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Vukovcan: Pitt Must Fix Running Game in Second Half of Season



This 2019 Pitt football team isn’t making it easy for themselves or their fan base as they had another game decided in the last minute.

Pitt dominated Duke for the first 43 minutes but went into complete meltdown mode for the last 17 and nearly grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.

I try not to be negative after a win because in the end it was a win but the reality is that Pitt won in spite of themselves and have plenty of issues to address on the offensive side of the ball as they enter a much needed bye week.

The biggest issue facing this team is the lack of running game. For the first time in a long time, the Pitt offense isn’t capable of running the ball and the question is why? Is it because they don’t have the talent in the backfield, is it because of poor offensive line running blocking or is it because Mark Whipple refuses to commit to trying to run?

It’s an easy way out but I truly believe it’s a combination of all three of those things.

Unlike the last few years when guys like James Conner, Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison were in the backfield, Pitt doesn’t appear to have that workhorse type runner and that’s been a problem. A.J. Davis appears to be the closest thing to that but when given the chance, he’s just looked average and hasn’t made any runs that made you say, “Wow.” Vincent Davis and V’Lique Carter just aren’t built to be backs that get 20+ carries a game and despite needing a back, the coaching staff hasn’t committed to Todd Sibley, which might tell you something.

In my opinion, the area that’s holding this team back is the play of the offensive line Entering this season, many people had questions about trying to plug in four new starters and how long would it take for them to develop. Six games into the season, those concerns have been justified and now you have to wonder what, if anything Narduzzi will do to address this.

During the bye week, will Pitt make any changes to the right side of the line, which has been the problem area? Towards the end of the second quarter, redshirt freshman Jake Kradel started to get some time at right guard in place of Gabe Houy. Grad-transfer Nolan Ulizio has struggled at right tackle but would his backup, redshirt freshman Jerry Drake, who’s never made a start, be a better option?

Taking all of that into consideration, are those the reasons Whipple has almost abandoned trying to run the football.
Consider these rushing attempts by the Panther running backs this season:

Virginia: A.J. Davis eight carries, Sibley seven carries, Carter one carry, Vincent Davis two carries.

Ohio: A.J. Davis 13 carries, Vincent Davis 12 carries, Carter six carries, Sibley three carries (keep in mind, 10 of these rushes came on the last drive of the game as Pitt ran out the clock).

Penn State: A.J. Davis eight carries, Vincent Davis four carries Carter two carries

Central Florida: A.J. Davis 13 carries, Vincent Davis five carries, Carter four carries

Delaware: Sibley 22 carries Carter nine carries

Duke: Sibley 12 carries, Carter 13 carries

Finally, by making their offense all-pass and having Pickett throw the ball on a average of 45 times a game, which he’s done through five starts this season, it increases the opportunities for mistakes and also for him to take a beating. Pickett has taken way too many hits and the wear and tear is starting to show.

The other benefit that a good ground game gives you is that it shortens the game and allows the defense to be fresh and rested. Considering how strong Pitt’s 2019 defense is, that would be a huge plus for the Panthers.

As we’ve seen for the most part this season, it’s been difficult for most offenses to drive the length of the field on this Panther defense and a majority of the points that they’ve given up have come after the offense or special teams have turned the ball over and the defense has been forced to defend a short field.

Pitt enters their bye week with a record of 4-2 and that’s not bad considering their difficult non-conference schedule. Looking ahead to their final six games, the schedule appears to set up well for Pitt with their biggest challenges appearing to be Miami at Heinz Field and at Virginia Tech on the next to last week of the regular season.

Pitt has a special defense and if they can find a way to get some balance to their offense, a nine or 10 win season isn’t out of the question and neither is a return trip to the ACC Championship Game.

Mark Whipple has the reputation of an offensive wizard, let’s see if he can make a running game appear after being invisible for the first half of the season.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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4 years ago

It just comes down to a commitment to establish a running game, Sibley averaged 5.0 ypc in the game.

The east to west jet sweeps and runs do not work their offensive linemen have difficulty executing.

Run straight ahead and attack the defense,

Whipple doesn’t take what the opponent gives rather he tries to impose a pass happy offense that cost them the Virginia game and almost last night.

It’s on the OC period, he is really perplexing.

Richard Johnson
4 years ago
Reply to  James

I say it is a combination of both comments. We have to at least try to run the ball and the right side side of the line is terrible. Using the backs like the play Carter scored on would slow down the rush, plus getting the backs on Linebackers is a mismatch. Whipple has to call a better game . Pickett will never last at this pace.

4 years ago

On the offensive side, Whipple has installed the New England Patriots offense (short, safe passes which replace the running game). I believe all the teams we played to date have adopted Narduzzi’s mindset, stop the run first and then adjust. Those two philosophies are the irresistible force and the immovable object. Whipple tried to open up Duke by throwing long but they still stuffed the box. Thankfully, Duke offered up 6-turnovers which were the difference. Except for Morrissey and Warren, the rest of the line have been spelled by among others Kradel and Van Lynn. It’s happening just not at… Read more »

4 years ago

As a fan you would love to achieve balance on offense which essentially may loosen up the passing game but if I am being honest- I think that Whipple’s offense is the most enjoyable offense Pitt has installed in many years. Canada’s triple motion jet sweep offense had its moments but I can remember being down late in games like we found ourselves against Duke and pretty much thinking the game was over because we couldn’t rely on running the ball the length of the field. Maybe Alan can do some film study on this to determine if this is… Read more »

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