One of the great things about Pitt football, win or lose, is talking about or reading the thoughts and opinions of our fans after each game. Sometime we find an issue that carries agreement across the board and sometimes we find issues the bring a great discussion and debate to the table.
After yesterday’s game I think we all agree on the fact that if we don’t do something concrete and lasting about our pass defense we are going to have a long season with some real disappointments. It was that bad on Saturday…. and during the previous game.
But there were some bright spots for the Panthers that showed on Saturday also. Our offense is still scoring points – even when we see our passing game limping along. Our special teams play was better across the board, etc… I’ll address some of the positive points in my “Three positive & Three negative” section later on.
But one thing I do after after each game is let a full 24 hours pass while I don’t read any media reports from other writers. I do that so that I can sift through my own thoughts and feelings, then come to my own conclusions about what I think the games show us, and the national audience in Saturday’s case.
I have written in the last week that I wasn’t overly impressed after the Penn State game when it came down to the actual playing of football by the Panthers; the win felt great but the way we played sure didn’t – and now that is magnified after the OSU match. We went into Stillwater, OK on a high and got carried out on a stretcher… maybe pushed out in a wheelchair… but you get my drift.
Forget about the final 45-38 score, the Cowboys took it to us right off the bat and kept the lead save for 1m 25s stretch when we were up 10-7 in the 1st quarter. From the 4:26 mark in that quarter until the final whistle OSU firmly controlled the score and the game.
I think the worst part of watching these last two games has been seeing how very easily our opponents hit big plays against us in the air. The interesting point here is that even though we have given up 872 yards passing against OSU and Penn State they have only had three passing TDs between them. Compare that to our rather anemic 328 yards in the air but we have four passing TDs in those games. Strange huh?
So – now we know what we have done in the first three games and at this point in a regular season, with a regular team, we fans would start talking about our apparent strengths and weaknesses and what the coaching staff would have to do to smooth out the lumps for the remaining nine games.
But this year? With this horrid and crippled defensive backfield? This ain’t no regular year and that ain’t a regular Pitt team. I’m scratching my head trying to remember if, in recent history, we have had such bad play and such terrible results for one field unit. I can’t find anything that even remotely compares to this season’s passing defense.
I suppose we can look at our 2007 team’s poor passing game when we were 104th in passing with only 104 yards per match, but that was with our 3rd string QB playing the last ten games of the year.
Maybe you guys can come up with something else but in my mind this season’s passing defense is about as bad as it gets…. and I’m not convinced that is going to change anytime soon.
We know head coaches tend to surround themselves with staff they are familiar with and our Cornerbacks coach is one of those in Renaldo Hill, who played DB at Michigan State before Narduzzi coached there; but Narduzzi has mentioned that he knew Hill well. Get this part of his Pitt bio:
“His impact on Pitt’s corners last season was immediate. This was especially evident with Avonte Maddox, who in his first full year as a starter ranked third in the ACC in passes defended (1.15 per game, 15 total). Maddox was an All-ACC Honorable Mention selection and is primed for greater all-star recognition in 2016.”
I’ll disagree about how ‘immediate’ Hill’s coaching impact was considering we dropped from 34th nationally in passing efficiency defense in 2014 to 66th last year. Tag onto that the fact that in ’14 we gave up 2,471 yards and 17 TDs in the air to last year’s better 2,791 and 18 TDs. And that was with Matt House as the DC and no dedicated defensive backs coach!
This year – if previous form holds – we’ll give up 3,636 yards passing…too much to even contemplate really. The point is that under Narduzzi and Hill our pass defense got worse last season and and now it is atrocious.
OK – that said, what are the three positive and three negative points we can takeaway from Saturday’s loss? Because it is a loss I’ll start off with the negative.
#1. See above. Here are the stats – you figure it out: The OSU QB went 26/46 (57%) for 540 yards and 2 TDs. but here are the killer numbers – his yards per pass was an excellent 11.7 average and his yards per completion was an astronomical 20.8! I’ll say that again – 20.8 yards average on passes caught. Guys, a pass play over 20 yards from the LOS is considered a deep completion.
#2. QB Nate Peterman’s play. We won’t win football games with our QB having a less than 50% completion rate. Worse even was that some of those incompletions were to wide open receivers. One specific instance of that was when the Jester “The Human On-Off Switch” Weah was wide open on a deep route and Peterman badly overthrew him.
Granted Weah caught an TD and then also dropped a sure TD earlier, but a good QB needs to give his receivers constant chances to catch his passes and some of Peterman’s throws were just plain bad. His final tally was 14/30 for 237 yards, 1 TDs and an INT. Surprisingly his yards per pass was respectable at 7.9 and his yards per reception was very good at 16.9.
But we need consistency back there and we didn’t get it on Saturday.
#3. OC Matt Canada and his D staff coaching. I could easily have listed just his playcalling here but I think his use of the personnel at his disposal is just as bad, if not worse.
First off let’s tie this back together to the ultra-poor defensive back’s play. We have the almost the same personnel as we did last season yet we are playing much worse pass defense. We lost DB Lafayette Pitts to graduation and S Pat Amara to transfer (due to Whitehead’s ascendance). But our two deep is essentially the same as it was in ’15. So far this season no matter what sort of substitutions we made back there PSU and OK State just kept completing long passes against us.
I don’t know how much influence Narduzzi exerts on his coordinators – he says he’s hands off but I don’t believe that for a minute when it comes to Coach Conklin and the defense. Regarding the offense? I just don’t know, but I do know that Narduzzi tends to hold grudges and sometimes his decision making is influenced by that. Maybe ‘grudges’ is too strong a word, but if he gets pissed at something or someone it shows up later in his coaching choices.
It is almost inconceivable that we held out our #2 RB, Quadree Ollison, he of the 1121 yard season in ’15. Instead Canada went with a Narduzzi recruit (Ollison was a Chryst recruit) in RB Darrin Hall who gained 17 yards on five carries for a 3.8 ypc average. For some reason Ollison has been the poor step-child with Narduzzi and not using him has cut into talent available to be played.
Ollison played just a few snaps and had one reception for 8 yards and not one carry… not enough in my book at all.
Look at this chart – Canada ran nine different ball carriers on called running plays Saturday including such players as WR Araujo-Lopes three times (!), RB Chawntez Moss twice and WR Tre- Tipton once.
Add that to Hall’s carries and they had is 11 carries for 2.9 ypc average. I like the idea of giving Moss carries, especially now that we burnt his redshirt but you can’t tell me giving the ball to Ollison 10 or 11 times in that game wouldn’t have had better effect.
However giving the ball to WRs or Whitehead is what we are doing this season. We do some jet-sweeps with a WR and it works sometimes so we think “Hey, lets do it all the time – that way when the next game comes around their DC will think we’ll NOT do it against them!”.
Seeing Henderson do well at a jet-sweep is one thing, he got 97 yards on 7 carries and 2 TDs – very productive; but understanding that Tipton and Araujo-Lopes are not Henderson is whole other thing all together. I much prefer we used this so-called awesome OL for what it is built for – getting yards between the tackles as our bread and butter running game and then complement it with the jet-sweeps and end-around carries.
#1. Our running game. Even with the issues above we had to rely, again, on our rushing to keep us in the game. Because of the poor showing by our passer we needed to get our constant yardage from Conner and Henderson (and Peterman’s legs also). The three TDs we had on the ground were the 21 points that kept us close enough to at least have some hope in the latter stages of the game.
#2 K Chris Blewitt and P Ryan Winslow. Blewitt broke out of his slump by connecting on the only FG he was asked to attempt – but it was a long 48 yard one and gave us the only lead we had in the game at 10-7. The real impact Blewitt had was on his kickoffs though. In his 7 kickoffs he had 5 touchbacks and only two returned for a total of 34 yards.
Ryan Winslow matched that with his 11 punts averaging 42.4 yards and putting 4 of those inside the Cowboy’s 2- yard line. They had 4 punt returns for 34 yards with a long of 11.
So let’s add our kick coverage teams to this positive also – they did a good job limiting the return yards.
#3 James Conner. He has come to play in each game so far and has done well. I picked him as one of the positives in this game because he did some fine inside running against a stout OSU defensive line. He had 111 rushing yards on the day with 24 carries which is below his normal 5+ ypc average, but he made up for that in other ways. He had a long run of 32 yards and then ripped off another 21 yarder to keep a drive alive in the 4th quarter.
Perhaps his best contribution on the day was a 55 yard pitch, catch and run for 55 yards. That play took us from our 22 yard line to the OSU 23. That also led to a Pitt TD to close the score to 24-17 and kept the game from getting out of hand early in the 1st quarter.
Conner totaled 171 yards in total offense on the day and his efforts kept us at least withing striking distance in the 4th quarter.
Note: – When I started this blog the only real rule that I set down was that it would be a politics-free blog and that I’d either curb or delete posts that dragged politics into the discussions.
I have noticed lately that we have posted some comments that have addressed politics specifically so this is a reminder… Please leave the politics to other venues – Facebook and other websites are good for that – but not on here.