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September 1, 2014

Monday Morning QB

(This is the first article in a weekly series of articles entitled “Monday Morning Quarterback”.   I will try to post them two days after the football games are played so as to have our wilder emotions under control by then.  It will be my take on the negatives we saw happen and a chance for commenters to agree or disagree and to add their own thoughts.)

Two days have passed since our 62-0 victory over Delaware in the 2014 season opening game at Heinz Field.  As all dedicated fans do, let’s take a look at who we think screwed up and who we believe made bonehead decisions.  I’ll start and then the ill-informed masses can comment with their own take on the issue.

Something that concerned me, and I touched on it in the post-game article from yesterday, was the decision making of Chad Voytik.  On the face of it and by just watching him play out there everything was fine and indeed the results were good.  However, when you are playing a FCS opponent and get a big early lead it is also time to work on your weaknesses in addition to scoring more points.

Since I had a chance to see and hear the offensive coaches interacting with him in a couple of camp practices I noticed some things on Saturday that he needs to correct so that he can get the best out of his own talent and out of the talent around him.  Granted it was his first start but that is when the learning curve gets the steepest.

In a nutshell, Voytik was moving out of the pocket too early and throwing away the chance of deeper completions.  A QB can’t really run through his progressions when he’s rolling out because in doing so his field vision is cut in half.  Once that happens he’s then looking at an outlet receiver to get the ball to for any gain of yardage.  He’s cheating himself of the opportunity to get the most reward out of the called passing play and as a young starter he has to learn to maximize those opportunities.  Some of those QB movement plays we saw were called rollouts but on other plays he bagged too soon and, even though he may have completed the passes, he left better openings downfield.  No use having Boyd open on an intermediate route down the left side if Voytik starts rolling out to his right.

We’ll see a lot of called rollouts this season because Voytik  has the legs and level head for that action, but the majority of his pass formations will be either a three or five step drop or will be done out of the shotgun.  That pocket passing is what he needs to feel comfortable doing.   How he becomes comfortable with it is by sticking with the plan even if it is trial by fire and he gets sacked once or twice.

Another thing to consider with this is the need for him to trust that his offensive linemen will be able to counter the initial rush and keep moving outward with their defensive linemen to create a pocket for Voytik to step up into.  That too comes with experience and I think we’ll see it happen as the season progresses.

This isn’t a criticism of Voytik as I’ve been impressed with his play so far but is written to point out that he’s still a bit behind the learning curve as to how Chryst and Rudolph want him to execute plays as their quarterback.

One other thing I‘ll address is the strange and unnecessary penalty on DE Dave Durham after his sack toward the end of the second quarter.  If you watch at the end of this video clip he’s saying something to the QB right before the Ref threw his flag.  Regardless of what instigated the penalty it was a foolish action on his part on a couple of levels.  First is in the scheme of the game itself.  We were only ahead 7-0, had Delaware back on their own 17 yard line and his sack put them on their own two.  Then his penalty took them from what would have been a 3rd down & 35+ yards from the two yard line to a 1st down at the 26.  So, instead of a great shot at a safety or at the least a probable three and out series, we gave them brand new and decent field position and a first down to keep the series alive.

OK – that’s the in-game situation itself.  What really bothered me was the fact that it was a totally unnecessary show of bravado from a guy who is a fifth year senior and who should be showing 360 degree leadership to the youngsters on the team.  As the youngest team in the FBS, and a team that is struggling to become a winning one, we really need senior leadership both in the locker room and on the field.

Remember Ray Vinopal hearing rumblings in the week before the game of some teammates joking about Delaware and taking the game too lightly?  He did what a true leader does – got in their face and showed them the error of their ways.  You think that wake-up call might have been one reason the whole team played like it was a FBS playoff game with no let up by anyone who got onto the field?  That happened because the starters and upperclassmen showed the way with how they comported themselves from the end of the camp to the finish of the game’s 4th quarter.

I get that Durham was happy, especially with the criticism he seems to get from all sides, and that play was a great one.  I also get that it was a bush call for almost nothing untoward but we see PITT players do great things all the time without showboating.  Conner runs for four TDs and celebrates with his teammates while jogging back to the bench; Boyd has amazing catches and stands up and gets with his teammates to celebrate on the way back to the huddle.

This is part and parcel of what Paul Chryst is trying to teach and instill in his younger players, respect for the game and the opponent and he’s depending on the upper classmen to help with that – we hear it all the time from him and that’s a big reason us PITT fans are so happy he’s the HC.  Durham made a mistake and his position coach leveled the verbal shotgun at him on the sidelines.  I’ll bet a dollar we don’t see that behavior from him again even with the other good plays he’ll make this season.  Live and learn and be an example of what a senior is supposed to act.  I know I sound like a prude and I’m really not, and I’m sure Durham is a good leader, like this guy, but I do think that penalty was kind of a big deal.  That said, I thought the gesture was pretty funny but knew he’d get the flag.

I guess I’d have like to see Anderson throw more passes but his nine yard run from our own one yard line and the ensuing 99 yard drive was pretty nice.  BTW, he’ll be the QB we see if Voytik get injured.  The PITT fans wanting Bertke put in if that were to happen are not thinking straight.

Finally, I really can’t think of any more “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” to be done.  The subject of Boyd as a punt returner has been beaten to death and I won’t address it because there really isn’t any pat answer and won’t be until the end of the season IMO (Sorry Dr. Tom).

 

 

Final Thoughts on Grilled Blue Hens

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 9:37 am

Thanks Reed and Justin for taking care of most of the post-mortem. Two days later that just leaves the final clean-up to me.

Mid-way through the 3d quarter I was talking with another guy in the press box. We were half-joking, wondering what Pitt fans were going to be complaining about after the game — other than whether Boyd should have been returning punts. Considering the complete dominance on both sides of the ball. The fact that James Conner was already done for the day. All the running backs were seeing time. Chad Voytik wasn’t having to do too much, the only thing we could come up with was: the tight ends weren’t used enough. (This was shortly before Orndoff caught a TD pass.)

Sure enough late in the 4th quarter he showed me a tweet he got from a fan complaining/questioning why the TEs weren’t thrown to much in the game. It was so cute.  14 total passes attempted in the game with 10 completions. Very little pressure even came close to Voytik that required him to dump it off. 7 different players caught the ball.

That’s okay. There’s an impulse in us all to look for some negatives. Especially when the game went that smoothly and perfectly. We know it won’t be like the rest of the season (well, maybe FIU), so there needs to be something to fix or tweak. Heck, in Coach Paul Chryst’s post-game presser, even he eventually got around to the subject of cleaning things up.

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August 31, 2014

My Checklist by Paul Chryst

  1. Good, solid play by new QB
  2. No turnovers by said QB
  3. Offensive Line pass blocking
  4. Offensive line run blocking
  5. Positive yardage on every play by running backs
  6. Crisp routes and safe passes
  7. TE involvement
  8. Defensive Line pressure
  9. Linebackers to the ball
  10. Defensive back’s more aggressive play
  11. Deep kickoffs for touchbacks
  12. 2nd and 3rd string playing time
  13. Keep Boyd in on all punts returns regardless of the score  (Memo to self: What was I thinking?)

I took some time before writing this article so that fans could come down from the Saturday imbibing (myself included) and the euphoria associated with a 62-0 score in favor of us good guys.  It was a beautiful day for football, albeit stifling hot, the crowd was enthusiastic and the staff and players were more than ready to start the season.  And so they did in fine fashion with impressive performances across the offensive and defensive boards.  The units did well, the individual players, especially Voytik, Conner, Boyd, Galambos, Mitchell and Durham, did well and the staff used the lopsided score to get almost everyone who has an outside shot of having to play at some point this season some experience.

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August 30, 2014

Roasted Blue Hens

Filed under: Football — Justin @ 4:44 pm

Hi everyone. I’m sure you’ve missed me. For those who forget/don’t know me, I took a break writing here to write for CBS Sports/247 for a little bit. I left a few months back  and haven’t written much thanks to the birth of my son. Here he is with a message for Boston College on Friday. As you parents know life gets pretty hectic the first few months. Now that he’s six months old and life is settling down a bit, I have this thing called “free time.” It’s a weird thing, not sure how to handle it. My thought was MOAR FOOTBALL!!!!!

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Open Thread: Blue Hens-Panthers

Filed under: Football,Open Thread — Chas @ 10:20 am

I’m trying not to read too much into my bag strap snapping as I approached the press gate — but if Pitt blows this I’m totally using it as an omen of doom in the recap later.

It’s a beautiful, humid day. I swear I won’t be reading anything into Pitt’s conditioning today.

Have to believe Pitt will win this game. In fact, I will shave my goatee/van dyke if they lose. Considering I haven’t shaved it off for over 10 years, this has me putting some, um, skin on the game.

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August 29, 2014

The Day Before

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 1:49 pm

So, we finally bit the bullet and added a second HDTV in our house. We have a giant HDTV projector in the basement, so a second HDTV was a low priority. The old analog was fine for the kids and in the background. But we finally gave in to  some more rampant consumerism.

It arrived in the evening. I set that thing set up and find about half the channels not coming through. Most glaring being most of the sports channels including ESPN. As I’m trying to figure it out, the wife starts checking around online and suspects that it to be the old and jury-rigged coaxial cables left in place from the previous owner (each line is a collection of 3-foot cables put together and then wrapped in electrical tape). Sure, why not.

Grumbling I spent the $37 for two 25-foot quad strength (supposedly better for HDTV) coax at a store, while grimly noting a pair of equal quality cables sell for $19 on Amazon. But of course there was no way I’m allowed to wait the two days of shipping on that.

A couple more hours of trying to get the old cables out of the wall and through narrow holes to get it to the connections in the basement. Then stringing the new ones through. Success (and a new, albeit discreet, hole in the floor). Turn on the TV, and the same bleeping problem. Another half-hour of trying to figure this out when on a frustrated whim I check the downstairs receiver. Attached to the back of the coax leading into DirecTV box are a couple of DirecTV adapter/filter/converter/condom-things. Take them off the downstairs box and slap them on the upstairs receiver. Yup. Now it works.

Now I have to get DirecTV to give me these stupid things (or I could just order them from Amazon for $10). I know it’s just poor planning on my part not to do this sooner. A bit of a pain for tonight and Sunday and Monday. But it won’t matter for tomorrow.

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One More Day

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players — Reed @ 7:55 am

We get to see the Panthers 2014 version play their first game tomorrow and I’m sure you guys are excited as I am.  Last night I sat in the car while my wife was shopping and I tried to gather all the info I know and all the opinions I have and come out with some sort of handle on what the PITT team will be like this year.

Not an easy thing to do.  You guys have read what I’ve observed and thought about the different segments of the football program and the team itself over the last six weeks.  You’ll formulated your own opinions and will watch each week unfold to see if PITT was “we were what we thought we were’.   That’s what is so much fun about football at this level.  Things change so drastically not only season to season but week to week.

So, this morning I wake up and read Jerry DiPaloa’s opinion piece on the team in his  Pitt Locker Room Blog and I thought – that’s putting a finger on it.  DiPaola is an interesting guy.  He’s not a rah-rah PITT booster but has an edge of cynicism to him when discussing the team so when I read his thoughts this morning I was surprised at how optimistic he is.

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August 28, 2014

Well, the dates are all set. The ACC television is set. The times for many of the non-con games and any accompanying TV coverage are still unknown.

The ACC released its complete schedule with dates and times yesterday (PDF).

Pitt’s ACC opponents were already known, just not the dates. February is going to be brutal (PDF).

Feb2015Brutal

The week before that is a Saturday home game against Louisville on CBS. Pitt’s ACC schedule definitely has a very difficult middle. The start and ends are noticeably weaker. But that middle. Oh, that middle stretch of late-January through the third week of Februrary. It’s very likely that in that 9 game stretch ND and Bryant will be the only unranked teams Pitt faces.

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Blue Hens In-Depth

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s),Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 6:02 am

Here’s a bit more background on our first opponent of the 2014 season… the DELAWARE BLUE HENS!!!!

Delaware is a  member of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) which is made up of smaller schools located on the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts to South Carolina.  Included in that list is William and Mary who PITT used to play sometimes back when I was in school in the mid-‘70s.  Great campus there BTW – right in Colonial Williamsburg.

As stated earlier PITT is 9-0 against teams in the CAA so we really shouldn’t have much of a problem with Delaware, but one never knows.  According to the Blue Hens ESPN site the football team went 7-5 on the season and 4-4 in conference.   In their only out of conference ‘big’ game they were beaten by the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy (Navy) 51-7.  Navy was 9-4 last season so factor that in I guess.

Here are last season’s statistics breaking down the details of the season.  It looks like they could run the ball well with a 4.8 ypc and their passing game was impressive with a 62% completion rate, 240 ypg and 27 TDs.  Their starting QB, SR Trent Hurley, played in 10 games last year, completed 64% of his passes for 2207 yds and had 22 TDs to seven INTs.  He also ran the ball 62 times and if you deduct the sack yardage against him he ran for 4.3 ypc which isn’t bad.  It’s something for the defense to think about anyway.

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August 27, 2014

Catching Up On Things

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 1:24 pm

For real media companies and reporters, this past week and this one would be where all the coverage is ramped up and there would be lots of articles. Chasing page views and taking advantage of the growing excitement for the new season. Not at Pitt Blather. Noooo. Instead we take the less is more approach. Letting our pieces breathe, and –

Okay, that’s an obvious load of crap. Sorry folks. Between covering for people trying to squeeze in their final vacations at work. The ramp up to school restarting for my kids. Not to mention a horrid week in between school starting and all summer camps ending — creating a chaotic situation where the wife and I juggle our schedules to ridiculous levels. Then there is just making sure everything is in position so I can take off on Saturday. I’ve barely been on the computer the last couple of weeks.

I really, really look forward to Saturday. Seeing my friends before the game, then abandoning them for the comforts of the press box. This coming season will feature both Reed and myself watching games with the media. Onto some links and thoughts.

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Do you want to know how some of that ACC money is being spent and what dividends we’ll get out of spending it?  Look no further than the growing PITT walk-on program.  Walk-ons are an interesting breed with interesting rules attached to them.

There are two different types of walk-on players; the preferred walk-on and the regular walk-on.

The Preferred Walk-on is usually contacted by the school because they want the kid on standby for whatever reason, maybe because they know a player is leaving school and they want to have the preferred walk-on in place.

But he isn’t offered a scholarship directly out of high school as are regular recruits.  They are given a promise that ‘at some time’ during the kid’s first training camp a spot on the roster will become available in the fall.  Enter the practice of many coaches not inviting back players who are entering their fifth year of eligibility or targeting players they want off the roster for any reason.  Cutting them loose allows those preferred walk-ons’ scholarships to magically appear if the staff wants to offer.

This allows the players a solid opportunity to stay on the roster, practice every day with the team thus staying in the staff’s awareness and also possibly get to travel to away games.  It is a good first step to a scholarship if they can make the grade and prove they are worth the risk.

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August 25, 2014

Game One Preview: Delaware

Filed under: Football,Media,Opponent(s),Players — Reed @ 4:20 pm

Get your game faces on, it’s almost show time!!  Saturday we host the Blue Hens of Delaware at Heinz Field for the opening game of our 2014 season. Yeah Us!!

Here is the PITT SID’s office’s overview of the match-up.  Here are the much more detailed “PITT vs. Delaware Game Notes” that are distributed by that office to the local and visiting media writers up in the press box.  I find it interesting that we’ve never played them before but then again we have never lost to them before either.  Small blessings.

Pitt is undefeated (9-0) against current members of the CAA, most recently beating Maine, 35-29, in 2011 and New Hampshire, 38-16, in 2010.  I think we’ll easily handle Delaware.  The spread is 27 points and that is doable as I think we’ll run right over them.

Before anyone starts talking about ‘we thought the same thing against YSU‘  let’s remember there are huge differences in the two situations.  With the YSU game Chryst suspended six players including starters Ezell and Gonzalez just hours before the game.  That in itself rocked the team. Combine that disciplinary action with the natural uncertainty the players had about Chryst going into his first game of his first year, especially after they were just burnt so badly by Graham, and you had a perfect storm for a loss.  That isn’t the case at all this week against Delaware.

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August 24, 2014

Now that we are at the halfway mark of Paul Chryst’s contract to be the head football coach at PITT and entering his third season in that position, it is a good point in time to step back and take a semi-detached look at where the football program was, is now and what the future looks like.

There is no real need to get into the details, weeds, swamp or muck about what has transpired at PITT after the 2009 season.  We PITT fans know the history like the back of our hand.  But, for clarity it is important to understand the situation PITT was in, why we were in it and what Chryst stepped into as his first job as a head coach.

The upshot is that when PITT offered Chryst the head job we had just run through four different ‘real’ HCs in the 13 month period after Dave Wannstedt was fired (the slowest firing in the history of football by the way).  Four head coaches in a bit over one year might have been a Guinness World Record.  Granted a couple of those HCs were blips on the radar; Mike Haywood didn’t even have time to buy any PITT gear before he was fired and Todd Graham, he of the “High Octane” offense, lasted one season before he pulled chocks and left in the dead of night. Trey Anderson said it best with this quote “I take a nap for 2 hours; wake up to find out my head coach is gone.”

We can debate forever the wisdom of firing Wannstedt after his run as the most successful coach in the last 25 years.  Then again PITT has a track record of jettisoning and/or not fighting to keep successful head coaches.  The decision making in dealing  with Jackie Sherrill right up through Walt Harris and ending with Dave Wannstedt are examples of PITT’s administration acting in ways some fans don’t understand or agree with.  Whether it isn’t offering a truly competitive salary (Sherrill) or firing for cause including issues external to football itself (Harris and Wannstedt), PITT has danced to the beat of its own drum.

Those decisions angered PITT fans royally when they happened but that antagonism has been tamped down now that we are able to look at them with some distance in our rear view mirror, you know – the rear view mirror you have with the nine national championship mini-trophies dangling from it.

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August 21, 2014

Comings and Goings

Filed under: Football,Recruiting,Transfer — Chas @ 12:09 am

Well, the euphoria of a nice recruiting get lasted all of 24 hours. Is this where we are supposed to gnash our teeth and mutter or whine about not being allowed to have nice things?

Welp, start with the older and positive news. The depth at running back will continue to swell as Pitt got a verbal on Tuesday from Darrin Hall out of Youngstown.

The four-star running back announced his decision in front of a group of 20 family members and friends at Buffalo Wild Wings, where he donned a Pitt hat over that of Michigan State and Kentucky.

“It’s good to get it out of the way and now I can focus on becoming a great leader for my [Fitch] team,” said Hall, who’s beginning his senior year.

Hall said he was leaning toward Pitt last week and after a visit on Sunday, he ultimately decided the Panthers were the best choice for him.

He didn’t talk to the Pitt coaching staff about early playing time and said that wasn’t something he was worried about.

“I know they have some young backs, but I’m ready to work hard and earn my spot,” he said.

Hall’s parents, Camille and Darrin Sr., were seated next to him when he made his announcement, but said that was as close as they got to the decision making process.

“He made it on his own,” said Darrin Sr. “He made the decision and he chose to stay close to home and I was glad of that.

“I’m glad that played a factor in his decision and I love the choice.”

His mom was happy her son made his decision not solely on football.

“I’m very excited about it,” she said. “I’m more excited about his education, that’s first and football’s secondary, but overall I’m just very happy.

Hall is a near consensus 4-star running back (only 247 has him at 3-stars).

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August 19, 2014

Cleaning Up Some Football Debris

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 6:03 am

First off, I can’t thank Reed enough for the work he’s done in August. It’s been tremendous having him writing and making the trips for practices and scrimmage. Some fantastic stuff.

There’s not a lot I can add to that part. So I’m just going to clear some tabs, hit the links, and toss a few of my own thoughts in along the way.

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