Pitt Football: Midseason Report
By: Roger SinClair
The Pitt Panthers are in murky waters heading into the second half of their season, as the team is mentally drained, showing their youth on the field more and more throughout the season. Panther fans are beginning to worry, as much of the promise that came with a rapid, and quite surprising, 3-0 start has dwindled after three straight loses. Pitt sits at 3-3 overall and are 1-1 in ACC play, but with the harder half of the schedule yet to be played, there is reason for concern.
Before talking about the negatives of this season thus far, there are plenty of highlights that are noteworthy. While it almost sounds like a broken record at this point, James Connor is having one of the best statistical seasons at running back that the university has ever seen. Connor has already broken a few of Tony Dorsett’s school records, and currently has 874 yards this season. Tyler Boyd also tied Larry Fitzgerald’s school record for fewest games to 100 career receptions (17), which is an incredible feat. The defense has also received national attention, and rank 19th in the FBS in points against, with 19.0 PPG. Statistically Pitt has put together a rather impressive season so far, but the areas where issues are present can’t entirely be measured on paper.
Depleting morale and lack of experience has been extremely apparent on the field. The secondary has been inconsistent the last four games, giving up big plays and unnecessary penalties that extend the opposition’s drives. CB’s Avonte Maddox and Reggie Mitchell have flashed excellence, but also shown their inexperience. The defensive line has also had trouble getting to the passer and stopping the run, which has played a part in the defensive struggles that have taken place over the last three games. Pitt’s worst defensive ranking is run defense and attention needs to be placed on improving it. While there are still issues on the defensive side, the Pitt defense has been rather stout. No team has scored over 25 points against the Panthers, and the defense has kept the team in every game this year. While there is always room for improvement, the Pitt defense has done an acceptable job this season.
Offensively, the team is looking for some form of consistency. One of the main issues is play calling, which was apparent against Akron and Virginia. In both of those games, James Connor was held under 100 yards and Chad Voytik was asked to take the reigns of the offense. While Voytik has put together some very good performances, underutilizing a player in of Connor’s caliber is questionable. Also, Pitt shows difficulty in getting the ball to receivers not named Tyler Boyd. Boyd has over twice the amount of receptions (30) as the next best option, Manasseh Garner (14). There is significant talent in the receiving corps, including Garner, Kevin Weatherspoon and Ronald Jones. Tight end J.P. Holtz put a nice game together at Virginia, but only has 9 receptions on the season. Paul Chryst and his coaching staff must focus on what works for the offense and get back to a balanced game plan.
The most notable issue with the Panthers is simply a lack of consistency. Starting with the FIU game, Pitt has grown accustomed to playing only one half of the football game. The games against Iowa, Akron, and Virginia saw a half of dominant football and another half of borderline undisciplined play with lazy fundamentals. This was on display through a costly amount of penalties, breakdowns in coverage, blown assignments by the offensive line, and confusing play calling. The question of leadership is always brought up due to the inconsistency. This is not because there are no leaders on the Panthers squad, rather that there is no visible leader the team can rally around. Someone, whether it is a player or coach, needs to step up and show this squad how to play a complete contest.
The most notable injury of the season is Center Artie Rowell’s knee injury, which has sidelined him for the season. The Panthers have missed his presence, and the offensive line has struggled to protect Voytik and open holes for Connor. Defensive lineman Ejuan Price and linebacker Devon Porchia are also lost for the season with chest and shoulder injuries, respectfully. Pitt sits 4th in the ACC – Coastal division and their remaining schedule is fully against ACC opponents. Pitt dropped some winnable home games against Iowa and Akron, which hurt both morale and momentum that the team had heading into a slate of 7 straight ACC games. Unless Pitt goes back to its niche and the playing style that won them 3 games to open the season, the team will fade from relevance and struggle to finish above .500 for the season.
Being optimistic, this off weekend should allow the Panthers to right the ship and get back to their winning ways.
Midseason MVP: James Connor 156 ATT 874 YDS 9 TDs
Final Record prediction: (7-5) (5-3 ACC)