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Pitt’s Receiving Corps Must Step Up

It’s not breaking news, but with everyone looking at Nate Peterman, we decided to look at the players catching the ball.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve talked a lot lately about how Pitt’s passing game needs to step up for the offense to be productive. The interesting thing is how successful they have been putting points on the board without much of a downfield threat. That won’t last forever and it has proved to be a problem at key moments of a game early on this year.

Obviously, there’s been a lot of focus on what quarterback Nathan Peterman needs to do and how the staff needs to trust him more. But the other side of that is the Panthers’ receivers.

Pitt hasn’t faced the best of defenses yet, but they will eventaully. And when they do, they must see what they have. With defenses already stacking the line and Dontez Ford out for a period of time, the coaching staff has to allow some players a chance to make plays. The receiving corps is very inexperienced to say the least.

If you want to find a security blanket, Pitt’s tight end, Scott Orndoff would probably be it and this is one of my frustrations. He’s pretty sure handed and a good athlete. He has 33 career catches and nine touchdowns. Those are nice numbers for someone who was behind J.P. Holtz for his first few years. He’s not going to be the second coming of Dorin Dickerson for Panther fans, but the Waynesburg native’s 6’5” and 255 pound-frame would give fits to defenders so I’m all for him being even more involved. He leads the team in receptions but I’d like to see him involved more downfield.

In addition to Orndoff, it’s starting to look like Quadree Henderson is developing into the top receiver. Henderson can score from anywhere on the field and he’s a candidate to be targeted a little more as well. He already has nine catches this season, has good hands, and is plenty capable of doing more.

Every team needs a downfield threat. Whether it’s a speed threat or a height threat, you need them. Pitt has both the speed and the height to make teams pay for covering one-on-one but hasn’t gone downfield enough. Jester Weah is a former track champion and has six catches for 123 yards. The question with Weah has always been his hands but you have to try to stretch the defense. He did that a bit with a long grab and score this weekend.

In addition to those guys, Pitt has a few more that are in the mix here. First, there’s true freshman, Aaron Mathews of Clairton. He’s a bit taller and is listed at either 6’4” or 6’5” for the most part. Either way, reports in camp determined he was not much fun for defensive backs. He’s still looking for his first catch, but Narduzzi said in his weekly press conference that he’s a guy we should see more of. Mathews doesn’t have to know everything in the playbook to go up for a jump ball. Take a shot.

Finally, there needs to be a security blanket in a group of receivers. Tyler Boyd was it for three seasons. He ran great routes and caught balls in traffic. I think Orndoff can provide some security, but a receiver helps too. I’ve heard way too much about Tre Tipton early last year and then again this season in training camp to not think he may have a knack for coming down with tough balls and taking hits. A week ago when Pitt was trailing Oklahoma State, they needed to get downfield to tie up the Cowboys. Tipton came down with three catches, on the last drive, and one of them was a very tough fourth down conversion.

Also in the mix is JUCO transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes. He has only one catch on the year but with Ford out, he could see a bit more time as well.

Pitt’s receiving corps is a virtual unknown and it’s understandable that we haven’t seen much from these guys aside from Henderson and Orndoff. But if the Panthers’ offense is to do more, at some point, they’ll need to trust the passing game a little more. Like Oklahoma State, North Carolina is capable of scoring a lot of points so we might see that sooner rather than later.

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