Our sports historian friend John Baranowski has submitted this opinion piece on Pitt’s 2016 regular season for our reading enjoyment…
Pitt football fans will tell you that the 2016 season was a successful one, and in many ways it was. An optimist will also tell you that Notre Dame is the best 4-8 team in the country. However, the 2016 season for Pitt football, despite its apparent success, was also one of lost opportunity.
Pitt had their most prolific scoring season ever, scoring a school record 508 points which averages out to be a record 42.3 points per game. That equates to the 10th highest nationally in 2016. Yet in a season where Pitt beat two current top five teams and never scored fewer than 28 points in a game, we somehow managed to still lose four games and give up 427 points, the third most in school history with the Pinstripe Bowl yet to be played.
The 427 points surrendered is third highest in Pitt history behind only 1992 when 429 points were given up in that 3-9 season, and in 1996 when 430 points were allowed in a 4-7 year.
Pitt held only three opponents to under 30 points this season (Villanova seven, Duke 14, and Marshall 27). Surrendering 39 points to Penn State and 43 points to Clemson is somewhat understandable but 61 to Syracuse? By comparison, in 2015, Pitt held eight of their opponents to under 30 points a game.
How bad was Pitt’s defense this year? Pitt is currently ranked 98th in total defense. Rutgers is 96th… yes, lowly Rutgers. Pitt’s defense is 109th in scoring defense and 127th in passing yards allowed out of 128 teams. Only Arizona State with 357.4 yards per game surrendered more passing yardage than Pitt’s 343.1 ypg.
It’s hard to fathom Pitt’s defense being worse than teams in the Big 12 Conference where it seems defense is optional. If one didn’t know better one might think Pitt was auditioning to become a Big 12 member.
Here are some of the negative numbers that Pitt’s defense allowed their opponents:
Penn State 332 yards passing; Oklahoma State 540 yards passing and 640 yards of total offense; North Carolina 453 yards passing; Virginia Tech 406 yards passing and 556 yards of total offense.
But wait! There’s more.
Miami had 356 yards passing and 534 yards of total offense; Clemson 580 yards passing and 630 yards of total offense; Syracuse 440 yards passing and 668 yards of total offense.
Judging by those numbers it’s hard to believe that Narduzzi was a highly regarded defensive coordinator at Michigan State before becoming Pitt’s head coach. Last year in the Military Bowl, with a month to prepare for Navy’s offense and having faced a similar style Georgia Tech offense earlier in the year, Pitt’s defense surrendered 417 yards rushing and 590 yards of total offense while losing 44-28.
Only a year earlier with plenty of time to prepare, Narduzzi’s highly regarded Michigan State’s defense surrendered 603 yards passing to Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.
Editor’s Note: The above is John’s take on the situation and I pretty much agree. One point fans are making in reference to the subject of John’s last two paragraphs is that Narduzzi “needs time” to get his own players on the field on defense. But shown below are what Pitt’s last three HCs did with their inherited defenses in their first two years… using other coaches players:
Here are some links other articles John has written for Bleacher Report…Thanks John!