Pitt can rush passer, but developing strong run game is problem
Putting your finger on the best and worst aspects of Pitt’s season isn’t difficult.
The Panthers rush the quarterback with fierceness and passion. Through six games, they are first in the ACC (tied with Virginia) and second in the nation to Ohio State with 4½ sacks per game (27 total).
But they’ve fallen short of developing a strong ground game that will balance the offense and make a productive passing game even better.
Pitt is next-to-last (13th) among ACC teams and 113th nationally in rushing yards (116.5 per game).
Running backs A.J. Davis, Todd Sibley and Vincent Davis are averaging 46, 32 and 24 yards per game, respectively. And Davis and Davis are coming off injuries.
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge likes what he’s seen from his pass rush, especially in light of season-ending injuries to starters Rashad Weaver and Keyshon Camp. But he hasn’t allowed himself to wonder how good it could be if those players were playing.
“I really am better when I’m focused on the close,” he said. “I look at the horizon, but if I get into that, my mind will go to a bad place. I know that, so I try to control myself.
“We thought this had a chance to be a breakout year for the group. Back end (secondary) has been doing a great job. There haven’t been many windows to throw the ball. So, you get a quarterback to double clutch, it gives you an extra fraction of a second to get to the quarterback.”
Coach Pat Narduzzi is pleased, too, but he said what has happened to this point doesn’t matter.
“You know, you’ve got to give (the pass rush) an above-average (grade),” he said. “I guess, right?”
But he’s also a realist.
“Nobody cares,” he said. “We know Duke gave up one (sack) coming into (the Pitt game). Alabama had one. We had three. That’s good.
“But that was last (game). Our guys have done a solid job. But you’re one game away from being crappy.”
When Pitt resumes its season Friday at Syracuse — after 13 days without a game — it will have the chance to pad those sack stats. Or, you would think so, considering the Orange are next-to-last in the ACC in sacks allowed (26).
But Narduzzi doesn’t talk that way, at least not publicly.
“They get the ball out quick, run a ton of screens, hard to pressure them, so we’ve got to be careful when we do,” he said. “And we’ve got to be able to get four-man pressure and get some coverage sacks.”
Of course, Narduzzi had the same concerns about Duke before Pitt recorded three sacks and three interceptions in its 33-30 victory Oct. 5.
On the other side of the ball, Pitt spent much of the off week working on ways to fix the running game.
He didn’t talk specifically about what corrections he plans to make, but he said opposing teams are focused on stopping Pitt’s running backs.
“I’m not going to get into what (the problem) is, but obviously (there are) some fronts that have taken the run away from what we’ve done in the past,” he said.
He said defenses are stacking eight and nine players close to the line of scrimmage to force Pitt to throw.
And Pitt has obliged, throwing the ball more than all but two teams in the nation. Pitt is tied for third with Hawaii in pass attempts (265) behind Washington State and Texas Tech.
That’s one statistical category Narduzzi isn’t trying to win.
A good run game means fewer passes and the kind of balance that can help carry Pitt back to the top of the ACC Coastal Division.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .