PITTSBURGH — A month into the season, Pitt has more quarterbacks (two) than wins (one). That’s not exactly how coach Pat Narduzzi drew it up when he named Max Browne the starter coming out of training camp.
Yet the Panthers (1-3) will take a three-game losing streak into Saturday’s nonconference game against Rice (1-3) still searching for some kind — any kind — of offensive cohesion.
“Watching improvement week to week, it’s not as much as you’d like to see,” Narduzzi said.
If anything, Pitt might be going backward. The team that finished in the top 10 in total offense in 2016 is languishing at 108th after managing just 235 total yards in a 35-17 loss at Georgia Tech . Sophomore Ben DiNucci completed 12 of 19 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in his first career start but gave way in the second half to Browne, who went 10 of 15 for 88 yards.
An “OR” remained between their names on the depth chart released Monday, and Narduzzi is in no hurry to pick a starter. Just as he did a week ago, Narduzzi will monitor practice to see if either of them seize the position.
“We don’t want to go through a two QB system,” Narduzzi said, pointing out the Panthers went through a similar situation in 2015 while trying to decide between Chad Voytik and Nate Peterman. “We tried not to do that, but we’re still to the same point, ‘Who’s that guy going to be?’ That’s the situation we’re in right now.”
Pitt ultimately decided on Peterman two years ago, a process that was over in the matter of a couple of weeks. It helped at the time that the running game’s success gave Peterman time to get comfortable as a passer. That hasn’t been the case for DiNucci. The Panthers are averaging just 2.9 yards per carry during their first three-game slide of Narduzzi’s tenure due in large part to an inability to get the ball downfield. Pitt is 124th in the country in yards per completion (9.80), 109th in scoring offense and 116th in sacks allowed.
So the Panthers currently are having trouble running, throwing and blocking.
“It’s execution,” Narduzzi said. “We’re missing blocks, not staying in our lane. We should be handing off here and not handing off there. There are some numbers issues (the backs) run into if you don’t go the right away.”
Pitt’s meager production crystallized against the Yellow Jackets, when the Panthers failed to turn four Georgia Tech giveaways into points. The defense wore down eventually, giving up 436 yards rushing to the Yellow Jackets’ difficult triple option. Yet Narduzzi was pleased with the effort overall defensively, saying it’s tough for any defense to remain effective when it gets only a short respite on the sideline before heading back to work. Pitt had eight three-and-outs and is 111th national in third-down conversions.
Narduzzi hinted the Panthers may try to simplify the offense before facing the Owls in hopes it helps regardless of who is under center.
“It’s like playing flag football, if you’ve got 10 things on wristband and you’re bad at all of them (it doesn’t matter),” he said. “You may see the game plan go slimmer so we can get better at what we’re doing.”