Pitt notebook: Running game withering for Panthers
By Jerry DiPaola
Published: Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 4:51 p.m.
Nearly halfway through the season, Pitt coach Paul Chryst finds his team in a difficult situation that won't be easy to overcome.
Yes, Pitt is 3-2, but those numbers are not nearly as meaningful as these: 21 and 64. Those two are hurtful.
The first is the number of times quarterback Tom Savage has been sacked. The second is the total yards gained by Pitt's two best running backs — James Conner and Isaac Bennett — in the past two games.
Do the math: Pitt is allowing an average of more than four sacks per game. If that keeps up, Savage will need help to the team bus.
The running game? Conner, who aggravated a shoulder injury in the 19-9 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday, has averaged 14 yards per game the past two games. Bennett is getting 18.
“We have to certainly protect better,” Chryst said, “and it starts with running so we don't become one-dimensional.”
With few holes opening for the backs, Virginia Tech's pass rushers paid little attention to the Pitt run game and took aim at Savage, who was sacked eight times.
Chryst has few options in terms of personnel.
Dorian Johnson could help at tackle, but he is only a freshman. Ryan Schlieper has starting experience at guard, but he also is the backup center after injuries to Gabe Roberts and Shane Johnson.
The answer may emerge in a change in offensive philosophy.
• Shorter routes for speedy wide receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd, who might be able to make linebackers miss before getting to the secondary.
• Quicker releases by Savage, who is holding on to the football too long, according to Chryst. He might be a victim of his success, always looking for the big pass play after throwing for 861 yards in the first three games. “I think we have to take a look at that, certainly,” Chryst said. “You are kind of waiting for that space (between defenders and receivers).”
• More throws toward the four young tight ends, who have combined for only 12 receptions in five games. Sophomore J.P. Holtz has only two for 18 yards — none in the past two games — after catching 10 for 120 and two touchdowns over the final five games last season.
“We have to look at it all,” Chryst said.
Pitt, which is in third place in the seven-team Coastal Division of the ACC, takes a long break from conference play, playing Old Dominion on Saturday, followed by Navy. Four of the final five games are against conference opponents Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Syracuse and Miami. The final nonconference game is versus Notre Dame on Nov. 9.
Savage has managed to avoid interceptions in two of the past three games. Virginia Tech ended its 10-game streak of picking off at least one pass.
On the flip side, Pitt's defense hasn't created a turnover since linebacker Anthony Gonzalez's interception return for a touchdown Sept. 21 against Duke.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.