OAKLAND--We all heard so much about it circa January 2016.
Jim Chaney helped popularize the spread offense in the late 90s at Purdue. Jim Chaney nurtured quarterbacks Drew Brees and Kyle Orton. Jim Chaney's early offenses became known as “basketball on grass.” Jim Chaney adapted his system to the roster he inherited rather than forcing a particular offense on an ill-equipped group of players.
We heard it.
And so did the fans of Georgia, many of whom are now questioning the 54-year-old offensive coordinator’s play calling and game management.
The Bulldogs were ranked no. 18 to open the season. They featured not only running back Nick Chubb, a 2013 Heisman Trophy candidate who recovered from a gruesome broken leg last season, but they also brought in Scout.com’s no. 7-ranked prospect in the 2016 class, five-star quarterback Jacob Eason, who starts.
Yet Chaney’s Bulldogs have not been down to par, going 4-3 thus far and posting underwhelming offensive results.
There are stats – such as Georgia’s 91st place out of 128 Division I teams in passing offense, his team’s sub-40 percent conversion clip on third downs and plain-faced 402.9 yards per game – that you can take with a grain of salt.
Because in the grand scheme of things, Chaney’s offense isn’t scoring the ball much. It only scored 26 points in a week-two nail-biter over FCS opponent Nicholls St., and one of the Bulldogs’ scores came from a defensive touchdown that game. Against South Carolina, a special teams touchdown helped Georgia get to 28 points. The dogs scored just 14 points in a blowout loss to Ole Miss and put up 17 points in an embarrassing loss to Vanderbilt.
“What makes Chaney’s repeated attempts to run up the middle to no avail even harder to understand is that the passing game was working.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“It’s painfully obvious that Georgia’s offensive line is just not good or strong enough to play in a power offense. Yet we see play calling consistent with a power offense and we see Nick Chubb and Sony Michel getting hit in the backfield.” – Dawn of the Dawgs
“There’s no way Georgia should have lost a game in which it racked up 23 first downs to Vandy’s 9 while accruing 421 yards of total offense to the Dores’ 171 and keeping the ball 35:04.” Atlanta Journal-Coustitution
Does this relate to Chaney’s time at Pitt?
In the 2015 season, Narduzzi, Chaney and co. did not have a decided quarterback until Pitt’s week-three game at Iowa. But once Nathan Peterman comfortably slid into the starting quarterback role, Pitt's offense had a lot of weapons.
Chaney not only had a second-round NFL talent at receiver in Tyler Boyd, but he also had the luxury of using senior center Artie Rowell and tight end J.P. Holtz. Both players were arguably better than their replacements.
Below is a comparison between Pitt's 2015 offensive numbers and its 2016 numbers.
|stat, rank||stat, rank|
|Time of possession||31:42, 29||34:48, 7|
|3rd down conversion %||44%, 27||44.1%, 41|
|4th down conversion %||85%, 2||75%, 9|
|Completion %||62%, 40||62%, 36|
|Passing yards/game||190.6, 99||179, 107|
|Rushing yards/game||186.8, 44||239, 19|
|Passing yards/completion||11.69, 86||
|Red zone TD %||63%||77.4%|
|Red zone FG %||21%||16%|
|Red zone scoring %||83%, t-70||93.5, 15|
|Sacks allowed/game||2.23, t-73||.71, 8|
|Passing efficiency||137.45, 86||147.5, 27|
|Yards/play||5.76, 56||5.95, 57|
|Yards/game||377.5, 82||418, 60|
|Points/game||28.2, 68||38.4, 25|
There are two main takeaways that immediately jump out when comparing the two seasons.
The first is that Pitt was not too outstanding last season at punching the ball into the end zone for six points. This was one of Chaney's main criticisms during his stint in Pittsburgh. His teams scored touchdowns in just 30 of 48 red zone appearances, and many of those appearances came at critical moments. One of the reasons why Chris Blewitt has been used so few times this season (Blewitt is 8 for 12 thus far. He's on pace to be used fewer times this season than every year except his freshman season) is because of Pitt's ability to march into the end zone.
The other stat presents more of a conceptual difference than a numerical difference; it's Pitt's yards per completion this season (12.52) as opposed to 2015 (11.69).
Another one of Chaney's criticisms from 2015 was that Tyler Boyd pretty exclusively ran shallow out and dig routes and slant routes instead of being targeted downfield.
Boyd was an All-ACC player in 2015 and had the breakaway speed to get by some of the best defensive backs in football. The thought that Canada uses an offensive receivers unit that is led by Jester Weah, who had not recorded a catch prior to the season, and a handful of underclassmen and the offense averages more yards per catch than Chaney's did last season is astonishing.
Obviously, Chaney is no slouch. He is a tenured and respected offensive mind for a slew of reasons. But Pitt just may have found a diamond in the rough with its hire of Canada.