Pitt Rushing Attack Needs to be Better Against North Carolina State

Last week I wrote about how the Pitt passing game had a chance to break out against Louisville. Kenny Pickett completed 60.5% of his passes and the receivers had their moments as Pitt came away with the 23-20 victory. Jordan Addison had 7 receptions for 77 yards on the day. He continues to live up to the preseason hype and is turning into a legitimate star. Taysir Mack also played in his first action of the season after missing the first two games with an undisclosed injury. He made a splash with 3 receptions for 62 yards. This included a nice touchdown catch on a play where he appeared to be down. However, he managed to keep himself up and scampered in for a score with the incredulous Louisville defense standing around watching. Pickett threw for two touchdowns on the day, but he also threw an interception and averaged a pedestrian 5.8 yards per attempt en route to 220 yards. While there were some positives to take away from the passing game, as a whole the offense didn’t exactly light the world on fire against a relatively weak defense. This includes the running game, which has been a bit of a disappointment since the beginning of last season. However, like last week with the passing game, there’s a great chance that the running game may break out a bit due to a favorable matchup.

It isn’t like the Panthers’ running game was bad last week. They did rack up 156 yards on the ground. Not an outlandish number, but it was also the most that the Panthers have had on the ground in a game since they registered 158 yards against Georgia Tech on November 2 of last season. So far in 2020 they are averaging 143.3 yards per game. This is a noticeable improvement on the 119.2 yards per game that they averaged last season. However, this mostly has to do with them running the ball at a higher rate compared with last season. Last year they only ran the ball on around 46% of plays while this year it’s up to nearly 54% of plays. This is reflected in the fact that they have barely improved on their yards per rushing attempt number. Last year it was 3.5 yards per attempt, this year it’s 3.6 yards per attempt. Despite this there is some evidence that the running game is at the very least marginally improved from last year.

According to Pro Football Focus the total numerical grade for Pitt’s running game last year was 70.1. That was 123rd out of 130 FBS teams. So far this year, the grade is a little better at 75.7. Though that grade places them at 24 out of 72 teams, presumably that is a little inflated due to the small sample size. That figure would have ranked 90th last season. While that is still a disappointing placing, it represents a significant improvement. However, a bigger reason for cautious optimism regarding the ground game has to do with how much more explosive it has been so far this season. Last year, Pitt running backs had 28 rushes for 10 or more yards. This works out to a little over 2 per game (2.15). So far through 3 games, that same group has 9 rushes of 10 or more yards, which averages out to 3 a game. Leading the way has been the Sophomore Vincent Davis, who has emerged as the primary Running Back. Last season he had 7 rushes of 10 or more yards in 10 games played. This year he’s already at 6 through 3 games, accounting for two-thirds of the team’s total. While the running game appears to be more explosive, they still appear to be rather mediocre as a whole. However, we should learn a great deal about them this weekend against North Carolina State

The Panthers’ opponent this weekend, North Carolina State, have gotten off to a bit of a rough start this season. Though they won their opener against Wake Forest narrowly, it was a high-scoring affair with a 45-42 final score. Virginia Tech then had their way with them in their next game. The Hokies got out to a 17-0 lead through 1 quarter. The game was effectively over by halftime with Virginia Tech up 31-10 en route to a 45-24 beatdown. The Wolfpack were not expected to be a contender this season, being picked to finish 11th in the 15 team version of the 2020 ACC. So far, neither of their first two results have given any indication that they have a realistic chance of cracking into the top half of the conference.