As is the tradition here we’ll take a look, a quick look today, at three things we each think jumped out at us on the positive and the negative aspects of our play on Saturday. I’ll start and you guys can chip in.
Because we won we’ll start with the happier part of the conversation.
Nate Peterman’s play at QB with the leash off. I say with the leash off not because he was allowed to attempt more passes by our offensive coordinator Matt Canada but because of the type of passing game playcalling that was instituted from the start of the game.
So maybe I should include Canada in this one also. But here is what Peterman’s box score looked like. As you can see he was very effective with his passing with a very good 74% completion rate and a final QB rating for the game of 204.8.
But it was how Canada started of the game with being inclusive of our almost-forgotten passing attack that was impressive, and it produced a quick
seven six points.
Wow! 2/3 for 52 yards to get us to the Marshall 5 yard line and a TD scored on the next play.
That is how we needed to get the passing game established as an equal partner in the offense and to dispel the then-current thinking that Nate Peterman’s best QB play was behind him.
You can’t place the blame for Peterman’s missing those crucial 3rd and 4th down pass attempts in our previous losses on the OC of course, but you can see that when we go into a game without the coaching staff crowing long and loudly that we’ll ‘run the ball all day and all night‘ better things happen with the QB and his receivers because they feel like a real part of the offense going into gameday.
We tend to forget that for the most part Pitt players are still young men and as such are still effected by things that professional and older players aren’t.
Which brings us to our #2 point.
Jester Weah and his not-so-stone like any longer hands. Weah had a breakout game on Saturday and became the go-to guy in the receiving corps. He still drops some easy passes – we saw that against Marshall also. But his drop:catch ratio is quickly moving over to the more beneficial ‘catch’ side of the equation.
“He’s an overnight sensation!!” I actually read that from a message board poster describing Weah after our win. That’s a bit, or actually a ton, off the mark as Weah has been at Pitt going on his 4th year now as he’s a rsJR. I’ve written before that I watched Weah’s practice play two years ago when Paul Chryst was here and he was truly an amazing talent… in practice. Caught every ball thrown his way almost.
Tyler Boyd kept Weah firmly on the bench over Weah’s first three years but now he’s out on the field and blossoming and you can watch that happen in real-time as each week of this season rolls by. Right now he has 14 catches for 313 yards (22.4 ypc !!) and has 3 TDs with both 60 & 52 yard plays. You can see what he’ll be like if this burst continues and I think it will in some form.
**** Breaking news on Weah****
From Twitter: Wisconsin native Jester Weah has become a Pittsburgher. He said he loves pirogues and says “Yinz.”
Our Defensive Back’s play. Here’s the rub with this pick – it could easily have been listed under the three Negative points also. But let’s give credit where it’s due even if it is just a little credit.
We still gave up a lot of yardage and on paper you’d wonder why anyone would think this is a positive. That’s on paper and here is the damage:
Not overly impressive but he did well as a 63% completion rate, two TDs and a QB efficiency rating of 139.8 are nothing to sneeze at. But stacked up against what our previous defensive work against the passing game was it looks rather low.
Up to the Marshall game that was 340 yards per game with an average yards per completion of 14.3. Add to that our Passing Efficiency defense which was very poor at 153.9 and you can see that our train wreck of a passing defense got a bit back on track.
Not being able to play a complete game…again. Pitt football isn’t like the major leagues in baseball where it is perfectly acceptable for a starting pitcher to throw for 4-5 innings then get yanked for a fresher arm. The goal of a football team is to play as well, or better, in the 2nd half of games as we do in the 1st half.
That hasn’t happened in the last four games and is, to me,m one of the more disturbing things that we have been doing this season. Although we have flipped the script from our 2015 play where we seemed to come out bumbling then find a freshening wind in our sails for the second half – only to find our progress luffed into irons and losing the games.
For you non-sailors out there that mean we sucked at first then played better but still lost.
Saturday we came out built a 27-0 lead using both the run, the pass and a stout defense only to rest on those laurels after the halftime break. In the second half we were outscored by 16 points, (27 them-16 us) on big pass plays mostly – and eked out the win.
It was a much closer game then it should have been.
The OC’s and the HC’s use of RB James Conner. Look, we all want the storybook ending for Conner this season. That is natural after what he’s been through and quite honestly after what we Pitt fans have been through alongside him… and we were that.
But the bald truth is that he’s not the running back he was back in 2015 and we shouldn’t have expected him to be. I didn’t and wrote about that but hype and wishful thinking ruled the day. It is hard enough to come back from any injury where a player who gets hit so often as a RB does sits out for a full year.
It is even harder when the circumstances involve a serious illness and recovery that Conner has gone through. We want to see The Beast back out there and so do the coaches. But let’s be truthful and separate fact from fiction here. The romantic stance is that he should be rewarded for what he’s been through and I can understand that sentiment. He’s a Pitt Man through and through.
But at this point in the season that chance has come and gone. He isn’t the best all-around back we have any longer; that much is evident and he’s been given a lot of playing time to show what he has. Against a team who was giving up pretty big rushing yardage before facing Pitt he carried the ball 11 times for only 32 yards and one TD – that’s a 3.1 yards per carry average with a long run of 12 yards.
On his other 10 rushes he averaged 2.0 yards per carry and was dropped behind the line at least twice. He’s been stopped for no gain or lost yards on more than a few carries this season and that never happened – or very rarely if I recall correctly – when he was 100% ready to play football.
It pains to write this but the time has come to make him a situational ball carrier; he’s great within the opponent’s five yard line and he’s been very effective as a receiver out of the backfield averaging 13 ypc.
HCPN and OCMC aren’t doing him any favors with the NFL at this point and we have other strong running backs that can carry the load. I cringe when I watch him still dancing around back there and that is a recipe for an injury. It’s time keep him healthy and ready to be at Pitt for his 4th year of eligibility next season.
I’ll single out Josh Conklin for his less than impressive work not only in this game but on the season. I posted an article the other week that showed the disintegration of our passing defense from 2014 under Matt House to 2015 and the 2016 under Josh Conklin.
The fact that House’s pass defense was so much better than is mind-boggling but it is true. The fact that we are sucking so badly at pass defense with the same players back there except for L. Pitts is mind-blowing also. Below is a graph showing our decline in team defense over the past three years. Hate to say it but it makes me wonder if Matt House wouldn’t have been the one staff coach to keep on the roster by Narduzzi.
Bold black is House’s baseline numbers; regular red is decline in Conklin’s 1st year and the bold red is the decline, again, in hid 2nd year. Green are the improvements. He needs to go my friends, as I don’t see this getting any better when we play stronger teams than Marshall.