Panthers’ gutless play calling continues to disappoint



Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Dinucci (3) gets tackled by Georgia Tech defensive lineman Antonio Simmons (93) in the second half of Georgia Tech’s 35-17 victory over Pitt. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

By Abbot Zuk | Staff Writer

Over the course of their three losses this season, the Panthers have surrendered more than 30 points in each matchup. It would be far too easy to pin the Panthers’ woes on the defense. This Saturday’s game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets was anything but a defensive farce, though.

The last Panther football squad to drop three games in a row was the 2014 team coached by Paul Chryst — the season actually included two separate three-game losing streaks. The second of the two losing streaks came against Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina — in which the Panthers surrendered 40 or more points in each of the three losses.

A number of times Saturday, the Panther’s defense put the team in position to take charge of the game, or at the very least be competitive. The Panthers forced four fumbles and recovered every single one of them. Despite this, the offense was unable to post a single point off of the turnovers the defense generated.

The problem in Saturday’s game was the Panthers’ inability to convert on third down — the product of poor play-calling that never put Pitt in a position to succeed. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has many weapons on offense, such as junior defensive back Jordan Whitehead, whose dynamic skills could be used to stir up the offensive line.

Watson seems reluctant to get these strategies involved, though.

Two glaring examples occurred in the third quarter, while a victory was still within reach for the Panthers. Down just seven points to Georgia Tech, Pitt settled for back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs — two of which were the product of dismal play calling.

On third-and-12, from their own 15-yard line, redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci completed a pass well behind the first-down yard marker to redshirt junior running back Qadree Ollison for just five yards, forcing the Panthers to punt.

As a result, the Yellow Jackets scored on the very next drive.

After getting the ball back, the Panthers quickly found themselves in another third-and-long situation — and again DiNucci found himself checking the ball down well behind the first-down marker — this time to grad transfer tight end Matt Flanagan, who was brought down instantly by Yellow Jacket defense.

This, of course, is just a small sample of the Panthers 1-13 effort on third down.

It goes without saying that if Pitt continues to give up over 30 points a game, it is going to be difficult to find any success in the ACC. The Panthers will not win games if offensive play-calling continues to put them in positions to fail.

Every snap of the ball in a college football game is a gamble, as is throwing the ball down the field and deciding who to start at quarterback. Designing and running plays that don’t go the calculated distance needed to extend a drive, shows a lack a blatant lack of faith in the team.

In order to improve this abysmal offensive performance, shifting focus to the quarterbacks’ strengths is key. Whether it’s utilizing DiNucci’s mobility and ability to extend plays or capitalizing on redshirt senior Max Browne’s strong arm, the play calling needs to be tailored to what each does best.

Pitt’s play calling shows no guts and trust in its players. If the Panthers’ head coach and offensive coordinator retain this toxic mindset, Saturdays will be a frustrating day for Pitt fans all season.