If you all remember I did a series of articles in June of 2017 that looked at the departing starters from the 2016 season and who I thought would be replacing them for 2017. With that I assigned a grade of “Upgrade“, “Downgrade” or “Draw‘.
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 I see an upgrade, “Downgrade’ if I 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, let’s start that again with the team’s position units and the prospective starters and two-deep.
This will easily be the simpler one of all the units to write about.
In a nutshell we went from QB Nate Peterman who had the best year of any Pitt QB in ages if not in our total history (27 TDs to 7 INTs and 8th in the nation in Passing Efficiency with 163.4) , to transfer-in QB Max Browne who was already a has-been fleeing USC for greener pastures. When Browne was injured in the first half of the Syracuse game – almost exactly at the halfway point of the season – he had not impressed anyone with his play.
Here is his year-end stat line:
By the way – don’t let that season’s 142.7 pass efficiency rating of Browne’s fool you. If you take away the Rice game his rating over the rest of his season was a horrid 113.2. with no regulation-time TDs in any other games.
But it was clear from game one against Youngstown State that something went wrong with the QB position for the 2017 season. After going through 60 minutes of play without throwing a TD against the mighty YSU Penguin defense, Brown finally completed a TD throw to win in overtime. Of course that was a good outcome for Pitt, especially after blowing a 21-0 halftime lead, but it pretty much showed the Pitt fans what Max Browne was and was not capable of.
Aside from an impressive outing against the nation’s worst pass defense owned by the Rice Owls, Browne was a huge disappointment to the team and the fans. Not that anyone rejoiced when he was injured; no true fan wants to see any player get hurt and out for the season, but there wasn’t the sense of a tragic moment either because our 2nd string QB, Ben Dinucci, was playing just as well.
What it shook out to was a stifled offense that could not rely on a passing game to advance the ball on a consistent basis. That is turn lead to opposing defenses being able to not worry much about Pitt’s air game and so they could tighten up their front seven to stop the run – which was a successful tactic all season.
Here are our QBs’ stats from last season – read it and say Good Riddance! because anyone who threw a pass for us in ’17 is off the roster for 2018.
The difference in play from our QB position from one season to another was truly and remarkably horrible. A telling point is that our team Passing Efficiency Rating (RAT) was a great 156.0 in ’16 then sharply tumbled to a very poor 129.0 last year.
I think we’ll see a change in QB play almost as dramatic as we segue from 2017 to 2018 but in a completely positive way. In other words I believe SO QB Kenny Pickett is going to be a solid and good player at QB for us and is going to allow the rest of the offense’s skill players – no matter how inexperienced they are – to play at least decent football.
I know Pitt fans are expecting stardom from Pickett based on the only real playing time he had last season when he got into the Virginia Tech game (a 20-14 loss) then started his first game in a Pitt uniform against #2 ranked Miami and led our 24-14 upset. He impressed everyone with his cool under pressure and his moxie when tucking the ball and running for two scores against Miami.
But stardom does not live in a vacuum so I don’t think we’ll see Pickett reach that lofty plateau in ’18. He’ll play well but true stardom? There are just too many question marks – and some very serious doubts – about who he is going to be playing with on offense. We’ll address all the seperate position units in future articles but in my mind, and with what every other writer I have read covering Pitt football this off-season has to say… we are going to have a real problem with a cobbled together and poor quality offensive line.
It is absolutely imperative that Pickett stays upright and free of injury this season because our only viable back-up QB is well-travelled but never having played D1 ball Ricky Town. I wrote a series on Town earlier this season and think he’s a great young man who has had some real problems so far in his abbreviated and circuitous college career. Now he’s at Pitt and will try his best if called on I’m sure… I just don’t believe he has the physical or mental skills to succeed as a QB at the Power Five level. Here is a timely article from ESPN on just this subject…
So I think a poor offensive line will hinder Pickett’s ability to play up to his full potential this season and thus we’ll see less production from him than most fans feel he’ll have (that is if what I am about to write is actually ‘less’ than you thought he’ll do). My predictions for him as our starter, and hopefully our only QB playing this season, is to see him deliver much along the lines of Nate Peterman’s first season here at Pitt.
Peterman had a good season in 2015 doing this:
And I think as far as passing goes Pickett will be around those figures. Something to realize also though is that he has, to this very young date in his career, a rather poor TD:Pass Attempt ratio of 1:66 or 1.5 percent of his passes for TDs – and his lone touchdown pass was a tricky shovel pass at that. That will change for the better this season for sure but that what should be noted.
That prediction of his production above doesn’t factor in one of the strong points Pickett brings to the offensive table with his ability to escape the collapsing pocket and run with the ball. We saw that in a big way when he carried the ball against Miami. His rushing totals so far aren’t that impressive overall; 21 carries for 75 yards and 2 TDs for a 3.6 ypc clip, but factor in his being sacked five times (five times in 6+ quarters of play!… and that with a better OL than we’ll have this year…) so his rushing the ball forward on purpose average would be higher.
I think we’ll see Pickett replicate or better the running game of Chad Voytik (career 529 yards, 4.0 ypc and 5 TDs) and there will be some called QB keepers in the playbook I’m sure. However Voytik’s 2015 year in rushing was pretty good with 108 carries for 466 yards and I’m not sure Pickett will get that many carries, but we’ll see.
It would be a departure for our OC Shawn Watson since he’s been here to run his QB but that was with Brown and DiNucci… but then again he’s had an excellent QB down in Louisville before and that turned out very well in his coaching Teddy Bridgewater for three years. Wouldn’t that be nice to see that happen, even on a smaller scale, at Pitt?
All in all the Upgrade, Downgrade or Draw determination to make here is pretty obvious…
…and a damn big one at that!