Max Browne has started two games for the Pitt Panthers in his career, and he shouldn’t start a third.
Unfortunately, head coach Pat Narduzzi doesn’t share this sentiment — yet. When asked if Browne was still the starter after Saturday’s performance against Penn State, Narduzzi responded with a curt “Yes.”
Ben DiNucci should start as quarterback for the Panthers from here on out. With Browne’s limitations, DiNucci simply works better for Pitt’s offense. If Browne remains the starter after the Penn State game, this could be a long — and disappointing — season for Pitt fans.
The USC transfer displayed two main issues in his first two games at Pitt — inaccurate throws and lack of mobility, insurmountable issues for a starting quarterback.
When faced with pressure, the redshirt senior often rushes into a bad throw or takes a sack. Browne isn’t a mobile quarterback and doesn’t move in the pocket very well. Without a perfectly clean pocket to throw downfield, he struggled against Penn State — and college quarterbacks often aren’t given that much time to throw to begin with.
Take the second interception during Saturday’s game for example. There was pressure on Browne, and he panicked, throwing a rushed pass 10 yards over Jester Weah’s head and into the chest of Penn State safety Troy Apke.
In addition, Browne has issues even when he does get time to throw downfield. His throws often sail and miss receivers badly. Similar to rushing under pressure, his inaccuracy also led to a pick this Saturday.
During the Panthers’ first drive against the Nittany Lions, Browne dropped back, not facing much pressure. He simply overthrew Quadree Henderson by about eight yards and Penn State cornerback Grant Haley came up with the interception.
Unlike Browne, DiNucci moves in the pocket well, and can even scramble for first downs when plays break down. In his limited time against Penn State, DiNucci went five for nine for 49 yards and led the Panthers on one of their best drives in the game.
The Panthers could add a few more wrinkles to their offensive scheme with DiNucci leading the plays.
“[DiNucci] gives a spark because he can run — you see him scramble around,” Narduzzi said.
Pitt tried to run the option — where the quarterback either runs the ball or pitches it to the running back — a few times with Browne against Penn State, to no avail.
Browne’s not a running threat by any means. The 6-foot-5 quarterback stands tall in the pocket but struggles to move his long legs in and outside of the tackle box. Penn State was able to focus on the running back when Pitt tried to run option plays, knowing Browne would almost always pitch the ball instead of keeping it himself.
DiNucci’s speed would force defenses to play Pitt more honestly, which would open up different opportunities in the play-action pass game and the running game. DiNucci gave Pitt fans a small taste of what he could do when he dashed around the left end — making a defender miss — for a three-yard score against Penn State.
The redshirt sophomore from Wexford also has more to gain from game experience than Browne does given that he has a chance to become Pitt’s quarterback in the future.
Browne is a graduate transfer from USC who came to Pitt to improve his draft stock for the NFL. Unfortunately for Browne, his dismal performances against Youngstown State and Penn State now make his draft stock virtually nonexistent.
Pitt looked to benefit from Browne’s transfer, too. Narduzzi felt that Browne would bring much-needed experience and quarterback talent to the Panthers. Browne seemed to give Pitt the best chance to win this year. Clearly that is no longer the case.
On the other hand, DiNucci can play this season and two more for the Panthers. In his action against Penn State, he rushed for a touchdown and marched Pitt down the field against one of the best defenses in college football.
It’s evident DiNucci gives Pitt the best chance to win at the moment, but this is a situation Pitt has been in before.
Redshirt junior quarterback Chad Voytik went into the 2015 season as Pitt’s starter at the position. Voytik turned in a dismal performance against FCS squad Youngstown State in Pitt’s opener, throwing for only 72 yards and one touchdown along with an interception.
Voytik continued to struggle in the first quarter versus lowly Akron the next week. Nathan Peterman promptly relieved him and became a successful starter at Pitt for the next two seasons.
DiNucci could find himself in a similar situation. The onus is now on Narduzzi to make DiNucci the starter, not only to win games now, but in the future as well.