A fan base that watched their team play in the ACC Championship Game for the first time should feel better than Pitt fans feel this morning.
But that’s not the case, thanks to an ugly three-game losing streak to close the season, including Monday’s frustrating 14-13 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
Following their win over Wake Forest that clinched the Coastal Division, it looked as though Pitt had a legitimate chance to win 9 games for the first time since 2009 but instead they finish with a disappointing record of 7-7.
Although they won their division and qualifed for a bowl game, there was more optimism at the end of the season last year despite a 5-7. That’s a sad, but unfortunately true statement.
The 2017 season ended with an upset of then-No. 2 Miami and the fans were excited by the thoughts of Kenny Pickett quarterbacking the team for the next three seasons.
Those feelings have changed and although some are frustrated by the quarterback position, the vast majority of the anger goes towards offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.
Most times, fans’ anger towards coordinators is misguided but not in this case. To borrow a phrase from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Watson’s performance has been below the line.
Quite frankly, Watson’s two years as Pitt’s offensive coordinator have been awful.
In an era of football where everyone seems to be able to throw the football, under Watson, Pitt hasn’t shown the ability to have a legitimate passing game and has employed one of the more boring and arcaic offenses in the country.
Common sense would say that an offense that has two 1,000 rushers in the backfield should have plenty of opportunities to pass the ball. With defenses gearing up to stop the run, Pitt should’ve been able to take advantage and make plays through the air.
Very rarely was that the case this year and it begs the question: was that because of the quarterback or the offensive coordinator?
After entering the season carrying unrealistic expectations, no one can disagree with the fact that Pickett struggled this year. Whether it was the pressure or his first year as a starter, the bottom line is that Pitt needs better production from the quarterback position.
That raises the question and seems to be another black eye against Watson. Despite having the reputation of a great quarterback coach, no Pitt quarterback under Watson has gotten any better as the year progressed and that’s troubling.
The other worriesome angle to this is the reputation Pitt’s offense is getting and that is of a boring, unimaginative system that’s geared to the running backs. The only exciting plays that the wide receivers seem to get to make are on the jet sweep and opposing defensive coordinators have caught on to that play which has become a staple in Pitt’s playbook.
In their last few recruiting classes, Pitt has brought in some receivers that had the reputation of being playmakers but haven’t been put in a position to do that at Pitt.
Who’s fault is that?
I’m going to pin that on a play-caller that runs very few deep vertical or deep crossing plays and instead relies on wide receiver screens, 5-yard outs and a zillion jet sweeps.
Simply put, Pitt’s offense is predictable, the passing game is something from 1980 and can’t be very much fun to play in if you’re a wide receiver or tight end.
Tight ends? I’m not sure Watson knows what one of those are.
PSN was told Monday night that “the players’ confidence in the offensive staff is at an all-time low” by someone close to the program. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few offensive players announce that they’ll be transferring in very near future.
That’s a problem and is something Narduzzi needs to address. The question is, will the strong-minded Narduzzi do it and admit that a change is needed and that hiring Watson was a mistake?
That’s not exactly Narduzzi’s style. He seems to only want people around him that he’s comfortable with and that follow his orders without question. Clearly, Watson fits that bill.
I find it hard to believe Narduzzi will get rid of a good friend and someone he’s referred to as a mentor. The next question becomes what happens if Heather Lyke steps in and asks him to do something? Lyke isn’t blind and will no doubt be hearing from many disgruntled season ticket holders and influential people at Pitt.
Randy Bates did a solid job as defensive coordinator and has a bunch of talented players returning next season. The defense appears to be in a good place but the same can’t be said for the offense.
The question now is will Narduzzi admit they have a problem and if so, what will he do about it?