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Why Pitt’s offense will look familiar to NC State football fans

Former N.C. State offensive coordinator Matt Canada took his skills to Pittsburgh before landing at LSU as one of the highest paid assistant coaches in college football.
Former N.C. State offensive coordinator Matt Canada took his skills to Pittsburgh before landing at LSU as one of the highest paid assistant coaches in college football. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Pittsburgh’s offense looks familiar to N.C. State coach Dave Doeren and for a good reason.

Matt Canada worked as the offensive coordinator for both schools before taking a job at LSU last December as one of the highest-paid assistants in college football.

Canada moved on from Pitt, after one successful season, but many of his principles remain in place for the Panthers (2-4, 0-2 ACC).

The No. 20 Wolfpack (5-1, 3-0) goes to Pittsburgh on Saturday (noon, Fox Sports Carolinas) for the first ACC matchup between the two schools.

With their jet sweeps, pre-snap motions and resets and bunch formations, the Panthers have a lot in common with what N.C. State does under second-year offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz.

“The good thing is defensively we see that from our offense,” Doeren said. “We’ve had to defend that because we do a lot of that stuff here, too.”

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi talks about the Panthers' upcoming game against the NC State Wolfpack during a media availability Monday, Oct. 9, 2017.

The reunion with Canada, who was the Wolfpack coordinator for Doeren’s first three seasons from 2013 through the ’15 season, did not materialize after Canada became a hot commodity at Pittsburgh.

The Panthers set a school-record for points last year (508) and ranked in the top 10 in the country in scoring (40.9 points per game) and the top 30 in rushing (225.1 yards per game).

Canada agreed to a three-year deal worth $1.5 million annually to direct LSU’s offense for coach Ed Orgeron.

Doeren made the difficult decision, after a solid 2015 season, to replace Canada with Drinkwitz. Doeren and Canada had also worked together at Northern Illinois and the Wolfpack finished the ’15 season with 33.2 points per game and 202.1 rushing yards per game.

Doeren’s decision is turning out to be one of those moves that ends up working out best for all involved.

“I think so,” Doeren said. “I made a decision that I thought was the best for the program. Time will tell, I think we’re doing pretty well on offense right now.”

In Drinkwitz’s second season, N.C. State ranks in the top 40 in scoring (35.5 points per game) and top 25 in passing (305.3 yards per game). The Wolfpack is off to a 3-0 start in ACC play for the first time in 15 years.

Drinkwitz has also helped Ryan Finley develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC. Part of Doeren’s decision in 2015 to part with Canada was the lack of development by then quarterback Jacoby Brissett as a senior.

Pitt’s offense has missed Canada and a pair of players – running back James Conner and quarterback Nate Peterman – who are now in the NFL.

Under first-year coordinator Shawn Watson, the Panthers’ scoring average is down to 24.3 points per game and their rushing average (116.8) is last in the ACC.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

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