PITTSBURGH — When the 2018 college football season came to an end for Pitt, they were ranked near the bottom half of the ranks in passing, and really have been since head coach Pat Narduzzi came to Pitt.
Narduzzi knew that his team needed to upgrade their passing offense. He then brought in a new offensive coordinator, in Mark Whipple, and a new wide receivers coach, in Chris Beatty.
“Eight months ago, or whatever it was — We felt like we needed a change,” Narduzzi said. “We needed to be able to throw the ball this year. … Period.”
“We were losing two tailbacks, so I thought it was important that we throw the ball, a lot better,” Narduzzi said. “We just couldn’t survive. If we ‘think’ we can run the ball and then we can’t and we have no passing game.”
Through six games, Pitt currently ranks No. 12 in the ACC in rushing offense and last in rushing touchdowns (4). The Panthers have ran the ball for 699 yards on 203 attempts. They are averaging 116.5 yards per game.
Last season, in 14 games, Pitt averaged 227.9 rushing yards per game and 30 rushing touchdowns.
“The addition to (Mark) Whipple and Chris Beatty have been really good (for us),” Narduzzi said. “(A lot of where Whipple has helped is with) the fundamentals of Kenny Pickett — and getting him to where I thought he could’ve been two years ago.”
“Chris Beatty has done a heck of a job, with those wideouts,” Narduzzi said. “They’re catching the football and they’re playing their tails off for him — I think that’s the important thing. (All of the receivers) have a lot of confidence. … It’s not just Taysir (Mack) and (Maurice) Ffrench.”
Mack and Ffrench are still the most productive receiving duo in the country, with 91 combined receptions. … Which is the most of any Football Bowl Sub-division receiving duo.
“Shocky (Jacques-Louis) made some huge catches (against Duke), Jared Wayne had a nice one over the middle and Arron Mathews has made key catches, as well,” Narduzzi said of Pitt’s other weapons. “They just have to wait their turns.”
In regard to Whipple and Pickett’s growth over this season, Narduzzi has an idea of where the sudden growth is coming from.
“It’s schematics, really,” Narduzzi said. “It’s know what makes (Pickett) tick — It’s the coaching part and the relationship part. You can have a good quarterback and a good coach, and nothing could click.
Pickett ranks No. 2 in passing yards per game (274) in the ACC, behind only Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman (295.3).
Narduzzi seems to notice differences every week in Pickett, that he might not have noticed, before Whipple got to Pitt.
“Kenny just know’s where to go with the ball quicker,” Narduzzi said. “Like that (game-winning) touchdown last week — They were bringing max pressure. A year ago, I believe he might have got sacked and who knows what else would have happened.”
This week against Syracuse, Pickett will once again be dealing with pressure from the opposing defense. The Orange rank No. 5 in the ACC in sacks, with 20.
Pickett and the Pitt receivers will try to continue and see more production as the season goes on, while working with Beatty and Whipple.