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September 29, 2008

No real shock here. Connor Lee took Big East Special Teams Player of the Week for his 14 point performance against Syracuse. That’s the most points accounted for by a kicker in the Big east this year.

Mike Holmes of Syracuse who returned the 90-yard kickoff for a TD and 207 total return yards made honor roll.

Oh, and Matt Grothe the USF QB took offensive player of the week honors for the second time this season.

Recruiting Tides

Filed under: Basketball,General Stupidity,Recruiting — Chas @ 12:56 pm

Well, it seems that Pitt was ultimately tripped up by the insane NCAA and conference rules that got Nebraska this summer. Darnell Dodson is not permitted to come to Pitt.

Dodson was a class of 2007 commitment for Pittsburgh, but found out last September that he was not going to be cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Since Dodson was enrolled at Pittsburgh and declared a non-qualifier, he was not allowed to be on scholarship at Pitt due to the Big East rule not allowing member schools to accept non-qualifiers…

Of course, Dodson had initially appeared eligible, but the NCAA Clearinghouse came back with more questions — in September. They hadn’t ruled on his status prior to the start of Pitt’s fall semester. In fact, they didn’t rule on him until October.

That left him and Pitt in a questionable situation. Especially since he was already enrolled. That meant all Pitt and Dodson could do would be take a chance with an appeal when the time came. It didn’t and an additional upshot is that the Big East keeps him from being recruited by any other Big East teams. Seems the Big East has a rule akin to the Big 12 that says if a non-qualifier is enrolled — even if he is declared a non-qualifier after the fact — he is out at all BE schools after he goes to Junior College. Which is really stupid since the NCAA banned kids from going to prep school when they can’t get eligible — so Dodson had little choice but to go JUCO.

Given Dodson’s from the Maryalnd, I’m guessing Gary Williams and Maryland will be active in pursuing him. Along with schools like VCU and Virginia Tech. Good luck to Darnell Dodson.

Pitt almost immediately, though, filled the scholarship with a power forward/center project in Talib Zanna.

Talib Zanna has impressed the NBE Basketball Report in the summer for the player he has become, but the player he could become has always had our staff very intrigued. Early in July at the Agent Zero to Hero event Zanna showed his ability to run the floor and improved willingness to battle in the post. At the Reebok Summer Championships Zanna displayed ability to face-up and attack off the dribble.

At 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds Zanna has the size to compete in the Big East and the athletic ability that had college coaches watching this summer. One major college assistant watching Zanna this summer remarked he “Has Major upside! Very long and athletic. Rebounds very well.” Zanna finished his summer playing for the Triple Threat AAU program after starting the AAU circuit with the DC Blue Devils. He will compete in his senior season with Bishop McNamara this season.

Tanna also had interest/offers from Georgetown, UConn and Providence. Not to mention VT, Clemson and Villanova.

Rivals.com doesn’t have him ranked or starred. Scout.com puts him as a 3-star and ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc. considers him a top-150 player (Insider subs.).

Zanna is a highly skilled and athletic big man who missed most of his sophomore year due to injury. This native of Nigeria has lots of bounce that enables him to get to the ball quickly on the glass to rebound and to dunk a lot. For his size he can face and penetrate, pass off the high post, and drop an occasional three. Able to score with either hand, Talib plays much in the mold of Tim Duncan.

Definitely a player that Pitt looks at as a development project, high-upside player.

Zanna, who came to the United States from Nigeria in 2006, was in Pittsburgh when the Panthers’ played host to Iowa earlier this month at Heinz Field.

Zanna has a reputation as a player who can run the floor and is willing to battle inside.

“He’s a strong, athletic kid,” said Keith Stevens, who coached Zanna on the D.C. Blue Devils AAU team. “He has a lot of potential. He has the ability go 15 feet from the basket and hit shots; and he’s a solid defender. He’s going to be a perfect complement to Dante Taylor.”

Locally, Tom Droney crossed Wake Forest off his list. He’s down to Pitt, Davidson and ND.

Don’t Look Back In Anger

Filed under: Football,History — Chas @ 11:20 am

A nice puffer on ex-head coach Walt Harris.

“Pitt still means a lot to me,” he said. “Some of the people there still mean a lot to me …

“You can’t have a better chancellor than Mark Nordenberg. He was great to me. And it was wonderful that they brought Steve Pederson back [as athletic director]. He’s the smartest guy I’ve ever been around. They’ll bring Pitt back.”

It’s amazing Harris isn’t bitter about the way he was forced out at Pitt despite twice being Big East Conference Coach of the Year and leading the Panthers to six bowl games, including the Fiesta Bowl in his final season. It’s also amazing he isn’t reveling in the fact that his successor, Dave Wannstedt, in his fourth season, has not come close to matching his success. Pitt didn’t go to a bowl the past three seasons and lost its opener to Bowling Green this season with Harris in the Heinz Field stands.

The Harris era never has seemed better.

Harris never has seemed so smart.

“How does being bitter help me?” Harris asked. “How does it make my situation any better?

“Our record at Pitt is what it was. I’m very proud of it. I’m very proud of some of the other things we did there. Our graduation rate. Keeping the off-the-field problems to a minimum … “

The vitriol some have directed at Harris in the past always puzzled me. Half seemed to be because it was felt that he didn’t recruit well enough, one-third was about his coaching deficiencies and the rest seemed to be his personality and media dealings. It’s noticeably dimmed in the past year as we still wait for Wannstedt to take Pitt to that “next level.”

I know that Harris reached a point with Pitt where it seemed they both needed to go their separate ways, so I am glad that Harris still speaks kindly of his time at Pitt.

Then there’s Andrew Johnson, one of the key defectors from Pitt’s lost 2004 recruiting class — and a significant blow to Walt Harris’ tenure. Johnson was supposed to be a can’t-miss, blue-chip running back. He missed.

Andrew Johnson drew the ire of Pitt fans when he backed out of a verbal commitment to the hometown Panthers to play for his dream school, the University of Miami, in 2004. Four years later, the North Hills High School graduate is now playing for the Akron Zips.

He claims no regrets over the way his career went. Sure.

BlogPoll Ballot, Week 5 — Draft

Filed under: Bloggers,Football,Polls — Chas @ 10:14 am

Rough sketch right now. There are some changes a-coming to the BlogPoll.

Rank Team Delta
1 Oklahoma 1
2 LSU 3
3 Alabama 6
4 Missouri 1
5 Texas 2
6 South Florida 4
7 Penn State 4
8 Georgia 4
9 Brigham Young 5
10 Southern Cal 9
11 Auburn 2
12 Texas Tech 3
13 Florida 7
14 Ohio State 2
15 Kansas 3
16 Utah 1
17 Connecticut 3
18 Vanderbilt 1
19 Virginia Tech 3
20 Boise State 3
21 Ball State 4
22 Michigan State 4
23 Wake Forest 15
24 Northwestern 2
25 Fresno State 1
Dropped Out: Wisconsin (#12), TCU (#21), Colorado (#24).

I might be kind of hard on Wisconsin, but blowing that game and the way they have struggled has me hesitant. Some other teams should have fallen further, but with all the upsets over the weekend it kept them from falling further. After all, that would mean moving other teams that I’m just not sure deserve to go too much higher.

Is this what Pitt is this year? A team that just keeps winning by the skin-of-their teeth. Even coming back against the worst team in the Big East and possibly the worst team amongst the BCS Conference teams (Washington and Washington St. may have something to say).

Falling
September 28, 2008

I’m trying to be positive. I really am. I can’t ignore, however, that this is the third straight game where we find ourselves exhaling and saying, “at least they won.”

A lot of people talked about Pitt’s physical conditioning wearing down Iowa last week. This week, that really showed against Syracuse in the second half. As Pitt shifted to running the ball, you could see the Orange defense wear down. That’s great, but I just don’t think Pitt can count on that. Especially against the better teams.

Apparently, Coach Wannstedt, er, expected this kind of game.

“Anybody who thought it was going to be different than what it was this afternoon has no clue about young athletes and coaches and trying to win,” he said.

Actually, anyone with some knowledge of the college game had every right to expect a Pitt rout from the first kickoff and not a game in which a fourth-quarter rally would be needed for victory.

He didn’t really put the play on youth did he? Sadly, there is no Wannstedt transcript. He does know that Syracuse had 25 freshmen and sophomores on their offense and defense two-deep? Pitt starts and plays a lot less youth.

Well, the 10-point deficit to the Orange was the largest Pitt has ever overcome in the Wannstedt era.

It was the largest deficit Pitt (3-1, 1-0) has overcome under Wannstedt, who improved to 19-20 in his fourth season, including 4-7 in Big East road games. Syracuse (1-4, 0-1) has lost 20 of its past 22 conference contests.

“You can always refer back to that,” Wannstedt said of overcoming a double-digit deficit, “but I look at that kind of like going for it on fourth down; you’d rather not.”

The running game — to no one’s shock — broke out against one of the worst run defenses in the country. LeSean McCoy broke out in the second-half when Pitt focused on the run. 147 yards on the day. One run in particular stands out.

McCoy only had one long run in the game, a 34-yarder in the third quarter, and the end of it was the most entertaining part. On the first play after Pitt gambled on fourth-and-inches from its 32-yard line and made the first down on a quarterback sneak, McCoy burst over right tackle and into the clear. He cut to the sideline, and the race was on. He made it all the way to the SU 32 before three tacklers cut him off. Seeing one SU player in front of him, one alongside him and one behind him, McCoy promptly sat down on the Carrier Dome turf.

“Hey, I gassed out,” he said. “I didn’t have anymore gas in me. I didn’t even have enough gas to get out of bounds.”

Fellow tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling wasn’t buying the explanation but vowed to wait a day before letting McCoy have it.

“I already told him we’re not going to talk about that until the film room tomorrow,” Stephens-Howling said with a smile.

Coach Wannstedt broke tradition by handing out a game ball right after the game.

“I thought our kids did a great job at halftime of not coming unglued, of staying positive. I normally don’t award game balls in the locker room until I see the film … but LaRod Stephens-Howling, the guy made tackles on kickoffs, the guy made tackles on punts and he obviously scored the two touchdowns.”

Probably could have given one to Connor Lee as well. Do you really need game film to determine that nailing 4 FGs — 3 of them of 40 yards or more — in the game merits a game ball? Especially when it ties a Pitt record. Not to mention, still not missing and XP.

Not that Pitt didn’t get help from Syracuse.

Pitt benefitted from one major break in the first half when Orange coach Greg Robinson decided against going for a first down on fourth-and-1 at the Panthers’ 38.

Instead, he ordered a punt. To that point, the Orange had dominated play and led, 14-3, while the Panthers’ defense spun its wheels.

“That decision gave us confidence,” said Pitt middle linebacker Scott McKillop.

The Panthers, who mostly conceded the outcome likely would have been different if Syracuse had forged a 21-3 lead, responded by outscoring the Orange, 31-10, after the punt.

You don’t say? You mean having a 4th and 1 inside the 40 and punting says something to the opposing defense? Not to mention what it must say to that team’s offense. I guess Greg Robinson didn’t review the tape of the BGSU-Pitt game. And man, did Robinson face questions.

The fourth-and-1 play from the Pitt 38 in the first quarter with the Orange leading 14-3 looked bad – and Robinson was hammered pretty good for his decision (I mentioned on the blog it was poor game management). Here’s another piece to that play – center Jim McKenzie failed to snap the ball when Pitt jumped off sides. It’s a set play that the Orange works on twice a week. If McKenzie snaps it, Pitt is either flagged for being off-sides or quarterback Cam Dantley bulls ahead. The problem was, McKenzie didn’t snap the ball. Brain freeze?

“We had our chance to convert and didn’t get it,” Robinson said of the fourth-down play. “The risk and reward was good.”In his post-game press conference Saturday after the loss to Pitt, Robinson took one for the team by declaring he wasn’t desperate in that situation. He never brought up the fact it was a set play and that McKenzie didn’t execute the snap. McKenzie had at least two poor snaps with Dantley in the shotgun formation. One contributed to a sack.

I was wondering about that. Pitt did jump, but Syracuse never snapped and then just froze. I admit that stats ranking teams with only 4 or 5 games played, generally don’t say a lot. In Syracuse’s case, they do.

Third down conversions – SU’s offense is ranked 115th nationally.

Third down conversions defense – Orange is ranked 117th nationally.

Here’s two more:

First downs offense – SU is ranked 116th

First downs defense – SU is ranked 115th

Eeewwww.

Oh, and it also helped that Greg Robinson is a moron as a head coach. He decided that Curtis Brinkley needed a break late in the game. Sure Brinkley had run for 106 yards at that point. Sure Pitt had just finished a nearly 5 minute scoring drive to tie the game.

Brinkley said he was good to go. His body langauge suggested he was not the least bit happy about standing on the sidelines during that point of the game.

“That was very frustrating,” Brinkley said. “I wanted to be in the game, but at the end of the day it’s a coach’s decision and the coach decided to put somebody else in. I wasn’t hurt or nothing. I wasn’t tired. I mean, my momemtum carried me throughout the whole game. My adrenaline was rushing from the first play. I ain’t get tired throughout any minute of the game.

“It was a coach’s decision. If it was up to me I would have played more, and if it was up to other people, they probably would have wanted to play more. But the coaches wanted who they wanted out there, and all I could was listen to them and, you know, respect what they want.”

Robinson said Brinkley, who rushed 16 times for 119 yards, was fatigued.

“Doug had hurt himself, tweaked his ankle,” Robinson said. “I felt we really didn’t have him at full speed. Antwon is a guy that has been very impressive to us. The idea was, we’re playing to try to win the football game, and when Curtis needed a blow, we needed to put him in. We were going to use Doug just because he’s such a fine blocker for third down situations.”

Antwon Bailey only gained 5 yards on two carries, then Dantley was sacked on 3d down. Needless to say the natives are unhappy. Yet Greg Robinson is still employed as I type this.

While Bill Stull passed for only 166 yards, Derek Kinder was responsible for 92 of them with 8 catches. Kinder also got a puffer from the local paper.

Cat Basket is still frustrated with the coaches and the way they call the game.

Pitt Panther Prowl is trying to find more positives than negatives.

Not much time to dwell on this game (thankfully). Big Thursday night game coming up.

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