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Pitt's pass rush must improve

4/2/2015

Pat Narduzzi is already making an impact on the Pitt defense.

Not only is he beefing up the secondary by making thinning the herd at running back, but he’s installing a game plan this spring that calls for the Panthers to be a bit more aggressive up front, too.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

"The previous Pitt coaching staff didn't design an excessive number of blitzes. Starting outside linebackers and departed seniors Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas totaled only one sack between them. Former coordinator Matt House called more blitzes last year, but he tried to avoid leaving holes in a secondary that needed a lot of help from the front seven.

"Coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff have promised more aggressiveness, something that will shine a light on linebackers and defensive ends, especially Rori Blair, who led the team with five sacks last season while starting only two games as a freshman."

This is really something of a necessity for Pitt. Last year’s offense was excellent -- the Panthers averaged 2.63 points-per-drive, 16th-best in the nation and 11th among Power 5 schools -- but the defense was atrocious, particularly down the stretch.

The problems were numerous, but it started with the trouble getting to the opposing quarterback. Pitt ranked 105th in the country in sacks per game and just 53 of its opponent’s passing attempts (14.2 percent) came under pressure. And as the Tribune-Review notes, Pitt didn’t blitz often (26.1 percent of the time), but it was still more than five other ACC teams that all got to the quarterback more often, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

A more aggressive approach by Narduzzi should help counter those numbers some in 2015, but the bigger issue is finding personnel who can get the job done. Former Panthers star Aaron Donald is responsible for a full 25 percent of Pitt’s sacks over the past three years -- and he only played for two of them.

Players like Donald don’t come along often, but Pitt doesn’t necessarily need another superstar. Narduzzi’s goal simply should be finding at least two or three players who can disrupt the backfield a bit more routinely.