CINCINNATI -- Hey folks, sorry for the slight delay in today's post. Took a bit longer to get to the Queen City than I'd anticipated.
Along the way, as I'm sure you've seen by now, it was released that Paul Chryst had reinstated the six players who were suspended from last week's game against Youngstown State for "disciplinary reasons."
Redshirt junior DL Tyrone Ezell, redshirt senior DL Shayne Hale, sophomore WR Ronald Jones and freshman RB Rushel Shell are in Cincinnati with the team and will be eligible to play against the Bearcats tomorrow. Redshirt sophomore DB Anthony Gonzalez and freshman WR Chris Davis have had their suspensions lifted, but were not on the travel roster for this week.
So what does this mean for Pitt?
Well, it's always good to have more quality players available (duh). But specifically I think the returns of Ezell and Hale will be really beneficial for Pitt's defense. As many have noted, one of the most disappointing aspects of the Youngstown State loss was the play of Pitt's defensive line. We knew going into the season that the unit would be thin, but it looked like there was at least some talent towards the top.
Ezell was one of the most impressive players on the unit during fall camp, and can move around on the line to play some different positions. Most importantly, I think having him in the middle will allow Aaron Donald to be a little more disruptive than he was against the Penguins. T.J. Clemmings is listed as the starter on the two-deep this week after missing last week's game with an injury, so if he's back as well that would obviously be a shot in the arm.
Overall, I think we'll see a bit of improvement on the defensive line this week with the return of those guys. Size-wise, Pitt also matches up a little bit better with Cincinnati's offensive line. The Panthers were, on average, giving up about 20 pounds a man to Youngstown State's offensive line. Obviously, that's no excuse to be pushed around by and FCS line the way they were, but the Penguins had three offensive linemen listed at more than 300 pounds. Cincinnati has none. Pitt's defensive line is roughly equal size-wise with the Bearcats' offensive line. Size isn't everything, especially with a lot of the spread principles Cincinnati looks poised to run with Munchie Legaux (man, I love typing that name) at quarterback to get him in space. Still, I don't think you'll see the Bearcats run the ball at will against Pitt the same way Youngstown State did.
Of course, the other notable aspect of those players returning is that Pitt fans will likely get their first glimpse of Shell. I don't expect him to play a major role tomorrow night, but he'll more than likely get a couple of carries to spell Ray Graham and Isaac Bennett. Pitt has a similar size advantage on its offensive line against Cincinnati. Combine that with the desire to control possession and quiet the crowd in a season-opening (for Cincinnati), nationally-televised night game on the road, and I'm expecting a run-heavy attack tomorrow. That means, especially with Graham working his way back in, plenty of carries to go around for Bennett and Shell.
Friendly reminder that I'll be having my first weekly chat tomorrow at noon on post-gazette.com. So stop by and ask me some questions. We're now just about 24 hours from kickoff.