Georgia Tech Football: Previewing Pittsburgh’s offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 26: Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Panthers looks to pass during the second quarter against the Miami Hurricanes at Heinz Field on October 26, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 26: Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Panthers looks to pass during the second quarter against the Miami Hurricanes at Heinz Field on October 26, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Panthers enter this week at 5-3 on the season but their defense has been the reason for the majority of their success. The Panthers offense this season has had its’ struggles putting up points, especially against some of the better teams they’ve faced.

Prior to this season, Pitt head coach Patt Narduzzi handed the reigns of the offense over to former UMass quarterback Mark Whipple. Through eight games, the change offensively hasn’t seemed to pay off all that much. The Panthers offense is averaging 382.0 yards per game but have struggled to capitalize in the red zone. They’ve scored just 19 touchdowns this season to go alnog with 12 field goals.

At quarterback will be junior quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett is in his second year as the Panther starter and is having an up-and-down season under first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. Last season, Pickett was a solid game manager quarterback for the Panthers and had a solid game against Georgia Tech. Against the Yellow Jackets last season, Pickett was 16-for-23 for 197-yards while throwing one interception.

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That being said, in seven games this season, Pickett has completed 59.5% of his passing attempts (172-of-289) for eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Those six interceptions already ties his mark from last season. Those are numbers that the Panthers coaching staff and fans were certainly not expecting coming into the season.

Interestingly enough, Pickett’s best game of the season came against the best team the Panthers face this year, the currently No.5 Penn State Nittany Lions. Against the Nittany Lions, Pickett completed 35-of-51 passing attempts for 372-yards. He didn’t throw any touchdowns int he game but he also didn’t throw any interceptions.

This year, the Yellow Jackets secondary is much improved from a season ago and it should create an interesting matchup between the two teams. How will defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker and cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich decide to attack Pickett and the Panthers receiving core.

That Pittsburgh receiving core is a sneaky good one as well. There are two names to know for the Panthers at wideout, those being former Indiana Hoosier Taysir Mack and the other being Maurice Ffrench.

Mack, this season has 48 receptions for 563-yards and two touchdowns. He’s coming off one of his quieter games of the season with three receptions for just 18-yards. He does have two, 100+ yard performances this season as well with one coming against Penn State (125-yards) and Delaware (124-yards). That being said, he does only have two touchdown receptions this season.

Ffrench, on the other hand, has a team leading 64-receptions on the season. With those 64-receptions, Ffrench has totaled 535 receiving yards and three touchdowns. It is worth noting that Pittsburgh will get him involved in the backfield through jet sweeps and such as he has seven rushing attempts for 26-yards this season.

The Panthers best weapon on offense however lies in the backfield. Running back A.J Davis has been a versatile weapon for the Panthers, totaling 541-yards this season, being a part of both the rushing game and receiving game for Pat Narduzzi’s offense. Davis has been a strong ball carrier for the most part, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 79 carries. He has 332 rushing yards and three touchdowns. When it comes to being a part of the passing game, Davis has been tremendous. He has 17 receptions on the season for 209-yards.

The Panthers share the ball int he backfield quite a bit with three other backs having at least 30+ carries. Sophomore Todd Sibley Jr.  leads the way with the backups, with 50 carries for 249-yards. V’Lique Carter will get his fair share of carries as well on Saturday with 52 on the season for 170-yards. One final name to know in the backfield is Vincent Davis. Davis has 31 carries for 112-yards.

The Pittsburgh offensive line has been up-and-down this year. In run blocking, the Panthers offensive line has only allowed the Panthers to average 3.5 yards per carry, certaintly not a strong number. When it comes to pass blocking, they’ve had their struggles, allowing 19 sacks this season in eight games.

An additional issue with Pittsburgh’s offense has been their turnover struggles. In their eight games, the Panthers have turned the ball over 13 times. In addition to Narduzzi’s six interceptions, backup quarterback Nick Patti has one additional interception thrown while the Panthers have lost six fumbles this season.

Overall, the Pittsburgh offense this season has been slightly above average. They’re not an offense that should scare any opposing defense but they have enough play makers on offense that if a play is needed, they can make big plays. They’re an interesting case study to say the least when it come to an offense.