There’s nothing like some home cooking to cure what ails you. Last Saturday, back at Heinz Field for the first time in three week, the Pitt Panthers (3-2) got back to their winning ways, defeating Marshall 43-27.
Now, several weeks in to the season, Pitt’s offense seems to have found itself in a serious groove.
The Panthers boast a surprisingly potent offense thus far, averaging 37.4 points a contest through five games. Three times already, Pitt has eclipsed the 40-point barrier in a single afternoon. The Panthers’ offense has been powered by a strong ground game, which, right now, is 16th in the nation. At 250 yards a game, it’s easy to say the Panthers are burnin’ some serious rubber.
Far from your ordinary ground-and-pound, power-left and power-right, Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Canada has found intriguing ways to mix in a variety of different run plays. Running back James Conner isn’t only back to being the team’s lead back, but he’s become a new-and-improved weapon in the receiving game, too. (He’s second on the team in receiving yards with 169 yards, trailing only Jester Weah. Conner’s 13 receptions are third on the team.)
And playmaker and wide receiver extraordinaire Quadree Henderson has been simply electric. He’s bust onto the scene as a sophomore, being utilized mainly on jet sweeps and in the return game.
Henderson’s racked up 317 rushing yards at an absurd 11.7 yards a pop. He’s constantly put in pre-snap motion so that he gets a head of steam barreling down the line at flat-footed defenders. The concept isn’t new, but it’s certainly working.
Henderson’s work in the return game has been equally impressive; he currently leads the ACC averaging 36 yards per kick return.
Quarterback Nate Peterman is coming off undoubtedly his best game of the season. Against Marshall, Peterman threw for 280 yards and two scores. He was spot-on-accurate, connecting on 17 of his 23 attempts. If he can step his game up from just being the game manager, the Panthers’ offense could reach new heights.
A couple of newcomers even contributed in Pitt’s win over Marshall.
Weah, the junior wide receiver, may be snatching the reigns as Peterman’s No. 1 receiving target to complement the dynamic and versatile Henderson. Weah caught seven balls for 176 yards and score a 54-yard touchdown. His score provided some breathing room after Pitt’s lead was cut to 30-27.
And freshman running back Shawntez Moss had himself a career day in the big win over Marshall, toting the rock 12 times for 97 yards, barely missing the 100-yard plateau.
In addition to Moss’s effort, fullback George Aston found the endzone for the fourth time this year. Another freshman, receiver Maurice Ffrench, found pay dirt, too, scoring his first career touchdown on the ground.
A plethora of playmaking options give the Panthers a versatile attack. With young guys stepping up to complement an already established core, this group could prove to be special.
This weekend, Pitt will stick to the friendly confines of Heinz Field. The Panthers have a homecoming date with Georgia Tech, which brings another shot for Pitt’s offense to ring up the scoreboard on its way to a 4-2 record.
Image credit: Keith Srakocic/AP Photo