Offensive coordinator at mercy of Pitt's QBs
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The imminent departure of Matt Cavanaugh to the NFL's New York Jets, though surely a cause of delight for many Pitt fans, doesn't guarantee that Pitt's offense will be better next season. Any offensive coordinator and his offense are only as good as the quarterback. Pitt's poor quarterback play -- not Cavanaugh -- is the chief reason the Panthers struggled so often the past two seasons. Until Pitt gets better at that position, it's hard to look at it as much more than a mediocre program in the mediocre Big East Conference.
Heaven knows there are a lot of you out there.
You want so badly to believe that everything is going to be great for Pitt now that Cavanaugh is all-but-officially out as the play-caller. He was such an easy target for criticism in his four seasons here. Then again, aren't all offensive coordinators? Everybody thinks they can call better plays, right? Ask the Steelers' Bruce Arians. He took heat right up until Sunday when the Steelers won the Super Bowl, and even took some after the game from fools who said the team won in spite of him.
Cavanaugh wasn't perfect. Sure, he was too conservative at times and didn't always adapt well to the more wide-open college game after spending years in the NFL. Certainly, it would have been nice if he had been able to get more out of junior-college transfer Greg Cross last season as a change-of-pace quarterback. Cross scored on a 17-yard run against Iowa Sept. 20 the first time he touched the ball for Pitt, then all but disappeared the rest of the season. Shame on Cavanaugh for not developing and using at least a package of plays for him. Who knows? Pitt might even have been able to score a field goal in that hideous, 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.
But before you give Cavanaugh one final kick on his way out the door, ask yourself this: Was the conservative offense his fault or Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt's? It was Wannstedt who insisted on a pro-style offense. Cavanaugh was just following orders.
Beyond that, any offensive coordinator is going to look like an idiot if the quarterback can't execute plays. How much more creative could Cavanaugh have been with Bill Stull and Pat Bostick?
Stull never improved much last season. Down the stretch, he was bad in a loss at Cincinnati, bad against West Virginia in a game that star running back LeSean McCoy won, bad in the first half at Connecticut and dreadful in the Sun Bowl.
Bostick also has been disappointing. It's not so much because he had a tough 2007 season as a true freshman, thrown into the starting lineup before he was ready because of Stull's hand injury in the first game. It's because Wannstedt and Cavanaugh thought so little of him last season that they burned his redshirt at Navy before they had to do it. They never would have done that if they considered Bostick a future star.
If you want to blame Wannstedt and Cavanaugh for something, blame them for not recruiting better quarterbacks. It's true, Bostick was highly regarded coming out of high school, but he looks now to have been terribly overrated. Many rip Cavanaugh for not developing him, but you won't read that criticism here. Take a minute some day and ask former Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko about Cavanaugh. He will speak glowingly of him and tell you he learned plenty about playing the position from him in the two seasons they spent together.
So now Cavanaugh is on his way out and a new coordinator will take over. Wannstedt has said, no matter whom he hires, Pitt will continue to run his pro-style offense and won't look much different conceptually. That almost certainly eliminates the sexy choice as coordinator, former Pitt head coach Walt Harris, who would drive Wannstedt nuts the way he likes to open up the offense and throw the ball. It's also hard to imagine Pitt bringing back a guy it was going to fire before Harris beat it to the punch and took the Stanford job after the '04 season.
Much is in place for the Pitt offense to be successful next season despite the loss of McCoy to the NFL. Four starters return on the line. All the wide receivers but Derek Kinder are back. All the tight ends.Young running backs like Chris Burns and Shariff Harris could ease the pain of McCoy's departure.
But the big improvement has to come at quarterback, from Stull or Bostick or perhaps redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri, who has his backers inside the program but no experience.
Good luck with that.
First Published February 6, 2009 12:00 am