Pitt senior Aaron Mathews hopes to increase role in passing game
Pitt senior Aaron Mathews possesses skills none of his teammates can match.
He is good with the spatula when his buddies come over for a barbecue.
“I tell them, ‘Buy it, I’ll put it on the grill,’ ” he said.
And, on the rare occasion someone tries to challenge him at bowling, they usually lose, he said.
“When I do go, you know who wins. Without a doubt,” he said, boasting of a high score of 170. “I’m good at bowling. Just throw the ball and watch it hit the pins.”
In his four years at Clairton, Mathews lost only four games. In three years at Pitt, he’s mastered blocking techniques better than what might be expected from a 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver who was a dynamic playmaker in high school.
“If you watch me do something, I’ll more than likely do it right being this is my fourth year,” he said. “I’m one of the dudes who leads by example.”
But he’s challenging himself further this season, working toward a goal of becoming a greater threat in the passing game.
“Not many people know there are playmakers in the receiver room besides (Maurice) Ffrench and Taysir (Mack),” Mathews said. “I feel like it’s time to unleash that.”
There is talk among quarterback Kenny Pickett and his receivers that it’s become necessary to spread around opportunities in the passing game.
Of the top six pass catchers from a year ago, four are gone. The leading returners are Ffrench, who caught 35 passes, and Mack, who checked in with 25. After that, there were eight who averaged less than one per game, led by Mathews and Shocky Jacques-Louis with a total of nine.
The direction of Pitt’s offense will change slightly this season, with the loss of 1,000-yard rushers Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. Pitt might need to lean on its passing game more than in recent seasons. If that’s the case, having only Ffrench and Mack as threats won’t do.
“Last year, the ball wasn’t spread around a lot,” Pickett said. “A couple guys really getting looks. Now with coach Whipple’s (offensive coordinator, Mark) offense, everyone is running full speed. The separation guys are getting is bigger than the last couple years. That’s the biggest difference I’ve seen.”
Pickett, who is on his third offensive coordinator since Pitt started recruiting him, said he will sling the ball wherever the reads take him. But he added Whipple’s concepts are built on keeping everyone involved and making the offense less predictable.
“I’m excited for everyone to get touches,” the junior quarterback said.
That could mean a bigger role for Mathews, who only has 31 career catches, and senior Tre Tipton (Apollo-Ridge), who has 17.
Is there a way to get tight ends involved, too? Three of them totaled only 10 receptions last season.
Meanwhile, Mathews knows time is running out for him to make his mark in the passing game.
“A blink of an eye is the best way to describe it,” he said of his Pitt career as he approaches his final season. “I remember first reporting here, nervous to just go out on the field with everyone and now I’m the head of the room. It’s a great feeling, knowing there are a lot of people looking up to me, a lot of people behind me.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .