September 23, 2008

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.

I love the quotes by Stull and Kinder. To me, that is the center of this whole issue going on with the coaching. It will be the key to the rest of the season- the coaches having faith in the players and giving them the opportunities to make great things happen.

Let’s go make some Orange juice (not from concentrate) HAIL TO PITT

Comment by Dan35 09.23.08 @ 2:31 pm

Did you see that Pryor was named the starter for OSU. If had gone to Pitt, he would be brought in (if at all) to take knee! Baldwin should be playing!

Comment by markp 09.23.08 @ 2:42 pm

Pryor got the start because of an injury. Isnt that how Bostick ended up starting last year as a true freshman?

Comment by Rex 09.23.08 @ 2:58 pm

Bostick only started because Flacco took off the year before that.

BTW, is there any word more wrongly misspelled than “lose” vs. “loose”.

Comment by Bobby 09.23.08 @ 3:36 pm

Ok, let’s not do the revisionist history thing when it comes to Joe Flacco.

I’ve been around here for a few years now, and nobody on this site gave a crap when Flacco bolted for Delaware. I know now that he’s a 2-0 starter for the Ravens everyone is going to try to say differently, but just stop before you start. No one cared when he left, myself included.

There was like a 1 in 5 bazillion chance that when he left he’d light it up in 1AA and become a top 20 draft pick. None of us fathomed that we’d even ever hear the name Joe Flacco again when he left, but I bet we’ll have 500 experts in here over the season complaining about how they knew we shouldn’t of let him go.

And I thought Pryor just got the start because Boeckman sucks, did he get injured?

Comment by Jimbo Covert's my Dad 09.23.08 @ 5:30 pm


Pryor got the starting job over Boeckman because Boeckman was struggling mightily running their offense. In Jimbo’s words, he sucked.

Also, minor correction, but Bostick got the starting job only after Kevin Smith stunk it up against Michigan State. There was no injury to Smith, only to Stull.

Comment by Ryan M. 09.23.08 @ 5:41 pm

Check out the quote from Schiano at Rutgers (now this is refreshing…putting it on himself and the coaches): “Are we emphasizing too many things as a coaching staff, No. 1?” he said. “Are we focusing hard enough as players, No. 2? I always look at the coaches and myself first before I look at the players. Maybe we’re asking them to focus on too many things.”

Comment by nycbruce 09.23.08 @ 9:51 pm

Pryor got the starting job because he’s ridiculously talented. I think highly of Bostick, but they are in different leagues. Pryor would be starting here as well or at least playing a ton at QB regardless of what a moron Cavanaugh is. He was eventually going to replace Boeckman as he’s simply a lot better.

Why Baldwin isn’t in the same situation, I’m not sure, but he’s too talented to not incorporate more into the offense as well.

Comment by CRIMHEAD 09.23.08 @ 11:19 pm

I agree with CRIMHEAD, Pryor is a very rare talent for a freshman.

Cav is a moron! but we all know that.

The SU game is going to be very tight, this game is SU’s make or break game for the season. SU sucks but they are going to pull out the entire playbook for this one. (My SU connection told me this last night)

This is a game we should win easily but I am sure we will find a way to keep it close.

Pitt 20 SU 10

Comment by Starbuck 09.24.08 @ 6:45 am

No, there is no word more misspelled than ‘lose’ and it’s irritating as hell.

Pryor wasn’t ever going to come to PITT so why look back? He’s doing well and good for him I guess – actually, I couldn’t care less at this point.

Cav’s playcalling and DW’s reverting to NFL form is maddening. I’m not sure what the answer is except that I’d like to see Harris play some series at RB. McCoy, as talented as he is, shouldn’t be above getting sat down every so often if his play isn’t advancing the cause.

Just as the offense did so well getting first downs and keeping series alive against Buffalo, I’m hoping that the opposite happening against Iowa is not the norm. Perhaps we’ll see a more balanced success in the games to come. I do agree with Kinder that on a lot of offensive plays we were one missed block away from springing the RB for big yards (if you can DVR a game and then watch it afterward it really helps to see how things actually unfolded).

To me it seemed that Iowa played a darn good game on defense also, so I have to factor that in also when looking at our three-and-outs. But, the play calling doesn’t need to be exotic really, but needs to not repeat plays that just failed the last time we ran them in the same situation.

I still wonder about the complaints from fans about getting the best players on the field. Baldwin got more plays – and will see more action as he grasps more. I find it funny that people are bitching about not getting Baldwin the ball more in the red zone – when we are 9 for 9 in red zone scoring with 7 of those being TDs. That’s damn good in any-one’s book – but getting into the red zone is a challenge.

Nix was in for more plays (I don’t think Thomas is doing as poorly as other fans do). Cross got some action, and hopefully we’ll see more of that I guess…interesting to see that DW & Cav had scripted Cross getting the third series, wonder what happened to change their minds.

Comment by Reed 09.24.08 @ 7:09 am

Hey, did anyone see that the Dolphins ran the Wildcat on Sunday against the Patriots? Yeah, the Dolphins, and they did it with Ronnie Brown. If they can do it with Ronnie, why can’t Pitt do it with McCoy? Or is Wanny still a chickensh*t?

Comment by Joshua 09.24.08 @ 2:08 pm

Ronnie, we did it with McCoy last season in three games.

Comment by Reed 09.25.08 @ 7:01 am

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