Hope replaced more stagnation for Pitt football
Pitt football was largely stagnant before Pat Narduzzi arrived the day after Christmas in 2014, speaking confidently about advancing the program into national prominence.
After Dave Wannstedt was fired at the end of three winning seasons, Pitt was stuck in a rut of 7-6 and 6-7 seasons under Paul Chryst, who is 52-14 back home in Wisconsin.
Narduzzi immediately strung together two 8-5 seasons. Don’t listen to people who say he did it with Chryst’s players, most of whom weren’t all-stars. The new staff still coached those players and brought in better ones, especially quarterback Nathan Peterman, who threw for 5,142 yards and 47 touchdowns in those 8-5 seasons.
It was a time of hope with the arrow pointing upward.
But the program is stagnating again. Chryst was 19-19 in three seasons (minus the bowl game he skipped). Narduzzi has the same record since 2017.
Pitt is 9-10 in November and December, the time when teams should improve. There have not been any January games.
Pitt (7-5, 4-4) has a chance for an ACC Tier One bowl — Belk, Music City, Pinstripe and Taxslayer are possibilities — because the conference only has five teams behind Clemson with winning records.
But there are many problems to fix in the ensuing month. The offense, which has had good moments under veteran coordinator Mark Whipple and 26-game starting quarterback Kenny Pickett, has scored 20 or fewer points in eight games. It is averaging 20.1 points per game, 115th in the nation and 13th in the 14-team ACC.
That is after staff upheaval cost two offensive coaches jobs.
Don’t totally blame Whipple or Pickett, though. Pass protection often breaks down, and only Pickett’s quick feet and snap judgments have kept the sack total to 27. Boston College got him four times in the first half os Saturday’s 26-19 win for the Eagles.
Receivers run wrong routes, get injured, drop passes or fumble, all of which have happened this season. Run blocking has been an issue, with leading rusher A.J. Davis gaining only 532 yards and Todd Sibley (249) still second after missing the past four games with an injury.
Only 15 of 130 FBS teams have lost more fumbles than Pitt’s 11. Overall, Pitt has fumbled 21 times. Pickett has thrown nine interceptions and only 10 touchdown passes.
Penalties were limited to four false starts Saturday, but senior Aaron Mathews’ twitch on the 1 was especially unfortunate. Pitt has been flagged 98 times for 852 yards.
When he was asked about red-zone issues, settling for less than a touchdown 20 times in 36 trips, Narduzzi gave a complete description of what ails the offense at any point on the field.
What’s most troubling is that Pitt had one of the nation’s best defenses and still lost five games.
“You can’t put your finger on whatever it is, whether it’s a penalty or execution, blocking or making the catch, making the throw,” he said.
Pickett said: “There is no excuse for any of it. We have to find a way to put teams away and get up on them like we’ve been trying (to do) all year. It’s a work in progress and we have to keep working towards that.”
Which raises the question:
Should it be “a work in progress” after five years?
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .