One of the major issues with the Pitt offense and in particular in the red zone is their inability to run the football. Something that had been a yearly stable of Pitt Panther football is missing and hasn’t been seen since Mark Whipple arrived as offensive coordinator.
This season, the Pitt running game ranks 70th out of 77 teams currently playing Division I football, averaging just 100.4 yards per game. This isn’t a one year trend. Last season, they were 118th out of 130 teams with a meager 114.8 yards per game.
Plenty of arguments can be made as to the reason for the ineffectiveness. Lack of talent at the position, poor offensive line play, lack of opportunity or even the run scheme itself could be mentioned as a possible culprit. While the reason behind it can be debated, no argument can be made about the results: Pitt’s running game is just plain bad and needs fixed.
Some of the above is hard to change in-season. But it is possible to change the personnel being used and that is something Whipple and Pat Narduzzi need to do.
For the last two seasons, A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis have received the lion’s share of the Panthers’ rushing attempts. Considering Whipple hasn’t shown the appetite to run the ball consistently in games, there haven’t been a ton of opportunities, but when there is A.J. and Vincent have gotten the carries.
Pitt’s Running Back Workload in 2020
Vincent Davis 11 carries for 43 yards
Israel Abanikanda 5 carries for 26 yards
A.J. Davis 5 carries for 24 yards
Daniel Carter 4 carries for 18 yards
V. Davis 17 carries for 66 yards
A. Davis 11 carries for 37 yards
Todd Sibley 2 carries for 17 yards
Daniel Carter 2 carries for 15 yards
V. Davis 14 carries for 47 yards
Abanikanda 9 carries for 41 yards
A. Davis 4 carries for 23 yards
V. Davis 15 carries for 40 yards
Sibley 2 carries for 10 yards
Abanikanda 4 carries for 2 yards
V. Davis 17 carries for 46 yards
Abanikanda 5 carries for 11 yards
Sibley 1 carry for 2 yards
Sibley 4 carries for 23 yards
A Davis 7 carries for 21 yards
V. Davis 9 carries for 0 yards
Observations for 2020
A few observations from what I’ve watched this year. 1) Despite being a tough-nosed player that gives effort on every carry, Vincent Davis isn’t a lead back. 2) A.J. Davis came to Pitt as a highly sought after 4-star recruit but unfortunately, he hasn’t displayed the consistency to be a lead back either. He’s had the opportunity for two-plus years and has yet to do so. 3) Despite being the back with the most potential, Abanikanda might not be ready yet to take over that role, as he’s shown inconsistency in pass protecting, which is vital in this offense.
This leads me to something that I’ve wondered and I’m sure something that Pitt fans have been asking, Why hasn’t Todd Sibley been given more of an opportunity in this offense?
By no means am I suggesting that he’s the next coming of LeSean McCoy but I do believe he has talent and it’s been underutilized in this offense. I know that I’d feel a lot more optimistic with Sibley in the backfield on a 2nd or 3rd and short as opposed to other options Pitt has tried.
Sibley, who was a one-time Ohio State commit, was rated the No. 1 running back in the Midwest region according to Scout.com and was named a Under Armor All-American AP All-Ohio First Team player. As a senior at Archbishop Hoban High School in Akron, Sibley rushed for 2,296 yards, 7.3 yards per carry and 22 touchdowns as a senior. His 7,433 career rushing yards place him in the top 10 rushers in Ohio high school history.
He has the resume and nothing he’s showed at Pitt tells you he couldn’t get it done if given more of an opportunity.
Do you know the last Pitt running back to get 20+ carries in a game? It was Sibley last year against Delaware when he carried the ball 22 times for 106 yards. That was the game Nick Patti started for an injured Kenny Pickett and the defense was expecting a large dose of Pitt running the ball.
Despite being effective against Miami, Sibley only received four carries, which is something Narduzzi was asked about following the game. His eye-raising response was “I don’t make the calls on offense and Sib did end up having some nice rushes early. I’m not sure why…but maybe he should have gotten more carries.”
Narduzzi’s right. Sibley should have gotten more carries and should get more in the future. The players you’ve given an opportunity to take the job haven’t gotten it done. It’s time to give Sibley a real chance and that should start this Saturday against Notre Dame.