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.