Pitts offense not explosive enough for Graham

Todd Graham wants his offense to be explosive, and he wants Pitt's offensive production to come directly from explosive plays.

Through six games, that hasn't happened, and Graham isn't thrilled about it.

"I would tell you that 75% of our time this week as a staff has been spent on that very same thing," Graham said on Wednesday.

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Graham and the Pitt coaching staff define explosive plays as runs of 12 yards or more and pass plays of 15 yards or more; by those definitions, Pitt has generated 51 explosive plays through six games this season, or 8.5 per game.

And while conventional wisdom - and historical evidence - would indicate that the passing game produces more explosive plays than the run game, that's not the case for Pitt this season. Of the 51 plays that meet Graham's definition of explosive, 22 have been passes.

Junior tailback Ray Graham alone has 22 runs of 12 yards or more.

"That's been a struggle for us," Todd Graham said. "Naturally what happens is, you struggle with protection, you struggle with holding the ball and not getting the ball out, and then you stop calling them. And we've stopped calling them."

Perhaps the coaches have shied away from calling plays that could turn into big gains. Pitt had 13 explosive plays against South Florida, but just four of those were pass plays; similarly, two of Pitt's seven big plays against Rutgers were pass plays.

But even when the coaches have tried to facilitate the explosive plays, the results haven't paid off. Of the 22 pass plays that gained 15 yards or more, just three covered at least 30 yards, and all three came against Iowa.

"That's probably the thing that's been most frustrating: we have got to get those explosive plays," Graham said. "And there are lots of ways to do that. So that's our focus. We want to work hard on getting explosive plays."

Explosive plays by player
Ray Graham - 23 (22 run, 1 rec)
Hubie Graham - 6 (6 rec)

Mike Shanahan - 6 (6 rec)

Tino Sunseri - 5 (5 run)

Devin Street - 4 (4 rec)

Cameron Saddler - 3 (3 rec)

Zach Brown - 2 (1 run, 1 rec)

Anthony Gonzalez - 1 (1 rec)

Ronald Jones - 1 (1 run)
The issue with Pitt's lack of explosive plays this season isn't just that defenses have less to fear downfield; the ineptitude has also forced the Panthers to run more plays in the red zone, since they often need multiple snaps to reach the end zone rather than being able to strike from various points on the field.

Of Pitt's 19 touchdowns this season, just two have been scored from outside the 20-yard line: Devin Street's 66-yard catch-and-run at Iowa, and Cameron Saddler's 30-yard reception from fellow receiver Ronald Jones on a trick play at Iowa.

13 of the 19 touchdowns have been scored from inside the 10, 11 have been scored from inside the 5, and seven have been scored from inside the 3.

Simply put, Pitt finds itself needing to pound the ball into the end zone rather than score on quick strikes, and that's not what Todd Graham is looking for.

"Earlier in the year I talked about how all of our drives ended in 22-personnel; two tight ends, two backs, and pounded it in," he said. "It's too hard; it's too hard. You're not going to score a high rate of points and be that way."