Pittsburgh's wide receiving corps was supposed to be an issue this season, and the Panthers' deep group of tight ends was expected to pick up the slack.
Instead, the Panthers have the most productive wide receiver duo in the ACC and their gaggle of tight ends has combined for just nine receptions.
Senior wide receiver Devin Street (6-feet-4, 195 pounds) was a given for the Panthers. Street is a three-year starter who led the Panthers in receptions last season with 73 (good for 975 yards and five TDs). But no other returning wide receiver caught more than seven passes. That's where true freshman Tyler Boyd comes in.
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Boyd (6-2, 185) was a high school running back of some renown (5,755 career rushing yards) at Clairton (Pa.) High, in the Pittsburgh suburbs. But he was projected as a wide receiver by most recruiting services, and the Panthers signed him to play that position. He has proved to be an immediate playmaker.
Street leads the Panthers with 17 receptions for 387 yards (22.7 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. Boyd has 16 catches for 314 yards (19.6 ypc) and four TDs. Three of his TDs came in Saturday's 58-55 win over Duke. His first came when he lined up in the backfield. The second came on a fly pattern. And the third came when he settled into a soft spot in the Blue Devils' zone.
Boyd became the first Pitt freshman to have back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Antonio Bryant in 1999. And the most recent Pitt true freshman to have three TD catches in a game? Larry Fitzgerald, in 2002.
Street isn't a blazer, but he is savvy and generally does a nice job getting off press coverage. He has good hands, runs disciplined routes and does a nice job of using his size to seal off opposing cornerbacks. Boyd doesn't have elite speed, either, but he does have quick feet, good hands and big-time elusiveness.
Pitt plays host to Virginia on Saturday, and the Cavs bring one of the better secondaries in the ACC with them. Junior cornerback Demetrious Nicholson (5-11, 185) and junior strong safety Anthony Harris (6-1, 185) are among the best players at their positions in the league.
Nicholson has started every game since the beginning of the 2011 season; that season, he became the first true freshman to start a game at corner for the Cavs since 1986. Nicholson has excellent speed and has two picks and 27 pass breakups in his career. Nicholson is active in run support, too, and plays with a physical nature.
Harris is in his second season as a starter. He leads the Cavs with 26 tackles and has one pick and two pass breakups; he has improved his coverage skills from last season and still is a big-time hitter in run support.
A key for Pitt will be protecting quarterback Tom Savage. When he has time in the pocket, he can be deadly. But when under pressure, the immobile Savage tends to make mistakes and spray throws all over the place.