September 23, 2008

BlogPoll Ballot, Week 4

Filed under: Bloggers,Football,Polls — Chas @ 9:57 pm

So, not a lot of change near the top. Starting this week, as conference play gets broader, there should start to be a lot more shake-out and reality checks.

Rank Team Delta
1 Southern Cal
2 Oklahoma
3 Missouri
4 Georgia
6 Florida
7 Texas
8 Wake Forest 1
9 Alabama 9
10 South Florida
11 Penn State
12 Wisconsin 2
13 Auburn 1
14 Brigham Young 1
15 Texas Tech 2
16 Ohio State
17 Utah 4
18 Kansas 2
19 Vanderbilt 2
20 Connecticut 4
21 TCU 4
22 Virginia Tech 4
23 Boise State 3
24 Colorado 2
25 Ball State 1
Dropped Out: East Carolina (#8), Oregon (#19), West Virginia (#22), North Carolina (#23).

East Carolina’s win over WVU looks less impressive. Arguably, VT has turned things around with Tyrod Taylor and may have stabilized. UNC has their starting QB out on top of the painful loss. Wait until next year for the Tar Heels.

The bottom half stays in flux. Ball State earned their way, but I’m not sure how long their stay will be with the loss of their top receiver Dante Love.

For those looking for non-negativity, sorry. The topic of choice seems to be the offense and 3-and-outs. Both dailies ran with the struggles on the offense to stay on the field.

Pitt’s three touchdown drives in its 21-20 victory against Iowa totaled 29 plays, 207 yards and an average of 7.14 yards per play.

The Panthers also had 11 first downs on those drives and possessed the ball for nearly 13 minutes.

It was the Panthers’ offense at its best.

But besides those three drives, the offense was a complete non-factor as it mustered only 67 yards on 30 plays (2.23 yards per play) and had only two first downs on their other 10 possessions, not counting the three kneel-down plays at the end of the half and game.

The Panthers failed to get a first down on eight of those 10 possessions, and the two possessions in which they did yield a first down lasted only four plays. Pitt had seven three-and-out drives, including a stretch of six consecutive possessions that failed to get a first down, and one other possession ended when tailback LeSean McCoy fumbled on the first play.

On third downs, Pitt was only 3-15. So what was the issue?

On Pitt’s third-down situations vs. Iowa:

“A couple possessions, we had guys open and didn’t convert. A couple times we turned some guys lose and it was more of us not executing than not being physical. Give them [Iowa] credit, they brought a lot of new looks that they didn’t show in their previous games. We need to be more efficient in third down situations. We had manageable third-and-five or six and we need to convert those. It is not fun to have to go for it on fourth down. Third downs will definitely be a point of emphasis this week in practice.”

Failure to execute. Of course. The closest that he comes to suggesting that there might have been anything to do with the game plan or coaching was that Iowa “brought a lot of new looks.” Otherwise it was all on what the players did on the field. It’s on them.

I’m just curious. Did any of the media ask about conservative playcalling at all? That it might have been somewhat relevant to the stretch of consecutive 3-and-outs? It’s not like Pitt had that many manageable 3d down situations:

Down               RUN PASS  Total

OVERALL..........   35   27     62
1ST DOWN.........   17    8     25
2ND DOWN-SHORT...    1    0      1
2ND DOWN-MIDDLE..    2    4      6
2ND DOWN-LONG....    7    5     12
3RD DOWN-SHORT...    3    2      5
3RD DOWN-MIDDLE..    0    1      1
3RD DOWN-LONG....    3    6      9
4TH DOWN.........    2    1      3

Formation        RUN PASS  Total

................   35   27     62

The odds are, that things might improve if Pitt could actually do more on 1st and 2nd down. It looks even worse when you consider that of the drives there was a fumble on 1st down once, a kneel downs at the end of the half, and in the final series. That’s removing 3 1st downs that never got to a 3d down play being run. On 22 1st downs, Pitt went to 3d down 15 times.

Of course, 3d and short is no guarantee. On the 5 “3d down-short” opportunities. Pitt was stopped all 5 times (to their credit, 3 times they went for it and got it on 4th down).

Look, I’m not saying the players don’t have a huge responsibility for this. They do. They are making plenty of mistakes and the O-line has been a struggle. Both have killed more than their share of drives.

That said, the coaching staff hasn’t exactly shown much with adjustments when the defenses change. Plus reverting to conservative play calling as soon as Pitt takes a lead. That is why I can’t believe no one asked, even if they were going to get denials from Wannstedt that the team got conservative. I mean, it is noticeable.

Although Stull did miss a few throws and the offense did miss a few blocks, there is one other element to the offense stalling so often Saturday: the play-calling was noticeably more conservative once the Panthers got a lead and it didn’t open up again until they fell behind.

The Panthers often opted for safe running plays or short passing plays once they were in second-and-long situations, which didn’t allow the offense to try to bury the Hawkeyes when they had them back on their heels early.

Yet, no question to the coach?

Going for it on 4th down was important. The players responded.

“The fourth-down calls were a tribute to the coaches trusting us that we could get it done,” junior quarterback Bill Stull said. “We had a couple weeks to prepare and go through all those situations – and got it done.”

In each case, the player who came up short on third down responded when rewarded with another chance. That’s wasn’t lost on Panthers players who believe the offense is just a few big plays away.

“It shows his confidence in us, and that’s what we take from it, just him believing in us, that we can go for it on fourth down,” senior receiver Derek Kinder said. “When it comes down to it, when we really do need to make a play, we know we can do it. We did that in the first quarter and the fourth quarter. Now, we just need to do it in the middle of the game and go throughout the whole game making plays.”

And by coincidence, they scored in all three drives.

See, I can actually accept the players still trying to figure things out, even after a quarter of the season has been played. It can be annoying and frustrating, but they are still kids.

I can’t abide what is a veteran coaching staff, that still hasn’t figured things out at this point. Whether it’s adjustments, playcalling, getting the best players out on the field, the best way to use the players. That’s inexcusable.

“When you look at the plays we’re running — we’re running zone plays, we’re running tosses, we’re running flip screens, we’re running inside screens, quarterback draws, reverses, wide receiver screens. My wife would have a hard time drawing up more plays than we’ve got. In fact, I’m almost to the point that we have too much. It can get that way.”

Cat Basket has an excellent counter-point to this.

What everybody is talking about in regards to opening up the offense and changing the perception that we are a conservative team is the type of play calls we run consistently. It’s the 2nd and 8 runs up the middle after we ran a similar play on 1st down. It’s the draws on 3 and 11 instead of throwing past the 3rd down marker. It’s a bubble screen to the outside reciever when the other team is in bump coverage. It’s putting in Greg Cross and running a simple bootleg on a 2nd down. It’s putting Jonathan Baldwin in 7 plays and having him run the same route 5 of those 7 times.

Think of all the “special packages” for various players. It’s how they are used — both the plays and the players.

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