nation and first in the Big East in sacks with nine apiece. Sheard leads the conference in forced fumbles, while Lindsey’s 13 tackles for loss is tops in the conference as well.
“I think both Sheard and Lindsey are two of the better defensive ends in this league,” said USF coach Skip Holtz. “I believe when you look at those two, they are one and two in every statistical category. If they’re two in something, it’s because the other one is one.
“Their defensive lineman in the middle, (Chas) Alecxih, has 4.5 sacks. Our lead sack guy is (Craig) Marshall, who has four. They’ve got two with nine and one with 4.5. They are very strong, very quick and very athletic, and they can make you look bad. They don’t give up a lot of cheap plays, they don’t give up a lot of points and they don’t give up a lot of yards.”
The USF offense will hope that senior left tackle Jamar Bass can recover from a knee injury that kept him out of last weekend’s game at Louisville. Bass did not practice Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ll know as this week progresses (if Bass can play). He made a tremendous amount of improvement over the weekend after being off this past week and not playing. He looked decent on Sunday, but until we get out there in live action this week and put him through some drills, we won’t know if he’ll be available,” said offensive coordinator Todd Fitch.
If Bass is unable to go, sophomore Mark Popek will get his fourth start of the season.
“(Popek) played his best game of the year (against Louisville). He was a lot more consistent. He had some things that he had to work on, but we feel it was his best game, by far, of this year,” Fitch said. “Hopefully, he has a good feel about himself. He knows it will be a big challenge this week against their ends, but he has all the athletic tools. He’s a great player.”
Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder acknowledges that the Pitt offense is “the total package” and poses a number of challenges to his defense. USF’s defense could be buoyed by the return of senior cornerback Mistral Raymond, who would help the team defend Pittsburgh’s 6-foot-5 wide receiver Jon Baldwin.
“Hopefully, (Raymond) will be back this week, but it’ll be a challenge,” Snyder said.