PITTSBURGH — With Pitt down by as many as 14 points early in the game against Oklahoma State last Saturday and seemingly playing catch-up throughout, the Panthers’ offense was forced to do something it doesn’t like to do a lot: throw the football.
In Week 2’s win over Penn State, quarterback Nate Peterman dropped back to pass just 15 times, and while he completed 73.3 percent of his offerings, it was for a total of just 91 yards.
Against the Cowboys, though, offensive coordinator Matt Canada was forced to come up with ways to score quickly. This 60-yard touchdown strike to Jester Weah is the longest downfield passing play of the season for the Panthers, and it came in the 2-minute offense right before the half.
Peterman thinks there’s more of that to be had from the Pitt offense moving forward.
“Definitely,” Peterman said. “We worked that route so much in the summer and fall. That’s what I was telling the younger guys, too. All these things are things that have paid off in practice. We’ve hit those constantly. We have to keep targeting him. He had some other really big plays and we have to keep making more.”
With Dontez Ford (collarbone) sidelined, Pitt certainly has talent at the receiver position, but there isn’t much experience. Weah (6 career catches) and Quadree Henderson (5 career catches) have been getting the majority of the playing time.
But with things critical down a score in the fourth quarter, a different target emerged for Peterman: redshirt freshman Tre Tipton. The Apollo-Ridge grad made his first NCAA catch, followed by two more — including a key fourth-down conversion — on the final drive.
Tipton’s emergence in the wide receiving corps is key for the Panthers. Weah is a downfield passing nightmare, but has been inconsistent medium-range. Henderson is great with the ball in his hands but can’t always get open downfield.
Tipton appears to have the skill set of a happy medium. He has vastly improved his route-running since he’s been at Pitt and he has the hands to be the kind of medium-depth possession receiver the Panthers really need. That fourth-down catch was a prime example:
“He’s just got so much talent [and] so much potential,” Peterman said of Tipton. “All his hard work is starting to come to the front. I’m just really happy for him. I’m still on him really hard, because I know how good he can be. He’s responded really well. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
For Tipton, having some game footage to look at instead of a practice film in evaluating his game will make a world of difference.
“I’m going to the film room this week and I’m making sure I can correct everything I did last week so I make sure if I get another opportunity to make a big play, I won’t miss out,” he said.
This week, with some catches to go with his previous game action, film study has been a big part of the picture.
“I couldn’t even count (how many times I’ve watched it),” Tipton said laughingly. “I just keep going back and watching that final series just to see what I did wrong and what I can do better.”
Even though it was part of an ultimately unsuccessful drive in the team’s loss, it’s clear that Tipton is full of a renewed energy after getting his first big taste of action with Pitt.
“He makes plays in practice and things, but to go out there on a big stage like that and make plays, it’s just a different level of confidence you have when you’ve done it under those lights and especially on the road, it’s even better,” Peterman said. “He’s got to keep getting better — we all do — but I was really happy for him to see that. … His confidence level [has grown]. He’s extremely talented. He just had to realize that. It’s confidence, not trying to do too much out there and knowing that he’s got the talent to just go out there and make plays.”