Time to put the YSU game away and talk about something else for a while… Let’s look to the future.
We have seen some very interesting, and novel for Pitt, personnel moves with our QB units over the last four years. Under Paul Chryst we had Tino Sunseri departing after his statistically impressive 2012 season when he threw for 3288 yards on a 65% completion rate with 21 TDs and only 3 INTs. That was Chryst’s first year at Pitt and he knew that with the personnel he had returning he needed someone other that rsFR Chad Voytik to be the ’13 starter.
Voytik was by no means ready to play at that point – and as we saw later was basically an average D1 QB anyway so HCPC’s move to grab transfer QB Tom Savage made all the sense in the world then. That started the trend we have seen since with first Savage then Nate Peterman and now Max Browne being enticed to start at QB in their turns.
Savage and Peterman worked out exceedingly well for us. Big and strong armed Savage led the Panthers to seven wins in 2013 with almost 3000 yards and 21 TDs with 9 INTs. He did what was expected and it paid off. Voytik got his chance in Chryst’s last season but didn’t play well enough for in-coming HC Pat Narduzzi’s plans. That was evident when our-then OC Jim Chaney and Peterman decide to reunite.
The handwriting was on the wall the minute Peterman stepped off the plane – he strongly outplayed Voytik in fall camp and then grabbed the starting role (which he really should have had in the opener) in the third game of the season and never looked back. That cemented in Narduzzi’s mind that 1) the QB was the key to offensive success and 2) he wasn’t going to wait for the younger QBs to grow into a starting role.
Hence his grabbing Max Browne out of USC when that opportunity arose. Now – looking back on the success of our two previous transfer QBs it makes all the sense in the world to roll the dice on another and this season with Browne at the helm of the offense we’ll see it our string of luck holds true.
But it does have to end sometime doesn’t it? or does it?
I would think that all depends on how successful HCPN has been at first recruiting QBs then, of course, coaching them up well enough to actually play at the D1 level successfully. And that may be the rub after this season, and may be another big decision time for Narduzzi and Watson in regards to who they have to put out there for the 2018 season.
I have to say that with one exception I think Narduzzi’s QB recruiting has been poor. Ben DiNucci, who was less than impressive in his first play for Pitt in our bowl game last season (3 of 9 (33.3%) for 16 yards 1 TD and 2 INTs) raised eyebrows, and not in a good way, among Pitt fans.
DiNucci’s recruitment was a last-ditch ‘We have an extra scholarship so lets use it‘ offer back in the 2014 recruiting class who was offered and accepted less than a week before LOI Day that year. As a 2* recruit he had a single D1 offer (Pitt) and took it. Now he’s a rsSO and working as the QB2 behind Max Browne. But here’s a problem – somehow he went from being an afterthought almost to have accolades thrown on his head every time his name was mentioned in this year’s fall camp.
OK – kids grow and get better and perhaps that has happened with DiNucci. It won’t be the first time a lowly rated kid become a real player in a few years. My opinion? I’ll believe that when I see it and my real concern is that we might have to see that before its time.
Think back to last season when Peterman was in his SR year. Who was the QB2 for the full regular season? It sure wasn’t DiNucci – it was a middling to poorly talented converted WR Manny Stocker who only two passes, both imcompletions, in the last four years at the college level. Get that – DiNucci wasn’t even on the radar last season until decided to get DiNucci ready before the bowl game… assuming there was no way in ell Peterman wasn’t going to take every snap in that game.
But that was then and this is now.
Let’s assume Browne comes around well enough to stay at QB and do OK for us this season. That’s what we all want correct? I know I do. The thought of DiNucci having to play behind this current OL, which I have thought suspect since spring ball, is unnerving as he’ll be running around so much he won’t have a chance to pass.
One thing that I have always been a bit pissed about was that no Pitt HC, current or past, every sees the need – no matter how badly we are losing or by how many points we are winning a game – to get the back-up QB some actual in-game experience before a crisis sets in. It seems that they feel like the incumbent QB has to take every single snap or the wheels will fall off the bus. I could see a reason for that attitude from the staff for the first few games of this season.
But you can’t tell me that getting DiNucci established as the QB2 last season, if indeed he was in Pitt’s future plans for the QB two-deep, late in the schedule and getting him some real opponent-facing series under his belt wouldn’t have helped when he was called in cold off the bench in the bowl game – that bowl game we lost, remember?
Of course it would have – so my advice to Pat Narduzzi is this. When Penn State starts opening up the score on us in the 2nd half Saturday, and they will, sit Max Browne down and get Ben DiNucci in their for real game experience but also for comparison notes as to which QB you want to choose from to play for the rest of the year if things get sticky.
That doesn’t mean you sit Browne down forever. It means that if you have to do that you’ll have some real-time current game film on DiNucci in action so you can make a well-informed choice down the road if Browne starts to falter.
Browne may steady himself and keep the job for the year – that is the plan after all, but HCPN has to have the guts to pull the trigger on Browne if his play goes south. I would like to think he’d feel that way – but I also understand that Narduzzi has one of the biggest egos we have seen on a Pitt sideline.
And that is what concerns me about this situation. Would Narduzzi, who is stubborn as hell, admit he backed the wrong horse with Browne and make a change if needed? I do wonder. Ahhh, the beauty of college ball. In the NFL you don’t have four or five QBs on the roster to choose from if the bad winds begin to blow.
He’s what I think happens after the 2017 season. At this point in time it looks like we’ll have at least four viable QBs to choose from after 2018’s spring practices are over – usually it is after that the HC and OC winnow two kids out of the pack for a fall camp competition.
Not exactly a Murder’s Row of quarterbacks there, eh?. But the thing about QBs is that with solid and effective position coaching they can flourish in a program. But is Watson that good QB position coach we need? Again – I wonder, but he has a decent track record at it, at first glance anyway.
Watson was at Northwestern as a QB coach in 1999 when his two QBs, who rotated in as starters, had a rough go of it. As you can see at left.
When your pupils have a combined QB rating on the season of 83.2 that ain’t something to write home about. However…
He also was at Louisville in 2011-13 as a QB then OC/QB coach when the wonderful Teddy Bridgewater player QB for them and boy did Bridgewater do well there:
But my feeling on this is that Bridgewater was an extremely talented 4* HS QB, rated #4 in the nation and that in itself was a great base for success regardless of whomever was coaching him. So I guess what I’m asking is just how much of a positive impact Shawn Watson is going to have on Pitt’s Group of Four future QBs – especially when it is a minor collateral duty to his main job as offensive coordinator?
And looking at those four QBs I see a group that will need solid coaching and will experience growing pains. I wish we had a young QB on the roster who was a Bridgewater-level talent out of HS but clearly we don’t. The closest we come is my favorite, young Kenny Pickett.
So here’s what happens after this season. I see two different scenarios.
First would be that we get decent play out of Browne this season and that is good. It is a question however if we’ll see DiNucci get solid QB2 reps in-game but based on our history we probably won’t unless he’s forced to play. Let’s assume he doesn’t get enough and doesn’t play lights out enough to have a lock on the ’18 starter’s job.
Second is that these four QBs on the 2018 roster have to really battle it out for the QB two-deep.
The heir apparent would most likely be DiNucci based on his two-deep spot this year, but I think it would be a real mistake for fans to believe that wraps up the issue. It won’t. We’ll still have fan favorite Thomas MacVitte coming into camps as a rsSO who now has two solid years under Narduzzi and one with Watson.
Personally I don’t think MacVittie has what it takes to play at this level. His HS track record was OK I suppose – but no one really went after him in recruiting – forget about that throw-away phone call from LSU. If they had wanted him they wouldn’t have waited until just before LOI Day to get in touch. Aside from Pitt his real offers were Cincinnati (a local boy with that) and Miami of Ohio (again, local).
No, I do not think he’s the QB of the future and neither do I believe the staff does. That leaves DiNucci and Kenny Pickett – who after a full year in the program will be ready to compete for the QB1 job. Not exactly what you want to see but it is what we’ll have.
This is where DiNucci’s play this season comes in. What may happen, let’s keep our fingers crossed it does not, is that both Browne and DiNucci play this season but for some reason we have to turn to a third QB for playing time – could be because of poor play with the other two or injuries… but sometimes it happens.
If it does I strongly believe we’ll see Narduzzi reach out to Pickett, even if he’s a true FR. We saw that 10 years ago with Bstick and in my opinion Pickett is more ready for FR action than Bostick was at that point. But true FR QBs do play college ball all over the country when needed – it just hasn’t happened at Pitt in a long time.
If you have a chance to watch Pickett in action at Pitt, and I did for an extra hour at a closed practice this spring in 11 on 11 action – he’s damned impressive. Both physically as he’s a strong and accurate arm – but mainly as a presence out on the field.
Things seem to calm down when he’s in there and his demeanor is like that of an upperclassman with playing time under his belt. The Coast Guard has a phrase when we get a sailor or young officer who just shines as soon at he reports aboard – and then keeps doing the best work. We say “He has ‘It‘ “. That’s exactly what I think of when I watch Pickett play… he has “It”.
So we are going to be in for a treat come fall camp if DiNucci ups his play from the ’16 bowl game this season, well – he has to or this is all a moot point and he won’t be considered for a starting job next season at all.
We’ll go into fall camp with our eyes on two QBs.; DiNucci and Pickett. Early times of course but if I was to bet a dollar today, and if Narduzzi doesn’t convince another transfer QB to come in (which would put a stake in the heart of our future QB recruiting), I see Pickett starting with DiNucci as his backup and MacVitte transferring after the season.
P/S: It is my firm belief that local all-everything HS QB Phil Jurkovich went elsewhere because of the transfer QBs we had come to Pitt. If you look at his committment timing with ND we just had Tom Savage in 2013 then had gotten Nate Peterman in 2015 and Jurkovich committed in May of 2016. When a school shows that it relies on transfers it hurts recruiting at those positions.
Y/A – adjusted yards per passing attempt: (pass yards + 20*(pass TD) – 45*(interceptions thrown))/(passing attempts). This stat was introduced, and the reasoning behind it thoroughly explained in a book called The Hidden Game of Football, by Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer, and John Thorn. Note that we are now using 20 yards per TD instead of 10, because of research by Chase Stuart at the p-f-r blog.