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.