Game Day Buzz - The Pitt Panthers Offense Still Has A Few Things Left to Prove

(obtained from Pitt Athletics website)

Sometimes I like to preemptively address the Facebook comments I know I will receive on a particular article.  

I know the Panthers have way more to prove on defense than they do offensively.  I also know Pitt has one of the best offenses in the nation.  However, this article is not about the defense, nor is it taking away from what the offense has done to this point. This article is about the Panthers Offensive Line having a unique opportunity today to prove themselves in a way they have not so far this season.

Narduzzi As An Offensive Coach 

There is one common theme across all of Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt teams, and it has certainly continued into this season.  His Panther teams have played extremely well offensively.  Of course, as all teams do, they have their games here or there where they struggle to score points or turn the ball over too often.  However, across full seasons they have consistently played very well offensively.

This season the Pitt Panthers are averaging an insane 52.4 points per game.  They are at or near the top of all offensive stat categories this season thus far.  However, there is still one aspect of the offense that needs to prove themselves.

Offseason Concerns Fading

In the preseason, Pitt's biggest concerns on offense were the tight ends and the offensive line.  Lucas Krull has put the first concern to bed with five touchdowns on 15 receptions already this season.  However, I am still concerned about the offensive line.  They have performed surprisingly well this season, and I am not trying to take away from that.  This is more of an indictment on the defenses the Panthers have faced to this point.

Despite the insane offensive stats Pitt is putting up this year, the Panther’s run game is just 104th in the nation among all FBS teams.  They are rushing for 165.4 yards per game but over half of their team rushing yards were gained against FCS New Hampshire and (just above FCS) UMass.  The Panthers did turn in a decent game rushing against Georgia Tech two weeks ago, but Georgia Tech is rank 130th in rushing defense this season among FBS teams.  I would like Pitt to prove their run game against a good rushing defense. 

Unfortunately, because these concerns will continue, but fortunately for the Panthers game today, the line will not get that opportunity against Virginia Tech.  The Hokies have the 119th ranked run defense among all FBS teams.  However, they will get that opportunity against Clemson next week so we will table and revisit that discussion until then.

What the Panthers O-line will get to prove today is they can continue to keep Heisman candidate Kenny Pickett clean in the pocket against a difficult pass rush.  One thing I did not expect to hear coming into this season was the play-by-play guys for any Pitt game utter the words, “The O-line is giving Kenny Pickett a ton of time back there.”  I have now heard it at least once per game.  It has been a huge unexpected boost, and it is reflecting in the Panther final scores thus far.  Even in Pitt’s lone loss they still scored 41 points. 

Today is the biggest test so far for the Panthers pass blocking.  Virginia Tech brings a lot more pressure than the Pitt O-line has seen to this point.  The Hokies are averaging three sacks per game, which is more than any team the Panthers have faced so far.  Also, among games involving two FBS opponents, Virginia Tech is 15th in the nation in sack percentage per defensive play at 9.35%.  That number increases to 10% for Hokie home games, and today’s competition will take place in Blacksburg.

That sack percentage ranking puts VT at 2nd in the ACC and 5th among Power 5 schools.  Pitt is 1st in the ACC and 3rd among Power 5 schools in the same stat.  Admittedly, Western Michigan is 13th in the nation in sack percentage, but Virginia Tech’s strength of schedule to this point is much greater than WMU’s.  VT has played some very difficult offenses including North Carolina, West Virginia and Notre Dame.  For those reasons, I feel this is the biggest test for Pitt’s passing blocking to this point.

Concluding Thoughts

If Pitt can rush for 100+ yards today and keep Pickett relatively clean in the pocket, I will put my worries of the offensive line to bed.  In fact, if Pitt can prove that today on the road, I will be very confident going into next week even against a really good defensive Clemson team at Heinz Field.  I can’t hold on to these concerns all season, especially when Pitt continues to put up 40+ points.  Eventually, I have to trust in the personnel.  Today is that day to earn it for me, and give me the confidence going into a test against the Clemson Tigers next week at home.