We are going to be talking a lot about stats, numbers and trends in this article to try to get a handle on what this 2016 version of the Panther’s football team is all about. That tells just some of the story – the other part is coaching and decision making and all the intangibles that go into wins and losses.
There are some positives and negative there also but one thing I’d like to point out from the onset is that I think HC Pat Narduzzi has done a good job of getting our kids ready to play, and to play a full 60 minutes. That hadn’t been the case with some games last season but this year it is something I’m not too worried about.
So – I spent a good part of last evening perusing all the established Pitt football media outlets to try to get a flavor of how other writers and fans really felt about the loss to Oklahoma State last week.
I don’t usually do that but because there was such a wide swing of opinions in the comments on here it made me wonder what others thought also. The answer is that it pretty much mirrors the POVer’s opinions with some outlying exceptions. There are always fans who think everything is wonderful and other fans who think the Pitt football world is falling apart
Personally I thought we didn’t play all that well even with 38 points scored. Wins in football isn’t determined only by your team’s scores but also hinges on how many points the other team puts up in the game. Against PSU a high scoring game worked in our favor – last Saturday it did not.
We all know and have discussed at length the true Achilles’s Heel of our team which is our passing yards allowed defense that is resting comfortably in 124th place (out of 128 teams) and our passing efficiency defense squatting at 90th nationally. There isn’t a whole lot to dissect there – we plain suck at it.
But when I drill down to other aspects of how we played on Saturday I find other disturbing indicators of a team that has some real weaknesses. Before we talk expressly about those I want to also state that we are doing exceptionally well in some areas also and I’ll list those later. But read this chart below and try to figure out how our coaching staff is going to make these problems go away.
I listed these stats from our lowest ranking on top and only included categories where we reside in the lower half (64th and below) nationally:
|Team Stats – Rank Value|
|Passing Yards Allowed||124th||330.3|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||105||0.311|
|Red Zone Defense||105||1.000|
|Team Passing Efficiency Defense||90||137.30|
|First Downs Offense||80||57|
|Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game||80||64.00|
|Fewest Penalties Per Game||76||7.00|
|Team Passing Efficiency||73||130.84|
|First Downs Defense||72||59|
That’s not easy to look at and even with a 2-1 record I have some real nervousness on how the rest of the season is going to play out.
What jumps out most dramatically is how very unevenly our team’s units have fared so far. Our defense – which every pundit and Pitt fan believed was going to be better than last season’s, is just pretty horrid… but again lopsided. Our passing defense and scoring defense are truly bad – but our rushing defense sits proudly at 10th nationally and has only given up 75.7 yards per game.
But even with that great rushing D we have given up a large amount of rushing TDs with eight and five of those to PSU’s Barkley. On the other hand with our good rushing numbers (239 ypg and 21st) we have only scored seven TDs on the ground ourselves.
Mirroring that, we know how very terrible our pass defense is at giving up 330 ypg in the air – yet opponents have only scored three passing TDs against us. Pitt’s own passing game, which has pulled its head into its body like a threatened turtle, is only getting 168 ypg yet we have six TD passes – double the number our opponents have even with their massive yardage.
Strange isn’t it? And I believe it is inconsistencies like these that make this year’s team so hard to get a firm handle on.
We have given up 41.5 ppg over the last two contests and have scored 40 per game ourselves to have an even 1-1 record against Power 5 schools. Against PSU they were driving for the winning TD late in the game only to throw an INT and lose; Pitt was doing the same for a tie against OSU and threw an INT to lose.
Ying and Yang; Yang and Ying. If the season goes on like this we fans will have a lot to talk about for sure – we’ll just be doing from the in-patient ward at Western Psych.
Let’s take an even closer look at some aspects of our offense. As said we have been doing very well picking up yardage on the ground to a tune of 290 ypg. But if we take a look at how we are doing that it gets interesting.
Going into fall camp we knew we had a strong stable of running backs in Conner, Ollison, Ibrahim, Hall and possibly true FR Chawntez Moss.
Now three games in we find that two of those RBs have been cut from the herd with Ollison and Ibrahim out of the RB picture apparently. Ibrahim totally. So what have the other RBs done so far? Aside from Conner pretty crappy all told.
Conner has not returned to his 2014 form but that has to have been expected. I don’t think anyone save the most rabid Pitt fans thought that after his injury and his cancer battle Conner would run like he did in his SO great season or even in his FR year. And he hasn’t… but he’s done OK anyway.
So far he has done this: 63 carries for 281 yards (4.5 ypc) with 3 TDs and 93.7 ypg.
Well below his previous production of 5.9 ypc and an average of two TDs per game as he did in ’14. A (-) 1.4 yard per carry difference is huge actually. He has made up for that in part as a receiver and has more catches so far this year than he did in any year previously. Here that is graphically.
So Conner, while producing well, hasn’t been able to carry the load and the staff knows that and thus doesn’t ask him to. Conner’s football shape isn’t what it was and he’s showing that in the 4th quarters of the games so far – that truly isn’t a criticism but just an observation. Even his suiting up and going out to play is pretty damn amazing considering what he’s been through.
Behind him we drop off dramatically among true RBs. Here is what we have gotten so far from them:
They have 38 carries for 167 yards (4.4 ypc) with 2 TDs by the FB Aston… all four of the back-up RBs have combined for a total average of 55.6 ypg. Pretty damn poor all told.
So why is our rushing game doing so well? Because Matt Canada has relied on players other than RBs to get big chunks of yardage in spots. I’d say it was trickeration but really it has become part of the normal offensive gameplan and that’s a worry to me.
We have seen WRs and a DB run Jet-Sweep Right and Jet-Sweep Left and End-Arounds galore and while they work sometimes I am wary of having to rely on them during our tougher ACC schedule when the opposing coaching staffs have lots of our game film to watch. Here are the non-RBs’ actual numbers:
You can see that WRs Lopes, Ford and Tipton’s carries produced almost nothing, or less than nothing in Tipton’s case. It is WR Henderson and DB Whitehead who have done the damage there.
I guess that is fine to do if it works and maybe I’m a traditionalist but when you have the type of RBs we have I think you need to round them into form in your first three games, all non-conference ones, to get them ready and able for the meat of your schedule and the games that actually matter.
Which brings us to the final point.
How in the world does a All-ACC player and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year not get a lion’s share of carries? To use RB Quadree Ollison so sparingly is not only stupid but smacks of something that runs counter to “putting our best players on the field” as Narduzzi keeps repeating publicly to convince us that’s how he coaches.
We have run the ball 144 times this season and Ollison has just 16 carries. That is only 5.3 carries a game and in total only 11% of the teams rushing attempts.
If Conner was going gangbusters and the HC’s favorite son Darrin Hall was playing up to his fall camp hype I could kind of understand it, but that absolutely isn’t the case. What is even more bothersome, and I think very weird, was that when Narduzzi was informed during his last press conference that Ollison didn’t get any carries against OSU he seemed to be either 1) dumbfounded and genuinely shocked or 2) an accomplished play actor. I suspect the latter is the case.
Don’t let’s kid ourselves that Narduzzi doesn’t play favorites. He does just like any other HC in college football. And sometimes those favorites have to do with whether the player was recruited by him or by the previous regime. Again – that happens across the land even if fans don’t want to believe it.
But when you have an established producer at RB like Ollison has been you use him. A case in point is that his 5.3 yards per carry last season was better than some of our most productive RBs have had in their career.
His 5.3 ypc bettered Heyward, Lewis, McCoy, West, Martin, Barlow and Thomas in that area and those were some very good RBs for the Panthers. Now that isn’t to say he’s better than those RBs – but that he sure had a very productive season last year.
Now he’s sucking hind tit and the sad part is that he has another two full years with us after Conner leaves… should Narduzzi and Canada want him to stay… and if he wants to stay with Pitt. As it stands now I wouldn’t be surprised if Ollison isn’t putting other teams’ phone numbers in his little black book for future transfer reference.
And riddle me this Batman – where in hell is Rachid Ibrahim? He’s not been talked about of being injured so why has he disappeared? If we remember he did this in ’14 when healthy:
An 8.0 ypc is nothing to sneeze at and that wasn’t done on a handful of carries either – he had 33 attempts to produce that great average. Even if you take away that 50 yarder he had his 32 for 219 yards which equals out to a fine 6.8 ypc. That is also someone who shouldn’t be sitting on the bench IMO.
To date Ibrahim has no catches or rushes and as far as I can tell hasn’t played much at all with only a snap or two each game – so he’s suiting up and able to play . Canada just seems to have forgotten about him or is ignoring him completely – again, a recruit by another HC.
Let’s not forget that Narduzzi ran off another Chryst recruited RB in Chris James so he’s already set a precedent in that area. It will be very interesting when James becomes eligible and starts carrying the ball up in Wisconsin.
We’ll see how things turn out this coming week against North Carolina but sometime down the road those jet sweeps are not going to be as effective as some have been – even they are very hit and miss – and opposing DCs are going to get the upper hand unless the staff turns there attention to what should be the bread and butter of the rushing game – our true running backs.