It wasn’t so long ago that the Pitt wide receiving corps entered the season as a major question mark. No offense to Daejon Reynolds, who arrived from Florida over the winter, but there was an expectation that the Panthers would try to further supplement a room that lost Jared Wayne.
It didn’t happen.
When Pitt began camp in August, it was with Reynolds, Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means leading the way — the latter two more so than ever. But as camp unfolded, the four freshman wide receivers, Kenny Johnson in particular, stole the show.
And it seemed like it was either Pat Narduzzi or Frank Cignetti Jr. or Tiquan Underwood who brought up how the wide receivers were flashing every practice over the summer. OK… maybe the wide receivers wouldn’t be as much of a question mark as expected.
Well… Johnson certainly has made a name for himself, emerging as a true freshman who should be in Pitt’s long-term plans, but it’s taken just about a month and a half to establish any sort of consistency from the wide receivers.
It’s been a particularly difficult season for Means, coming off an 11-target, 0-reception performance against Cincinnati last month, but he made a big play against Virginia Tech before the bye week, before exiting with an undisclosed injury, and he returned quickly to put together his best performance of the season against Louisville.
Means caught a 75-yard touchdown against the Hokies, but it was his 46-yard touchdown reception against the Cardinals that really helped new starting quarterback Christian Veilleux settle in.
“It felt good to contribute to the win today, as we know it was a great team win, defense held it down, but offense was clicking, I’m just glad I had an opportunity to contribute how I did,” Means said Saturday night. “It just comes from practice, extra work, getting extra reps after practice, always glad to see our extra work paying off.”
It was particularly rewarding for Tiquan Underwood to watch Means’ performance — four receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown — Saturday, considering both the expectations and the work Means himself has put in since he arrived at Pitt last summer.
Means is one of the team leaders offensively, a senior — very likely entering his final collegiate season — who leads the receivers, and Underwood has seen how Means’ work ethic has translated on game days.
“I would just say consistency, doing his job,” Underwood said Tuesday after practice. “It started with a great week of practice. I thought his preparation was really good, and it carried over to the game. Him and Christian connected on that deep ball, and it was beautiful to see. We know that Bub can fly, and Christian made a great throw. It was just awesome for Bub to have some success; it was awesome to see.
“Day in and day out, we just work, and for him to have a good game like he did versus Louisville, we were waiting for it for a while and now that it’s finally happened, we can use that for momentum the rest of the way.”
Means hasn’t experienced much consistency at Pitt this season, going through a very, very tough stretch over the first four weeks of the season, but he’s turned it around over the last two games. Despite exiting the Virginia Tech game with an injury, Means has turned 10 targets into five receptions into 146 yards (29.2 yards per reception) and two touchdowns.
But over the last two weeks, Mumpfield has turned 11 targets into seven receptions for 96 yards (13.7 yards per reception) and a touchdown. And he’s been productive for much of the season — especially against North Carolina, turning 11 targets into eight receptions for 90 yards.
He’s produced a team-leading 23 receptions for 279 yards (12.1 yards per reception) and three touchdowns this season.
Mumpfield didn’t make as many splash plays against Louisville, but he did put the Cardinals away late in the fourth quarter. As Pitt chose to go for it on 4th-and-6 with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mumpfield saw that the Cards were playing man.
“They told us that we were going for it, and I just remember coach Wood coming to me before the play like, ‘Go win,’ and so they were giving us a lot of man, the safety came and rolled down, I saw it man and was like, ‘Oh, it’s over with,’ we take pride in winning our one-on-ones, go get the ball and make the play,” Mumpfield said Wednesday after practice.
Means knew it was a touchdown as soon as he saw the Louisville defensive formation.
“The defense they were in, I said, ‘I know where it’s going,’” Means said. “I was running the route and I said touchdown. I just turned around and threw my hands up. I knew it was a touchdown. That boy’s good. Konata Mumpfied, y’all remember that name.”
What makes Mumpfield such a leader? Well, he works. He works and works and works. Means has seen it, and Underwood has certainly seen it, too. If Underwood had to describe Mumpfield in one word this season, it would be steady.
“Every time he comes here, he has a morning routine,” Underwood said. “He’s catching tennis balls in the morning, he’s getting his body prepared for practice and he’s treating himself like a pro now, which I love, and for me, I feel like the more opportunities he gets, the more he’ll be able to show what he can do. He’s been very patient, and I was just very happy for him to get that touchdown at the end of the Louisville game.”
Mumpfield said he makes sure he’s awake at least an hour before he’s supposed to be, and once he arrives at the facility each morning, he hops in the hot tub, makes sure to hit his stretches and finds Alex Kline — Pitt’s assistant director of player personnel — to work tennis balls. The pair actually brought a weighted ball from their time together at Akron — and anyone’s welcome to join.
Mumpfield and Means work together well, they’ve built a strong relationship as they’ve led the wide receiving corps together this season, but their success hasn’t always come in tandem. In fact, it hasn’t come in tandem much at all.
It took until Saturday, a year and a half into their Pitt careers, to finally catch touchdown passes in the same game. At this point, Mumpfield and Means are the Panthers’ top wide receivers, and if not for Gavin Bartholomew, it wouldn’t even be close.
Johnson is a young, talented wide receiver who is seeing his role in the offense grow by the week, and Underwood said that the trio of Zion Fowler-El, Lamar Seymore and Izzy Polk are learning by the day, but the veteran duo of Mumpfield and Means is important. On and off the field.
“With the departure of Jared Wayne, Bub has been the more vocal leader and Konata is more of a lead by example,” Underwood said. “(Mumpfield’s) been even more vocal this year as well. But those two have done a great job leading our group because we have a mixture of older guys, younger guys and they’re showing those guys the way.”
If Pitt is going to continue to strive for its goals this season, the wide receiving corps will need to be a weapon for Veilleux. And if Louisville is any indication, the wide receiving corps is on the rise — and it starts with Mumpfield and Means.