Here is a piece done in rebuttal to a comment made in a separate article. This is by our friend NotRocketScience (I screwed that up bigtime) and certainly is thought provoking. I’ll write a rebuttal later on but enjoy this – its a good read and makes one hopeful.
Successfully running the ball in football comes down to having both talented players and a good scheme. That’s simple. Pitt has more than enough talent to have a better than average run game in 2021. Pitt even has the Offensive Line (OL) coach to pull it off in Dave Borbely. He did it quite well in 2018 and in his previous stints throughout the college football world. What Pitt is now missing is the correct scheme. In other words, he was a good Offensive Coordinator (OC).
Comparing this year’s potential Offensive Line (OL) (we don’t know who will start yet) to the one Pitt had in 2018 is a good way to evaluate if Pitt has the talent to be a formidable run team. The 2018 run stats were ridiculously good, 3191 yards on the ground, 16th nationally in yards per game, two rushers over 1100 yards, both averaging over six yards per carry. Yeah, yeah, the passing game was atrocious…. focus! This is all about running the ball.
Let’s check out the 2018 OL that produced a top 20 run game. These names aren’t going to jump off the page at you. No superstars. The average Rival rating is 5.52 if you are generous and give Morrissey a 5.3 2 star out of high school. Counting him as a 0, which he was, the average rating is 4.46.
Mike Herndon – 2014 5.6 rated 3*. didn’t start until RS SR year besides one start in 2016. Recruited as a DT.
Connor Dintino – 2014 5.6 rated 3*. Didn’t start until RS SR year. Recruited as a DT.
Alex Bookser – 2014 5.8 rated 4* 26 starts going into RS SR year. Never became the star many expected.
Stefano Millin – 2013 5.3 rated 2* Transfer from Kent State, started 30 games at Kent. This pick up was laughed at and he ended up as a 2nd team all ACC.
Jim Morrissey – 2016 not rated, no stars, walk on, 12 starts going into 2018.
This land of misfit toys OL put up some of the best run numbers in Pitt history. You must give coach Borbs a lot of credit. Two guys with no starts, a walk-on, and a MAC tackle. Come on! Oh, let’s not forget the run scheme included probably the best fullback in Pitt history in George “the Animal” Aston. The OL was coached up and the scheme was all about the run game and took advantage of the talent on the team. Mainly, there were also Tight Ends (TE) who could block and a very good FB.
Now check out the OL that will get the most playing time this year. Seven OL, many with a lot of starts. I don’t remember Pitt having this many OL that have so many starts under their belts. Great job picking up Minor. He is a high star guy and adds depth. With this type of experience, Pitt’s OL should be very good, and they can withstand a few injuries.
The Rival’s average star rating is 5.628.
Jake Kradel – RS JR, 2018 5.7 rating 3* with 15 starts and Rivals no. 17 overall recruit in PA
Marcus Minor – RS SR, 2017 5.8 rating 4* with 17 starts for the Terps
Gabe Houy – RS SR, 2017 5.5 rating 3* with 15 starts, Rivals no. 20 overall recruit in PA
Owen Drexell – RS SR, 2017 5.4 rating 2* with one start
Blake Zubovic – RS JR, 2018 5.7 rating 3* with two starts, Rivals No. 18 overall recruit in PA
Matt Goncalves – RS SO, 2019 5.6 rating 3* with three starts, Rivals No. 4 overall recruit in NY
Carter Warren – RS SR, 2017 5.7 rating 3* with 21 starts, Rivals No. 10 overall recruit in NJ
Talent wise, this group is clearly above the 2018 group. There should be optimism that Pitt excels at running the ball this year, but the last two Whipple years have shown us nothing.
So what gives? Why the decline in production the last two years? Borbs was the OL coach in 2018 and is still at Pitt. Has he gone mad and forgot how to coach run blocking? Ah, hardly. He is known for coaching a good run game and coached good balanced teams back with Charlie Strong at Louisville. They were hugely successful. Before Pitt, he was in Maryland. In 2016 they rushed for 2594 yards and had 26 rushing touchdowns.
The criticism on this blog when Borbs was hired had nothing to do with his ability to coach run blocking. The knock on him was that he could not coach pass blocking. This was based on stats for Tackles For Loss (TFL) and sacks allowed per game. Maryland was at the bottom of the NCAA rankings in Borbs two years there.
First of all, he was only the OL coach one year. The OC at Maryland at the time was Walt Bell. A spread guy who is the head coach at UMass now after the one-year disaster with Willie Taggert at Florida State. Borbs did not mesh well with the offense. He’s more of a pro style OL coach.
Also, those two statistical categories are bad ones to cherry pick. Pitt was 86th last year in sacks allowed and some of the best teams in the country were worse like Ohio State at 92nd. The bottom line, Borbs has had some very successful years with exceptional run games. Maybe pass protection is his weakness but I don’t see that. Is he the greatest OL coach ever? Heck no, but he has produced very good run games before. He is not the problem.
The biggest question for this Pitt team going into fall, will Mark Whipple commit to running the ball. Will he let that experienced OL play smash mouth football? Will they be on their heels or aggressive? After Whipple’s arrival in 2019 the offense dropped to 118th nationally at 114.8 rushing yards per game. More of the same in 2020 when Pitt ranked 110th at 117.9 yards per game. Last year Pitt ran for 1319 yards, not even half of 2018. Average per attempt was a horrible 3.4 yards.
In the years Whipple has been the OC or head coach in D1, he has only had one team with a good run game. That was eleven years ago in Miami. Whipple had Jacory Harris as his quarterback. In 2010 Miami was pretty much a balanced attack 50/50 run-pass but those numbers are a bit deceiving. Harris got hurt and Whipple got conservative and started running the ball more because the next guy up was inexperienced. Some speculated the Harris injury was runners’ knee from the miles of jogging back and forth to the sidelines.
Also, the Miami offense had a bigger problem. Harris was an interception machine when he played. He constantly threw the ball deep into coverage. Whipple was blamed for the constant multiple deep routes for Jacory (I fear this will be the approach this year trying to get splash plays). The increase in deep routes lead to more holding penalties because the OL had to hold their blocks longer. The penalties were also attributed to Whipple doing nothing with snap count or cadence changes allowing defenders to time the snap count. Whipple is and was pass happy.
Former Teams Ranking for yards per game rushing:
University of Massachusetts
2018 110th 126.6 ypg
2017 97th 138.7 ypg
2016 124th 94.6 ypg
2015 99th 142.2 ypg
2014 115th 109.2 ypg
University of Miami
2009 73rd 131.6 ypg
2010 28th 186.7 ypg
I think it is safe to say Mark Whipple is Pitt’s best run stopper. Can you teach an old dog a new trick? Does Whipple adopt some of Brandon Marion’s unorthodox run scheme that even some NFL teams are starting to use. That is multiple formations, some with two running backs on one side of the QB (article here https://ftw.usatoday.com/2020/09/gogo-offense-brennan-marion-hawaii-innovation-scheme-analysis).
Warning; this scheme requires the threat of a QB capable of running. Pitt’s 2021 season QB Kenny Pickett can certainly do it but will do so at the risk of getting injured yet again. Maybe we get more back up QB Nick Patti packages but I doubt it. Whipple and Narduzzi never have a second QB ready to play. They just refuse to give the backup meaningful reps during the season which is moronic in college ball.
My prediction. Pitt’s offense looks like the reincarnation of the 2018 offense until Pitt hits ACC play, then Whipple reverts to his pass happy self. Whipple is a QB guy. He doesn’t utilize talent well and his scheme is all about passing. He is Pitt’s problem. Narduzzi hitched his wagon to Whipple and it may very well be his downfall following this season.