Pitt’s offense was never a thing of beauty in 2019. Even though Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett became just the fifth Pitt signal-caller to throw for over 3,000 yards, he was often under pressure, and the team's rushing attack was non-existent. The common thread in Pitt's struggle to move the ball downfield, whether by air or ground, was a lackluster offensive line that gave Pitt's skill-position players little time or room to work with, and as a result of that poor play, Pitt's line was ranked 94th in the nation by PFF on Monday.
The analytics website evaluated and ranked all 130 FBS offensive lines and found that, with the exception of Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey, the Panthers offensive line was generally subpar. On a position-by-position basis, it ranked Pitt’s centers a respectable 26th in the nation and placed its guards in the middle of the pack. However, only four FBS programs had worse tackles in 2019 by PFF’s estimation.
”Pitt’s offensive line improved as you traveled inward,” wrote Cam Mellor of PFF. “Their tackles ranked just 126th overall, their guards 66th overall and Morrissey at center helped [their centers] rank 26th in overall grade. Morrissey allowed just 10 pressures — all of which were hurries — as he kept a clean sheet in sacks and hits allowed this year.”
The overall result lands Pitt among the 15 worst Power Five programs in terms of offensive line play, but the Panthers still rank ninth out of the ACC’s 14 teams. In fact, while Clemson, NC State and Boston College’s lines ranked respectably among the top 35 in the nation, Georgia Tech and Florida State had the two worst FBS offensive lines at 130th and 129th, respectively. Miami, Syracuse and Duke also rank 100th or worse, and the rest of the ACC falls between 64th and 84th.
Some stats that lend credence to the PFF ranking include Pitt’s 29 sacks allowed and its 76 tackles for losses allowed, which ranked 86th and 77th in the nation, respectively. In addition, Pitt was among the most penalized FBS teams, as it drew 102 flags and lost 888 yards. The offensive line isn’t solely to blame for that, but it was often problematic, such as against Virginia Tech, when it drew two false start calls and two illegal formation calls.
The positive for Pitt is that reinforcements are on the way, as the team recruited two giants to its 2020 class in Michael Statham and Branson Taylor. Statham is larger than anyone on Pitt’s 2019 roster at 6’7”, 340 pounds, and Taylor holds a four-star rating from 247Sports. Pitt also has a four-star lineman waiting in the wings in Matt Goncalves, and Jimmy Morrissey will be back to lead the line in 2020.
Given all that, the size and talent are there for Pitt to improve. The question is whether it will make strides in time for the 2020 season, which will be the last for Pickett, Morrissey and several other key contributors on offense.