MORE HEADLINES - Free depth chart analysis: Pitt keeps an "OR" at quarterback | PODCAST: A 1-3 start, the GT game and more | Five big questions entering Rice week | 10 thoughts on the 1-3 start, the offense, the defense and more | Five answers from the Georgia Tech game | Narduzzi: "We've got to get a lot better" | Final box score: Georgia Tech 35, Pitt 17
Pitt has allowed 94 points and more than 1,100 yards in the last two games, but the Panthers biggest issue as they head into Week Five isn’t defense.
Because for all of the extreme numbers that Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech put up, the numbers that are truly concerning for the final eight games of the season are the ones that Pitt has produced.
14 points or less in each of the three games against FBS competition so far. 10 points and the first sub-300-yard game since 2015 in the loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday. A complete and utter inability to offer any assistance to a struggling defense.
And while that littered-with-youth defense works to improve and grow and mature over the course of the season, the offense has to pick up the slack - which it hasn’t done.
That’s probably why head coach Pat Narduzzi was beside himself when the first few questions he faced after Saturday’s game were concerning the defensive performance and the big-picture theme of being 1-3 and on a three-game losing streak - rather than the offense that, as he saw it, didn’t play well enough to win.
“We’ve got to do something with the football, guys,” Narduzzi said at one point in his postgame press conference. “You can’t win if you don’t score points. I mean, we scored 10 points on offense today. At halftime, we had 24 plays and our defense had about 50. That’s not good. Not against that team, because they’re going to just continue to run it and run it and run it.”
And that’s what Georgia Tech did, to the tune of 346 rushing yards on 67 attempts. But Narduzzi, whose background is on defense, still couldn’t get past the offense after the game.
“I told you guys last week, if you can’t run the football, you’re going to be in trouble,” he said. “37 yards is unacceptable. We’ve got to find a way to run the football. You can’t sit back and drop back and throw the ball every time; you have to establish the run game. We’ve talked about that and you guys know my philosophy on defense is stopping the run, and when you make a team that has to pass it like we had to pass it today…
“I mean, we’re throwing check-downs all day, you know? They’re covering up our deep balls. It didn’t look like we could throw a ball 20 yards down the field. Couldn’t get off a press, couldn’t get a guy open. It’s 11 guys; it’s never just one, and I know we like to point the fingers at the quarterback, but we have to give those guys a chance, too.”
Pitt’s running game has seen diminishing returns all season. After opening with 208 yards on the ground against Youngstown State, the Panthers had 155 at Penn State in Week Two, 103 against Oklahoma State in Week Three and the 37 yards Narduzzi mentioned from the Georgia Tech game - Pitt’s fewest rushing yards since going for 21 against Syracuse in 2013.
And then there’s the quandary of the passing game, where Pitt has topped 300 yards as a team just once this season and has scored two touchdowns through the air. Plus, the Panthers’ quarterbacks have been sacked 13 times this season, and when they do get the ball off, Max Browne and Ben DiNucci have combined to average 9.8 yards per completion, which is worse than all but two Power Five quarterbacks nationally (although DiNucci is better than Browne and ranks No. 50 nationally in yards per completion; Browne ranks No. 122).
In summary, it’s all going wrong for Pitt’s offense right now.
“Some of the guys on offense aren’t playing their best football,” Narduzzi said. “And some of them are seniors and they have to play better if we’re going to win ball games.”
Now Pitt heads into Week Five needing to solve riddles at quarterback, running back, receiver and the offensive line (the tight ends have been non-impactful, good or bad, but they might as well be included, too). The Panthers are averaging 4.59 yards per play - the second-lowest average among teams in the Power Five conferences, ahead of only Boston College.
“We need to find out what the problems are, pinpoint them and fix them,” Narduzzi said. “As coaches, that’s our job.”