Pitt looks to Mark Whipple to turn around offense

Pat Narduzzi enters Year 5 at Pitt with his fourth offensive coordinator.

Mark Whipple takes the reins after Narduzzi fired Shawn Watson following the Panthers’ 14-13 Sun Bowl loss to Stanford, after which Narduzzi had said: “We have to call a better game.”

Whipple was on the market because he, himself, had just resigned as the head coach at UMass, seven months after signing a three-year contract extension.

UMass struggled mightily in Whipple’s second tenure, going 16-44 in five seasons, never winning more than four games, which it did in both 2017 and 2018.

Whipple served as an offensive assistant in the NFL with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland, and also was the offensive coordinator at the University of Miami for a two-season run, at the end of the Randy Shannon era.

At Pitt, Whipple inherits an offense that returns its starting quarterback, Kenny Pickett, who was just 10th in the ACC in 2018 in passing yards per game (140.6) and passing efficiency (120.3), and was looked at by observers of the Pitt program as the piece holding up the offense.

The Panthers had a strong running game in 2018, with two running backs, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, putting up 1,000-yard seasons, the first time that had happened in program history.

Whipple will need to retool the offensive line that carved out the holes for the backs to run through. Pitt loses four starters from its 2018 O-line.

He does have a weapon, in senior wideout Maurice Ffrench, a 5’11”, 190-pound speedster who had 35 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns through the air, and 164 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground, in 2018.

His potential to do more might show up better when looking at his stats as a kick returner. Ffrench averaged 27.4 yards per return and had two kick-return touchdowns in 2018.

Ffrench, after a spring working in Whipple’s new offense, is excited at what is to come in 2019.

“Coach Whipple is a mastermind. Every time I’m with him, I try to pick his brain. He been through a lot of football, he knows a lot,” Ffrench told reporters at last week’s ACC Kickoff.

“With us, he goes through everything, make sure that we know the details of a route, why we’re running this route, making sure we do it to full speed, full detail. We’re just taking that and going a hundred miles speed with it. We’re just trying to have a way better offense and come out stronger than we did last year,” Ffrench said.

Narduzzi said that with Whipple leading the offense, “I think we have a great chance to be successful.”

“I’m excited about him,” Narduzzi said. “I’ve coached against him in the past when he was at Brown and UMass. I was always as a defensive coordinator puzzled by what he did, how he did it. It fits in with what we want to do, pro style. I’m excited about what avenue we’re going down this season.”

Story by Chris Graham

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