(This is the start of a longer series looking at our individual positions that need to be re-filled in 2017)
This time in the calendar year is when we football fans start to go stir crazy. We are about a month removed from the Spring Game and still have 11 weeks until the beginning of Pitt’s Fall camp. Ugh. It is still a bit early to see who is going to round out the two-deep for our offense, defense and special teams… but let’s not let that stop us from speculating.
So with an eye toward the fact that things might shuffle around due to transfers (players coming in hopefully), injuries and the peculiarities of the HC, his coordinators and position coaches we’ll jump in with a sharpened pencil and start doing just that – speculating.
I mean that is what we do as fans, yes? So let’s cogitate on who is going to be the ‘next man up‘ in positions where there were graduations, dismissals and position switches.
What I’ll do first is look at each position, or unit, along the offense as of today and write down who I think will be the starter and why it will be that guy. Then I’ll assign a ranking of “Upgrade” if we see an upgrade, “Downgrade’ if we see a downgrade or “Draw” if I think we’ll match last year’s player(s) in the position or unit.
Please remember that this is in comparison to the departed player and not a grade of the new player himself. Thus a “downgrade” from NT when Aaron Donald departed would have been assigned even if it had have been anyone college and in the NFL almost and they would still have been a loss at that position.
So here goes and let’s start with what is considered the most important position on the team.
We all should understand by now that Max Browne is going to be the starter behind center this new season. Regardless of whatever coach-speak we hear about a ‘real’ QB competition from now until the Youngstown State game practices start in the last week of August, you can rest assured that Browne was brought in because the staff didn’t feel comfortable with the extant talent at the position.
That isn’t a slam on rsFR Tom MacVitte or rsSO Ben DiNucci either, but the fact is that Narduzzi is replicating what he did in 2015 with Peterman usurping Chad Voytik and what Chryst did when he felt Voytik and Trey Anderson weren’t ready as starters and reached out for senior transfer Tom Savage in 2013.
How does the position fare at this moment? For one thing we are looking at playing yet another in a long string of Pitt QBs who will have held the reins for less than two years. From 2012 until today we have seen five different QBs as starters – Sunseri, Savage, Voytik, Peterman and now Browne. Absolutely not the best thing for QB recruits to see when you are trying to convince one of them they can come in and take over the show for multiple years.
Our departing signal caller, Nate Peterman, was one of the best QBs Pitt has had and even if some fans don’t want to believe so that it is a fact. His stats over his two years at Pitt are good. His 2016 season production was excellent, especially his TD to INT ratio of 27 TDs to only seven INTs. That is four TD throws to every INT.
Taking his 2,855 yards and a 61% completion rate and especially his 8th ranked passing efficiency of 163.4 into account and you see how he was very productive. But what really jumps out was his yards per completion of 15.4. Voytik’s was 12.4 and big armed Tom Savage also had only 12.4 ypc in his year at Pitt and we thought that he was the big yardage passer. Three more yards per completion is a huge leap and a hard thing to match.
Since taking over from Voytik in the 2nd quarter of the 2nd game of 2015 Peterman had a 15-10 record as a starter (60% winning percentage). That might not raise eyebrows outside of the Tri-State area but for recent Pitt history that is about as good as it gets. You have to go back to Bill Stull’s 19-12 record (61%) over the 2008 and 2009 seasons to better it.
OK – those are the statistical supports for my opinion of Peterman, but why do I feel he’s one of our best ever? It was how he performed on the biggest stages that makes me think that. Against uber-rival Penn State Pat Narduzzi said we were going to run the ball first and foremost and we did that with 56 rushes compared to only 15 attempts passing.
But out of those 15 attempts Peterman connected on 11 (73% completion rate) with three into the end zone for scores. He threw a TD in every 3.6 completions! To top it off in those other eight completions six went for 1st downs. So 82% of his passes went for 1st downs or TDs. Folks, that is the most productive passing have we seen in maybe decades.
And we all know what he did against Clemson in Pitt’s best win against our highest ranked opponent since 2007. His 308 yards and five TDs says it all. Here is his stats line for passing in that game:
He was directly responsible for 35 of our final 43 points in that game. That is high production under the brighest spotlight.
He was a money QB in his last season with us and that will be hard for Max Brown to replicate. It isn’t just passing the ball that I think will be tough for Browne to match but Peterman’s decision-making at the line of scrimmage and his running with the ball after tucking it in was superb also.
So what do I expect out of his successor Max Browne this season? First off I’m not a big fan of the recruiting star system to rate high school players. Too many time we see it be either dead wrong (Bostick, Collier, Duhart, Voytik, etc.) or 50/50 at best. Here is one year in Pitt’s recruiting history where we can only wish dreams had come true:
Here you see that out of six 5* and 4* kids three failed to live up to their ranks hardly at all – Saddler, Burns, and Hale. Baldwin and Holley played up to their star ranking although I don’t think Lucas Nix played at full 4* level.
Anyway – it’s a crap shoot at best and thus the fact that over four years ago Browne was a 5* recruits doesn’t hold much water for me. So what did he do at USC? Here is his stats sheet:
Notice that 9.4 yards per completion rate. Not so good.
Pitt fans point to the fact that at the beginning of last season Browne played a few tough games before being benched. Let’s say that was one tough game against Alabama, and walk-over against Utah State, then a bit over one half of play against Stanford. Since we are comparing the two QBs I don’t see anything there that is harder than what Peterman went up against this season, do you?
I think Browne is what we see on the surface after his four years in college ball – a player who didn’t live up to a lofty ranking and had become an afterthought at his original school. But that ain’t all bad. Nate Peterman was exactly that (albeit with one less star in his rating) then came to Pitt and did well his first year and there is nothing saying Max Browne can’t waltz in and do the same thing.
I do wonder though and the fact that Browne is about as mobile as a drugged water buffalo doesn’t make me jump for joy – especially since he’ll be playing behind a rebuilt offensive line. That is one area he doesn’t come close to Nate Peterman as Peterman was very good with his legs.
A hidden stat is what a QB does after he decides to tuck and run – that is when he purposefully decides to carry the ball past the LOS (meaning subtracting the number of sacks and sack yardage). Factoring that in Peterman purposfully carried the ball 62 times for 381 yards at a 6.1 ypc average – better than any RB on Pitt’s 2016 roster save Henderson. We won’t see anything close to that with Max Browne as he’ll be better served throwing the ball away to avoid a sack rather than attempting a run.
Browne well may play good ball for us this season and I believe he’ll be at the least an average and (maybe more than) adequate QB. I see something around 18 TDs and 11 INTs for him but I do not think he’s not going to match the higher level of our 2016’s QB play or production.