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September 4, 2008

On the heels of the Big East releasing the conference slate, Pitt releases its full sched.

Date

Opponent (TV)

Location

Time

Tuesday, Nov. 4

SETON HILL (Exh.)

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Sunday, Nov. 9

LA ROCHE COLLEGE (Exh.)

Petersen Events Center

1 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 14

FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Monday, Nov. 17

MIAMI, Ohio

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Friday, Nov. 21

Legends Classic vs. AKRON

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Saturday, Nov. 22

Legends Classic vs. IUP

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Tuesday, Nov. 25

BELMONT

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Legends Classic (Newark, N.J.)

Friday, Nov. 28

Semifinal Game, TBA

Newark, N.J./Prudential Center

TBA

(Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Washington State)

Saturday, Nov. 29

Consolation/Championship

Newark, N.J./Prudential Center

TBA

(Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Washington State)

Wed., Dec. 3

DUQUESNE

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Saturday, Dec. 6

VERMONT

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Saturday, Dec. 13

UM-BALTIMORE COUNTY

Petersen Events Center

TBA

Wed., Dec. 17

SIENA (ESPN2)

Petersen Events Center

9:30 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 21

at Florida State (FSN National)

Tallahassee, Fla.

5:30 p.m

Obviously FoxSports Pittsburgh hasn’t decided how many of the games it wants to pick up. I’m guessing they are struggling with the decision on many that don’t exactly look like big ratings.

Have to say, Pitt doesn’t exactly have a challenging non-con. They are going to have to be darn near undefeated to keep the RPI up with this slate. Can’t afford too many losses. Of course, with the Big East looking absolutely loaded, it’s a reasonable hedge to pad the win total.

Pitt hasn’t announced its full schedule, but the Big East has released the full conference schedule with dates and major TV for 2008-09.

Non-con Pitt games being televised:

Wednesday, Dec. 17 — Siena at Pittsburgh, 9:30 p.m., ESPN/ESPN2

Sunday, Dec. 21 — Pittsburgh at Florida State, 5:30 p.m., FSN

Big East Pitt schedule

Wednesday, Dec. 31 — Pitt @ Rutgers

Saturday, Jan. 3 — Pittsburgh at Georgetown, ESPN

Sunday, Jan. 11 — St. John’s at Pittsburgh

Wednesday, Jan. 14 — USF @ Pitt

Saturday, Jan. 17 — Pittsburgh at Louisville, 6 p.m., ESPN

Monday, Jan. 19 –Syracuse at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m., ESPN

Sunday, Jan. 25 — Pittsburgh at West Virginia

Wednesday, Jan. 28 — Pittsburgh at Villanova

Saturday, Jan. 31 — Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, Noon, ESPN

Saturday, Feb. 7 — Pitt @ DePaul

Monday, Feb. 9 — West Virginia at Pittsburgh, 7 p.m., ESPN

Saturday, Feb. 14 — Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 4 p.m., ESPN

Monday, Feb. 16 — Pittsburgh at Connecticut, 7 p.m., ESPN

Saturday, Feb. 21 — DePaul @ Pitt

Tuesday, Feb. 24 — Pittsburgh at Providence

Saturday, Feb. 28 — Pitt @ Seton Hall

Wednesday, March 4 — Marquette at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday, March 7 — Connecticut at Pittsburgh, Noon, CBS Sports

Half of Pitt’s Big East schedule gets nationally televised, with the potential for more to be picked up. I’m a little annoyed that Pitt only got one game on CBS.

The offense has faced a lot of criticism, and deservedly so. The players know they need to do more on offense. Even if they parrot the words of their coach.

It’s frustrating that we’re not scoring,” Pitt junior tight end Nate Byham said. “I don’t feel that we need to score 48, 50 points like Florida. We just need to execute and put up our mid-20s and 30 points. That’s how we are. We have a great defense. We can play and win games with 27 points, 24 points, with the defense that we have.

“That’s not our problem. If we just execute like we should be and learn the game schemes of the other teams, we should be able to put up big points. We’re not setting a goal for how many points we need to score. We’re going to score as many points as possible. It’s just that we have a lot of confidence in our defense that they’re not going to give up a lot of points.”

There is some credence to the basis of Byham’s beliefs. The Panthers are 5-2 when holding opponents to 20 points or less and 0-6 when giving up 41 points or more. But Pitt is winless when it gives up more than 21 points, and the Panthers have done so 11 times in their past 18 games.

That last bit is damning. It would be nice to hold teams to under 21 all the time, but come on. You also should be able to win some games when the other team scores 24, 27 even 30 points.

Coach Wannstedt?

Yet Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has remained steadfast in his philosophy that the Panthers will control the clock by running the ball and rely on their defense to shut down opposing offenses.

“Scoring has gone up significantly the past few years,” Wannstedt said of the Bowling Green game, in which the Falcons scored two of its four touchdowns after recovering fumbles. “We know that, but we also didn’t help ourselves (Saturday) by creating short fields for our offense. We got one turnover, and we turned it over four times, which is eliminating four possessions. We can’t turn the ball over.

“It is the difference between winning and losing.”

So scoring is up, but that’s not a big deal? There’s nothing to change but the execution. I hate to do this on so many levels — referencing Skip Bayless, dredging up more past, mainly referencing Skip Bayless. A hat tip to reader S.N. for sending me this article written just after Wannstedt had quit the Dolphins in 2004.

As a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, I closely followed Dave’s final two Bears teams. Nearly every conversation I had with him began with, “Geez, we can’t get a break.” His creativity began and ended with, “This week, we’ve just got to run the ball and play defense.”

Disturbing familiarity.

Bowling Green was 4-4 in the redzone on Saturday. On 3 of the 4 TD drives, the Falcons had to go 52 yards or more. They never had to settle for a field goal. The defense may have had decent numbers with regards to total yards allowed, but they weren’t that impressive. But for the ineptitude of the offense, they would be getting more flack.

The offense, though, no one can defend it as it is.

By every objective measure it is clear this offensive coaching staff and philosophy are stuck so far in the prehistoric era of football that Fred Flinstone probably ran some of these plays when he was a quarterback at Bedrock High School but by the same token, did anyone catch Alabama, using the same playbook, mauling Clemson the other night? That tells me if you get the right offensive linemen (which Pitt doesn’t have) and running backs (which Pitt might have) and you can physically impose your will on teams (which Pitt can’t) that playing this power-I — or whatever you want to call it — style of football can be effective.

The problem Pitt has, however, is this: The coaches want the Panthers to be a power team, but they don’t have the personnel and, to this point, the coaches have not made much of an attempt to change the philosophy to adapt to the personnel. Few teams in college have the kind of powerful and talented linemen to line up and consistently blow other teams off the ball. There just aren’t that many top linemen around. In year one and two — when you are trying to establish a new program, that is acceptable. In year four — when you need to win games — it is probably time to do something different.

Hey, at least Matt Cavanaugh will talk after a bad performance by his unit and actually take some responsibility.

Cavanaugh said yesterday that in retrospect, the criticism of him was justified because he clearly didn’t have his best day as a play caller. He said the Panthers did make some key mistakes — like the four turnovers — but he admitted he needed to do a better job of putting together a more aggressive game plan to make teams pay for bringing pressure on every play.

“It was a combination of play calling and execution,” Cavanaugh said. “I understand some people’s vision of what a big play is and that is when the ball is thrown 40 yards down the field. But we can make big plays other ways, and I need to give the guys a few more opportunities this week to see if we can make a few. Scoring a lot of points comes with execution and good play calling and we were lacking in both the other day.

“I am accountable for this, too. It has been like that since day one around here — I have never pointed fingers at any player and players haven’t pointed fingers at the play calling.”

Cavanaugh said he spent some time Saturday after the game reflecting on what went wrong. He said he knows he made at least one key mistake in the sequence before the half but also second-guessed himself on the way he called plays the entire second half.

He said Bowling Green was basically daring the Panthers to throw deep a few times, and he didn’t try to take advantage of it.

And he even admitted that he really screwed up the play calling at the end of the 1st half. Hey, after most of the week of Head Coach Wannstedt going with a “not my fault,” “we were playing for field position,” and “we just didn’t execute,” Cavanaugh admitting that he actually screwed-up is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t excuse it. Especially in the first game when there should be no excuse not to be well prepared and truly ready for what an opponent will do. But at least he is copping to some real mistakes on his part.

LeSean McCoy even took blame for his game.

McCoy said the Falcons “had my number,” that he got “frustrated” and “started doing my own thing” and wished he could have back the fumble late in the second quarter that led to the game-tying scoring drive.

“I was a little impatient, trying to see if it would open up a little bit,” McCoy said. “I kind of got out of the strategy of the game plan and started doing my own thing a little bit, trying to get a little extra.”

Naturally Wannstedt defended both as his guys, but with this for McCoy?

On McCoy: “Shady just needs to run where he’s supposed to run, block when he’s supposed to block. He’s still learning. This is his second year of playing in college. I think because of the publicity that he gets, the perception is that he’s been around here playing for three years. He’s still learning every day and every game. The key is to improve week to week.”

Inexperience is the excuse? Still learning? I would have accepted, simply “trying to do too much,” but not that. That’s more crap, and another thing that has really come to bother me with Wannstedt as head coach at Pitt. If a player is not a redshirt junior or better, he seems to feel they lack the necessary experience and that is the built-in excuse. Not the coaching, teaching or responsibility of the player. Just too darn little experience.

This is college in 2008. Not 1968. Not 1978. Not even 1988. The days of being able to redshirt a player, load up with 100+ scholarships and build deep experienced players has been done for years. It isn’t the pros. In an ideal world you have players with lots of talent and experience. Reality is different.

You aren’t going to have many players with a lot of experience that are on the high talent. Odds are they are gone by their junior year. That’s why the CFB Coaches want to eliminate the redshirt and give a flat 5 years of eligibility. It gives them more flexibility with the use of players. If they redshirt a player who suddenly blossoms, they will lose him as a redshirt sophomore. Not getting enough use of them. McCoy is almost certainly gone after this year, inexperience is the one excuse that won’t wash.

This AP article points out, again how Pitt under Wannstedt is just not winning games.

“We have something to prove,” tight end Nate Byham said. “We definitely have something to prove, especially after this loss, but the ability is there for us to play with anybody.”

That’s the ongoing story line at Pitt: The Panthers can beat anybody, but they do so all too infrequently.

And that is why the frustration and anger after last week continues to fester. It’s nice to say, time to let it go. Time to move on and focus on Buffalo. It’s another thing, to simply try and ignore last week. Especially when it seems very obvious that things aren’t changing.

Strange school in a way. First, it’s the University at Buffalo. Not “of.” They can get touchy about that.

Second, they make you think of malt liquor.

Buffalo Bulls Mascot vs. Schlitz Malt Liquor Blue Bull

Buffalo Bulls Mascot vs. Schlitz Malt Liquor Blue Bull

Maybe colored by experience of knowing which one has kicked my ass, I find the Schlitz bull more fearsome.

Pitt of course, needs a win. Buffalo actually kicked the crud out of UTEP 42-17, so they can score and play some defense. Pitt is saying what is expected.

“I will be the first to tell you, we aren’t looking past UB,” said Pitt receiver Derek Kinder, a product of Albion High School. “We have to get a victory to get the season started. Buffalo is an up-and-coming team, they’ve made strides and they’re looking to come in with a victory on Saturday and feel they have a good chance at winning.”

Pitt’s 2007 season crumbled with losses to Michigan State, Navy, Cincinnati and Rutgers by a touchdown or less. Its breakthrough came in the regular-season finale against West Virginia, ruining the Mountaineers’ national championship hopes.

According to Kinder, the positive feelings that came with beating West Virginia haven’t ceased. That speaks to Pitt’s confidence; even after the loss to the Falcons, the Panthers insisted they were the better club.

“After Saturday’s game, everyone was down, but Sunday’s practice was a real turning point,” Kinder said. “We had an upbeat practice and we turned the page to get ready for Buffalo.”

Glad they were.

For Buffalo, they are known these days from actually rising from sub-Temple-esque joke to nearly middle-of-the road in the MAC under Turner Gill.

Now in his third season, Gill is making people believe by leading the Bulls to respectability. Buffalo had won only 12 games in seven seasons since moving up to Division I-A in 1999 before Gill’s arrival in 2006. The Bulls have won six of their past 13, including five in Mid-American Conference play last season, and opened this season with a 42-17 victory over the University of Texas-El Paso on Thursday.

Gill was the 2007 MAC Coach of the Year, and appears poised to follow Florida’s Urban Meyer and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and use his success as a springboard to a Bowl Championship Series conference.

“Obviously, (Gill) was an outstanding football player,” said Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, whose Orange beat Buffalo, 20-12, last season, “but he’s been able to take it to the coaching world.”

Gill has done so by taking a page from his mentor, legendary Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, and communicating with his players how to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. One method was to create individual highlight tapes so players can see their productivity and eliminate any doubts with continuous positive reinforcement.

Gill is a disciple and played for now Nebraska AD Tom Osbourne. Gill brought his own ideas to Buffalo, but also brought a couple Husker classics. Walk-ons.

Among the program’s most successful walk-ons was defensive end Jimmy Williams, an All-America selection in 1982 who went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL, twice being named MVP of the Detroit Lions.

Williams now works as the defensive coordinator for the University at Buffalo, where head coach Turner Gill has transplanted the Cornhuskers’ appreciation for football players without scholarships.

UB got plenty of contributions from current and former walk-ons in Thursday’s season-opening 25-point blowout of Texas-El Paso, especially from a trio of linebackers: Justin Winters, John Syty and Raphael Akobundu.

Appropriately, Williams also serves as the Bulls’ linebackers coach.

Hey, we have Austin Ransom.

They have a local high school player on the squad, so naturally he gets attention. It helps that he is also a All-MAC 1st teamer (the first in Buffalo history).

Davonte Shannon didn’t know the Buffalo Bulls from the Buffalo Bills, but the Jeannette star was willing to listen when they offered a Division I scholarship and the opportunity to play early.

All along, though, he was hoping to play at Pitt.

Instead, Shannon ended up to Buffalo, where he started at safety and led the Bulls with 123 tackles — the most by any freshman in the country last season — and became the first player in school history to earn first-team All-Mid-American Conference honors.

Wow. A freshman making an impact on a team, despite a lack of experience. What are the odds?

Well, Pitt doesn’t have much of a choice at Linebacker to start and play kids lacking in experience. Shane Murray’s knee looks to keep him out and Adam Gunn is done for the season.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said yesterday that starting outside linebacker Adam Gunn is likely out for the remainder of the season after an MRI revealed a fracture in one of the vertebrae in his neck. Gunn was injured during a helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Scott McKillop in the third quarter of the Panthers’ 27-17 loss to Bowling Green Saturday.

“He met with the doctor this morning and he does have a small fracture in one of his vertebrae,” Wannstedt said. “He is out indefinitely and it could be the year.”

That just sucks. A senior. Injured by colliding with a teammate. A legit student-athlete — twice selected as an All-Big East Academic football player.

Now, Coach Wannstedt has to do something he hates. Play underclassmen and inexperienced kids.

Redshirt freshman Greg Williams, who had three tackles and two quarterback hurries, is expected to replace Gunn in the lineup, opposite fifth-year senior Austin Ransom. Wannstedt said redshirt sophomore Nate Nix and redshirt freshman Brandon Lindsey also could see playing time.

“You can’t protect outside linebackers, and I say that not being a smart aleck,” Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. “With what these guys do, they’ve got to react, to play coverage, to play perimeter. They’ll be involved in some inside-run game. Are there certain things that you can dictate what they do? Yes. Play in and play out, they’ve got to play their technique, they’ve got to play fundamentals, they’ve got to execute what they’re trying to get done.”

Scott McKillop is going to have have a big game to help them.

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