The All-ACC academic team was announced yesterday and Pitt put six players on it.
While questions may arise about head coach Pat Narduzzi’s on-the-field football coaching abilities, there is no question about his staff’s off-the-field academic coaching abilities. Information from Pitt’s SID is in Italics below:
“I think with the way our run game was, my job was to really fix our passing game and bring someone who could really change and make an impact on our receivers and our quarterbacks” – Pat Narduzzi on why he brought in Mark Whipple and Chris Beatty
One thing jumped out at me, and it was not about the passing game. What I found interesting was that Narduzzi, in passing, acknowledged that the running game was pretty good, and so it got me thinking, just how good was it?
Actually it was historically good. I said as much in one of my first posts (right after the Virginia Tech game). After two more ACC games, the ACC Championship and the Sun Bowl (four games in total), the statement still stands.
If you look at us vs the rest of FBS:
We averaged 228 yards per game, which was good for 18th nationally.
We averaged 5.6 yards per rush, which was good for 13th nationally.
We averaged 2.0 TD’s per game, which was good for 37th nationally. Not quite in the same class as the two stats above, but still pretty good, (and we’ve already beaten the Offensive Coordinator conversation to death so no need to rehash that…)
If you look at the 2018 Pitt team vs the other Pitt teams since 1975:
We averaged 228 yards per game, which was good for 5th best since 1975.
We averaged 5.6 yards per rush, which was good for the BEST YPA EVER (since 1975 which is all any of us really care about).
We averaged 2.0 TD’s per game, which cracked the top 10. Specifically the 2018 squad finished as the 9th best since 1975.
For those of you who would like a visual representation here are some graphs:
Pretty good stats right? So what made us so good at running the ball? In this case I believe our success can be boiled down to three things:
Two Talented Senior Running Backs.
Running back Coaching
The Offensive Line
(Editor’s Note: There are actually four things that contributed, and I was extremely remiss not to note the impact of Senior Fullback George Aston. Aston’s run blocking was brutally effective in both 2016 and 2018, which also happened to be two of the top YPC years in Pitt history. Aston was hurt in 2017 and it clearly impacted our ability to make big gains on the ground. My apologies George!)
First, the running backs. Hall and Ollison rank as (statistically) the top single season running back tandem in Pitt history. I believe a big part of this is because they stuck with the program for four years and developed into really good seniors. As a reward, both of them are going to have a good shot at getting drafted. Hall was invited to two college all-star games, and Ollison was recently invited to the NFL combine. I’m not sure if anyone would have bought into that if we brought that up as a prediction three years ago, so credit where credit is due. Nice work Hall & Ollie.
Now lets talk coaching. Powell has done a nice job developing our backs. And Qadree Ollison alluded to this after his 97 yard touchdown run in the Virginia Tech Game (emphasis added by me)
“As a running back, it’s my job to make a guy miss. It’s my job to run a guy over, not let one guy tackle me. Just running with power, running violent.”
“It’s my job”. He said that twice, and I’ll bet he didn’t come up with it on the spot. Somebody told him that. Somebody indoctrinated it into his head. That somebody is Andre Powell, and I think that we need to like what we’ve seen from Powell during his tenure.
2015: Ollison – 212 / 1121 / 5.3 / 11
2016: Conner (coming off of chemo) – 216 / 1092 / 5.1 / 16
2017: Hall – 128 / 628 / 4.9 / 9 (Editor’s note: This was the worst lead RB performance in quite some time…but we all know the issues we faced in 2017)
2019: Ollison – 194 / 1213/ 6.3 / 11
2019: Hall – 153 / 1144 / 7.5 / 10
A quick glance at the numbers above shows a minimum of +1 YPC increase over any previous year. Some of this was Yards After Contact (I have no stats on this so please post link if you do) and some of it was just great blocking.
This brings us to the offensive line. The 2017 line was not good. That is part of the reason why we didn’t have a 1000 yard rusher in 2017. Dave Borbely was brought into fix things in 2018, and (at least in the running game) he did. What’s more, he did it with what was widely considered to be marginal talent, at least going into the season. From my prior article on the running game:
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 and were originally recruited by Paul Chryst to play defense.
Pitt ranked 44th and 89th respectively in these two categories in 2017.
The other thing I will point out regarding the O-line was that with the exception of Center Jimmy Morrissey, they were all Seniors. Physical development matters. I believe 2018 was a case of four somewhat-talented, well-developed 21 and 22 year olds who out-executed and out-muscled more talented but less developed youngsters in many cases. As a Pittsburgh football fan, you have to love that.
So to wrap it all up, we had a great year on the ground because of a perfect storm (in a good way). We had couple of talented and well-developed senior backs. We had a great run blocking offensive line, and the backs and line were coached by the right guys at the right time.
I’m not sure if we can continue to churn out these types of stats year over year, or if “Air Whipple” will even want to, and that is a topic for another post. What I can tell you is that despite how the season went or the rest of the team performed, and despite whether or not you believe the program is trending up, we witnessed something rare and spectacular in 2018, and we should all be proud of that.
Pitt landed a Grad transfer. Michigan Offensive Tackle Nolan Ulizio committed to Pitt yesterday.
Much like last year’s Grad transfer Offensive Tackle, Stefano Millin, Ulizio was a two-star recruit. Unlike Millin, Ulizio was given the opportunity to play at a Power Five School. He had a total of 11 offers the most notable being Pitt, Kentucky and Michigan, and he chose Michigan.
According to PSN’s Mike Vukovcan, Ulizio started 7 games for UM last year. Ulizio was was relieved of his duties in the 8th game, and only played in spot-duty after that.
So at the very least Ulizio has some game experience. Besides Redshirt Sophomore Gabe Houy and Redshirt Junior Brandon Ford, every other offensive Tackle on Pitt’s roster is either a redshirt or true Freshman, so you’d have to think Ulizio will bring some much needed depth and experience to the line. Whether or not he can actually block remains to be seen.
In other news Lamont Wade has decided to stay put at Penn State for at least another season.
It appears that Franklin has sold him on Penn Stat’s national title hopes, if not in 2019, then in 2020. As
As one poster on the Pitt Panthers Fanatics Facebook Group put it “So staying at PSU is a short term sacrifice?? Ouch.“
It’s likely Wade figured that sitting out a year at any other school was a worse option than even partial playing time at Penn State. Either way, he’s not coming to Pitt in 2019, and personally I’m glad for that.
Mike Vukovcan mentioned in a video last week that Tennessee’s Eli Wolf and Florida State’s Naseir Upshur are one to keep an eye on, but as far as I’m concerned they are all fair game, except for maybe VT’s Chris Cunningham (could be blocked due to scheduling). For what it’s worth, Vukovcan did correctly preduct the Ulizio transfer. Vuk had one other OT in the mix as well, Tennessee’s Drew Richmond, who is a four-star guy, has immediate eligibility and has not yet committed anywhere. With that being said, Richmond is from Memphis, and we just landed Ulizio, so Richmond may be a pipe-dream at this point.
Lastly, there are two actual recruits we are still chasing. Aliquippa’s MJ Devonshire and on Alante Brown out of Michigan. We all know the story on Devonshire, the last local four-star prospect on our radar. The question right now is can Narduzzi reel him in?
Brown is a late add, likely because of new OC Mark Whipple. Brown is a 5’10 speedster and I believe we are looking at him at WR. Brown was previously committed to Michigan State. He’s three-star guy of course, but his offer list is a mile long an includes such notable programs as Florida State, Minnesota, Missouri, Purdue, Iowa State and Texas Tech. It sounds like he is a heavy Florida State lean after visiting there, but don’t rule out Pitt if Narduzzi can get him to take an official visit this weekend. Here’s to hoping Whipple and the Duzz can reel him in.
The good news keeps flowing, as Darrin Hall received an invite to the Senior Bowl this week. The Senior Bowl is widely considered the premier showcase for college football’s best senior NFL draft prospects, and the invite is a well-deserved accolade for the former four-star recruit from Youngstown, Ohio.
While Hall didn’t make much of a mark during his first two years at Pitt (just 100 attempts for 417 yards), he flashed some potential in 2017, rushing for 628 yards on 128 carries (4.9 avg). Darrin really flourished in 2018 behind coach Dave Borbley’s zone blocking scheme, where his decisive one-cut running style and above-average speed helped him break some big runs at key times during the season. Hall also displayed a nice bit of power, as you can see from his UVA game highlights. (Check out his second TD where he completely trucks the Safety James Conner-style to get into the endzone.)
Well fans, we now have our Wide Receivers Coach officially in the fold, and by most accounts Chris Beatty is a good one. He’s got a solid coaching resume and also boasts some very good recruiting credentials, which is exactly what this program needs.
Now we have three long months (until the spring game) to fantasize about what our offense will be.
Rumor has it that Whipple likes to throw the ball. Much has been made of that, but what should we expect really? I went back to the well and asked Daily Hampton Gazette Umass Beat Writer Josh Walfish some in-depth questions about what we will probably see in 2019. Josh was extremely gracious and gave me some great answers, so THANK YOU Josh. Also I’d be remis not to credit Pittsburgh Sports Now’s Alan Saunders for the idea. Saunders originally interviewed Walfish for one of the very first pieces published on Whipple, which I found to be excellent.
I’ve pasted the Josh Walfish interview below for your reading pleasure. The “MM Notes” were added after the fact. Enjoy…