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Pitt Football

The Offensive Line Progression Needs to Continue to Improve Going Forward

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There was a lesson to be learned from the West Virginia game, and Pitt’s coaching staff felt like it was clear. There’s a standard at Pitt when it comes to playing offensive line, and Dave Borbely felt like he didn’t need to tell his unit it wasn’t met.

However, while Pitt’s offensive line may have opened lanes for Israel Abanikanda in the run game against Tennessee, the pass protection phase wasn’t nearly as sharp. Kedon Slovis took shots all night, Tennessee’s propensity for sending an extra rusher off the edge caused fits and he eventually left the game at the end of the first half after sustaining a heavy hit while being sacked.

Even with Gabe Houy not taking a single snap over the first two weeks of the season, the entire starting unit has taken a large majority of snaps. Marcus Minor hasn’t missed a single snap.

So, it’s not as if Pitt is integrating an all-new unit. It’s the same five (four without Houy play so far, but Goncalves is experienced) guys who started together last season for Kenny Pickett.

Pitt has used nine offensive linemen so far this season. That’s not really surprising. The usage isn’t either. (Snap count is in parentheses)

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle  Sixth Lineman
Carter Warren (139) Marcus Minor (148) Owen Drexel (136) Jake Kradel (120) Matt Goncalves (121) Ryan Jacoby (40)
Branson Taylor (9) N/A Terrence Moore (12) Blake Zubovic (28) Branson Taylor (28) Jake Kradel (8)

Pitt has used nine linemen, which will balloon to 10 once Houy is healthy, but it’s come largely on the shoulders of Minor, Carter Warren, Owen Drexel and Jake Kradel — and Goncalves, who started five games at right tackle last season. It’s an experienced unit, and while he acknowledged the offensive line has had its share of ups and downs, it’s a symbiotic relationship with the quarterback.

“When you look at it, we got better,” Pat Narduzzi said Saturday. “Sometimes, again, let’s just go to the play before the half, and I know where you’re going with it because I think maybe you guys asked this question just about the O-line and the protection.

“Sometimes our O-line has got to get us out of it. Sometimes our quarterback has to get us out of a bad play and redirect protections or whatever it may be.”

On the aforementioned play in which Slovis sustained an injury while being sacked, Narduzzi said that a running back should’ve been in pass protection but wasn’t. It led to a sack that left Slovis injured, a turnover and three points on the board for Tennessee. It wasn’t the end of the game, but it was an instance of offensive line play that didn’t reach Pitt’s standard.

However, despite the up-and-down play of the offensive line through two games this season, Narduzzi has liked the progression he’s seen from Week 1 against WVU to Week 2 against Tennessee — and it isn’t always obvious to see.

“But the O-line, overall, you go back and look at the tape and you watch from the end zone, we’re creating some holes for the running backs, not just on Izzy’s big runs, on ones that we throw RPOs,” Narduzzi said.

Narduzzi said that the rewatch of overtime against Tennessee, on film, showed how the offensive line opened up avenues for running backs. If the ball was handed off, the opportunity was there. But that wasn’t the case, he said.

“But we didn’t hand the ball off,” Narduzzi said. “We tried to throw it and didn’t throw it very well when we tried to. So, there’s some things like that that you don’t really see that we see in a coaches meeting.”

Through two weeks, Narduzzi said that Pitt’s offensive line has done a solid job. He admitted that protection should be better, but he also said that there will be times when opposing defenses will have a guy “hot” off the edge and the quarterback will take a hit. That certainly was the case Saturday against Tennessee.

That’s part of the game, Narduzzi said, quarterbacks take hits. In the NFL, across college football. However, there needs to be a balance between Pitt’s quarterbacks taking the occasional hit to make a throw and watching the quarterback take hit after hit and wondering which one will leave him injured.

There are a lot of options on the offensive line, maybe too many. It’s a deep unit, but there shouldn’t be heavy rotation throughout the course of a game either. With Western Michigan and Rhode Island ahead, Pitt has a better chance to shore up the offensive line going forward.

If there’s one thing clear about Pitt’s offensive line, it’s that there’s still a ton of room to grow. And that growth is very much needed going forward.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Pitt Supporter
Pitt Supporter
14 days ago

In my opinion the OL has regressed. This goes to coaching. No way a veteran line like Pitt’s should be pushed around the way they have over the last two weeks. Yes, there have been injuries, but the development with the back ups who have been on the team for a couple of years should be better. I believe Kenny masked a lot of the problems with his mobility last season. Part of the problem may be the lack of talent. But the development and recruiting goes back to one person and that is Borbley. He has done a poor… Read more »

Richard Johnson
Richard Johnson
14 days ago

The standard has not been met since Borbely has been here. The offensive line has been bad to mediocre at best since his hiring. I do admit the run blocking is a little better this year, but none of these guys will play on Sunday’s.

Robert E Landel
Robert E Landel
14 days ago

Same O line as last year. Slovis has been too slow, and other than Wayne, receivers have been not so good. If Patti was prepared, I think we would have been better. What happened with trying the deep ball? It ended with the poor results during the WVU game.

mdtkd
mdtkd
14 days ago

Borberly seems to be recruiting better as he has gotten relationships with recruits. They seem to like him, otherwise it doesn’t seem like the results are what one wants. I agree these guys are not playing at a level that indicates a future on Sundays. That is a difference with a top 10 program. Some of their linemen will play on Sundays.

SRS
SRS
14 days ago

14 runs on change of Possession 1st Down. Play Action might have been there or a dig route across the back of the LBs to a TE. Pop pass worked for the other team once out of two times. Loved the screen to Israel, not sure if the man in motion deep in backfield with Mumpfield was anything more than eye candy. That got flagged for 2 men in motion, but it looked more like illegal forward motion instead.

SRS
SRS
14 days ago
Reply to  SRS

Interior TE shovel pass to GB like they used to run with Scott Orndoff against Clemson at Clemson could be there too. Imagine running that 1st and Goal from the 5 with three wideouts and a HB, send the HB out on a flare and run inside TE shovel pass.

SRS
SRS
14 days ago
Reply to  SRS

Daniel Carter #4 same size and weight as George Aston, use him as FB instead of extra lineman or double tight. That or Karter Johnson back there lead blocking. Extra lineman had little impact.

Richard
Richard
14 days ago

The OL has played fine in my Opinion. When the defense keeps blitzing from the outside,
the Offense needs to run plays that will Offset this overload to one side. RPO’s are one way to counter this scheme. Screen pass, WR screens, hot reads to the tail back, delays,
are other methods. The new OC, needs to address this as the game progresses. Finally, Slovis needs to do his reads faster, when you play teams from the SEC., 3 seconds, and the ball should be out of his hands.

Jeff
Jeff
14 days ago

Either there’s improvement or the quarterback meetings will have to be held at UPMC.

SRS
SRS
14 days ago
Reply to  Jeff

There are six QBs on the roster, in review of the Spring game you don’t want depth #5 or #6 in there. Chris Bickell 97′ if he has eligibility left has better chance of commanding the Offense than them.

On Campus Stadium Please
On Campus Stadium Please
13 days ago

Can’t keep recruiting low 3* and tell the fans we will “coach them up”. You can hit on this occasionally (Morrissey) but can’t build a line with that mindset. At the end of the day there is a reason the only other programs recruiting some of these guys is Lehigh, UConn, etc. They will get exposed. Slovis not that good, and I stated before Pickett masked so many deficiencies that are now popping up on Saturdays. Duzz is gonna Duzz

Dukes

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