Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor
Pitt football got back on track Saturday morning with a 20-10 win over Ohio, putting to bed some of the worries that Panther fans expressed after Week 1. With the result came a new set of developments to unpack, including a worrisome scoring trend and improved play from the tight end position.
Pitt is a one-quarter wonder
Through two games so far, the Panthers are proving to be a second-quarter team. They scored 14 points in the second quarter against both Virginia and Ohio, which is a positive. At that same rate, Pitt would average 56 points per game.
The bad news is that the Panther offense hasn’t managed to do anything in the other three quarters — they’ve scored just six points on two field goals in the first, third and fourth quarters combined through two games. For those of you who aren’t mathematically inclined, Pitt would average four points per game at that scoring rate. South Florida, the lowest-scoring team in the FBS, averages five points per game.
A two-game sample size isn’t enough to suggest that this type of scoring is a recurring pattern, though it’s noteworthy for the time being. Pitt’s offense looked nearly unstoppable in the second quarter against Ohio, with junior quarterback Kenny Pickett hitting senior receiver Maurice Ffrench on a quick-strike deep bomb on the first play of the period. On Pitt’s next drive, Pickett completed all six of his passes during a methodical touchdown march. Pitt nearly tacked on a third consecutive touchdown drive until a false start penalty in Ohio territory forced the Panthers into a field goal attempt, which redshirt sophomore kicker Alex Kessman missed.
The discrepancy was especially apparent against Virginia in the opener. Pitt’s offense looked completely anemic in the first quarter, gaining only 13 total yards. The Panthers then looked like world-beaters in the next quarter, putting together two impressive touchdown drives while gaining 164 total yards. They regressed to ineptitude in the third and fourth quarters, totaling 40 and 46 yards, respectively, while scoring no points.
Saturday’s upcoming game at Penn State will provide some more concrete proof as to whether Pitt’s peculiar scoring distribution has just been a mere coincidence or if a systemic issue actually exists. Maybe offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has the sort of scheme that teams are able to figure out in the halftime locker room. This will be something to keep an eye on as the Panthers look to score their first non-second-quarter touchdown against the Nittany Lions.
Vincent Davis has arrived
Pitt’s two-deep depth chart lists two running backs as co-starters — junior A.J. Davis and redshirt sophomore Todd Sibley Jr. This has proven to be a bit deceiving, as a new player has emerged as a crucial part of Pitt’s backfield committee — first-year Vincent Davis.
Vincent Davis received just one carry in Pitt’s opener against Virginia, while A.J. Davis took eight and Sibley Jr. seven. But he impressed with that one carry, taking it for eight yards while the two backs listed above him averaged 3.1 and 3.3 yards, respectively.
In Saturday’s game against Ohio, it was Vincent Davis who looked to be A.J. Davis’ main complement. He carried the ball 12 times for 50 yards and a touchdown, compared to 13 carries for 89 yards from A.J. Davis. Sibley Jr., meanwhile, had just three rushes for three yards.
If Saturday’s game is any indication of things to come, Vincent Davis may have usurped Sibley Jr. on the depth chart. Head coach Pat Narduzzi showed particular confidence in the true freshman on Pitt’s last drive, when the Panthers needed to pick up chunks of yardage on the ground to milk clock. Vincent Davis played the role of closer — often reserved for powerful Panther tailback Qadree Ollison last season — by taking Pitt’s last seven carries and consistently producing.
Physically, Vincent Davis is about as far from Ollison as one can be. He stands at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, which is far from an ideal size for an every-down back. But when paired up with his like-named backfield mate, the two seem to be a formidable one-two punch. It’s still possible that Narduzzi was saving Sibley Jr. for bigger stages like the Penn State game, but Vincent Davis’ production has certainly earned him a share of touches in the backfield.
The tight ends are finally involved
Buried in the midst of Saturday’s win came an interesting development — after being mostly ignored from the game plan in recent years, Pitt’s tight ends burst onto the scene with a big day. Redshirt senior tight end Will Gragg showed a good rapport with Pickett, checking in at second on the team with four receptions for 38 yards. He made an impressive catch in the third quarter, holding onto the ball despite getting blasted immediately by an Ohio defender.
Graduate transfer tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart also joined in on the fun, reeling in three receptions for 22 yards. All in all, the Griffin-Stewart and Gragg duo combined for seven of Pickett’s 26 completions.
A couple tight ends catching passes would be nothing noteworthy if not for Pitt’s almost infamous neglect of the position in recent years. Last season, Gragg led all Pitt tight ends with five catches for 31 yards — numbers he’s already eclipsed in the first two games of 2019.
Getting the tight ends involved should be seen as a good sign for Pitt’s offense. A tight end can often be a quarterback’s best friend, giving him a big-bodied target that can go up and get a ball if mismatched against a smaller cornerback or slower linebacker. With Griffin-Stewart standing at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds and Gragg 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, both have the potential to be a great security blanket for Pickett throughout the season. It’s encouraging that Whipple seems to have made the position more of a priority in his system.