Ask Pitt fans what they think will be the most important factor for the Panthers repeating as ACC Coastal Division Champions and you’ll likely get different responses.
Some will say the development of the offensive line, some may say it all depends on Kenny Pickett and others might bring up the team’s ability to replace the duo of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall.
These are all fair concerns and fans have every right to list them as the key to continued success in 2019.
However, my answer andthe person that I believe is crucial to Pitt making that next step is actually the man in charge of all the previously mentioned positions.
The team’s new offensive coordinator, Mark Whipple.
It’s very unusual for a team to change coordinators after winning a division championship but that’s what Pitt did and had to do.
Pat Narduzzi had no choice but to fire Shawn Watson, who was a complete disaster as Pitt’s offensive coordinator. In hindsight, it’s actually shocking the amount of success Pitt was able to achieve with Watson calling the offense.
With nearly every college offense getting creative and doing things to surprise defenses, Watson handicapped his own offensive players, and in particular Kenny Pickett, by running a 1980’s playbook.
Enter Whipple, who’s best known for his creative and offensive play-calling and resume of developing quarterbacks, including Ben Roethlisberger.
That should be sweet music to the ears of Pitt fans because Whipple’s top task is to see if Pickett can become an above average college quarterback.
The jury is still out on that.
While a lot of the blame can be put on Watson for Pickett’s passing totals–and I’m in that camp–the fact is that the passing stats were ugly, real ugly.
For the season, Pickett threw for less than 2,000 yards and only connected for 12 passing touchdowns. In 14 games, Pickett only had one game of over 200 passing yards. In today’s college game, that’s almost impossible to do.
Despite all of that, Pitt won the Coastal and made it to the Sun Bowl. Imagine the jump they can make if they can figure out how to complete a forward pass on a regular basis.
I’ve already heard from multiple people about the expected impact of Whipple’s passing game. Receivers will have the chance to make plays down the field, with patterns that will allow them to run after the catch. More importantly, the pass patterns will have plenty of reads and options for Pickett, unlike his playbook in 2018.
Under this offense, playmakers such as Shocky Jacques-Louis, Dontavious Butler-Jenkins, V’Lique Carter and Michael Smith will have the opportunity to live up to their huge potential.
From all accounts, this new offense will also benefit the offensive line because of the quick throws from the quarterback, similar to the Tom Brady/Patriots offense.
Whipple’s offenses have largely succeed everywhere he’s been and I have no reason to believe that won’t continue at Pitt.
For some odd reason the national experts aren’t expecting much from Pitt and that will no doubt be a source of motivation for everyone inside the Pitt program.
I believe 2019 will be a very successful year for the Panthers as they’ll contend for the ACC Coastal title again, Pickett will live up to his potential and Whipple will turn out to be one of Narduzzi’s best hires at Pitt.
Let the games begin.