Pitt football should utilize all of its weapons on offense


By Dan Sostek / Staff Writer

After a 24-20 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes, Pitt head football coach Paul Chryst described the contest in one sentence.

“I don’t think anybody in this game was trying to fool anybody,” said Chryst, whose Panthers fell to 3-1 on the season after being outscored 17-3 in the second half of Saturday’s game.

Perhaps this was the biggest issue with how the Panthers played Saturday. Receiving national acclaim for its potent ground attack, spearheaded by sophomore running back James Conner, Pitt did a great job in the first half against a premier run defense in Iowa, running for 132 yards.

But this success did not continue after halftime. Iowa snuffed out most runs with ease, as Pitt only ran for 53 yards in the second half. According to Conner, Iowa did not make any noticeable adjustments.

“Nothing was different,” said Conner, who ran for more than 150 yards for the fifth straight game. “They just did a good job focusing.”

What this means is, over time, Iowa picked up when Pitt planned to run. The offense became predictable — like Chryst said, no one was trying to fool anybody.

The problem with this mindset is that, with all the different and diverse weapons on Pitt’s offense, there is plenty of room to try to fool opponents. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of simply handing the ball off to Conner when he’s rolling, but, with the depth of unique running backs Pitt has behind Conner in freshman Chris James, sophomore Rachid Ibrahim and senior Isaac Bennett, switching out Conner more often would keep him fresh, while providing different looks and packages that defenses would have to account for. 

Putting Ibrahim or James in would also open up the screen pass game more, as both are better than Conner at catching the ball out of the backfield. Screen passes would only help an inexperienced quarterback like Chad Voytik — a redshirt sophomore — get into a better rhythm and improve his confidence.

As for the passing game, the Panthers need to do a better job of utilizing their options. Voytik has done a good job of playing mistake-free football and has seemed to develop a good rapport with star receiver Tyler Boyd but needs to get the ball to his other weapons, particularly his pair of talented tight ends J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff. 

Both went without a target in the loss to Iowa and have a combined five receptions on the year. There were a couple plays on Saturday when the tight ends were open, and, in one instance, Holtz showed visible frustration in not being targeted, throwing up his arms after Voytik threw into double coverage for an incompletion, rather than passing to the wide-open tight end.

“We certainly had a couple [passes] where the ball just didn’t go there,” Chryst said of his tight ends. “We want them to have touches.”

Voytik, who flashed his potential as a runner when he ran for 114 yards against Florida International, didn’t use his legs as much against Iowa. Voytik cited Iowa’s defense of the edges, which was better than Florida International, as a reason for this but also noted they simply didn’t have as many designed quarterback runs called. 

While Voytik is a somewhat reckless runner for a quarterback — he tends to embrace contact more times than avoid it — he’s displayed an ability to break the game open with his athleticism. Asserting himself as a dual threat quarterback would make opposing defensive coordinators’ jobs a lot tougher.

None of this is to say that Chryst needs to drastically change the way he runs his offense. The Panthers still rank 11th in the nation in rushing and 35th in points per game. 

Instead, coaches and players must makesome tweaks and improvements to get the most out of the offense against tougher competition. Conner should still get 25-30 carries a game. Boyd should still be targeted at least 10 times a game. What occurs when they aren’t touching the ball should be a focal point moving forward.