PITTSBURGH — Pitt does not have a quarterback controversy, at least according to all of the parties that could possibly be involved in the conversation.
From Pat Narduzzi and Shawn Watson to Max Browne and Ben DiNucci, the Panthers’ representatives that spoke with the media this week spoke with a unified voice and made it clear that Browne will start on Wednesday and that the Panthers remain his team to lead.
Narduzzi said that on Saturday after the game and reiterated that opinion after having an opportunity to review the game film of Pitt’s 33-14 loss to Penn State.
“I was pretty happy after watching the tape with him, more than I was maybe after the game, and I wasn’t disappointed after the game at all because I told you how I felt after the game,” Narduzzi said. “Does he have room for improvement? Yes. And so do I. So, I don’t see it any different.”
But that doesn’t mean the Panthers aren’t thinking about the alternatives to a full season of Browne as a starter. Narduzzi said that he’s been thinking of ways to get DiNucci involved since before the season started and he’s going to continue to do so going forward.
“I would like to look for opportunities,” Narduzzi said. “It’s easier said than done when you get in the game. It’s a hard call. We wanted to do it in the second quarter of the Youngstown game, and I said, let’s get one more TD, and then we didn’t get one more until overtime. But we wanted to get him in early.”
That also doesn’t mean that thoughts of 2016 haven’t crept into Browne’s mind. Last season at USC, Browne lost his starting job to freshman Sam Darnold after three games. To see DiNucci lead the offense into the end zone after Browne had failed to do so twice brought out understandable thoughts of “not again.”
“A little deja vu there,” Browne admitted. “It is what it is, though. Over the years, you kind of learn from it and grow. With each experience, you add it to your armor, I guess you could say.”
The team has committed to Browne — at least for the majority of snaps — for now. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an argument for more of DiNucci going forward.
The differences between Browne and DiNucci are stark and were laid bare against Penn State. Browne can be a polished passer when given time in the pocket, but lacks mobility and escapability. DiNucci can run and can also use his feet to extend plays and buy extra time.
There’s a reason that the Panthers chose Browne. He possesses the arm strength and accuracy required to be an effective downfield passer, and that’s an important part of Pitt’s offense. Even in the Panthers aren’t chucking the ball downfield with the proclivity of a team like Oklahoma State, the threat of being able to do so, especially with players like Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah, changes the way opposing teams have to defend the Panthers.
“It helps out big, because those ‘shot’ plays loosen up what we’re doing with the run game,” Watson said. “We’ve been pretty consistent at running the football. Those obviously help out the run game, take hats out of the game and keep people involved in covering the big, down-the-field play.”
The Panthers are still committed to getting that part of their offense going and they don’t think they’re far off. Weah and Chris Clark both dropped downfield passes. Browne missed an open Henderson on his first interception. Turn those into completions, and Browne’s stat line — and the scoreboard — look a lot better from a Pitt perspective.
“I look back and there was a lot of good things with that film,” Browne said. “It’s not like it’s all negative. … There were plays there to be made.”
How long of a leash Browne will get to establish that part of the game is unknown. After Oklahoma State, Pitt has a trip to Georgia Tech, a bye week and then hosts Rice. If a quarterback change was going to be made this season, an off week followed by the lowly Owls would be as easy of a time as possible to make a transition.
“I know the deal,” Browne said. “Just like anyone on this team, if you’re not getting the job done, they’re going to replace you with someone else.”