I don’t think that it would’ve mattered all that much in the end, but the Pitt loss to Notre Dame highlighted exactly how both Rodney Hammond Jr. and Gavin Bartholomew have been under-utilized this season.
Hammond carried the ball just six times (just three times in the first half) for 31 yards. Solid 5.2 yards per carry. And then he had a single carry on Pitt’s eighth, ninth and 11th drives — all in the second half. Eight yards. But that’s better usage than Gavin Bartholomew received against the Fighting Irish.
Bartholomew wasn’t targeted a single time against Notre Dame — despite an emphasis on throwing the ball against a stifling Irish pass defense.
It’s just the continuation of another confusing season offensively, one in which Frank Cignetti Jr. has failed to get the ball to his playmakers. And, you know, that was supposed to be one of his strengths.
I don’t know how Bartholomew — who has been the most consistent offensive threat this season — isn’t afforded the opportunity to have plays schemed up for himself.
“We probably rotated our tight ends maybe more than we should have,” Narduzzi said. “But we try to keep those guys fresh. I actually had a conversation with Gavin this morning. I called him. I think he had 27 total snaps. But usually, our tight ends are getting more snaps. We didn’t go much 12 personnel because we didn’t like 12 against Notre Dame just because of what the box was going to look like and how they would play us if we put everybody in the box.”
Notre Dame features the third-ranked passing defense in college football this season, allowing just 158.6 passing yards per game this season, and the Irish have picked off 13 passes — which is inflated by four against Pitt.
So, I’d understand — maybe a little bit — if Pitt didn’t involve Bartholomew against the Irish. But even then, Karter Johnson and Malcolm Epps each received two targets. It’s inexcusable to not target Bartholomew a single time — especially with Narduzzi saying Pitt wanted to throw the ball.
Bartholomew has caught 17-of-23 targets (a team-high 73.9%) for 310 yards and a touchdown. One recorded drop, two contested catches in two chances, according to PFF, and a 130.3 NFL passer rating when targeted. He’s fourth on the team in targets this season — and it’s not even close.
So, what’s going on? Even the head coach wants to see more chances.
“As a head coach, I’d like to see Gavin obviously get more targets and play more plays,” Narduzzi said. “I think we’ve got to keep him on the field.”
Bartholomew is averaging just over three targets per game. And according to PFF, he played just 28 snaps against Notre Dame. 17 pass snaps. No targets. It doesn’t make sense. It’s impossible to justify. And Bartholomew was one of the players that Narduzzi spoke to before Monday’s noon presser.
“Well, I asked him, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ No doubt about it, like, you only had 27,” Narduzzi said. “How are you doing? I wasn’t happy with it when I saw the play count.”
I don’t know how to explain it. It was easily the fewest offensive snaps that Bartholomew has taken this season. He took 72 against Wake Forest, and even then he was targeted just five times — which is still a season-high. 0 targets in 27 reps is unacceptable. As is the rationale for just six Hammond carries.
“Rodney ran well on Saturday,” Narduzzi said. “Rodney ran real well. We obviously got into throwing it a little more than we’d like to. However, the game plan going in was really to throw it. If you go back and watch the tapes in slow motion — I don’t know if you guys have the all-11 like we do. I don’t think you do. But you watch a TV copy, you don’t see really where the routes are, what they did. Even on the pick-six, we hope he hits the hole shot, which is there’s a guy wide open. They’re playing a two-trap. But that comes with experience. And every quarterback’s gone through that.”
No. As previously mentioned, Pitt struggled mightily through the air. And that might have had something to do with facing off against a top-ranked pass defense.
Just six carries for the most talented running back on the roster, the one with the most success and the one that Narduzzi said ran real well. If he ran real well, which he actually did, why wasn’t he the leading rusher? Why were six rushes against one of the very best pass defenses in the country acceptable?
There are plenty of gripes when it comes to Cignetti’s offense, the usage of Hammond and Bartholomew are chiefly among them, but it certainly goes deeper than that.
Hammond and Bartholomew are — in my eyes — game-changers. Hammond is locked in a committee, and Bartholomew doesn’t get many targets a game. It doesn’t appear as if either will receive a serious look for Pitt over the next month or so.