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Tiki's Game Analysis: Pitt

In one of the ugliest football games I've ever witnessed, the Hoos fell to the Pitt Panthers 14-3. The two teams combined for less than 400 yards of offense, a week after combining for well over 1000 total yards (against completely different opponents). Neither team could get anything going, and both Pitt TDs came after careless Virginia turnovers.

Watford is doing far too much of this.
Watford is doing far too much of this.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

"He's fast right? Why don't they run him more?"

This was said to me at least 3 times by the 12 year old boy sitting in the row in front of me at Heinz Field. How do you respond to that? How does it make you feel knowing that a random 12 year old Pitt fan is smarter than our entire coaching staff?

David Watford had a 19 yard rush. He also had rushes for 14 yards, 8 yards and 7 yards. How many rushes did the Hoos RBs have of that length? Two. Kevin Parks had a 12 yard rush on his 2nd carry of the game and a 7 yard rush later in the first quarter. On the game, Watford had 6 rushes. Removing sacks, he was by far our best rusher, and he had 6 called rushes.

One of the benefits of rushing the QB is that it adds an extra player to the offense. When Watford hands the ball off to Kevin Parks, he is essentially removing himself from the play, meaning the Hoos are playing 10-on-11. When Watford runs by himself, or uses the read-option, the defense still needs to account for him (and Parks), which means the Hoos are playing 11-on-11. That is to the offense's advantage. And yet we did that just 6 times.

Watford threw 37 passes. Counting sacks and scrambles, there were either 41 or 42 called passes. This isn't a situation where the Hoos were down big, and were forced to throw to catch up. Yes, the running game wasn't working, but the passing game wasn't working either. Granted, it is a small sample size, but the read-option was working. For the most part, the read-option has been working all season, we just seem unwilling to call it consistently.

There were a lot of drops. Mike London said there were 10 drops. I'm not sure if that number is correct. Some of the "drops" were passes that were off-target and were difficult catches. Still, there were far too many drops. But the passes that aren't off-target and aren't dropped are still a problem.

For the game, Watford averaged 8.2 yards per completion. That is actually higher than his season average of 7.5 yards per completion. The Hoos are dead-last in the country in yards per completion. Watford is 114th in the nation in passing efficiency. The Hoos WRs can't catch. The QB is inaccurate. Even the completions aren't helping all that much. And yet we're throwing the ball 40 times. That makes no sense. I think this is a case of Steve Fairchild trying too hard to be "cute". He wants to be a smashmouth, power rushing football team, but the OL isn't allowing that to happen. So he tries WR screens and RB flare passes and quick outs.

These plays do not go to Watford's strength. He is too slow getting the ball out, and he isn't accurate enough. A WR screen works if the WR has time to catch the ball and make a move or two to get by his man. A RB flare pass works if he can catch the ball and turn upfield before he's hit. This isn't happening. One reason is Watford's inability to put the ball where it needs to be when it needs to be there. Another reason is that these are the only passes we're consistently completing, so there isn't space for the receivers to work with.

Watford threw 1 quick slant that I recall. He threw it 2 yards behind Jennings. Disregarding the incredibly high chance that Jennings would've dropped it anyway, this is unacceptable. Quick slants are one of the best ways to get the ball out ahead of a pass rush, and get the ball to a guy who's already moving upfield. This play was run once. Perhaps that is because Watford isn't accurate enough to throw it. And if he misses that pass, it could easily be returned for a TD the other way. So we throw safe passes.

Watford is very athletic. His biggest strength, at least at this point, is his legs. And yet we refuse to use that weapon more than 6 times a game. This is a fail on the part of Steve Fairchild. Changing the OL isn't going to solve that problem. Changing the WRs isn't going to solve that problem. Until Fairchild figures out what this offense can and can't do, and begins game-planning to utilize the players he has in the best way possible, this offense isn't going to get any better.

I haven't yet mentioned the defense. That is a fail on my part. The defense was, simply, unbelievable. Every time it seemed like Pitt was gaining a bit of momentum on offense, somebody on the defense came up with a big play. Often that was freshman Max Valles, who finished with 2.5 sacks. Maurice Canady had a big game, although he does need to get turned around when the ball is in the air. A couple of completions where made on passes where he had great coverage, but the WR was able to haul it in because Canady didn't ever see the ball. This includes Devin Street's TD reception.

The entire defense was great, but Ant Harris, Brent Urban, David Dean, Jake Snyder, Eli Harold and Henry Coley deserve mention for their efforts. Pitt had over 500 yards of offense and 58 points a week ago. They had 199 yards of offense and 14 points this week. That is championship level defense. And with just 2 seniors on the defense, they are only going to get better.

As always, some notes:

  • I completely agree with Brian's assessment of the 4th down call late in the 4th quarter. In that situation, that close to the goalline, we simply had to score a TD. A FG wasn't going to do anything.
  • On that series, at the goalline, the third down play to Jake McGee is one of the worst play calls I've ever seen. McGee catches a pass with no forward momentum, at the 3 yard line. This play only works if nobody covers McGee. Is it likely that Pitt would leave McGee open near the goalline? No. He was hit as soon as he caught it. There was almost no chance of that play getting into the endzone. Watford ran for 7 yards on first down, getting the ball to the 3 yard line. Why not try a QB draw or something to see if he could get in from there?
  • I do not agree with the 2 fourth down attempts earlier in the game. On back to back drives, in the 2nd quarter, the Hoos had good field position and went for it on 4th down from the 27 and 28 yard line. Those are makeable FGs. We've been told that Ian Frye was struggling with a hamstring injury. But his 32 yard FG was picture perfect, and easily would've been good from 45 yards. And frankly, if Dylan Sims isn't capable of kicking a 45 yard FG, why is he even on the team? Down 14-0, the Hoos had a chance to put points on the board, get some momentum going, and give some confidence to the offense. Instead, twice in a row, we went for it and failed. So the offense comes off the field having just failed. And we wonder why they play with no confidence. I don't even want to comment on the ridiculousness of the pitch to Kevin Parks on 4th and 4. What are the chances of him picking up 4 yards on that play? Very, very low. Most likely, lower than the chances of Frye or Sims (or a random guy from the stands) successfully kicking a 45 yard FG.
  • The Hoos are 94th in the nation in 3rd down conversions, at about 34%. That includes an 11/18 (61%) effort against VMI. Of course, the fact that we faced 18 third downs against VMI is troubling enough. This week, the Hoos were 3/18 (16%). Watford was 4/11 for 13 yards on 3rd downs. That is 1.2 yards per attempt. That is so bad it's comical. Three times, the Hoos completed a pass on 3rd down short of the marker. Without knowing the full playcall, (and without a full coach's video) it is impossible to determine how much of that is on Fairchild and how much is on Watford and his receivers. But my initial reaction is to blame the OC for calling pass plays that aren't likely to gain the necessary yards.
  • I think it is time to say that Darius Jennings' hands aren't going to get better. He still has value. But Adrian Gamble and Canaan Severin need to get more looks. They are simply better WRs at this point. Tim Smith has good hands, but either isn't getting open, or isn't getting targeted. He had 1 catch for 4 yards, and that isn't enough. He's still the best WR on the team, and needs to be better utilized.
  • Coach London has said that there will be changes on the OL going forward. I'm not sure what those are. Eric Tetlow was in at RG by the end of the game. But both Ross Burbank and Jackson Matteo were getting dominated by two very good DTs. The interior of the OL has been a problem for far too long now. Maybe it is a matter of talent. Maybe we just don't have 5 OLs who are capable of blocking good defenders. But I suspect that there are problems beyond that. Scott Wachenheim was brought in as a TE coach, and then moved to OL later. I don't know if he's up for the job. We can't pry Mattes away from Elon University? I don't know why Tom O'Brien was brought in if he's not coaching the OL or calling the plays. As far as I can tell, his job is just to help London not screw up in-game decisions. And that isn't even working (see above).
  • Dominique Terrell had been doing so well on punt returns. He looked confident, he looked dangerous and he looked ready to break one. This week, he looked like a freshman again. Why are we so bad at punt returns? It is mind-boggling.
  • Ian Frye only had one kickoff, but it went to the same exact spot as all his other kickoffs. It also went into the endzone for a touchback.
  • The worst football game I've ever seen was the game the Hoos lost 7-5 in Chapel Hill in 2005. In that game, the Hoos had 199 total yards, and gave up 270. In this game, the Hoos had just 188 total yards and gave up 199. I still believe that game was worse, but this was close.