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Pittsburgh players to know

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Western Michigan at Pitt Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’ve got quite the game shaping up for Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh. Tennessee will head north to face the Panthers in a tone-setter type of game for the rest of the season. A win here means you’re likely 3-0 and inside of the top 20 ahead of hosting Florida. It also lights the path to potentially nine or even ten wins by the end of the year.

It’s one where we’re going to find out a lot about this team. Pittsburgh is no slouch, even after what they lost from last year’s team.

Let’s get to know them a little better. Here’s who you need to know heading into Saturday.

QB Kedon Slovis

There was a time where Slovis looked like he was going to be the next great quarterback at USC. However, after a great 30 touchdown freshman season in 2019, Slovis failed to back it up over the next two seasons. Last season Slovis threw for 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and decided to look for a new opportunity.

That steered him to Pittsburgh, where Pat Narduzzi had an opening. Slovis won the starting gig after battling through camp, and put in impressive work in his debut last week. He was steady and efficient, throwing for over 300 yards in his new offense.

Tennessee absolutely must find a way to get some pressure on him. They kept things extremely basic against Ball State — that will change here.

RBs Rodney Hammond Jr. and Israel Abanikanda

It appears that Pittsburgh will go in a different offensive direction in 2022, which makes some sense with Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison moving on. That direction is a run-heavy approach, with a passing game centered around play-action.

In the opener, Rodney Hammond Jr. handled 16 carries, rushing for 74 yards and two scores. Abanikanda received eight carries, running for just 15 yards.

One big note to monitor here — Hammond left the game in the fourth quarter due to an injury and did not return. We’ll see about his status later in the week. Whoever it ends up being back there, that’s where the Pittsburgh offense will start. The Tennessee front seven will be tested, that’s for sure.

WRs Konata Mumpfield and Jared Wayne

A guy that has been there and done that, Jared Wayne has returned for his senior season to give Slovis a reliable target. The 6-3, 210 pound receiver had 658 yards last season catching balls from Kenny Pickett, and got off to a nice start last weekend against West Virginia with an 89 yard performance.

Mumpfield hit the portal after a big freshman season at Akron and walks into a pretty good situation at Pitt. The 6-1 sophomore went over 700 yards with the Zips in 2021, and immediately settled into a big role with his new team. Mumpfield caught five passes against West Virginia, totaling 71 yards in his debut. Expect to hear his name quite a bit on Saturday afternoon, going up against a Tennessee secondary that remains a bit of a question mark.

DT Calijah Kancey

Kancey is the best player on the roster and undoubtedly has the full attention of the Tennessee coaching staff this week. The 6-0, 275 pound wrecking ball is already drawing some Aaron Donald comps in draft circles. While that may be a little rich, the style of play is about the same. Last season, Kancey put up seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss.

Kancey’s energy and red-hot motor are a tone setter for Pitt, and the Panthers need him disrupting early and often to slow down Tennessee’s attack.

DE Habakkuk Baldonado

And if you hone in on Kancey, Baldonado can beat you in a totally different way. A little more of a prototypical defensive lineman, Baldonado stands in at 6-5, 260 pounds. That length helped him find nine sacks last season as a junior, and he returns to a stout defensive line this season that is full of upperclassmen.

This Tennessee offensive line will be tested on Saturday, and I’m interested to see how Josh Heupel attacks knowing that pressure will be coming at Hendon Hooker.