Our Thanks to the “Small Feet” Kids”

Here on the Pitt POV we had an earlier discussion about the 2016 offense and how it really took off after we got a new OC in Matt Canada for this last season… remember him?  We also discussed how much impact OL Coach Peterson had on the OL in the run game this year.

Back in the ’16 spring practices I had a discussion with Pat Bostick about our new Offensive Coordinator and what we may see happen differently on offense this year. When we discussed the prospective run game he used the phrase “small feet players” more than once.He used that phrase in interviews later on also.

In context that meant that Matt Canada would be using the smaller WRs in the run game more often – and boy did he. 

That meant the WRs who hadn’t been involved much before 2016 but who had speed and moves Canada wanted in the run game would see the ball on a much more generous basis.

Canada did that by using the WRs ( and an OL) in the run game in a big way and it paid off in spades.  Our recent year’s rushing games, from 2014 with James Conner to 2015 with Qadree Ollison to 2016 with Conner back again went like this:

2014 15th ranked;  3243 yards  5.3 ypc   35 TDs   249.5 yards per game

2015 44th ranked;  2429 yards  4.8 ypc  19 TDs   186.8 yards per game

2016  28th ranked;  2926 yards  5.4 ypc   36 TDs   225.5 yards per game

Using the WRs so much was a departure from what Pitt had done in my memory and was innovative in that it introduced a whole new segment of offense that opposing DCs and their team’s defensive players had to first recognize then actually defend against.

If you tally up all the non-traditional yardage (traditional = RB through the OL) in rushing for us this year we  get this:

Henderson – 631 yards and 5 TDs
Ffrench – 122 yards and 2 TDs
Tipton – 61 yards
Lopes – 32 yards and
Neill – 29 (not so much a “small feet” guy!)

But here is what I think is rather fascinating about Canada’s approach; the WRs & O’Neil totaled 93 carries this year for 875 yards and had an outstanding 9.4 yards per carry pace… 9.4 ypc is outrageously efficient on the basis of 93 carries.  You usually see that big of a ypc average when there is a much lower number of carries and the plays were rarely called and/or were trick ones.  But 93 carries was a whole new and permanent part of our offense.

While the WRs were doing their thing the traditional-style running backs (Conner, Moss, Hall, Ollison,and Aston) combined for 1681 yards on 349 carries for a 4.8 ypc.  In college ball 5.0 yards per carry is the mark between average to good so we got a decent but an average rate from them.

But we got that non-traditional yardage on those end sweeps and other tricky plays. The segmented rushing yardage breaks down like this (“Others” are QB, DBs and weird plays):

We totaled 2,926 on the ground this last season and the RBs had 2,051 of those yards.

RBs =1681 for 4.8 ypc and 57% of total

WRs+ = 879 for 9.4 ypc and 30% of total

Others = 386 for 4.5 ypc and 13& of total

But here is an interesting historical comparison; in 2015 the only WR to touch the ball – Tyler Boyd – had 349 yards rushing on 40 carries for a very good 8.4 ypc and almost all came on Jet Sweeps.  Even the his contribution to the rushing accounted for only 14% of the rushing offense.

Note the big difference there – 14% by WRs in ’15 and 30% by them in ’16.  The rest of the 2015 RBs had 2031 yards rushing. So Canada inherited an OL who had run those sweeps and end around plays at least 40+ times the year before he came to Pitt and who were very good at executing them.

…and so back to the Offensive Line Coach discussion. The above is why I think Peterson didn’t really have to do anything new or any real teaching with this very experienced OL since he came to Pitt with Pat Narduzzi. These OL kids had seen and run all the plays before many times.

One point to make clear here though – I have never said Peterson wasn’t a decent OL coach and maybe he’ll prove to be a good one – I’m saying that I can’t tell anything from his first two years because he was working with really excellent inherited talent who had been coached by the best in the business ( Joe Huber) and who had a ton of starts already.

The main job of the Offensive Line coach isn’t to get the OL ready to run the actual plays, the Offensive Coordinator does that.  The OL coach’s main job is to teach the incoming OL how to play football at the D1 college level, to unlearn bad HS habits and learn new good college ones and to make sure they grow physically and mentally to learn the position they are to play once they get into the two-deep.

The departed OL coach Joe Huber of Paul Chryst’s staff did a fantastic job in that teaching role with our now-upperclassman OL.  Peterson may be a great teacher and selector of talent also – we just haven’t seen the fruits of his labor yet as no OL players who have come in under his watch have played ball for Pitt yet.

64 thoughts on “Our Thanks to the “Small Feet” Kids”

  1. I do agree that an O-line coach’s main job is to take baby faced kids and work with them turning them into the steely tough guys that some of them become. I would also think that the OC prepares the plays and works in a game plan each week based on what he’s seem over the past several months. Once the plays start to develop a personality then I would think it’s the O-line coach’s job to fine tune the players much like a piano. Peterson didn’t make the piano but he sure helped the men to be working in sync for sure. If nothing else Peterson didn’t muck up the job. i really don’t know how good he is and only time will tell. On that subject though, Boyd did run the jet sweep many times last year so Canada did inherit an experienced line that understood the concept of jet sweeps. Mainly because Peterson was the O-line coach the year before. Although I also think Boyd had been running the jet sweeps all four years he was at PITT. So Huber does deserves credit there. PITT’s been very lucky in that regards over the years for the most part with good O-line coaches.

    Small feet people, What a great concept that was. I see more and more plays that I know have been around forever but seems like I see PITT’s offense all around the NFL now. The play to Kelce last night looked a lot like Orndorf’s play with Hill running the fake jet sweep to set it all up. Of course that may be just wishful thinking. …but I do think that style will catch up with Canada if he continues to use it as is without diversifying and modifying the playbook. The PITT offense was so much fun to watch this year but I hope you all tape the games because I don’t think we will ever see an offense like that again for a long long time… and I hope we don’t see that defense ever again! ….. ike



  2. I echo the comment on Brian O’Neill above. That was a Peterman/Narduzzi experiment that has proven to be successful. The older OL guys probably benefitted from the teaching of both OL coaches that they’ve been exposed to. It is kind of naïve to think that that 2016 OL was a finished product when Chryst & Co. left town.


  3. Reed – on your podcast yesterday, you made a comment about how the 2016 offense was so special that with an average D, Pitt could have won 10+ games, won the Coastal, the ACC conference title and “maybe” made the playoffs.

    I haven’t seen a comment to counter nor agree, so I’ll chime in with my 2 cents.

    I agree with you – we just missed out on a magical season – with one defensive stop in each of the early two defeats, we beat unc and go to OT with OK State.

    With just a few defensive plays we beat VATech – Miami was a bad showing, so I’ll stick with a loss there.

    That gives us one loss in the ACC and the Coastal title with a rematch with Clemson in the ACC championship.

    The real miss (IMO) is the tremendous background story to the Conner experience that would have dovetailed into a great movie.

    That missed possibility is another reason why so many Pitt fans were upset with the NW loss in the Pinstripe. It was a MAJOR underachievement and that wasn’t expected, it was loathed.


  4. Reed, The O-line discussion started earlier when you mentioned you didn’t think Petersen would be as effective a recruiter as Hueber. That may be the case, we certainly missed on 4 good ones from the WPIAL this year. Time will tell. Certainly the four OC’s in four years does not help.

    Canada’s use of Henderson was brilliant, and we are starting to see it copied already. Great way to stretch the field and make the D cover the whole field. Much preferred over the sideline screen, much less can go wrong. The jet sweep gives the runner the option to go wide or cut up field if the hole is there. It is the speed that makes it work and of course the blocking. It also makes the D focus on the motion, taking their eyes off the QB. Henderson’s play may it unnecessary to use Whitehead on offense.

    I always wondered why they didn’t try a few sweeps with Weah, or a reverse, certainly has the speed. Not small feet though.

    Hope we get an OC soon.


  5. Through the years watching and having a taste in coaching, albeit with a much younger age group, I have listen to and subscribe in my own point of view to the theory that what happens early in games aren’t necessarily what could be the reason that causes a team to lose that game. You always heard, “Plenty time to make up for that mistake”. IMO, If a team has a chance to win the game with the ball in their hands and can’t put the game away. Shame on that unit. That’s all a coach can ask. again imo


  6. EDIT:

    I meant to say in that last sentence.

    IMO, If a team has a chance to win the game with the ball in their hands with the lead and can’t put the game away. Shame on that unit. That’s all a coach can ask. again imo


  7. I truly hate the sideline screen play as it fails almost every time no matter which team uses it.

    I watched both the Packers and the Cowboys try it last night and it sucked.

    The only one I can remember working was to Street years ago.


  8. lol, Street did run that play well and before that, Swan and Stallworth. That’s about it. Isn’t it interesting PITT will now have another Street playing for them though?


  9. @EE I’d like to play the devil’s advocate and suggest that with one or two completed passes late in the in the 4th we at the least go to OT at OSU and beat NC and the D does not play much of a factor. Play calling and execution were both at fault here imo so no particular dig at coaches or players.

    It was interesting ti see KC in particular seem to take some an innovative shovel pass out of MC’s playbook…glad it failed though. And I too hate the sideline WR screen …too many moving parts and too much time for the fast corners with NFL type speed to react. Rather see something like the 3 WR in a vertical line KC used to try and break Hill free – not a true screen but razzle dazzle; or the diamond Jet snap.

    With the rules in place in today’s game I’ve always wondered when a coach would make more use of WR ‘small feet’ as Reed calls them…reminds me of when Chuck Noll took off the leash on HIS WR’s against LA in super Bowl XIV, the game that is arguably the forerunner of today’s wide open passing offense.



  10. Antonio Brown can make any play work. The wide screen works well if the corner is well back of the line, otherwise it gets blown up a lot.


  11. Why I’m incredibly hopeful about John Peterson’s future at O-Line coach —

    #1 ) Pat Narduzzi places a huge, huge emphasis on Offensive Line Recruiting and play along with QB play. MSU was an O-line NFL factory with huge, mean 3 star guys becoming monsters his entire tenure there (as well as Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook starting 5 of his final 6 seasons at QB too). That stuff rubs off on him and Narduzzi knows how Vital Offensive Line Recruiting and Quality Play — along with great QB’s are to being Elite.

    Narduzzi and Peterson moved Brian O’Niell from a tight end to tackle —- and they have been responsible for his development 110%. And he without a doubt was Pitt’s best O-lineman since halfway through last year.

    #2) Just look at how many guys Narduzzi’s been bringing in each year. Not only huge guys, but 6’5” and taller players who are lean and athletic looking. Wannstedt used to bring in soft, obese looking o lineman who were just “Big”.

    Chryst did indeed start recruiting leaner, more athletic O lineman and Narduzzi has continued that. NOT ONE of Narduzzi’s O line recruits has looked ‘fat’ or out-of-shape. 300 pounders who are athletes. 💪💪💪

    As usual…. I have a whole lotta Faith in Narduzzi and his staff!

    #HailToPitt! 😎😎😎


  12. in this day and age … a sideline screen is considered a run by the neo OCs. The Arizona HC, formerly Steeler OC, actually said that when he was in Pgh (forgot his name)

    Last week vs Miami, Antonio Brown caught a screen and went about 70 yards for a TD. In national title game vs Clemson … Bama ran it a couple time with limited success, but then faked a screen and one of the blockers released down the field,, and caught a wide open pass for a long TD.

    Sideline screens have been around for a while (WVU with Pat White ran it constantly) and it is a staple for spread offenses that want to make people defend from sideline to sideline.


  13. Also —- Chryst recruited Dorian Johnson, yes and Adam Bisnowatty — but all the hype for how good the o-Line was for him was James Conner’s monster year running behind…. drum roll …. T.J. Clemmings (D-End Chryst moved to tackle) and Matt Rotherham. Who were both…. Wannstedt recruits!

    Just saying it’s very easy to play “who recruited who” , “who’s succeeding with who’s recruits” games lol.

    But all I know for sure is —>

    6-7 , 6-7, 7-6 (yay beat Bowling Green in $5 take out pizza bowl in Detroit!!! 😂😂😂) , 6-7 …..

    Then 8-5 , 8-5 in the #1 power 5 conference in college football ACC with Narduzzi and everything trending 👆👆👆👆 with Pitt Football.

    ☹️☹️☹️ Pitt fans are just down in the dumps because Pitt basketball is currently on a …… low-ebb …. lol

    Anyone who says Jamie Dixon didn’t leave the Pitt B-Ball program absolutely barren is insane.

    Pitt B-Ball used to have a bunch of WARRIORS , it wasn’t just about pure talent. Dixon completely lost his way in the ACC.


  14. ^^^ Don’t Sweat the Star Rating. —- 5’8”, low 3 star recruit from Delaware.

    Narduzzi offers the kid a scholarship, then I know that kid is an Athlete and is gonna contribute to the program.

    Problem is there’s only one single TD Reception highlight in there all the way from the pswho game. Quadree better be working on his hands all off-season with Max Browne and T-Mac too.

    Now on to the “Big Footed” pass catchers. Former 5 Star, #1 Overall Tight End, 6’5”, 250 Chris Clark might just go win the Mackey Award next season — dunno why people are so ‘Bearish’ on him just because he went across the country away from his whole family and realized he made a mistake, easy to judge I guess.

    Imagine a just as big, way more Athletic Scott Ordoff with better hands in Pitt’s lineup next season!! Not hoping — telling.

    Michigan, Ohio State, every single SEC school (Bama, Georgia), Texas, obvioius UCLA all fought for this player and he’s at Pitt with 3 full years of eligibility left — man he’s flying under the radar with the Fans lol dunno.


  15. Those are only Chris Clark’s Junior Highlights ^^ above my mistake!

    These are from 2 years ago, his Senior Year. MONSTER pick up for Pitt.

    He is now a RS Sophomore, Fully Eligible — And Ready to Rock. (Clark had to sit and redshirt last season due to transfer rules)

    Dang http://www.pittsburghpanthers.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/chris_clark_1009071.html listed by Pitt as 6’6”, 255!!

    Left UCLA because his whole family is in New England I believe — and now they can come see every home game as he Tears Up the ACC.

    Doesn’t matter where he left / decommitted from before whatever. He’s at Pitt now (all that matters) and this is where’s he gotta make-it.


  16. I was just on a 5 hour flight – I’ll get caught up soon – I guess no AD or OC yet.

    Cal: Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin will be the new offensive coordinator at Cal. Baldwin went 83-32 in nine years at EWU, including six FCS playoff appearances. He went 12-2 this past season, and they finished third in FCS in scoring at 42.4 points per game. EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud led FCS with 5,160 passing yards. Baldwin was a candidate for the Nevada head coaching job, and becomes the second EWU coach to become a Pac-12 offensive coordinator this offseason, after EWU co-OC Troy Taylor was hired at Utah.

    Tennessee: ESPN’s Chris Low reports Phillip Fulmer has emerged as a prime candidate for Tennessee’s athletic director job.


  17. Every year we have someone run for 1000 yards so I think all of the OL coaches have been doing their job. We have bigger issues.


  18. Prior to the offer from Pitt, Florida RB Kyshaun Bryan was scheduled to make official visits to Oregon State (January 20) and Iowa (January 27). Bryan has changed things and will now visit Pitt this weekend.

    Take that Barney…


  19. Only have a few words to add to this nice piece by Reed.

    Quadree Henderson….Pitt All-American.

    Back when they recruited him, I noted this kid was going to become a star at Pitt.


  20. Emel, I remember a Rivals blurb about Henderson when he committed. It said that the only reason he wasn’t a 4-star was because he was 5’7. Guess whoever wrote that was right


  21. here’s one you missed EE

    Bruce Feldman ✔ @BruceFeldmanCFB
    #Arkansas names for #IowaState HC Paul Rhoads as Hogs new DC.. Bielema’s D is in good hands. He was really good at #Pitt.


  22. EE … if the refs would have seen Carolina lines up with 5 players in the offensive backfield on the very last play we win.. didn’t happen.. but it shouldn’t have come down to that one play…we should have won out-right


  23. Would love to see QA get involved in the downfield passing game more if he has that ability as a receiver…Steelers do a heckuva job producing the hands team… might want to learn from the Black and Gold


  24. Following up to TommyMac’s 1st paragraph @ 5:17 (above) ….
    Are you all aware that Pitt ran for only 44 yards more than this than it passed this year — 2926 vs 2882?

    And if you look at the game splits,you will see that the run was much more favored early in the year. Versus PSU, Ok St and UNC (games 2, 3 & 4), Pitt rushed for 912 total yards and passed for 468. And of course we lost 2 of the 3, and barely held on to the 3rd

    Vs Clemson, we passed for twice as much as we ran. Of course, in games we lost (VT, UM, NW), we had to pass more … but that wasn’t the case in the 3 games listed above. Also, the amount of longer pass plays we completed was remarkable. And those shovel passes also added up some, though most of them were short (but effective) gains.

    IMO, despite our porous defense, we could have won the 2 games listed above had we had a more developed passing game vs OSU and UNC (again justifying TommyMac’s post).


  25. Everyone stated that we would probably have a new offensive coordinator in place before the recruiting period kicked back into place so that we could go after more recruits. I’m starting to think the opposite. Maybe we don’t sign one until signing day is over in fear that whomever we sign may cause the existing commits to leave.


  26. Western Michigan: Former Indiana OC Kevin Johns has been hired at Western Michigan.

    Pittsburgh: with less than 2 weeks left until LOI day, Pitt has yet to hire an OC replacement for departed Matt Canada.


  27. I was hoping for Johns but I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t being announced. As much as I doubt that it will be a NFL guy, it’s looking like it could be.


  28. UPitt – lol, he’s a BB guy –

    I pulled this from PSN – the recruit some thought we’d get a verbal from this week –

    **Connecticut cornerback Jason Pinnock announced tonight that he will make an official visit to Purdue this weekend. I’m a bit surprised but I still like Pitt’s chances of landing him.

    This will be an interesting two weeks for Pitt FB, if nothing else.


  29. That’s right, Obama may succeed Stallings as BB coach … but Biden may be the man for OC

    From Biden’s wiki page … Biden earned his BA in 1965 from the University of Delaware, with a double major in history and political science ….. and he played halfback with the Blue Hens freshman football team.


  30. Anyone wonder why Narduzzi wasn’t at the table of coaches for the Championship game. Only coach that beat Clemson this year, maybe they blackballed him.


  31. If we are reaching for ADs here’s some names:

    Kris Kristofferson – “Kristofferson enrolled in Pomona College in 1954. He experienced his first dose of fame when he appeared in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” for his achievements in collegiate rugby union, football, and track and field. He and his classmates revived the Claremont Colleges Rugby Club in 1958, which has remained a southern California rugby institution.”

    Tommy Lee Jones – “Jones played offensive guard[6] on Harvard’s undefeated 1968 varsity football team, was nominated as a first-team All-Ivy League selection, and played in the 1968 Game, which featured a memorable and literally last-minute Harvard 16-point comeback to tie Yale. He recounts his memory of “the most famous football game in Ivy League history” in the documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. Jones graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1969; his senior thesis was on “the mechanics of Catholicism” in the works of Flannery O’Connor”

    Burt Reynolds – After graduating from Palm Beach High in West Palm Beach, he attended Florida State University on a football scholarship and played halfback.[9] While at Florida State, Reynolds became roommates with now notable college football broadcaster and analyst Lee Corso, and also became a brother of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.[10] Reynolds hoped to be named to All-American teams and to have a career in professional football, but he was injured in the first game of his sophomore season, and a car accident later that year worsened the injury.[11]



  32. Kristoffesron had an amazing life. Rhodes Scholar — Army Helicopter pilot — Literature professor at West Point (only 26 yrs old) — janitor at Nashville recording studio — songwriter (4 #1 songs 1969-70 recorded by Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Sammi Smith and Janis Joplin) —- singer — actor

    It would only make sense to add AD to his resume


  33. Come on Reed it has to be a Pitt guy. WHere are the usual crazy suggestions…

    Mark May
    Bill Fralic
    Pat Bostick
    Joe Manganiello
    Russ Grimm


  34. FWIW, there has been a lot of twitter talk on the usual Pitt sources (Peak, Dokish, PSN ,etc) that ..

    1) not only does HCPN have his guy hired

    2) he may also shake up his staff a little bit (which may please some people here)

    just waiting until LOI when everyone is recruited.

    Again, this is nothing but speculation .. sames as the guy on XM84 College Sports who speculated that the OC may come from the NFL (he also thought that HCPN already had his plan in place, but probably had a reason for waiting)

    I sure hope so


  35. We could do much worse than a Pitt man. And we have……over and over again.

    Something to be said for loyalty and having some continuity,


  36. Speaking of XM84 college sports radio – I heard yesterday on my way to the airport, two guys giving high praises to MD and UVA basketball teams as risers and two teams to watch out for.

    And Pitt beat them both – this team has to find its consistent “good” thread and stay with it.

    I think they need to run and gun for 40 minutes – no let up. Sub when a guy is tired. In the Miami game we had one stretch that looked good and we were running & gunning.


  37. ~ wwb

    I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t shake up the defensive staff, what with the horrific results that unit produced this year. Worst Pitt defense probably EVER !


  38. If it’s AVP and the Packers get to the Super Bowl, we’ve got several more weeks of waiting.

    If it is AVP, it would be his first college gig.


  39. Interesting factoid about AVP. Quite ironic as well…..quite.

    Van Pelt’s first NFL win as a starter would come on November 2, 1997, against Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.


  40. emel81, once again, the bowl game should have proven just how slow and unathletic our LBs and DBs were. We were scorched on the ground, not by the pass … we couldn’t tackle, took bad angles and couldn’t make it to the boundary to stop sweeps


  41. Acting AD was announced in the paper yesterday that it won’t be until the spring right before summer classes start for a hire. Yes, they hired a firm which I believe is the same one we hired time and time again. 😦 For offensive coordinators, since we are all major donors, why don’t we just go and hire Chip Kelly!


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