Pitt’s struggles this season passing the football have been well documented and the issue was heightened following Saturday’s frustrating loss at Louisville.
Not surprisingly, Kedon Slovis is receiving the lion’s share of the blame and most of the criticism is justified but to be fair, other aspects of the offensive have no doubt contributed to the problems.
The offensive linemen have been inconsistent this season and, at times, haven’t given Slovis much time to throw the ball. Another big issue has been the disappointing performance from the Panthers’ wide receivers, minus Jared Wayne. There hasn’t been any consistent chemistry or trust established between Slovis and the wide receivers.
Half the time, Slovis holds onto the ball too long waiting for them to get open or to be in a certain spot instead of just letting loose and trusting that they’ll be there. Other times, the receivers let Slovis down by not holding onto catchable balls.
Many people including myself had high hopes for this receiving corps and through seven games, they’ve shown nothing to give anyone hope for the future.
Here’s what the wide receiver stat sheet looks like. No receiver has 30 catches and as a group, they have only four touchdown receptions.
Jared Wayne: 25 catches for 411 yards and 1 TD.
Konata Mumpfield: 26 catches for 267 yards and 1 TD.
Bub Means: 16 catches for 54 yards and 0 TD.
Jaden Bradley (transferred): 10 catches for 130 yards and 2 TD.
Jaylon Barden: 3 catches for 19 yards and 0 TD.
Gavin Thompson: 2 catches for 27 yards and 0 TD.
That’s very, very pedestrian to say the least and it just magnifies the season that Israel Abanikanda has been able to have without any threat of a passing game. Opposing defenses are constantly loading the box with defenders because they don’t fear Slovis and yet Abanikanda has been able to rush for 959 yards at 6.1 yards per carry, and 13 touchdowns.
Moving forward, the things that I would do to try and get the passing game going is rely HEAVILY on two specific players: Wayne and more so, tight end Gavin Bartholomew.
If I were designing and calling plays, I would be force-feeding the ball to No. 5 and No. 86.
The under usage of Bartholomew and Wayne has really been criminal. Bartholomew in particular. He’s one of the most talented pass catching tight ends in the country, but you’d never be able to tell that watching Pitt games this season. For the season, the sophomore has 16 catches for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns.
According to PFF, Bartholomew has been on the field for 153 passing snaps this season, but he’s only received 21 targets, which is fourth on the team. His 76.2% catch rate is the highest on the team. He’s only received at least five targets in two games this season (five against Tennessee and five against Virginia Tech) and he’s received two or less in three games (WVU, Western Michigan and Rhode Island).
The depth hasn’t been in Bartholomew’s favor either as he’s received just one target in the deep game and seven in the intermediate game.
Wayne has been on the field for 190 snaps, and his 36 targets and 69.4% catch percent are both second on the team. He’s also seen his targets drop to just five against Virginia Tech and three against Louisville over the last two games.
Wayne has been Pitt’s best deep threat this season, but most of his targets come between 0-9 yards downfield.
For an offense that’s having problems completing passes, not looking to throw it to your most reliable target is just crazy and makes little sense.
If Pitt hopes to get their passing game going and salvage this season, getting the ball a lot more to your two best pass catchers would be a start.