PITTSBURGH – It was expected that Pitt’s wide receivers would have an uptick in production with the hiring of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple (Just Google Andy Isabella’s 2018 stats at UMass). Still, there were questions about a group of receivers that had shown flashes in the past, but struggled to put it all together. Even head coach Pat Narduzzi had concerns dating back to fall camp.
“We have guys that can play. Right now, they aren’t where they need to be,” he said. “How about that (smiling)? Because last year they were, and that didn’t help.”
Narduzzi has to be pleased now, as senior Maurice Ffrench and redshirt junior Taysir Mack have put those worries to rest with their stellar play through five games.
The tandem of Mack and Ffrench has been the most productive in the country, combining for 72 receptions, the most of any duo. Ffrench is tied for the national lead with 40 catches on the year, while Mack is T-12th with 32 grabs.
Not even halfway through the season, both receivers have set career-highs in receptions. Ffrench is on pace for 96 catches this season, which would be the most ever by a Pitt player, surpassing Larry Fitzgerald’s 92 in 2003. Mack is on pace for 76, which would give him the fifth-most for a single season in Pitt history.
Ffrench proved himself to be a dynamic player in 2018 by catching six touchdowns, rushing for a pair and returning two kickoffs to the house. His play last season garnered him All-ACC Honorable Mention honors.
While Ffrench has been electric for some time, Mack has emerged as Pitt’s go-to deep threat in his second season after transferring in from Indiana. He has consistently made challenging, crucial catches that have extended drives and broken-open games for the Panthers.
He caught multiple 50/50 balls on Pitt’s final drive that put them in position to win the game against Penn State. He converted a 3rd and 17 with a 48-yard reception against Delaware, and finished off the same drive with a 12-yard TD pass from quarterback Nick Patti.
Quite simply, Taysir Mack is a quarterback’s best friend. Pat Narduzzi agrees.
“Taysir Mack helps every quarterback that’s out on the field for sure,” Narduzzi said following the Delaware win. “He’s a playmaker.”
For Mack, he is just doing what he believes is expected of him.
“When your number is called you really just got to produce,” Mack said after the win last Saturday.
Mack also feels that the coaching staff has provided the receiver group as a whole with new found confidence, which has helped them make plays this season.
The Panthers will need their dynamic duo at their best on Saturday, as the Blue Devils field a top-five pass defense in the ACC. If you factor out the season opener against Alabama where they allowed 367 passing yards to Tua Tagovailoa and Co., Duke has the seventh-best pass defense nationally.
Ffrench had a big game last year in Pitt’s 54-45 victory over Duke at Heinz Field, catching two passes for 75 yards and two scores. Mack did not record a catch.
It will take that same production from Ffrench and a similar performance from Mack on Saturday night to get a win in Durham. Luckily for Pitt, their one-two punch seems more than ready for the challenge.