Pitt will start the second half of their season Saturday night with a prime-time matchup against the Louisville Cardinals.
Despite the surprising hiccup against Georgia Tech, Pitt is still a serious contender to win the ACC Coastal, and I believe they have as good a chance as anyone to make it to Charlotte, North Carolina for the ACC title game.
However, in order to get the opportunity to defend their ACC championship, the Panthers need to get one area fixed in a hurry.
Over the last couple of seasons, the passing attack has literally been the least of their concerns, with Kenny Pickett turning Pitt into one of the most proficient and big-play passing offenses in the country.
Pickett is gone and so is the fear that Pitt’s aerial attack gave teams across the ACC.
Pitt will go into this game with a record of 4-2, so despite what some think the season hasn’t been a disaster, but if the offense is going to rely on Israel Abanikanda to run crazy every game, it has the potential to go south quick.
Anyone that’s been paying attention can detect what the offense is missing and that’s a player that can make big plays and the play calling that will put them in a position to make those splash plays.
Through six games, Pitt’s passing attack has been mostly East to West and when they do go vertical, it’s rarely beyond 10 yards.
With Kedon Slovis at quarterback, according to PFF, Pitt has completed five passes more than 20 yards downfield. Nate Yarnell completed three passes of at least 20 yards against Western Michigan. For reference, Kenny Pickett completed 38 passes at least 20 yards downfield last season.
The bottom line is there is a complete lack of deep ball this season in Pitt’s offense and the opposition knows this, which actually makes the season that Abanikanda is having all the more impressive.
What can Frank Cignetti do to fix this?
I believe a good start would be to incorporate Jaylon Barden into the game plan. For whatever reason, the sophomore from Georgia has not only not been catching passes, he’s not even getting on the field.
I’m not on the practice field or in team meetings, so I’m not privy to everything that’s happening but it’s been a mystery to me as to why Barden hasn’t been more of a factor in 2022.
Barden had a strong spring as he received compliments from the Pitt coaching staff, and it continued into fall camp before the season kicked off.
Whatever the reason, that’s in the past and doesn’t matter now.
With the departure of Jaden Bradley, there are snaps that need to be replaced on offense ,and I think this is Braden’s opportunity.
As we saw in spurts up until his season-ending injury last year, Barden is a threat for six every time he touches the ball. Very few players on Pitt’s offense possess the speed and yards after the catch ability that Barden has.
Up until this point, newcomers Bub Means and Konata Mumpfield have been the guys that Cignetti has leaned on to make something big happen. As we’ve seen, for one reason or the other, that hasn’t happened.
I’m not endorsing less playing time for those two, but I am saying Pitt needs to find out what they have in Barden because he’s too intriguing of a prospect to waste.
Saturday begins a crucial stretch for Pitt’s ACC hopes and it could all come down to making big plays in the passing game.
Bradley is gone, everyone else has had a shot except for Barden. That needs to change and if it does, I believe Barden could be a key to unlocking this Pitt offense.