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Vukovcan: Pitt’s Offense Kept Them From Reaching Ultimate Goal

Vukovcan: Pitt’s Offense Kept Them From Reaching Ultimate Goal

Mark Whipple was hired as offensive coordinator to improve Pitt’s passing game and make the offense more balanced, which is something it has lacked the last few seasons.

Following Saturday’s frustrating loss at Virginia Tech and looking back at the entire 2019 season, it looks as though neither one of those goals were achieved and that ultimately resulted in Pitt failing to repeat as ACC Coastal Division champions.

It’s pretty obvious that the offense had zero balance as a result of not being able to sustain any sort of running game. As far as if Pitt is a better passing team than in previous seasons, I honestly believe the jury is still out on that. Just because Whipple had Kenny Pickett throwing the ball 40-plus times a game, doesn’t mean Pitt improved their passing attack.

It’s almost impossible to pick one specific thing that was the main reason for Pitt sputtering on offense this entire season. Whether it was the offensive line, the running backs, the constant drops by receivers or the plan to make the offense so pass heavy, all contributed to Pitt blowing a golden opportunity to making it to the ACC Championship Game in back to back seasons.

Although the defense had its first below-average performance in quite some time on Saturday, the common theme in all four of Pitt’s losses this season was the offensive’s inability to put points on the scoreboard. Against Virginia, they scored only 14 points and got shutout in the second half. In the Penn State game, they scored only 10 points and blew multiple opportunities to score. Then in the Miami game, when their defense dominated, the offense scored only 12 points and had to settle for four field goals, including three in the Miami red zone.

The task for Pat Narduzzi and Whipple this offseason is to have a complete evaluation of the offense and figure out what and who were the problems and then make the necessary changes prior to the 2020 season.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Pickett wasn’t the biggest reason for the struggles this season and he will be Pitt’s starter next season. I’m not saying he was perfect and without blame but he isn’t on the Top 3 list for the Panthers offensive issues.

For the first time in many, many years Pitt simply couldn’t run the football. If Qadree Ollison or Darrin Hall were Pitt’s starters this season, the running game wouldn’t be an issue and they could’ve won the Coastal.

The reality is that Pitt is missing a true featured back on their roster. V’Lique Carter and Vincent Davis could be nice change of pace guys but aren’t 20-plus carry players. Despite needing someone, the Pitt staff never showed faith in Todd Sibley prior to his injury in the Miami game. The staff tried to make A.J. Davis the man, but he’s shown nothing in two years that resembles a four-star player let alone a featured back.

Unfortunately, that’s the reality of what Whipple had to work with but that’s also a reflecting of what Narduzzi and his coaches recruited. Pitt currently have 2020 commitments from Henry Parrish and Isreal Abanikanda and both would have a chance to play next season.

The offensive line is not without blame and has to be re-examined but they were also missing with swaths of last year’s team.

Aside from center Jimmy Morrisey, this was the first season that the other four Pitt lineman were starters. The reality is that development doesn’t happen instantly and trying to get four new starters to gel in one season was a difficult thing to ask.

Unlike at running back, I think the offensive line has players on the depth chart with the possibility to develop and form a solid unit but it doesn’t happen overnight. The good news is that aside from right tackle Nolan Ulizio, who I wonder why is still starting, everyone on the line is scheduled to return in 2020.

When looking at the things that killed Pitt’s offense this season, the wide receivers and the drops are the least of my worries. Despite the graduation of Maurice Ffrench, I like next year’s depth chart of Taysir Mack, Shocky Jacques Louis, Jared Wayne, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins and the addition of four-star talent like Jordan Allison, Aydin Henningham and Jaylon Braden.

While many people might be asking “what if” when talking about this season, 2019 might not be a total disaster. Pitt currently sits with a record 7-4 and could still finish with 9 wins which would be the best win total under Narduzzi. Don’t brush off a nine-win season since it would be only the fourth time it’s happened at Pitt since 1983.

This will be a big off-season for Whipple as he’ll have a real chance to evaluate his talent and to make adjustments to how teams defensed him this season.

Pitt will return a large majority of their highly ranked defensive unit next season and a senior quarterback so if Whipple can make some adjustments and some young players develop, the Panthers should be in line to challenge for the division championship.

The pieces are in place and the Pitt football program is in a good place but things don’t happen overnight and take time. Let’s see how Narduzzi and Whipple attack things this off-season.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Kevin
Kevin
7 months ago

Great article. Need to get more disciplined too!!! Narduzzi needs to play players who can make plays, and bench those who don’t.

TSD2007
TSD2007
7 months ago
Reply to  Kevin

I agree Kevin. Its starts with Narduzzi. He holds back certain players (For example Paris Ford last year) and Sticks with stiffs like Flanigan, Uluzio and AJ Davis. Players like Coleman, Sibley, and others get the silent treatment.

Bob Cardy
Bob Cardy
7 months ago
Reply to  TSD2007

I agree Narduzzi relies too heavily on upper classmen than on young athletes. Scratched my head on Paris. I wanted to see more Sibley, but if he was a star, he’d be playing, no one has grabbed the spot. Players entering the portal will happen. Either they did not live up to potential or new recruits push them down the depth chart. That is a sign of a good program. There is something to be said for experience, but should not only measuring stick.

Eddie Futch
Eddie Futch
7 months ago

Mike, I agree about AJ Davis not looking like a 4 star back. He does not appear to run hard and tough like Ollison and Hall did last year. I do think once Vincent Davis spends a year in the weight room he can really help them. The line and no tight end that can catch has been the biggest culprit. Imagine if this team had Dorin Dickerson. He would have had a field day with Ffrench and Mack on the outside. They are poised to have some good seasons coming up and I think the program is in its… Read more »

CK-H2P
CK-H2P
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Vukovcan

Part of Whipple’s evaluation needs to determine if the OL made Davis look bad this season by not opening up holes, being over matched , or missing assignments or if Davis truly lacks the vision/explosiveness needed to get our running game back to at least a respectable level. Maybe we were just spoiled having both Ollison and Hall last season. You need to have another gear though when you get to the second level and I am not sure we have seen that from AJ this season. I remember seeing AJ catch a screen pass against PSU earlier this year… Read more »

Haysroad
Haysroad
7 months ago

Great stuff as usual. I agree with most of your thoughts. I do think that Pickett is the best option for now and will be the starter next year but to see him throw high with tip interceptions grows weary. Is it just me or have we been recruiting small size running backs? Hall and Ollison look like monsters compared to our present undersized stable. Lack of discipline is also a problem. All told we need to stick with our OC for a time to get some continuity. The defense is finally playing as advertised. Hail To Pitt

Clark Martineau
Clark Martineau
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Vukovcan

Tony D weighed 175lb.

TSD2007
TSD2007
7 months ago

Another issue is Narduzzi is an excellent recruiter, but he makes ZERO adjustments. The team plays Down, which is a direct reflection of his leadership and judgement. Thats why they are so awful in 2nd half and at the end of the season. And NO bowl victories. He puts his system in at Camp in August, and makes zero adjustments for the rest of the season. Everyone sees this. Especially the other coaches. The talent is there, the coaching is not.

Smljf
Smljf
7 months ago

While I agree that there are 2 or 3 offensive weaknesses before you get to Pickett, a better QB than him allows the team to mask those weaknesses better. He is who he is – he’ll never get Pitt to take a step forward beyond 7-8 wins. Cant wait for the Davis Beville era to begin.

Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson
7 months ago

All great points being made. Although the line is full of 1st time starters, they have not shown much improvement if any at all. Is it coaching or just lack of talent? Now we know the real reason Uluzio did not play at Michigan. If Tomlin can pull his starter when he is obviously struggling why can’t Narduzzi? Drops are lack of concentration, but throws behind, high throws and just plain missing is on the Quarterback. As far as running back goes their size hinders them in pass protection and getting tough yards inside, couple that with poor line play… Read more »

Jim Garland
Jim Garland
7 months ago

As a life long Pitt fan, I’m going to disagree emphatically with your final conclusion that the Pitt football program “is in a good place”. The program is in second gear, with no higher gears to pull. The seasons are mind-numbingly similar, and the final win total reflects not how much Pitt has improved, but how many POS opponents were on the schedule. Narduzzi has shown us what he brings to the table, and it might be good enough for some low level program, but it’s not close to being good enough to return Pitt to prominance. Look at the… Read more »

Justin Dietrich
Justin Dietrich
7 months ago

We need a QB, Pickett simply is not the answer. Our running game suffered because nobody is afraid of Kenny beating them through the air. With as much passing as this team does, the fact that he only has 10 TD’s is astonishing. Even an average QB would luck into a few more than that. I’d love to see Beville play the final 2 games so we can at least get a look at what he can offer moving forward. If he’s not going to be the answer, then we need to look for a transfer.

Bob Cardy
Bob Cardy
7 months ago

Saturday was embarrassing, but sometimes teams play flat. I.E. the Packers on Sunday. Va Tech was more motivated, senior day and Bud Foster’s last home game. Even the best coaches can’t win the motivation match weekly. KP is an adequate ACC QB–he has shown he can win big games. Pitt needs playmakers on offense around him. The O-line is below average and needs upgraded badly. And I don’t mean more sub-par grad transfers. Unlike many, I am not thrilled that 4 starters return. I know it takes time, but outside of Kradel, I have not seen a lot of potential… Read more »

Smljf
Smljf
7 months ago
Reply to  Bob Cardy

Your spot on especially regarding Pickett – he is adequate- but adequate isnt enough. Adequate allows for above and below average performances. This team needs more from its QB than being adequate.

johnnyslo
johnnyslo
7 months ago

Kenny Pickett THE biggest problem..if he was just half decent this team be 9-2

Clark Martineau
Clark Martineau
7 months ago

Virginia, Penn State, and Virginia Tech are three of the best defenses in the country. Give them some credit for PITT’s troubles on offense. I don’t agree that a back has to be big to gain a lot of yards. If the O-line can get the back to the second level shiftiness and speed will show. That’s how I think TD got a lot of his yards.

Pittband
Pittband
7 months ago

Give the ACC a lot of credit or blame for this season. Virginia got us with an inexperienced OL and offensive scheme. It was obvious the ACC wants Virginia as the Coastal champ. Ain’t goin to happen unless the refs steal it from VT Saturday. Tight ends were a disaster this year and an integral part of the offensive scheme. And with respect to Ulizio, BS. He’s played well all season.

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