Passing Attack has Golden Opportunity Against Louisville

It’s not exactly controversial to say that Pitt has struggled to find sustained success on offense in recent years. While the 2016 team had a prolific attack, key player and coaching departures the following offseason began the current period of mediocrity. Over the past 41 games, stretching back to the beginning of the 2017 season, Pitt is averaging only 24.3 points per game. Over that same period, they’re averaging 5.5 yards per play and 373.7 yards per game. To give these numbers some context, out of 130 current FBS teams over this period, they are 104th in points per game, 88th in yards per play, and 95th in yards per game. These numbers are decidedly below average and nowhere near where you’d want them to be for a team that aspires to win ACC titles. 

Despite these lackluster results, there are reasons of optimism. Pat Narduzzi had enough sense to end the disastrous Shawn Watson experiment after the 2018 season. So Pitt has entered 2020 in Year 2 of new Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple. They also have a Senior 3-year starter in Kenny Pickett and the Offensive Line returned 4 of their 5 starters. Pickett also had some new intriguing receiving options in Freshman Jordan Addison and Grad Transfers D.J. Turner and Lucas Krull. The offense began the season clicking in the opener against Austin Peay, racking up 42 points in the first half before the backups were brought in. Though it was only against an FCS program, it still gave reason to believe that the Pitt offense would be much improved. The hope at the very least is that the team won’t have to lean on their defense quite so much to win games. However, last week they only scored 21 points in a mistake-prone win against a Syracuse team projected to finish towards the bottom of the ACC. So which offense are we going to see this weekend against Louisville? The electric attack from the opener or the sloppy outfit from last week. There’s actually a great chance that we’ll see the latter as Pitt has a golden opportunity to have a field day through the air against Louisville.

Pitt could not stop shooting themselves in the foot on offense last week. They had 4 drops according to Pro Football Focus’ accounting. There were multiple procedural penalties. They had two turnovers and were lucky to not have more as there were two additional fumbles that they recovered. Though more special teams, but still resulting in points left on the field, there were 3 field goal attempts that resulted in zero points. Mistakes happen to all teams, especially in the college game, but the number of unforced errors committed by the Panthers last week was unacceptable. Games like last week were emblematic of the offensive frustrations from the past few seasons. Against Syracuse they could play like that and still win handily. That likely won’t be the case against a Louisville team that can put points on the board at a much higher rate. However, the reason the Pitt offense has such a rich opportunity has more to do with the Cardinals’ other side of the ball.

Though it’s early still, Louisville almost reminds me of that 2016 Pitt team. They have a high-powered offense, but a porous defense. Particularly in the Secondary. Through their first two games they are surrendering 8.6 yards per passing attempt. That figure includes their non-conference game against Western Kentucky from Conference USA. Against Miami last week they gave up 10.8 yards per attempt. Miami starting Quarterback D’Eriq King went 18/30 for 325 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air en route to a 47-34 victory. Additionally, though it’s a small sample size, they have no interceptions through their first two games of the season. We can also look at Pro Football Focus grading to get a more complete picture of how the Secondary has performed. Say what you will about them, and there are some valid criticisms, but they generally do a pretty good job in my opinion of capturing things that don’t show up in the traditional statistics. Through the first two games of the season, the Louisville defense has collectively received a 59.3 grade, which was 32nd out of the 52 teams