Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was asked on Monday what he thinks the identity of his offense is, now 17 games into Mark Whipple’s tenure as Pitt’s offensive coordinator.
“I evaluate it game-by-game,” Narduzzi began, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. He then followed up by saying, “The identity is we scored 29 points, which I hope is enough to win a football game.”
Here, we’ve arrived at the problem. Yes, Pitt did score 29 points against NC State on Saturday, and honestly, given the talent level of Pitt’s defense and the relative lack of success of the NC State offense, Narduzzi is correct that it should probably have been enough to win that football game.
But the idea that 29 points is somehow the mark of a successful offense is exactly why Pitt’s offense looks the way it does.
Last season, 56 FBS teams averaged more than 29 points per game. There are 130 teams. That’s not a good offensive output. That’s not an offensive output that a typical team should expect would win a typical game. It’s barely above average.
Narduzzi is a defensive coach, and he’s good at it. He was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country at Michigan State. Pitt’s defense has shown signs that it can be even better under the tutelage of Narduzzi and Randy Bates.
But Pitt’s offense is stuck in the past, along with the mindset that 29 points is somehow an acceptable output.
And largely, Pitt has failed to even sniff that figure under Narduzzi. Pitt averaged 42 points per game with Matt Canada as offensive coordinator in 2016 and had the nation’s No 6 offense.
Pitt’s second-best offensive output under Narduzzi was Jim Chaney’s 26.5 points per game in 2015 that was good for 68th in the country. In 2017, Shawn Watson’s unit was 98th in the nation while scoring 23.5 points per game. In 2018, he showed slight improvement, to 25.1 points per game and 86th in FBS.
Whipple’s 2019 offense was the worst of them, with Pitt’s scoring average falling to 21.5 points per game, 107th out of 130 teams. Pitt lost three games by one score last year. Pitt’s offensive outputs in those three games were 10 points at Penn State, 12 points at Miami and 19 points against Boston College.
With the defense that Narduzzi has built, even an average offense would likely make for a dominant team. Unfortunately for all involved, Pitt’s offense hasn’t even been remotely close to average.
The reasons for that could be complex. But I don’t think they can all be put on the offensive coordinators, either. Three of the four offensive coordinators have fallen short of their average career scoring mark during their time at Pitt, with Canada’s season the exception.
It’s clear that Narduzzi’s focus on defense — and perhaps his belief that 29 points is a good offensive output — has had a negative impact on his team’s ability to maximize the number of points it scores.
Of course, it should still be possible for a great defense to drag a mediocre offense to a successful season, but it doesn’t happen as often as one might think.
Of the teams ranked in the final AP Top 25 from the 2019 season, only one of them (Georgia) had a below-average offense. The Bulldogs had the No. 1 defense in the country. Similarly, only one of those 25 teams (Oklahoma) had a below-average defense.
It takes both sides of the ball pulling their weight to put together a football team that’s worthy of the kind of national recognition Pitt seems to aspire to.
Pitt’s offense has qualified for that standard once in five-plus years. If there’s an identity to Pitt’s offense, it’s that it’s not good enough.