After some recent struggles against Iowa in the second half, and Akron this weekend, we may be about to find out just how good/bad the offensive coaches are. The Panthers' offense has floundered miserably over the past six quarters combining for only 13 points. Considering that four of those quarters came against Akron, the low scoring is alarming, to say the least.
Pitt needs to inject a heavy does of creative juices into what's become a fairly stale game plan. The good news is that there are plenty of options to make things better. Here are five things the team can do without much work.
1. Running back screen passes: Late in the Akron game on a play that largely went unnoticed, Pitt completed a short pass to Rachid Ibrahim, who turned it into a 26-yard game. Dating back to last season, I've pointed out that Ibrahim is the perfect back to do that sort of thing. He's not the ideal every down back he talked about being in training camp, but he's so ideal for screen passes that it's not even funny. He's so shifty in open space and has the ability to turn plays into big gains. Really, there's no good reason he's not being utilized more in that fashion and Pitt can do the same with other players such as Ronald Jones.
Another wild card that could bring something to the table here? Avonte Maddox. He's one of the fastest guys on the team and has crazy speed. Pitt has given him a shot at returning kicks, so why not use him here in spot situations as well?
2. Involving tight ends: The Panthers can also make the tight ends a bigger part of the passing game. Despite some talent in the unit, the tight ends have combined for only nine catches for 78 yards on the year, despite the fact that we're nearly halfway through the season. Save for a two-yard touchdown by Scott Orndoff, the Panthers' tight ends have also been kept out of the end zone. Those guys could be utilized so much more and could help quarterback Chad Voytik get into a bit of a rhythm with short-mid range passes to them.
3. Creating more space for James Conner: In addition, while the running game has been very good, defenses have also keyed in on James Conner lately. Going back to the second half against Iowa, he's been largely held in check and teams are going to continue to focus more and more on him as the passing game struggles. Too many of Conner's runs have been bursts up to the middle and while his game is more of a power one, some things like direct snaps, pitches, or even options to get him some more open space would be welcomed.
4. Giving Boyd more of a chance on deeper routes: Also, as a reader mentioned recently, I wouldn't mind seeing the team take a couple of more deep shots to Boyd. He's proven that he can catch the ball even if defended well, and sometimes the team just needs to give him a jump ball and let him have a chance at making a play. Boyd showed true big play ability last year and there's no reason not to air it out a little more. Voytik isn't always all that accurate, but even if the ball is in the vicinity, Boyd will have a shot at hauling it in.
5. Stop the penalties: As I wrote earlier, Pitt's offense has shot itself in the foot more than a few times this year. One of those problems has been penalties on the offensive line. That was evident again this weekend with Dorian Johnson's big holding penalty that meant a touchdown was called back and also a second holding penalty to T.J. Clemmings when Pitt was driving early in the game that helped push the team back after getting to midfield, and resulting in a punt. Against Iowa, Pitt also had five holding and false start penalties as well. Those things add up and just make scoring more difficult.
Pitt has offensive weapons - they just need to start utilizing them a little better while playing smarter. The good news is that there's more than enough talent on the team to get the offense back on track.
What else does the team need to do to score more points?
Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.