Pitt football: Panthers running game is dead

Pitt football is historically a ground and pound team that depends on a solid running game to drive the offense. The team stayed true to its roots over the past few seasons, relying heavily on its ground game, putting up over 1,500 yards in 2019 and a whopping 3,191 yards during the 2018 season. Although the Panthers’ rushing attack dropped off tremendously following the 2018 season, it was still effective in 2019. This drop off was expected as the team lost its top two backs in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall following the 2018 season and also brought in a new offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple.

This season Pitt is seeing a big drop in its rushing yards again this season, gaining just over 1,000 yards on the ground with only one game left. The rushing game falling off for the second year in a row is something that many did not see coming, as Pitt returned AJ Davis and Vincent Davis, its top two rushers from the 2019 season.

Whipple does tend to favor the passing game, and Kenny Pickett certainly has thrown the ball more since Whipple took over last season, which explains some of the drop off in rushing yards between 2018 and 2019. But, for the Panthers to be putting up significantly fewer rushing yards than they did in 2019 with two returning backs is unexplainable and unacceptable.

The play calling of Whipple has been questioned by many this season as he seems to call rushing plays in clear passing situations and decides to pass the ball in a situation where the team should be running. If these decisions were successful, people would look at Whipple as a genius, but since they haven’t been working people are scratching their heads in confusion at his decisions. This strange play calling is hurting not only the run game but the offense as a whole.

The play of the Pitt offensive line has also been detrimental to the running game in 2020. Pitt runners have not been given a lot of great running lanes, and they have consistently been hit in the backfield. Having to break tackles in the backfield and having nowhere to go if those tackles are broken has piled on to the poor play calling leaving the Panthers with the least effective rushing attack they have had in over a decade

Pitt struggling in the run game has killed its offense and has led to the whole team struggling. Opponents can almost completely focus on stopping the pass since there is little threat in the Panthers’ ground game. This makes passing the ball more difficult as the defense is expecting Pickett to be dropping back almost every play.

The ineffectiveness in rushing the ball also creates problems for the defense as the offense fails to put together long, time-consuming drives to allow the defense to rest. This leaves defensive players spending a lot of time on the field, which leads to them eventually giving up big play as they wear down.

With only one game left in the 2020 season, focusing on establishing the run will surely not happen this season. If Pitt wants to get things turned around, it will need to spend its offseason working with the running backs and offensive linemen to improve the running game. Pitt needs to get its rushing attack going again and get back to its old ways of running the ball dominantly if it hopes to see big-time success in the near future.

Photo by Carolyn Pallof | The Pitt News