Monday, October 6, 2014

Pitt Football Midseason Grades- Offense

Quarterback: In my preseason report I said that Pitt will go only as far as Chad Voytik takes them. Well, the Panthers are 3-3 and on a three game losing streak, so obviously it hasn't gone well.  Voytik is No. 79 nationally in passing efficiency and the Panthers are No. 111 in passing offense.

Every once in awhile he makes a nice throw and his running ability and mobility in the pocket are assets, but his decision making and erratic arm is hurting the team. The fact that there's no viable options to give the offense a different look is something that's best explored in another article, but having basically a half of a competent quarterback on the entire roster will obviously cause a bad grade.

Bottom line: Voytik threw more often in the last three games, with mixed results, but hopefully he can still develop. I don't think he's been quite as bad as many think, but when your quarterback is not excelling at a high degree it becomes glaring. Like I wrote previously, this grade is mostly because there's only one real option on the team, and he's still learning. I expect this grade to be better at the end of the season.

Last Season's Final Grade: B-
This Season's Preseason Grade: C-
Midseason Grade: D+

Running back: It's been no secret that I loved James Conner's abilities a long time ago, so it's nice to see that he's lived up to his massive ability. Unfortunately, some cracks are showing up in the running game now that defenses realize that if they stop him, they stop Pitt. In his first four games Conner averaged 175 yards, 6.2 yards, and had 9 TDs. In his last two games, he's averaged 88 yards, 3.8 yards, and no TDs.

Conner is also in danger of being run into the ground with 156 carries on the season. His primary backup, true freshman Chris James, has run just 28 times and 14 of those came in the opener to Delaware.  In the last 4 games James has had only 9 rushes for 41 yards. Senior Isaac Bennett has 17 carries for 101 yards, a 6.2 avg. and 8 catches. Like James, Bennett should probably be used a little more so that Conner won't wear out. The same goes with Rachid Ibrahim who has 16 carries for 106 yards, a 6.6 average, and 5 catches. All three backups have done very well in limited roles.

Bottom line: Even though the running game has taken a step back in the last two games, it's hard to criticize the No. 19 rush offense in the country, especially when one is a potential All-American and the other three are solid, too.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: A

Wide Receiver:  This unit has been a disappointment, beyond just the quarterback struggles. Tyler Boyd is obviously still great so I won't spend much time on him. His stats are way down but that's not his fault. It's beyond him where the unit drops quickly.

Senior Manasseh Garner looks like the former tight end that he is. His blocking is hit or miss, and his hands and separation skills are average. He only has 14 catches on the season and is averaging just 11.7 yards a reception. He's never had more than 3 catches in a game. The passing game is struggling but Pitt rarely throws to the tight ends and Boyd is always double covered so you would think Garner could take advantage of the opportunities.  That hasn't been the case unfortunately.

The production drops again with Ronald Jones adding just 6 catches and a 9.8 average, and Kevin Weatherspoon with 5 catches and a 12.4 average. Adonis Jennings has 2 catches, Chris Wuenster has one, and Jester Weah, Zach Challingsworth, and Dontez Ford has no catches.

Bottom line: This unit was vastly overrated by many in the preseason. I knew it was but even I expected a bit more. The key is Jennings who is the only receiver, other than Boyd, who has elite potential. He's had a single catch in the last two games, the first two he's played, and his development in the second half of the season is essential. As of now, the unit gets a mediocre grade only because of Boyd.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C

Tight ends: The pathetic underutilization of this talented unit continues. Both JP Holtz and Scott Orndoff, plus H-Back Jaymar Parrish, are doing a great job of blocking, but they have just 14 catches between them. There's really not much more to say other than it's frustrating that they aren't a bigger part of the passing offense.

Bottom line: Even though they don't get thrown to often, their blocking as well as the fact that their lack of protection is not their fault, still leads me to give them a good grade.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: A-
Midseason Grade: B

Offensive lineman: This unit still isn't at a high level but they've come a long way from where they were in the past few seasons. Two things that stand out glaringly with this unit is that, one, they are very good run blockers that aren't quite good enough to run at will when defenses are geared for the run, and, two, their pass blocking is not as good as their run blocking.

The seniors, guard Matt Rotheram and tackle TJ Clemmings, entered the season on NFL radars. Both have been mostly good, but neither have reached the highest level. Clemmings, especially, at times has looked like he may reach that level this season, but against Virginia he showed that he still could be a disaster at times.

Center Artie Rowell was lost for the season early with an injury and has been replaced by both Alex Officer and Gabe Roberts.  Roberts was mostly a disaster so it looks like it now should be Officer for the rest of the season, and maybe for the rest of his career since he's more talented than Rowell. That's if the Pitt staff doesn't rotate him with Roberts again, which was a ludicrously bad idea.

The other three linemen that gets most of the playing time are sophomore Dorian Johnson, redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty, and redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith. Bisnowaty is still a bit of a disappointment, especially after getting suspended for the Virginia game. He's not a good left tackle and his skill set will probably always make it that way so in the future he will probably move inside where he could do much better. Johnson was a disaster last year when he was thrown in too fast. He still isn't displaying star potential but he's definitely made an improvement. Jones-Smith is probably the starting left tackle next season but he's playing for the first time this season so he's still hit or miss.

Bottom line: Better than the past few years and not as good as it will be someday. It may take another two years to reach an elite level but it's at least heading that way.

Last Season's Final Grade: D+
This Season's Preseason Grade: C+
Midseason Grade: B-


  1. Fair analysis Chris. The team is weak at QB and the results are showing. You have to have balance. Right now, there is no trick in stopping Pitt's offense. Put nine in the box and force Voytik to beat you. I do believe he will come along and get better. Until then, we're going to take our lumps.

  2. You go as far as a quarterback takes you these days... With savage.... we are like undefeated or at worst 5 and 1... Chad v. Has been somewhat of a failure so far..

  3. Pretty fair assessment. One can only hope that Voytik and the coaching staff look to the tight ends more. It started to look that way in the UVA game and hopefully it is a trend. Holtz and Orndoff are real good and they could help in a big way taking heat off both Connor and Boyd. Have weapons, use them.

  4. Chris, any word on if the new Chancellor is likely to open up the pocket books for assistants? In other words, is he interested in investing in the football program?

  5. all about right though Id downgrade to a C+ for OL...due to penalties...getting worse by the day

  6. Hard to find fault with the grades. The key is whether they can improve on the midterm grades; with a young team, the final grades should be an improvement, but I don't recall that being the case last year.

  7. Chris,

    And special teams grade????

    2nd question is why so many coaches whether it be HS, college or pro are so dead set against throwing to wide open tight ends? It opens up so many other facets of the game on offense. What gives? Chryst may be stupid but can he be that dumb?


    1. They ran the exact same passing plays against Virginia and J.P. Holtz had more receptions.

      Paul Chryst doesn't go under center and throw footballs in the live-games. I don't think he is stupid also.

  8. How many times has Garner been thrown to?

  9. No mention of the 5 false start penalties against UVA? That alone should drop the OL a letter grade. Way too inconsistent.

  10. There was far too much use of the word "disaster". (For good reason).

  11. There are hardly any pass plays where Voytik is not under intense pressure. I think it unfair to measure his performance given this. The offensive line may merit grade B- but 85% of that grade is due to its B+ performance on run plays. I think the offensive line deserves a D or D- on passing plays.With that perspective, and Voytik being a redshirt sophomore, my (lonely in the dark) opinion is that Voytik is a lot better than everyone thinks. Yes, he has made bad passes, but he has also made great passes. And he has legs (lets not forget this is not the NFL).