Like the other offensive coordinator at the other side of the building on the South Side, Pitt’s Frank Cignetti, Jr. has taken his share of heat this season.
Actually, for both Matt Canada and Cignetti, the criticism has dated back to last season, as both Pitt and the Pittsburgh Steelers offenses have struggled with both moving the ball and scoring points.
The darts have been out for Cignetti for a number of reasons, namely the poor play of his quarterbacks, questionable play-calling, lack of imagination with his offense and personnel usage. Other than that, Pitt fans are totally ok with the work of the offensive coordinator (sarcasm).
During his weekly Monday press conference today, Pat Narduzzi had at least one comment that got my attention and it had to do with his running backs.
“C’Bo has stepped up as a leader when Matt Goncalves went down. He plays his tail off. He’s played hard. Rodney didn’t start, but Rodney’s good too. Gotta go with the hot hand. We’re going to play the hot guy. Maybe Rodney rushes for 150 yards this week.”
Ok, where do I begin.
First off, this isn’t an attack on Flemister, who from all accounts is a great kid and has been a nice addition to Pitt since transferring last season from Notre Dame.
The job of a coaching staff is to play the guy who gives your team the best chance to win and someone with the best skillset to produce not the player who’s the best leader and guy who plays his tail off.
That player is clearly Rodney Hammond and not C’Bo Flemister. It’s not even close.
Since arriving at Pitt, Hammond has been a playmaker and has only been stopped by injury and having Izzy Abanikanda as a teammate.
In 2021, Hammond carried the ball 102 times for 504 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and 5 rushing touchdowns. The following season, Hammond rushed 109 times for 459 yards (4.2 yards per carry).
With Izzy off to the NFL, many thought this would be the season for Hammond to showcase his skills but that hasn’t happened. Despite this Pitt team desperately needing a playmaker on offense, Cignetti and Narduzzi have not given Hammond an opportunity. Quite honestly, as has been the case with many of his decisions, I have no idea what Cignetti is doing or even thinking.
Through Pitt’s first seven games, Hammond has just 60 carries all season, which averages to about 7 carries per game.
Hammond’s Carries Per Game:
Wofford- 5 carries, 25 yards
Cincinnati- 6 carries, 21 yards
West Virginia- 14 carries, 49 yards
North Carolina- 14 carries, 83 yards
Virginia Tech- 7 carries, 18 yards
Louisville- 11 carries, 50 yards
Wake Forest- 3 carries, 1 yard
At today’s press conference, Narduzzi said you “gotta go with hot hand.” Well, it’s hard to get the hot hand when you’re not getting the chance to get hot, despite showing the ability to do so in the past.
Come to think about it, Hammond’s two most productive games this season were when he had his most carries. The funny thing is that in both of those games after running well on the opening drive, Cignetti quit giving Hammond the ball.
Opening Drive vs. West Virginia: 7 carries for 41 yards. The rest of the game, Hammond received just 7 carries.
Opening Drive vs. North Carolina: 7 carries for 31 yard and a TD. The rest of the game, Hammond received just 7 carries.
Because real answers are never given at the Monday press conference and the offensive coordinator rarely, if ever speaks during the season, it’s impossible to know the real story behind this mystery.
To be honest though, this shouldn’t surprise anyone because for two years, Cignetti has ignored one of if not his best pass catching weapon in tight end Gavin Barthomew.
This along with a bunch of other offensive decisions make any sense and is a big reason for Pitt’s embarrassing 2-5 record. And a big reason why Pitt could be in the market for a new offensive coordinator at the end of the season.