September 12, 2016

Finding Their Way on Offense

Filed under: Football,Narduzzi — Justin @ 1:42 pm

In hindsight, the Penn State game could not have gone any better. Pitt won, but the second half showed the areas Pitt needs to improve. I had a great conversation with a coworker, a former high school offensive coordinator with decades of experience, about the game. I mentioned the thing that bothered me was how Pitt dominated the game, but still almost lost.

The issue, as we both agreed, was passive coaching. The second half was a terrible combination of the offense stagnating due to conservative plays and PSU’s offense getting into a rhythm. I’m not entirely sure what happened on defense other than they started playing tight after PSU began moving the ball consistently. The offense, however, is very easy to see. Here’s where Matt Canada and the offense went wrong in the second half.

It started on the third drive of the second half that resulted in a missed FG.  Penn State fumbled, giving Pitt an opportunity to reclaim a three score lead and shut down any hope of a comeback. On 3rd and 7, a pass behind the line of scrimmage was called. Scott Orndoff lost a yard. Out trots out Blewitt to try a 50 yard FG. Of the last 13 kicks Blewitt has attempted over 40 yards, he has made 6. At best, this is a 50/50 shot and Blewitt has not looked good so far this year.

These two plays failed on multiple levels. First, the short pass to Orndoff was a safe play likely with the intention of kicking the field goal if it failed. Second, the focus wasn’t on getting the first down or going for the win; it was designed to be safe to prevent PSU from getting any momentum. Third, Blewitt was put in a bad position that gave PSU a way to gain momentum.

A more aggressive play-call could’ve failed too, but the attempt wasn’t there. With a chance to end the game, Canada went safe. The result was a missed FG and a short field for PSU to make it a one score game. Thankfully Quadree Henderson happened on the next drive to get the two score lead back. I can’t fault Canada for the Conner fumble, but it would’ve been a much less horrifying event had the offense scored on the missed FG drive.

The next opportunity the offense had? Conner rush, Conner rush, third down, fail, punt. Yes, the OL had been dominating, but some level of unpredictability would’ve been wondrous. Unless I’m missing it, was there a single WR jet sweep in the second half? Between WRs and Whitehead, the offense got 92 yards on only 6 attempts. What an ideal time to throw another one in there to at least TRY something different that half.

The last offensive drive with a chance to seal the win, Canada calls a RB swing pass on third and four. That’s a high percentage throw with a low chance of turnover and success. The game was on the line and another conservative play was called. This does correlate with a fair criticism I’ve seen of Narduzzi so far; he relies too heavily on his defense to win the game. Perhaps it was his decision for the offense to go conservative, not Canada’s.

Narduzzi said after the game “[w]e have to find out why we couldn’t finish it off faster.” To me, the passive play-calling on offense is why. Go for the win when multiple opportunities present itself. Instead, the plays were designed to be safe.

This isn’t to pick on Canada or the offense. In the first half I LOVED the offense. It was run heavy, but a bit unpredictable and multiple plays were run off of the same lineups or personnel groupings. If you want to keep a defense on edge, use numerous different plays from similar alignments and players. Penn State had no idea what was coming in the first half. But the defense was clearly faltering and playing it safe on offense put too much onus on the defense to win the game. Penn State’s offense can’t score when they’re sipping Gatorade on the sidelines.

I hope that a lesson was learned yesterday by Narduzzi and Canada. Something similar happened last year against Louisville as well.  When you have a large lead against a good team, don’t let them linger. End it. Oklahoma State learned that lesson last week the hard way. Hopefully Pitt learns it the easy way.

Agree — Pitt threw 2 passes in the entire 4th quarter, and both were behind the LOS to Conner. Nobody loves running the FB more than I but when the defense is packing the line, you should trust your senior QB IMO.

but also thought the defense was a little too passive in the latter stages. McSorely had too much time on the 4th and 16 …. and the 2 pt attempt for that matter

Comment by wbb 09.12.16 @ 1:58 pm

It’s hard to say what went wrong on defense without more analysis, especially coaches tape. On offense, it’s much easier to see playcalls and what those plays were probably going to accomplish.

Comment by Justin 09.12.16 @ 2:04 pm

Don’t you think the dark uniforms had to have some impact versus the Penn State all whites? The temperature in our seats was literally unbearable. It had to be over 100 degrees on the field. To some extent it could have impacted the 4th quarter play.

Comment by wally 09.12.16 @ 2:27 pm

Spot on — got too conservative vs a team with talent…not a bad move if you’re playing Villanova but you can’t play chicken against the big boys.

I don’t see a whole lot from Ollison this year. He’s got good speed but not many moves — I’d rather see Hall become the primary back-up to Conner, and a few less carries for Conner overall…maybe 15-20 per game and give Hall about 10. Also, how quick is Whitehead…man!

Comment by Matt N. 09.12.16 @ 2:28 pm

The Pitt defensive front was tired(heat related IMO) late in the game with the result that McSorley had more time to throw the ball.—Narduzzi should never be confident that our defensive secondary and linebackers will not be victimized if the opposing QB gets the time to scan the field to throw the ball. Better off that he rolls the dice and continues to blitz some fresh legs in an attempt to stop the oposition.

Comment by jrnpitt 09.12.16 @ 2:56 pm

Could not agree more Chas. If Pitt loses this game there would be a lot more questioning of Narduzzi’s and Canada’s circumspection after the 3rd quarter Pitt TD. I had thought that playing not to lose was foreign to Narduzzi who attempted multiple fake punts and fourth and shorts in tight situations last year. People have bought into Narduzzi because he they perceive him as having stones. At least that was my reason. I am happy with the win but it easily could have been a loss.

Comment by Barvo 09.12.16 @ 3:19 pm

Correction Justin!

Comment by Barvo 09.12.16 @ 3:19 pm

Ding, ding, ding…. Justin nails it. Now keep in mind, Narduzzi is learning on the job (to be a HC). The next question is, who will grill him on this, so that he can think long and hard and hopefully learn from it. Or will stubbornness be a long term trait, as with several past coaches? I truly hope Narduzzi will rethink the impact that a conservative mindset has on a team (both teams), so they can adapt and just keep winning…

Comment by 1618mt 09.12.16 @ 4:05 pm

Wth the way Pitt’s offense was sputtering in the 2nd half……..

biggest play of the game (other than the Ryan Lewis pick) was Quadree Henderson’s 84 yard Kick Return to the Pedo State 10 yd line and 3 plays later produced the TD which made the score 42-31.

Again with the offense sputtering, perhaps Pitt doesn’t score any more points if it doesn’t get that extremely short field, Henderson’s return provided.

Comment by Emel 09.12.16 @ 4:10 pm

Moving ahead… I think it’s important to keep some perspective.

Even though Pitt was clearly the BETTER Team, we were one PERFECTLY thrown DROPPED Pass away from a likely loss.

Absolutely Narduzzi and his Staff and especially the Players are to be complimented for pulling out the Win.

But there are some obvious problems that have been pointed out by many here.

Let’s hope that Narduzzi is telling the truth and Peterman REALLY can throw the football effectively… without a Tyler Boyd.

Guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.12.16 @ 4:39 pm

When you play not to lose and your opponent knows you’re going to run the ball the sledding gets tough. I’m was thrilled with the way the Panthers played the first half. Not so thrilled with what I see of the passing game. I’m not sure they can pass when they need to, without Tyler Boyd.

Comment by Justinian 09.12.16 @ 4:48 pm

@Barvo–I think Narduzzi will get it right that going too conservative too soon was the problem. In his post game presser he said somthing about needing to watch film to figure out why Pitt didn’t finish them off(PSU) sooner. Going too conservative will be the answer he reaches, I would expect.

Comment by pitt1972 09.12.16 @ 7:06 pm

What a day. What an environment. What a win!

The play-calling in the first half was excellent. So many different players got involved and Pitt did a great job of using various formations, motions, etc. to keep PSU unbalanced.

The second half was very, very conservative. I don’t recall many jet sweeps, maybe only 1 actually to Aston. That’s crazy considering PSU didn’t come close to stopping it in the first half. No vertical passing off of play-action. Just beyond vanilla. I’m not sure PSU even made many adjustments because we really didn’t call the game type of game.

The first drive got off to a bad start. Penalty on the kickoff, converted 3rd and short only to be negated by a penalty. Pinned deep, blah punt and PSU was in business with great field position.

I’m thrilled with the W and proud of a great time effort. But a fair analysis on the second half. Good stuff Justin.

Comment by JAM05Pitt 09.12.16 @ 9:08 pm

Henderson and Weah should be open downfield if they are both in game at the same time. They both have speed and should be able break off big numbers with yards after the catch. They would have to have the ball thrown to them to find this out but I have feeling that this will be the game plan going into Stillwater and yet another new wrinkle fof this teams offense.

Comment by Tony in Harrisburg 09.12.16 @ 9:45 pm

IMHO: (1) There is no way that OCMC made the unilateral decision to be so conservative with Peterman, that was HCPN; (2) HCPN is not learning how to be a HC and he is not going to change how he does things. He wants to win games with his defense.

Comment by HbgFrank 09.12.16 @ 10:12 pm

We ran the ball so effectively against PSU that Narduzzi / Canada kept a lid on the passing game, planning to unleash it against Ok St. Ok St will see Pitt as one dimensional running team but Canada will open the passing game up this week. That will plant the seed for NC to guess which Pitt offense will show up in Chapel Hill. I’m loving Canada’s play calling it sure is more fun to watch than Chaney’s.

Comment by Spindler's Spirit 09.13.16 @ 1:16 am

This week against OSU winning the game with defense is going to be an uphill battle. The secondary will be severely tested by Mason Rudolph and their receiver Washington. I hope the secondary can contend with the time tested and proven deep passing game that OSU will attack with.

Comment by Grizzly1 09.13.16 @ 7:25 am

To me it makes no sense that Pitt was INTENTIONALLY not throwing the Ball so as to HIDE their Passing Offense.

Seriously, you’re in the Second Half of a BIG Game where you’re watching your lead and your ability to control the football disintegrating… and you REFUSE to pass in a couple of critical situations so as to not expose a couple of pass routes to future Opponents.

If Narduzzi is telling the truth on this, then this has to be one of the DUMBEST strategies ever employed by a Head Coach.

But, then again Narduzzi did say Hendrix and Zeise were “day to day.”

Hopefully this Narduzzi is telling the truth here despite how UNUSUAL and DUMB it might sound.

That’s far better than the alternative which might be that Coaches are really lacking some confidence in Peterman’s ability to effectively throw the Ball without turning it over… especially with no Tyler Boyd.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.13.16 @ 7:35 am

Agree with PoD.

Making worse was the fact that with 8 or 9 guys in the box, still no green light to pass.

I think we were afraid of the PSU D-backs, and concerned about our pass protection.

Although I hate them, there were not even any quick screens attempted.

A team that runs for over 300 yds, mostly in the first half, has a huge runback, and wins the turnover battle, shouldn’t win by three points. No way that PSU should have been driving for a victory with plenty of time on the clock.

While I agree that you don’t have to throw if you can run, we were unable to run in the second half. A few deep passes would have put them on their heels a little.

Comment by gc 09.13.16 @ 7:55 am

Where would this team be if Price had not been granted one more year? Especially without Hendrix.

Comment by gc 09.13.16 @ 8:05 am

This defense is only as good as its pass rush. When are guys tired out or when the PSU team stepped up in the second half our d-backs were exposed. Don’t think we blitzed as much as we did the previous week.

The pass rush will be crucial this week, without pressure OKST will have a field day.

Comment by gc 09.13.16 @ 8:12 am

I also think that Narduzzi and Canada were fearful of the sack or interception of Peterman. Not totaly DUMB as PoD would say. It is all about risk/reward, they were not willing to take the risk. They got away with it this time.

Comment by gc 09.13.16 @ 8:17 am

Funny, every time I play the safe shot in golf, I seem to screw it up anyway.

Comment by gc 09.13.16 @ 8:19 am

The sky was still bluer, the grass greener, and the coffee is still delicious!!!

Not a peep or text from any of the 7 family PSU’ers I was tailgating with.

It’s glorious!!

Thank you HCPN, staff and players!!

Enjoying immensely!!


Comment by Dan 09.13.16 @ 8:52 am

That play calling was so conservative in the second half that I wondered after the game if Peterman was hurt. Maybe he has an elbow or shoulder injury that he is nursing.

Comment by HbgFrank 09.13.16 @ 11:12 am

HbgFrank – we will never know this week until game time, if NP was hurt. This coach could work for the FBI or CIA with his secretive style.

Good stuff – keep winning and I’ll play Sgt. Shultz all day long – “I know nothing, I say nothing”.


Comment by Erie Express 09.13.16 @ 11:28 am

Well said Dan! I definitely feel the same way. Love that sunshine and green grass!

Some replies for family when the subject finally is broached:
“Maybe we can call PSU a RIVALRY when they finally give us a game! Otherwise, its like calling Akron a RIVAL.”
“PITT will still respect PSU, not love but respect, as long as they don’t steal our coach, since they will likely soon be in the market for one”

On to beat the Okies of OSU.

Comment by giffer in Denver 09.13.16 @ 2:18 pm

@giffer, LOL.

I only gave one serious jab all day, and wasn’t even to a family member.

Guy walking out of the game, bloviating non-sense, and I just said,

“hey, you can get on to your rivals now, maybe you can beat one of them”.


Comment by Dan 09.13.16 @ 3:20 pm

Touche Dan-o

Never knew players to cry, unless it was to a hated rival.

Of course these SJW males cry at the drop of a hat these days. ha

Comment by Emel 09.13.16 @ 6:56 pm

Playing not to lose won’t win close games.
Left lane hammer down will.
Defense isn’t good enough yet to be put in that position.
key to season: Orndorf!
Use him!!!

Comment by Punxy panther 09.14.16 @ 2:38 pm

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