Pitt’s Dorian Johnson and Quadree Henderson Named Sporting News All-Americans
Pitt football’s rich tradition of All-America players added two new names this week with the unveiling of the 2016 Sporting News All-America Team.
Senior offensive guard Dorian Johnson and sophomore return specialist Quadree Henderson were named first team All-Americans by the venerable sports publication.
Johnson (Belle Vernon, Pa./Belle Vernon Area) becomes the first Pitt offensive lineman to be selected a first team All-American in 22 years. College Football Hall of Famer Ruben Brown was the last Panther to achieve that designation back in 1994.
Henderson (Wilmington, Del./Alexis I. du Pont) is the first All-America return man in Pitt history. He has four returns for touchdowns this season, including a nation-leading three on kickoffs. Henderson ranks second in the country in combined kick return yards (1,121) and fifth in kickoff return average (31.1).
A favorite pastime of college football fans is pointing back to departed head coaches to see what blame they can lay on them for whatever ails the current head coach and the team he runs. Pitt fans are great at this mainly because we have had so much practice at it lately.
From Dave Wannstedt’s departure in late December of 2010 through Narduzzi’s late Christmas present hire on December 26th of 2014 we went through four active head coaches. That instability certainly didn’t help Pitt out on the field that much – although surprisingly didn’t really hurt it that much there either.
The 24-25 record Chryst and Graham had in those intervening three years at Pitt was really only one win off what Pitt’s average wins per season has been since the mid-1980s. Pretty mediocre there but now things are looking up.
We’ve just finished a regular season with eight wins in a follow-up to Narduzzi’s rookie head coaching year which showed a 8-5 record. So now he sits at 16-9 with a bowl game to play to finish out his second year.
You would think Pitt fans would be satisfied with that record given Pitt’s shaky history in the win column and I think most fans are. But still, we all like to play the ‘what if?‘ game when talking about Pitt football.
One of those ‘what if’ scenarios this season has been what it would be like if Pat Narduzzi had more of his own recruits to use out on the field of play. That, of course inevitably leads to the debate if the last HC “left the cupboard bare“.
Which, of course is not the case… 100%. Well, as we all know very rarely is anything 100% so we can parse this cupboard bare question down to at least two parts – offensive player and defensive players. Which leads us to look at just who had which players commit to them between these last two successive head coaches.
Let’s take a look then with keeping one thing in mind – recruiting someone and getting the best of them out on the field are two different things. Here is the offensive starting lineup for 2106’s Clemson game.
In it you can see that none of Pat Narduzzi’s commits are listed. We may think of Quadree Henderson as a Narduzzi recruit because he played his first year last season but he actually committed to Pitt and Paul Chryst in June of 2014.
But he’s a good case-in-point to what I said above. Last season he had only 2 catches for 5 yards and 4 rushes for 6 and average returns production save one kickoff return for a TD against Navy. All in all he looked average then Canada comes in and makes him one of the main offensive weapons and Henderson is suddenly a 1st team All-American.
Now, our starting QB, Nate Peterman transferred in and made an immediate impact upon arrival. Of all the players on offense he’s the one who is a “Narduzzi Guy”.
So when talking about an offensive group who does this:
It’s a safe bet to say that cupboard wasn’t bare at all – chock full actually, at least on the “O” side. Those guys were the reasons we won games this year and I don’t think any Pitt fan will argue with that – not when we scored 42.3 ppg.
Unfortunately football is played with a defensive team out there also. If there is an argument to be made about lack of inherited personnel for Narduzzi it has to be made with them.
Here they are listed to the right and you’ll see that somewhat mirrors the offensive side. Watts and Allen were both Narduzzi ‘gets’ but all others came in committed to Chryst… with the exception of Idowu who walked-on for the 2104 fall camp.
Not as much to feel good about there on the face of it. But I’ll contend that just as Narduzzi and Matt Canada got the best out of the talent they had to work with on offense they also didn’t get results they should have had on defense with this personnel.
Here are those defensive stats we cry over:
As you can see almost the exact opposite of the great offensive production we had. How does the current personnel effect this as far as inherited players. Well, first and foremost we have to point directly to the defensive backfield for the tap-root of our problems. In 2016 we have Whitehead, Webb, Maddox and Lewis as starters (for the most of the season’s games).
But wait! Weren’t those guys getting starting time last season when our defense was so much better? Yes, glad you asked. Here is our late season starting lineup on defense from 2015. I bolded the DBs form then and save Pitts graduating (hopefully) 3 of 4 kids are the same players we have been putting out this season.
Now here is the question-making thing I see between the two years. Reviewing this chart below we see a huge drop in four out of five defensive categories.
I don’t believe the current theory that Narduzzi’s 100% sell out to stop the run is the cause of crap pass defense – last season we had 37 sacks – this year 39 (with one game to play) so that’s not a big difference.
Same with Tackles for Loss – last year 88- this year 80 so far, and our turnovers are +3 this year as opposed to dead even last. The difference in rushing yards allowed is bigger but 40 more per game isn’t the reason for our D1 bottom dwelling defense.
So, can anyone tell me how that terrible defensive drop relates in any way to personnel in the defensive backfield? You can’t without making excuses for Narduzzi and Conklin and Pitt fans have been throwing out the ‘cupboard is bare’ excuse way too long. It’s hogwash.
The bottom line here is that we had a decent defense last season with almost exactly the same defensive personnel. Holy Hell, a difference of +9.5 ppg would have given us a 11-1 record at this point.
Actually with the exception of LB Nick Grisby being gone our new starters in the DL and LB corps have been upgrades over last year and was done with the cupboard players Paul Chryst stocked.
Pat Narduzzi needs to take a long, hard look at his defensive staff coaches and make the hard decisions if necessary – starting at the top of the defensive staff heap by cutting loose Josh Conklin if keeping him means a repeat – in any form – of this season’s porous defense. Our offense won’t be putting up 42+ ppg in 2017 so we’ll need fewer points scored – a lot less..