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August 27, 2007

It’s hard to get real serious about Eastern Michigan. They were 1-11 last year. ESPN.com had them #6 on their preseason bottom 10 (3 MAC teams made the list now that Temple is a football member)

Then, I read the bible — well, Phil Steele’s 2007 College Football Preview, but that is essentially the bible of college football preview mags. I actually began to worry about facing EMU. Just a little. He writes about how he believes they will be significantly better (granted, they were 1-11 last year so that wouldn’t take much). They lost 6 games by 8 points or less. They return 16 starters, including 9 on defense. They also had a ton of injuries last season.

Of course, even with all of that, they were still tabbed for the bottom of the MAC West. Plus, they are a “bend but don’t break defense.” It will be nice to play one of those.

There was essentially a training camp recap with the highs and lows. Then there was a piece on getting ready for EMU.

Still, Eastern Michigan’s 116-year football history is so underwhelming that the most notable fact about the Eagles, at least as far as people in Western Pennsylvania are concerned, is that it is the alma mater of Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch. It also produced two players — John Banaszak and Ron Johnson — who were key members of some of those “Super Steelers” teams of the 1970s.

Pitt, however, has many questions to answer, so the Panthers are in no position to take any team lightly.

The Eastern Michigan game will mark the first significant action for quarterback Bill Stull, and the Panthers also have a linebacker corps that has been rebuilt entirely. Pitt also finished camp with an offensive line plagued by injuries and inconsistency.

How about this factoid, EMU has only 6 winning seasons in its past 33. In the last 7 years they are 20-60 and 14-40 in MAC play. They are a team that screams, don’t take them seriously.

Gorman’s blog post late today may be accurate in that it is a good thing for Pitt to start. Dealing with the entry level for this season with a read-option/spread and dual threat QBs.

Not that the time invested preparing for Eastern Michigan’s scheme is going to waste. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Pitt will play several teams with dual-threat quarterbacks – Virginia, Navy, South Florida and WVU come to mind – and it’s difficult to simulate game speed with the scout team’s freshmen and walk-ons in practice.

“With this first game,” redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said, “it’s a good test for us to get confidence toward the end of the season when we play a team like West Virginia.”

Wannstedt acknowledged that, because of the schedule, the Panthers made a “concentrated effort” in spring drills and the summer practicing the read-option and studying schemes that give them “the best chance to defend it.”

Considering last year, Pitt’s defense was able to turn UConn’s DJ Hernandez into a seeming dual threat god last year, they need the work. [As a brief aside, notwithstanding the Pitt game, Hernandez was so underwhelming as a QB for the rest of the Husky season that he is now a WR for them. Bitter, bitter game.]

For direct stuff, there is the transcript from Coach Wannstedt’s Monday press conference.

On scheming against the read-option offense:

There are schemes out there, but our scheme is no different than any other one. You still have to get into a position to make plays and make sure you have the quarterback accounted for on every play because he is really the guy that makes it go. The handoffs are no different than any other type of offense, but the threat of the quarterback and his ability to run and make plays, that’s what separates this offense from others.

On EMU’s offense being a bad match-up for a new linebacking corps:

No. Our guys are well-prepared. It’s not a surprise for us and we’ll play well.

Coach Wannstedt gave a fine effort in trying to puff the Eagles.

Defensively, they really jump off the screen. I have a real appreciation for what they do on the defensive side of the ball. They run the 4-3 and, depending on who they start, they have about eight or nine of their defensive starters returning. They have a linebacker who is very highly regarded by the NFL. One or two of their defensive linemen, particularly the two tackles, are highly respected players around the country and can make plays. One thing that jumps out at you is that they turn their guys loose, they are aggressive and they make plays. From an offensive standpoint, they have nine returning starters. The quarterback from a year ago missed spring practice, but he is back and healthy now. They have a new starter at right tackle and at one of the receiver spots, but everyone else on their offense is back, so we are facing a team that has played together for a considerable amount of time.

It would have been an admirable build-up but he prefaced that with the statement, “When you look at Eastern Michigan on tape, you have to put the record aside.” That just kills the credibility. Lou Holtz would not approve.

UConn Gametime Set

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s) — Dennis @ 9:29 pm

Those of you who enjoy tailgating — getting to the parking lots early to relax, talk football, grill some hot dogs, and other such fun — before night games will be happier today. Those people, like me, were relieved by news that the UConn game on September 22 will be a 7 pm kickoff.

It’s also good to know that even if the game is televised (or gets the ESPNU/360 treatment), the game time won’t be changed. Everything else is beginning to shape up, too.

Pitt previously announced that its Sept. 8 game against Grambling has a noon kickoff and its Oct. 10 game against Navy, which will be nationally televised on ESPN, is slated for an 8 p.m. start. Game times for Pitt’s remaining home games — Cincinnati on Oct. 20, Syracuse on Nov. 3 and South Florida on Nov. 24 — have yet to be determined.

5 days to EMU.

Not sure, other than for filler, why the PG would do this “Five Questions Revisited” thing. The only real answer that was close to definitive was whether Thatcher and Phillips were back physically and mentally from their injuries. It seems in the piece to almost be acknowledging that the other questions can’t be answered until Pitt actually plays the game.

Seems to be a continuing theme from the AP story that I noted and added my own thoughts. Now Kevin Gorman notes the pressure on Wannstedt this year is up a bit more.

Wannstedt has done all he can to be an avid fundraiser, goodwill ambassador and, perhaps most important, persuasive recruiter for Pitt. He has the unwavering support of the university’s top administrators, who don’t want to compromise their credibility by cutting corners.

“Winning is extremely important to us,” said Pitt athletic director Jeff Long, who hired Wannstedt in December 2004. “We want to win the Big East championship. We want to play in a BCS bowl. We want to win a national championship. But we’re not going to do that at all costs.”

Yet Pitt fans are becoming restless, craving a winner after back-to-back six-loss seasons that included lopsided losses to arch-rival West Virginia. Not only has Wannstedt yet to claim a signature victory, but the Panthers have suffered demoralizing overtime losses at Ohio and Connecticut that cost them likely bowl berths the past two seasons.

Is it fair to call this a make-or-break season for Wannstedt?

“It’s probably not unfair, if you look around the country and see people have made those kind of changes,” Long said. “We brought Dave Wannstedt here because he’s a proven football coach, a proven winner. He loves Pitt, loves Pittsburgh. I think Dave is the right man for the right job. He’s leading us strong.”

Gorman does seem to want to blame the pressure on the nebulous things such as the “culture of college football” changing and increased expectations from fans for things to happen sooner. That’s a cop-out. The patience is there. As long as there’s something indicating progress is happening. It keeps coming back to showing some tangible signs of progress. Not just being told there’s a “plan” or that it will happen.

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