Don’t Call it a Comeback – Thoughts on the Running Game and the Offensive Line
Michaelangelo Monteleone

Let’s talk about Pitt’s running game. It has not just been good this year; It has been historically good.

Here are the game average stats through 10 games:
2018
Yds: 256.9
YPC: 6.5
TD’s: 2.6

Pitt Hasn’t managed that kind of production since 2014, during James Connor’s sophomore season.
2014 Per game Avg
Yds: 249.4
YPC: 5.3
TD’s: 2.7

And to put this in perspective Pitt has NEVER averaged 6.5 yards per carry, and there are only two years where yards per game were higher. Some of you may remember these years. They involved nothing less than a Heisman trophy winner, running behind an All-American offensive line.

1975 Per game Avg
Yds: 300.5
YPC: 5.0
TD’s: 2.5

1976 Per game Avg
Yds: 316.9
YPC: 5.1
TD’s: 3.1

As you can see, we are in elite company.

Much of the credit goes the Quadree Ollison and Darrin Hall who comprise the best Thunder and Lightning duo Pittsburgh has seen since James Conner and Issac Bennet or Tony Dorsett and Elliott Walker

And by extension, much of the credit goes to Running Backs Coach Andre Powell. Quadree’s Hokie-breaking, record-setting 97 yard rampage doesn’t happen if Andre is not coaching him to break tackles and run violent. Remember, we didn’t see a whole lot of that during Q’s freshman year.

And indeed much of the credit does to George Aston, a preferred walk-on Linebacker from The Paul Chryst era who would likely be an all-American fullback … if there was such an award these days.

But a the biggest share of the credit goes to the Offensive Line, and their run blocking has been the surprise of the season.

Just to remind you, nobody was optimistic going in. The back-channel reports out of training camp were something along the lines of “major concern” and “historically bad”. They had little experience and even less perceived talent. It was going to be a very rough year.

To top it all off, our new o-line coach, Dave Borbley, was so bad that Maryland kicked him upstairs for the entire 2017 season. Yes, he’d always had a history of coaching up a strong running game, but this was his first year with Pitt, and he didn’t exactly have a ton of talent to work with.

A castoff leading castoffs. Let’s think about that for a minute.

Our starting left tackle was a two-star recruit and transfer from a tier-2 MAC program
Our starting right tackle was a slow-footed guard who was forced to play out of position.
Both of our starting guards spent most of their college careers switching positions.
Our center was a redshirt sophomore walk-on.
The line’s average recruiting stars: 2.4
And on top of that we were coached by a washed-up veteran that Shawn Watson picked off the scrap heap.

It’s easy to see why the fan base was not exactly optimistic.

And yet somehow this group of lineman has defied expectations.

After ten games:

We have an o-line that grades out top-11 in run blocking (“Line yards” on this page)
We have a rushing attack that is top 10 in the country (two spots ahead of Clemson I might add)

We have set yardage records on offense. Twice.

Our team is within spitting distance of an ACC Coastal division championship.

Not bad for a bunch of guys that nobody believed in.

Look, we all know that things aren’t perfect. Pass Protection continues to be an issue. Our offense is still fairly one-dimensional. If an opponent manages to stop the run we are going to find points hard to come by. And yes, next year could be a complete disaster, because we are losing just about everybody.

But now is not the time to worry about that. Now is not the time to focus on our shortcomings. Now is not the time to focus on next year. Now is not the time the be the Same Old Pitt Fan. You know what I am talking about.

Now is the time to live in the moment. Now is the time to savor a dominant win in a big game at home. Now is the time to enjoy this offense, one beautifully-blocked running play at a time. Because right now we have something special.

At least until the next game.

Hail To Pitt,

Michaelangelo

60 thoughts on “Don’t Call It a Comeback…

  1. Nice read! How much fun has it been to see the team turn things around and show some much needed promise?

    I content that the jury is still out on whether the team improves longer term beyond just being mediocre however there is a renewed excitement right now that us quite enjoyable.

    Thanks for the article!

    H2P!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great write up and how true it is. Keep in mind that we lost almost everybody on the OL for this years team. So if Boberly can infuse much of the same scheme into next years OL maybe we won’t have a big drop off. Narduzzi comment in his press conference this week about the opposition not seeing a run offense much like we have on a weekly basis has a lot of merit.—Actually I’m more concerned about whose going to replace Ollison and Hall our two bulls at RB for next season.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very nice article to read with breakfast. Big Q, Hall, Aston and the OL have given a Pittsburgh Strong effort for the ages these past five games. No doubt about it. And I agree, no need to look ahead (players, coaches and fans), just enjoy the moment.

    If you didn’t catch the replay of Big Q’s record breaking 97 yard TD last week, I’ll point out that #71 Bryce Hargrove made a nice block on the play. He will be a starter next year as a RSJR on our OL next to another RSJR at C in Jimmy Morrissey. But let’s not look ahead – agreed.

    There is plenty to be excited about for next year, and I’d be glad to discuss that with anyone – but first, I want to focus on the WF team right in front of us. Their starting line-up is laced with JR’s and SR’s, meaning they are a veteran and experienced squad. The back-ups however are FR and SO’s – WF has been hit hard with injuries and thus their depth has suffered.

    Pitt on the other hand, has had two serious blows to their depth on D with Wirginis and Camp gone for the season. That is about it for injuries – and the O is wearing opposing D’s out with their smash mouth running attack and the players seem fresh when the 4th qtr begins. That is a testimonial shout out to Dave Andrews for getting these guys in top shape. The D goes three deep at some positions, so a fast pace offense Lyke cuse and WF should not wear that squad down too much.

    Forget the UCF and psuX games – neither of those teams would want to play us right now – focus on WF and watch your Panthers win the ACC Coastal this Saturday. I hope to be on the field shaking hands with two 1,000 yard RB’s and be within minutes of smoking my victory cigar.

    H2P!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. A great read, Michaelangelo and thanks!

    I cannot recall who said it – it may have been Narduzzi actually- but Pitt enjoys a bit of a mismatch against other ACC team as most have defenses built to beat a spread offense, with smaller, faster guys.

    Our pro-style attack with some “big dudes” in Narduzzi speak is akin to teams having to play Georgia Tech’s triple option.

    Perhaps our offensive scheme is not as plodding and old-fashioned as many of us thought?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. me and narduzzi….not sure who recognized it first.

      same with pitt now saying they want to go 1-0 each week. I started that in the prediction thread a couple years ago. Never look ahead. Never look behind. Stay in the moment and focus on your next play. Win the play as it affects the next play call…..and so on until the game ends. Every play does that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. as I wrote yesterday, this streak of impressive rushing game stats can have a very good residual effect; maybe some good OL (and TE) prospects will take notice.

    Another thought in this era of transfers … there is going to be a major shake-up in the Maryland coaching staff in the off=season. Not sure if there are any decent OL on that team, but if so, they have to be pretty familiar with Borberly. Just sayin

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good stuff MM. Also making those stats more amazing is the strong OOC. The fact is that poor pass protecting is a double edged sword regarding rushing results. On the one hand the opposition knows you are going to run which should make it tougher on the other hand more runs equal more rushing yardage.

    Even more amazing is that the the two previous great Pitt offenses were not one dimensional; they both had respectable passing games. All things considered KP has completed critical throws and runs in all of our victories, so we are not completely one dimensional.

    The really good thing about a power running game is its consistency, less likely to be up and down like the passing game, also usually gets stronger as the year goes on. The other good thing is that it keeps your defense off the field for longer periods of time, also a very good thing, when they come out rested enough to make big plays.

    Really hoping we can sustain a strong finish to the season. A coastal title would get the team some much needed recognition. A bowl win would be a major change in the right direction. Both things could help recruiting.

    For now at least we have the extra weeks of practice allowed for the bowl game, should help develop that new O-line for next year.

    Is this the week we see the return of V’lique? Also what has happened to Paris Ford and all that promise that was talked about in the fall? Will he contribute somehow this year?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great article Michaelangelo, very nice job. What PITT has done with what PITT was perceived to have is nothing short of amazing, which I think is a large part of your point. Coaching retreads and has beens, Narduzzi favorites and so on. Now throw in a motley crew of ragtags never was been players and look at what happens? Top that all off with how the season began. Really incredible as you say. If there has been a zero to Hero story, this is one.

    BTW, it’s ok to say that despite the season and the job is not near done yet. What PITT has accomplished thus far cannot simply be taken away from them.

    BTW, no U in Qadree’s name ask POD. Here’s the interview with Zeise, really interesting and also corrects some popular beliefs.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Bravo, michaelangelo, excellent article.

    I don’t worry too much about the guard position. Find a couple big, strong, dedicated guys who can run some and you have potentially decent guards. We found that in Herndon and Dintino.

    Offensive tackle is another story – the biggest concern on the Oline each year because you need size, strength, and agility to be able to handle those fast DEs and speed rushers who everyone is looking for…

    We were fortunate to get the much maligned (on here) Stefano Millin and we’re fortunate to have Alex Bookser able to move to what everyone pretty much agrees is not his best OL position…and play okay against ACC teams.

    Might need another tackle transfer for next season… But someone like the Rainey kid (a Quip) who I believe was a walkon, could be one of the Guards next season, along with Hargrove and Kradel…

    H2P

    Like

  9. LET’S GO PITT…LET’S GO PITT…LET’S GO PITT…WUPsumWakea$$…Michaelangelo,your read has me so fired up…only Wednesday and i don’t want to peak too early…LET’S GO PITT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Reed,

    I thought this might interest you….

    Pitt RB, Qadree Ollison, was on the Jim Rome Show today. The Pittsburgh running back talks about his ridiculous stiff-arm on his way to a 97-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech.

    I have included the links to the clip on Vimeo with the embed codes for you below:

    Qadree Ollison on his 97-yard touchdown vs. Virginia Tech

    Embed Code:

    https://player.vimeo.com/video/300602988

    I would really appreciate it if you would share on the site or social media today!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. On the plus side — nice to see this exposure for the Pitt program and Qadree.

      On the other side, perhaps it’s unfortunate that it takes a 97-yard run with a spectacular stiff-arm which ends up taking out two guys to get the exposure… :-{

      Go Pitt.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Here’s a bit of irony — the Bills released Terrell’s Pryor. Reportedly Pryor became the odd man out after Robert Foster had 105 yards against the Jets.

    The Robert Foster saga continues; the Terrell Pryor saga May have ended…

    H2P

    Like

  12. Well done Michaelangelo! Thanks for submitting. Kudos to everyone involved in turning around this running game, and therefore our offense, and therefore our season. I think some of this has been about the OL taking time to gel, with all those new bodies/positions, plus having a new OL coach, but kudos to everyone involved, Aston, the RB dynamic duo, the OL, the coaches- especially Borbely. I would add one thing: Borbely was NOT a bad/terrible coach at Maryland, in hindsight it looks like their entire football program was the culprit (an embarrassment), as their HC did a CYA. I think Borbely said it best after he started his tenure with PItt, in that he didn’t suddenly forget how to coach. By the way, for my money, Maryland has the worst helmets in all of football (not including part-time helmets, like Duke’s stupid devil sticker).

    So we are now 3 days away from the big game, one we’ll need to cement a Coastal championship, sustain momentum for the program, and yes, continue our rise in the rankings… Hail to Pitt

    Liked by 2 people

    1. After watching the videos in Alan Saunder’s film study articles, what has impressed me about Coach Borbely’s work is the TIMING of the blocking schemes on the run plays. Everything seems to be synced-up so well.

      It’s like the Olinemen engage, then the tightends, and then as a defender comes into the hole, here comes big George Aston to Stonewall that guy. And all the while Aaron Mathews is engaged with his guy down the field.

      Hope the orchestration continues…

      There’s synchronized swimming, now we’re watching synchronized Borbeling…

      H2P

      Liked by 7 people

  13. Many folks on here had the opinion that Narduzzi playing 5th year seniors was a negative reflection on his recruiting. That the new recruits, if good, should pass up the elders that had been waiting their turn. Dintino, Herndon, Roy, Zeise, Briggs, Hall, Ollison, etc. I was critical of Ollison and Hall. Still am with Briggs.

    To his credit, Narduzzi was loyal to these kids and gave them a fair shot as Paul Zeise states in his interview.
    I have written this before. I believe part of it is loyality and being a players coach, but a big part of that is his belief that players need to develop a couple years before playing. It is how he believes you build depth and a good program. It is old school.

    Elias Reynolds is a perfect example of how Narduzzi sees each position being filled. Each year he has received more and more playing time. Next year, when it is his turn to start, he will not miss a beat. Cam Bright is starting to get reps. I think that is Narduzzi’s goal for about every position. It is also a reason he brings in transfers at positions he feels there is not enough depth. Transfers also delay younger players from being thrown into the fire. Mack and Milan were great additions.

    Love it or hate it, that is the approach PN is taking. If this team wins the next two games, I don’t think we can argue with his philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I agree NRS as I have been saying this for awhile now. Unfortunately for PITT they aren’t going to reel in many 4 and 5 star players (right now) for two reasons. One, there are not that many local kids that fall in the category and two, the PITT football program is a bit under respected with all the upheaval over the years. Winning the Coastal may go a long ways in helping the perception.

    Instead, Narduzzi has been resigned to find a lesser touted recruit that he may see a lot of potential in. When a coach recruits 3 star players it’s important to know what you are looking for. That’s where I think Narduzzi is a little bit above the curve. I for one do not think his recruiting has been that bad at all and certainly not as bad as many PITT fans think it’s been. Too much star gazing in my book. Worry more about what happens on the field and leave the driving to the driver.

    Goes without saying I want PITT to win real bad this week and get that dam monkey off PITT’s back and coincidentally… mine too. I’m not taking this game for granted or looking ahead. The POV is sending their A-Team down to Winstom-Salem and bringing a win home for PITT!! ,. … ike

    Liked by 4 people

  15. From the previous thread:

    After reading this morning’s PG, I am a bit concerned that the FB Panthers are starting to talk about the Division title and championship game. They haven’t played WF before, so there is no rivalry to get them pumped up, and this has the makings of an ambush. This WF team is certainly capable of beating Pitt and if they are not totally focused a potential upset could be brewing from an underdog at home.

    Like

  16. One additional “worry” for next season may well be that Borbely gets a mini-Canada offer from one of the Southern big money schools to take over their OL coaching.

    Like

  17. I am sure WF coaches are focusing on the last 3 Pitt games with trying to stop the runs. So we must get KP some times early to pass the short passing game to open the runs up. Maybe by the 4th quarter WF gets tired. H2P.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. A few thoughts:

    Borbely would be nuts to leave PITT.

    Bates has the defense playing better. Wake will be a big challenge.

    PITT will need to throw the ball downfield to beat Wake.

    I look for Aaron Matthews to have a big game.

    I look for KP to run the naked bootleg keeper a little more than usual.

    PITT will need touchdowns and not so many field goals.

    Shame that some have lost their love for PITT football when this season in unfolding to be so good.

    ike

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ike, Borbely may be nuts to leave but sometimes “big money” can cloud the mind. I’m quite sure Narduzzi and Lyke will open up the purse and give Borbely a nice bonus for the coming season. What we will never know is just how desperate some of our Major P5 schools may be to bring in any successful coach in any given year.

      Like

  19. Loved the Paul Zeise interview…”WE AIN’T WON NUTHIN YET!!!!!!!

    Got it POVerts…don’t be countin your chickens before they hatch………………………………………

    Like

    1. Ditto on the Zeise interview. Many were commenting and recommending we listen to it – I tuned in on my ride to work – I have a new respect for Mr. Paul Zeise.

      Plus his son is a Pitt-man forever…

      Like

  20. Great article and the games are so fun to watch. Being there against VT it felt strange to have that confidence that even when VT scored, I wasn’t worried about a comeback.

    We take a trip each year to a game and last year at Duke we decided to go to WF. Figured it was the same drive and none of us had been there. Now I’m even more excited that the game means something.

    Any recommendations on where to tailgate and where to eat? Golfing at Bermuda Run CC on Friday at 12:30 after driving out of this crappy weather.

    H2P!!

    Like

      1. Apparently all of their lots are named after Pepsi products. I think Diet Pepsi and Sierra Mist are closest to the stadium. I’ll check back closer to game day.

        Like

  21. Mathews operates much like our TE’s in that you are expected to block first and don’t ever expect any pass is coming your way anytime soon.

    Like

  22. Pendlum…glad you are coming…look for a large PITT script flag in the original Mustard on top with the WUPs flag on the bottom…if you don’t know what the WUPs flag looks like check out my avatar….Flag pole will be attached to a black Silverado with a custom made PITT mustard script door magnet…safe travels and look forward to meeting you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. BigB-can you narrow the tailgate area down to a couple square miles. Is the tailgate at the Courtyard or another location not decided yet?
      I am at my favorite casino. Will leave tomorrow Drive home & leave for Wake Friday.

      Like

    2. Will do! If you could let me know close to where you’ll be that would be awesome. I think I actually met you at the bar down at Clemson Friday night before the game.

      Like

  23. Hargrove and van Lynn have both been getting experience this year. I think van Lynn is gonna be OT full time next year. Hopefully next year will be OMG we have 1 OT and 1 OG starting who are almost totally inexperienced instead of OMG we have 2 OTs and 2 OGs starting who are almost totally inexperienced.

    Like

        1. lol i never use spell check. You would think it was Quad, the way they pronounce it on TV.
          Great to see you taking over the PoV Mike ! Good luck with everything.

          Like

  24. Yep who cares about next year at this point. If we were say 2-8, you’d could care about next year.
    Wait until next year is for losers.

    We have this year to enjoy at the moment and we could have Pitt’s 1st ACC division title at hand.

    Along with not one….but 2 (two) 1000 yard rushers. Q is already over 1000 at 1054 with a 7.1 ypc
    which is higher than TD’s in 1976 (5.8 ypc).

    Catch 22 only needs 157 yards over the next 2 games to go over a 1000 yards too !
    He has an incredible 8.8 yards per carry. I would think no Running Back in Pitt history that rushed the ball over 50 times in a season, has avg’d 8.8 yards per carry.

    Enjoy the moment, enjoy this year. Next year is for well….next year.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Wake’s Rushing Defense is #103 in the Nation. Giving up 5.1 yards per rush, over 200 yards a game.

    Like we did Duke & UVA(who actually was in the Top 40 at game time ).

    The Pitt Steamroller is coming to Winston-Salem !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Over in Total Defense Wake is #120 of 129 teams….giving up 486 yards per game.

    Pitt’s Total Defense is up to #82.

    So Wake in fact has a much worse defense than us. Choo Choo

    Liked by 2 people

  27. I’d like to just keep the WF off the field as much as possible. A number of 3 and outs by the Pitt D should be all that’s needed for Pitt to bring home the V.

    Like

  28. Michaelangelo, nice article!! I wish I could attend the game this weekend- instead I will be in Rochester, NY watching volleyball. I’ll DVR the game, so I’m counting on all the POVers to help the team bring home a big ‘W’ along with the ACC Coastal Title. Have fun- safe travels to all!! H2P!!

    Like

  29. Game number 4 tonight for Pitt hoops. Dan, wwb, Tossing, et al, I hope you will be watching. I have been getting these games on Comcast so far, it looks like a local Internet coverage package with average quality but at least it’s on TV. This will be a good lead up to the big game on Saturday. I’m thinking that Pitt will prevail against WF by a score of 31-28. Coastal Champs has a nice ring to it!

    Like

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