Rob Ferguson

ANALYSIS: Panthers in need of receiver growth

Pitt's receiving corps entered the 2016 campaign holding minimal experience. Heading into week four, Pitt's receivers now retain some game experience, but they lack the output to show for it.

Since New Year’s Day when former Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd declared for the NFL Draft, too many people—way too many people—that is, asked word-for-word: “How will Pitt replace Boyd?”

The common response to that question, whether it came from a player, coach or rational-thinking fan, was that Pitt can only replace Boyd’s Pitt record-breaking 254 receptions and Pitt all-time best 3,361 receiving yards with collective production.

So far, Pitt has, indeed, gotten collective production. Eleven players have caught passes for Pitt. But, bluntly stated, none of those players have caught many passes and none of those players have amassed many receiving yards.

Pitt wide receiver Dontez Ford broke his collarbone in week two against Penn State, and Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contacted Ford’s high school coach last week to find out that Ford will be out for the season after undergoing surgery.

The Panthers will now presumably be without Ford, who was the odds-on favorite to become the Panthers’ no. 1 passing target. Consequently, Pitt’s inexperienced receivers will have to grow up quickly in the ensuing days and weeks to fill Ford’s void, because, well, they’ve been bad in the Panthers' first three games.

Pitt’s Scott Orndoff, a tight end, is the team's lone player with double-digit catches this season (10). Do-it-all player Quadree Henderson has nine catches on the young season, as does running back James Conner. Fourth on the list is, finally, a true wide receiver in Jester Weah, who has a mere six catches. Trailing Weah is Tre Tipton, a redshirt freshman who has three grabs, all of which came in Pitt’s week three loss at Oklahoma State.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said Monday that Tipton’s stat line stood out, but he seemed hesitant to crown anyone as the leader with Ford out.

“Tre Tipton played a solid football game out there [Saturday],” Narduzzi said. “He’s got some wheels. He had a couple nice catches, and a great fourth-down catch. For us, it’s the next man up. Aaron Mathews will have an extended role this week as well.”

Get this:  Eleven of the ACC’s 14 teams feature a wide receiver who’s racked up at least 125 yards through the air. Three of those schools have two wide receivers with 125 yards or more in receiving. Six of the schools have three receivers with as many yards, and Syracuse has four. The three schools that don’t have at least one receiver with 125 yards? Pitt, Wake Forest and triple-option-running Georgia Tech.

But another Pitt player who could make strides as the season grows is quarterback Nathan Peterman.

Pitt, as it stands, is tied for 101st out of 128 FBS teams in passing yards (503 yards) and is 106th in passing yards per game (167.7 yards). Take the dual-quarterback teams out of the equation and Peterman ranks 83rd nationally in passing yards (503 yards), and he ranks 10th in the ACC among its 14 teams in completion percentage (57.9 percent).

“I’m not going to take anything away from who [Oklahoma State is], but we missed some throws and some reads,” Narduzzi said of Peterman’s 14 for 29 performance with 237 yards and one interception to one touchdown.

“Especially on some third and medium calls, where we had a chance to stay on the field and keep them off the field,” Narduzzi added. “We didn’t put the ball where it needed to be on those plays. We missed a play in the fourth quarter to Jester Weah that we have to make.”

Of course, there’s a chance that Peterman’s numbers are naturally deflated by Pitt’s issues at receiver. He and his team travel to play UNC Saturday, and, fortunately for Pitt fans, North Carolina probably won’t force Pitt to pass the football too often.

The Tar Heels’ defense has allowed the opposition to record 227 rushing yards per game thus far. On the contrary, despite failing to pick off a pass this season, UNC’s lockdown pass defense compensates for its lack of rush defense.

“Defensively, Gene Chizik always does a great job,” Narduzzi said Monday. “They are athletic. [M.J.] Stewart and [Des] Lawrence are the two corners that are lockdown guys. They are very athletic and very well coached.”

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.


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