Gold Lot Sports Presents "Man Crush Monday" featuring the entire Pitt Football Offensive Line

(Photo obtained from Pitt Football's Twitter Account)

Man Crush Monday is a new weekly segment from Gold Lot Sports where we will showcase one Pittsburgh athlete each Monday.  This particular athlete may have either had an outstanding weekend, a great past week overall, or we just think the Pittsburgh audience should know a little more about this player.

The Pitt Panthers had a statement win on Saturday in what is being described as a program changer.  Pitt beat the Clemson Tigers 27-17 in a game that kept them undefeated in the ACC, two games up in their division, and moved them to the 17th ranked college football team in the country.

None of it would be possible without the Panthers offensive line, and the way in which they are beating expectations this season.  That is why we felt, after such an impressive win on Saturday, that we should feature the entire group keeping Kenny Pickett clean in the pocket and opening holes for the Pitt running back this season.

A Statement Win

Without the Steelers playing yesterday, I got a chance to reflect even more on the impressive 27-17 win the Pitt Panthers had over the Clemson Tigers on Saturday.  Even though they were favored to win, I've been a Pitt fan long enough to know the kind of letdown that this team can give us fans in these big games.  It was an all-around great performance by the team, but the thing that stood out the most to me was the play by the offense.

When you talk about Pitt's offense, the first thing that comes to mind is Kenny Pickett.  And rightly so.  There's a reason his name is firmly in the Heisman Trophy conversation.  He was able to command the offense once again against one of the more stout defenses in the country.  Even though Clemson's offense has been lackluster all season due to the loss of some crucial players to the NFL, most notably quarterback Trevor Lawrence, their defense has still been elite.  

Pickett was 25 of 39 for 302 yards and two touchdowns, making him only the second player to throw for 300+ yards against Clemson this season.  Factor in the double digit victory and he joins a pretty impressive list.  The last four QBs to pass for 300+ yards in a single game against Clemson, and beat the Tigers by a double digit margin are Justin Fields, Joe Burrow, Jameis Winson, and Kenny Pickett.

Winston and Burrow were the first overall picks in their respective drafts and Fields was selected 11th overall in this year's draft.  That's some pretty elite company.  However, while Pickett has received all of the national attention, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how impressive the Panthers offensive line has been this year.  Since they rarely get called out by name, we will do so here.  The starting offensive line includes Left Tackle Carter Warren, Left Guard Marcus Minor, Center Owen Drexel, Right Guard Jake Kradel, and Right Tackle Gabe Houy.

Getting It Done In the Trenches  

While Pickett's talent is undeniable, none of it would be possible without the impressive play from his offensive line this season.  A quarterback can only be as good as the guys up front blocking for him.  This unit came into the season as one of the bigger question marks after having a mediocre 2020 season.  Add in the fact that they lost two starters to the NFL, center Jimmy Morrissey and left guard Bryce Hargrove, and it's easy to see why there were some doubts heading into this year.

However, they proved the doubters wrong this weekend and have been doing so all season.  Pickett had plenty of time to throw on Saturday, something that can be said for just about every game this year, and it is definitely a trend that has caught my eye throughout the season.  Pickett seemingly has had all day to throw, a key factor that has aided his statistics and push for the Heisman.  

Additionally, the offensive line play hasn't only improved the passing game.  The Panthers also rushed for 162 yards on Saturday.  That's a pretty staggering number considering how ineffective the run game had looked at times earlier this season.  Then, when you take into account that it was against such a tough defense, it looks that much more impressive.  

In fact, Pitt had the second-most yards that Clemson has given up on the ground this season, with only the Syracuse Orange running for more in the Tigers' last game.  However, that is the fifth time the Panthers have eclipsed 150 yards rushing in a game, a very notable stat.  That's a testament to just how much this offensive line has improved and how they have monstrously exceeded expectations in 2021.  

As I mentioned at the top, this truly was a team win.  Pitt looked good on both sides of the ball.  But I wanted to highlight the offensive line for a few reasons.  For as good of a year as Kenny Pickett is having, we ought to be heaping some praise on the guys in the trenches that have made it all possible.  Even more so when you take into consideration that the offensive line was projected to be the most glaring weakness on the offensive side of the ball before the season started.  They've done a fantastic job up to this point and I'm hoping they keep this kind of play up as the Panthers make a run for the ACC Championship.