After months of uncertainty, college football is back with a revised look at how they are operating.
While division two and three schools canceled their season due to COVID-19 concerns, division one continues to carry out a season with a plethora of major conferences joining in.
But even during a shortened season, one thing continues to carry on: the Pittsburgh Panthers continue to underachieve.
Fans thought the season was a lost cause after All-American nose tackle Jaylen Twyman opted out, however, Pitt showed promise in the opening weeks of play as they shutout Austin Peay 55-0 Sept.12.
They would continue to dominate in the latter part of September with the success earning them spots in the College Football Top 25 rankings. While a national ranking is normally considered the “kiss of death” for Pitt, they stayed ranked for two weeks, holding spots 21 after defeating Syracuse and 24 after defeating Louisville.
However, at the turn of the month, the Panthers’ luck would vanish as they went on a 4-game losing streak, losing in games where Pitt was the heavy favorite to win with the most damning loss coming against North Carolina State after a complete defensive collapse.
Mix that with another close loss against Boston College and two more losses coming from ranked opponents, Pitt has all but solidified the worst performance by any team in the NCAA.
Worst of all, another star player, defensive back Paris Ford, opted out on Monday with four games left in the season. Some believe this is due to Ford seeing the light that Pitt could miss out on a bowl bid and saving himself for the NFL Draft next year. Others believe tensions are reaching their peak among players and coaches.
But what left Pitt in such a treacherous shape?
One of the trouble areas in Pitt’s game plan is its ground attack, or lack thereof. Vincent Davis leads the team in rushing attempts with 91 but has only produced 263 yards and 2.9 yards per carry to show for it. While Davis’ total rushing yards may not seem as bad as some think, his yards per carry line is what concerns analysts.
Out of a five-man rushing attack, Davis is second-to-last in that category with quarterback Kenny Pickett coming in last. In addition, Pickett accounts for nearly 74 percent of Pitt’s total yards on offense, making him the second QB in the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) to bear that much offensive production.
In addition, Davis’ lack of yardage on the ground contributes to the team’s low production in third down scenarios.
According to John McGonigal of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pitt is averaging almost 8.5 yards to gain on third downs this season on top of a conversion rate of 34.3 percent. This mark is four percentage points lower than 2019.
“Without a running game,” he said, “it’s difficult to get to a third-and-reasonable. And without [that] or a reliable passing game, it’s nearly impossible to extend drives and score.”
While Pickett and his aerial attack hasn’t necessarily been a “bad” player this season, it’s tough to take an entire team on one’s shoulders and expect any positive outcome. If Pitt developed a more disciplined and aggressive rushing attack, games could be won easily.
Pat Narduzzi: Pittsburgh’s No. 1 enemy.
What happens when a vinyl record or CD-ROM becomes scratched, leading to repeating lyrics? One throws it out.
Head coach Narduzzi is a prime example of that. However, Pitt fans cannot throw him away.
Listen to every postgame interview, and you’ll most likely hear the phrases “Nobody respects us,” or “It’s us against the world,” uttered from Narduzzi’s mouth. What you hardly hear is him addressing what’s wrong on the field.
Granted, Pitt sells themselves short when it comes to recruiting as they continuously bring in recruits of 2 to 3-star caliber when they could easily get 4-star players due to their national representation. However, losing games on account of poor play-calling in key moments will haunt coaches until they either turn the program around or are chased out of town.
Examples would be attempting run-pass options (RPOs) in the NC State and Boston College games, as they proved to consistently be ineffective. These decisions allowed defenses to keep Pitt in-check by stuffing running backs after short yardage gains and almost giving away pass plays on third down situations.
McGonigal pointed out that 24 percent of offensive carries were stuffed at the line of scrimmage so far this season, which is 4 percent higher than all of 2019. With this abysmal statistic holding precedence, and with no change coming from Narduzzi’s game plan, he is essentially killing any chance Pitt has at turning the offensive production around.
With four games left in the 2020 season, and the season finale scheduled against No. 1 ranked Clemson, Pitt’s time to dig out of this rut is quickly diminishing.