Give Pittman His Shots!

—  Michael Pittman Jr. is fulfilling his potential after years of hard knocks  —

Michael Pittman Jr. has played a leading role in the Trojans’ offense this season. (Getty Images)

To his new coach standing on the sideline, it was unacceptable behavior. So Jim Benkert, who’d just been hired from Westlake and barely knew his new star wideout, stormed over to Pittman and gave him an ultimatum.

“You will never play for me,” Benkert told him, “unless you change.”

The exchange left the senior receiver stunned. As Benkert walked back to his staff, he wondered immediately if he’d made a huge mistake.

Moments later, Pittman leaned down to tie his shoes, “and I breathed a sigh of relief,” Benkert said.

“After that, he was a dream.”

Four years later and a few days after the most eye-opening performance of his career in a crucial victory over Utah, Pittman considers that moment and grins. That feels like an ancient version of himself, one that came long before his winding road at USC, long before he was humbled as a freshman and made a captain as a senior.

Now, with his final season at USC in full swing, Pittman is the unquestioned leader and emotional center of one of the nation’s best receiving corps, with a draft stock on the rise and more yards (437) and receptions (31) through four games than any other Pac-12 receiver. The coach who once demanded he change now sees a receiver finally reaching his potential.

“I think SC is finally seeing now just how great this kid can be,” Benkert said.

But when he first arrived at USC, Pittman admits, he’d never taken football all that seriously before. On-field success had always come easy; even the 24 touchdowns he scored as a high school senior felt somewhat effortless.

Michael Pittman Jr. runs after making a catch during Friday’s win over Utah.
(Getty Images)

So when he joined a crowded receivers room at USC a year later, expecting opportunities to be laid before him, it proved to be a rude awakening. He was the only freshman receiver not redshirting, and as a result, he says, every mistake made in practice was amplified. Any lack of effort was exposed.

“Everybody would see,” Pittman recalls. “I’d get embarrassed, and they’d make me go stand on the side of the field to watch because I messed up. Just freshman stuff.”

Opportunities were few and far between. He tried to be patient, to focus on special teams like coaches told him, but he caught just six passes as a freshman and stewed for much of the season.

A nagging ankle injury as a sophomore left him on the bench, feeling even more defeated. Then, by midseason, his father, Michael Sr., who was feeling just as impatient with his son’s opportunities, unleashed a string of angry tweets questioning the decisions of USC’s coaching staff.

As Pittman looks back now on that very public frustration, he understands they were both being short-sighted. Those challenges and frustrations made him the receiver he is now.

“I wasn’t looking towards the future,” Pittman says. “I was focused on the now. When I look back on it, I really see that, ‘Hey, I wasn’t the best guy out there.’ That’s just stuff you realize as you get older.”

But last Friday, as the Trojans were down to their last scholarship quarterback, there was no better player on the field than the wideout. On a third down, early in the second half, Pittman leaped high in the air to snag a deep ball falling between Utah two defensive backs. As he landed, he took off, stiff-arming a defenseless Utah defender as he sprinted towards the end zone for a 77-yard score.

The touchdown broke the game open. Then, when USC needed to put away the Pac-12 favorite, it was Pittman who came through again, snagging a 42-yard reception to set up the deciding touchdown. By game’s end, he had 10 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown.

“The guy is a monster,” quarterback Matt Fink said of Pittman after. “You can’t guard him.”

For nearly four years, Pittman had been waiting to be USC’s top target. But even as he finally seems to be emerging in that role, he knows the nature of USC’s spread-it-out passing offense means he might see less opportunity this week, as USC faces a tough secondary in Seattle.

After waiting his turn, Pittman is OK with that. But as far as he’s concerned, the only thing still keeping him from continued dominance is more shots downfield like Fink took last Friday.

“If I got that (opportunity) every game, I really think it would happen like that every game,” Pittman said. “But I just take my shots. Whatever they give me, I’ll take. I don’t ever go in thinking, throw me the damn ball. I just wait for it to come to me.”

latimes.com

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Chris
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31 -27 USC.

Jacob Eason is not mobile, we get to him multiple times. He fumbles once with a pick. We get huge plays from AmonRa and Pittman. Vai and Stepp each have good game. Drake Jackson becomes worthy of changing jersey to 55.

Fight On!!

HOF19
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Hufanga out ……DANG IT !

Trojan5
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UW 31—USC 18

Steveg
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USC must display balance in pass and run, not necessarily even balance, but somewhere respectable. The run game used to open the passing tgame, but it seems these days the pass game opens the run. USC is using the RPO to a degree and should continue to and perhaps even more. With Fink in at qb they should allow him to take off when the opening is there. As we have seen first hand, when the qb can run good things happen for the offense. We can expect Washington to be ready to cover deep this week, expecting Fink to… Read more »

RialtoTrojan
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At Utah Pittman was like a Venus fly trap tied to a runaway truck bumper. He made the game fun to watch. There was Tyler Vaughns dropping passes, batting them away as if he were disgusted with the ball and then Amon-Ra St. Brown catching between two defenders it was as if this group[ of players spent the summer getting together. The thing I hope I don’t see is forced passes in an eight man defensive backfield. Everybody say’s Washington has figured out the “Air Raid,” but not with this bunch. Just hand the ball to Stepp and force them… Read more »

TrojanMPA90
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For some strange reason, I have a quiet confidence that SC can actually win Saturday. We need to get off to a quick start and take the crowd out of the game and play a solid defensive game and get pressure on Eason. Force turnovers and take advantage of them and we could pull it out.

Trojan5
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Just read an excellent article by Andy Staples at the Athletic; detailing the efforts of the new Virginia AD to raise the profile of the football program. Hopefully the new Trojan AD will be a person of vision, excellence and experience.

HOF19
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Read about 50 writers on internet about who they are picking to win USC vs Washington game ……… It seems about 48 are picking Washington and 2 are picking SC .

Trojan5
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An inexperienced QB starting his first game–check. Injured & inexperienced (though talented & improving) defensive backfield–check. An inconsistent running game–check. A HC with a poor record of winning as an underdog–check. An offensive line that has allowed 2 QB’s to sustain serious injuries in the first 4 games–check. A well coached defensive opponent–check. Just a few of the issues that most observers see and why they are picking UW to win –handily.

LawyerJohn
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50-million French men can be wrong

LawyerJohn
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In all likelihood Pittman is not going to beat Washington like he beat Utah. Besides, spreading the ball around to receivers (and even running backs) is not only more fan-entertaining, but probably more win-orienting as well. Also, keeping Fink vertical would be a big aid….

And everybody says don’t go to Seattle without a hammer, and its name is Stepp….

Finally, please at least pressure the Huskie’s Georgia Peach of a quarterback before he commences slaying Trojans.

rleeholder1
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I agree with you 100% LawyerJohn. Washington’s DB’s may be keying on Pittmansso to your point, spred the ball around to the receivers and RBs. Balance the attack with runs and passes. Try a reverse or fly sweep with St. Brown who can even throw the ball. As I understand, he and Vaughns would be emergency QBs in the event Fink goes down and Slovis is not cleared to play.