Five answers from the Georgia Tech game

Chris Peak, Publisher
Panther-lair

Every Monday, Panther-Lair.com breaks down the five big questions for that week, and every Sunday, we look at what answers - if any - we got.

Here are the five answers from the Georgia Tech game.

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Does Pitt stick with DiNucci?
As expected, Ben DiNucci got the start against Georgia Tech, and the results didn’t seem to be much different for Pitt’s offense. After driving for a touchdown on Pitt’s first possession, DiNucci and the Panthers struggled to make anything happen. The redshirt sophomore quarterback completed 12-of-19 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, and while he didn’t throw any interceptions, he did fumble for the second time this season.

More importantly, he didn’t lead another touchdown drive after the first possession as the offense never got any momentum despite getting the ball four times from Georgia Tech turnovers (four drives that produced zero points). DiNucci was replaced by Max Browne for the final three series on Saturday, but that didn’t do much for the offense. So it seems like DiNucci will be the starter again next week when Rice comes to Heinz Field, but it’s tough to say that either quarterback inspires much confidence at this point.

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Can Weah and Henderson break out?
Well, Quadree Henderson finally looked like the All-American he was last season when he took a punt return 80 yards to the house for his first touchdown of the season. On that play, Henderson of 2017 was the Henderson of 2016.

Beyond that play, though, neither he nor Jester Weah did much.

That’s not all on them, of course; the offense as a whole was anemic. But those two receivers continued to be non-factors when Pitt had the ball. In total, Weah and Henderson had 14 yards on four touches against Georgia Tech. Every other Panther who caught a pass on Saturday - seven other players - gained more yards than Weah and Henderson did, and that continues a season-long trend:

In four games, Weah has caught more than one pass just once (he had 65 yards on six receptions at Penn State). And while Henderson had a 74-yard screen pass against Oklahoma State, he produced a total of six net offensive yards against Penn State and Georgia Tech.

Again, the quarterbacks, offensive line and lack of rushing attack has hurt the opportunities for Weah and Henderson. But those two were expected to be key cogs in Pitt’s offense this season, and their impact has been minimal, at best.

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Who’s the best back now?
If you were looking for separation in the backfield on Saturday, you didn’t get it. Jordan Whitehead was Pitt’s leading rusher on Saturday with 35 yards - 30 of which came on a jet sweep on the opening drive - and no one was even close to that total.

Qadree Ollison ran seven times for 11 yards. Chawntez Moss had nine yards on four attempts. And Darrin Hall didn’t record a rushing attempt. 16 isn’t a very good total for carries by running backs in a game, but the lack of production from the position is concerning and a continuation of a season-long trend.

So Pitt enters Week Five without a clear leader at running back and seemingly no great options to consider. The position - like others on offense - is hampered by inconsistent blocking up front, and the lack of a downfield passing game is making it easier for opponents to load up against Pitt’s run game. But on the occasions when the backs have a lane to run through, they aren’t maximizing it.

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How will the defense handle a completely different animal?
The numbers don’t lie, and Pitt allowed 436 yards on the ground to Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. But there are other numbers, like four turnovers and four punts; turning eight Yellow Jacket drives into a change of possession without points should be a recipe for success, even if the other drives end with touchdowns.

That didn’t happen, as we know; Pitt’s offense turned Georgia Tech’s four fumbles into exactly zero points, going three-and-out after three of those fumbles and getting just four plays out of the other fumble.

So not only was Pitt’s offense not capitalizing on the turnovers, it was also giving the ball right back to Georgia Tech quickly. Sustained drives that end with touchdowns are key against Georgia Tech, and the Panthers did the exact opposite, putting their defense on the field for long stretches of time that wore the players down.

It’s illogical to say that Pitt played well on defense when Georgia Tech had nearly 500 yards of total offense and more than 430 yards on the ground. But on the whole, the defense more or less did what it needed to do to win.

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Can the team give the fans something to look forward to in Week Five?
There probably wasn’t much Pitt could have done in Atlanta to get the fans excited for the Rice game. But the performance at Bobby Dodd Stadium likely did quite a bit of damage to what was already going to be a small crowd.

Now the team is coming home at 1-3, licking its wounds after another difficult loss to face a non-Power Five team, with questions about every angle of the program and a fan base that sees a long stretch of eight games left in the season.

This is a fan base that brought less than 40,000 to Heinz Field for a top-ten opponent two weeks ago; Saturday against Rice could be a contender for the smallest crowd for a Pitt game in Heinz Field history.

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