PITTSBURGH – With Pitt training camp getting underway, all eyes are on first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and his new offense.
Whipple joined the Panthers after spending the previous five seasons as the head coach at UMass, where he consistently boasted one of the nation’s best passing attacks. Minutemen quarterbacks combined for 27 touchdowns last season and completed 64% of their passes.
Now, Whipple arrives at Pitt with a specific objective, to fix a sluggish passing game that produced just 12 touchdowns and 141 yards per game last season. Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for over 200 yards just once during the 2018 campaign.
For Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, fixing the passing game is all about reestablishing balance.
“We’d like to be 50/50, we’d like to be more balanced,” Narduzzi said. “And we’ve got to threaten people through the air as well as the run, and we’re going to threaten you on the ground, I can promise you that. But we’ve got to start to threaten people in the passing game, and we will.”
Pickett believes that the new offense will provide more opportunities across the board.
“It is not the same guy catching it every other play,” he said. “The ball is spread around. Guys are a lot more confident because the ball is being spread around, they are getting a lot more touches. So it is a lot of fun to watch.”
While Whipple and the offense where able to install some of the new scheme during spring practices, the bulk of their learning and implementation takes place during training camp. He believes that the players are eager to learn and grasping the concepts well.
“Our guys have worked at it, they have embraced it,” Whipple said. “And I think it is really important that if you are going to have good passing that everybody runs and everybody catches… I have been really happy with that part of it, and we just got to continue to get better.”
An experienced group of receivers that includes three seniors and a redshirt junior, including Maxwell Award watch list member Maurice Ffrench, should help take Pitt’s passing attack to new heights.
“The receivers have stepped up,” Whipple said. “We are deeper there than I thought.”
Pickett agrees that having veteran receivers will make the learning process easier.
“I think it helps that I have been here a while with them,” he said. “So the continuity is there. It is not like this is my first year and I am coming into a new receiver group. These guys have been with me, a lot of them, since I got here.”
The Panthers’ new offense will be tested immediately, as they open up the season with a conference opponent in Virginia for the first time since they joined the ACC in 2013.