Don’t Call it a Comeback – Thoughts on the Running Game and the Offensive Line
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:
Pitt Hasn’t managed that kind of production since 2014, during James Connor’s sophomore season.
2014 Per game Avg
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
1976 Per game Avg
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,