Charles LeClaire, USA Today

The emergence of the jet sweep and Pitt's scoring trends

While Pitt has scored significantly less in the second halves of games than it has in the first halves, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Matt Canada have shown less of the jet sweep as games move into the second half. Should they use the likes Quadree Henderson, Jordan Whitehead, Tre Tipton, Maurice Ffrench and George Aston more often by way of the outside rush as games progress?

OAKLAND--It’s been widely known this season—Pitt’s offense has displayed spurts of pure brilliance, particularly in the first halves of games, but, after the Panthers take 20 minutes to rest and take in schematic evaluation from coaches during halftime, they have come out of the tunnel stone cold.

Pitt now averages just 14 points per second half, compared to 24 points per first half, through seven games. Without researching every Division I team’s weekly scoring trends by quarter, I’m going to go ahead and venture a guess that not too many teams average such staggering scoring differences between the first and second halves of games.

Below are two charts:  The first chart lists the amount of outside runs Pitt has run by game in addition to the total offensive plays run, yards per outside run and the percentage of offensive plays in which Pitt has gone to the outside run. The second chart reveals Pitt's outside runs by quarter and the offensive points Pitt has scored by quarter.

*The statistics written about below do not include numbers from Pitt's week one game against Villanova, when Pitt stayed away from the outside run entirely.

Game Outside runs Total offensive plays Outside run yards % usage of outside run
NOVA 0 67 0 0%
PSU 10 71 105 14%
OSU 14 84 121 17%
UNC 16 68 149 24%
MARSH 8 65 84 12%
GT 7 62 71 11%
UVA 15 67 73 22%

Game 1st quarter outside runs 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q 1st quarter points 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q
NOVA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
PSU 5 4 0 0 14 14 7 7
OSU 4 0 5 4 10 14 7 7
UNC 5 5 5 2 3 14 7 14
MARSH 5 4 2 3 20 7 3 7
GT 4 3 3 2 7 14 3 13
UVA 2 5 1 7 7 14 0 10

In the Pitt-Penn State game, Pitt got out to an early three-touchdown lead. Still, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley was given an opportunity to throw a late-game bomb that would have given the Nittany Lions the lead and likely a win had Pitt cornerback Ryan Lewis not picked off McSorley's pass in the end zone.

In that game, the Panthers ran zero jet sweeps or other forms of the outside rush in the second half while scoring just two touchdowns. And this trend hasn't appeared to be much of a fluke.

While they have gone to the outside run 7.7 times per first half, they have gone to the outside run exactly two reps fewer (5.7) in the second halves of games. Each time they've used a designed outside run, they've picked up an average of 8.6 yards.

All other offensive plays that Pitt runs have picked up an average of 5.72 yards per play.

Again during Pitt's most recent game against Virginia, Pitt's late-game drought continued. The Panthers were in a chess match with the Cavaliers in the game’s first half, posting 35 points to Virginia’s 28, but Pitt ran the ball outside via the jet sweep or other designed runs just once in the third quarter and was rendered scoreless for the first 16 minutes of the second half. In the fourth quarter, though, Pitt would go to the jet sweep seven times, score 10 points and ultimately put the game out of reach.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Matt Canada are well aware of their offense's second-half struggles. They mention it almost every week to the media.

It has got to be a top goal of theirs to maintain steady offensive numbers for 60 minutes. After all, if Pitt put up the type of offensive numbers in the second half of games that it did in the first half of games, it would have a top-5 scoring offense--an offense that would compete with Washington's, Texas Tech's, Michigan's and even Louisville's.

The jet sweep might just be their ticket to becoming an elite offense.

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