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October 30, 2008

Basketball Notes, 10/30

Filed under: Basketball,Players,Recruiting — Chas @ 11:55 pm

Okay, Pitt comes in at #6 in the ESPN/USA Today Coach’s Poll. Pitt had 576 points. #5 Duke had 578 points and #7 Michigan St. had 572 points. Very tight grouping.

For those of you who play EA’s NCAA Basketball, Coach Jamie Dixon was one of the coaches the game designers consulted. Definitely go with the Pitt players.

Draft Express looks at top NBA prospects from the Big East. DeJuan Blair was ranked #6.

This will be an important season for Blair if he improved his body as much as has been suggested, mainly because it should give evaluators a much better feel for what his potential is physically. If he can show improvements with his quickness, explosion, and conditioning, it would go a long ways for improving his chances to play in the NBA. Still, at 6’7 without much semblance of a jumper, it’s going to be something of an uphill battle for Blair, even though he’s clearly on the path to being an outstanding college player.

He was also ranked #10 overall by CBS Sports among “Big Men.”

Meanwhile, Sam Young was listed at #4 by Draft Express for the NBA.

Although Young has received much praise regarding his improved offensive skills, he makes his biggest impact on the defensive end. He plays exceptional man to man defense with a certain spirit and energy which is contagious – elevating the defensive efforts of his teammates. His physical attributes don’t hurt him either, as he possesses a long wingspan which he uses to contest every shot and deny passing lanes. His off the ball defense could get better, as he can be late on rotations and gets hung up on pick and rolls. His rebounding however is very good for a player of his size as he averages about 6 a game.

With improved ball-handling skills and increased 3 point range, Young will try to establish himself as a solid first round pick this season, even though his upside won’t be deemed as high as some others due to his advanced age. His physical tools, defensive abilities, and no nonsense attitude will be his strongest selling points.

Young was also the focus of an AP piece that has gotten national play on his move to small forward.

“I’m 100 percent ready to play any position they need me to play,” said Young, who led Pitt to a 27-10 record, the Big East Conference tournament title and the NCAA round of 16.

Young doesn’t think the deeper 3-point line will affect his shooting.

“Not even a little bit,” he said. “As soon as we found out it was going to be changed, coach Dixon got a new (line) put on our court. We’ve been shooting with it ever since. I think we’re all just as comfortable with it as before.”

Over to recruiting, Dominic Cheek is puting off his visit to Pitt for another week. He has eliminated Indiana and Seton Hall from contention.

Ashton Sterling Gibbs, visited his older brother and the liked what he saw from Pitt.

“The trip was crazy,” Gibbs said of his visit to Pitt. “I had a lot of fun hanging out with Ashton and the guys, it was a really good overall trip.”

On Sunday, it was Pitt’s annual fanfest where a Blue/Gold scrimmage took place. Even though Sterling and his family were headed back to New Jersey for the Eddie Griffin Challenge by the time Asthon hit the floor, they were able to see that Ashton is adjusting well at Pitt.

Gibbs is a 2011 target and has no leader at this point.

October 29, 2008

Maybe. Maybe not.

We know some change will occur with C.J. Davis taking over at Center and Dom Williams at left guard. After that the rest of the two-deep on the O-line is apparently in potential flux.

Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise believes Davis will handle the transition seamlessly. Davis already was taking pre-practice snaps with quarterbacks, so he has the mechanics down. The main adjustment will come in making the calls on blocking assignments. Davis not only knows the offensive scheme but occasionally helped Houser in that regard.

Where it could affect the Panthers is in the run game, as Davis was adept at pulling for lead blocks on power plays. But Wise looks at the move as an advantage, considering Davis is one of the team’s most powerful players and will be going head-to-head with Notre Dame 310-pounder Ian Williams.

“Their best player is a nose tackle, so, in some ways, that’s a little bit of a benefit,” Wise said. “C.J. is a little bit more powerful in there. There’s a downside at left guard, but he could possibly be a benefit at center with him being covered by this guy.”

Wise didn’t rule out the possibility that Pitt could make future changes to the starting lineup, hinting that freshman right tackle Lucas Nix could get a long look at left guard as a backup to or replacement for Williams.

The one constant appears to be Davis staying at center.

The fact that Pitt has no real back-up center is just mindblowing. So far, Wannstedt hasn’t recruited any centers beyond Houser last year. Instead, trying to develop one from O-line recruits. An experiment that has failed miserably every year. As witnessed last year when senior Chris Vangas still won the job by default. Before that, Vangas couldn’t beat Joe Villani, who transferred from Bucknell. Do you know who the back-up has been and is (PDF)? Alex Karabin — a redshirt sophomore walk-on and no, he isn’t a center by trade.

Bill Stull may or may not play/start at QB. Here’s my view. I don’t care if he’s medically cleared. He should not play. He took a concussion. Mild or otherwise, it is still a brain bruise. Stull is a bright kid. He wants to play I have no doubt. It’s not his call, and it shouldn’t be. The coaches and the program have a responsibility to the players. Given the present state of Pitt’s O-line and a blitz happy John Tenuta (TAH-NOO-TAH BLITZ!!!!) on the other side, it isn’t worth it for his long term health.

I just don’t know whether Coach Wannstedt means it when he says there may be changes, whether it applies to the the secondary. The beat writers don’t even seem sure of what Wannstedt will actually do.

The other areas that could see changes are in the secondary — which was torched for 371 yards and six touchdowns by Rutgers’ Mike Teel — and at punt returner, where Aaron Berry has struggled and had a costly fumble against the Scarlet Knights.

Reserve cornerbacks Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed likely will get some extended looks in practice this week and split some time with Jovani Chappel. At safety, Elijah Fields might play more than he has had in recent games.

“I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that we’re going to have changes,” Wannstedt said. “But we are evaluating everyone on what we’re doing and who we’re dealing with.”

That promises exactly nothing.

The headline editor at the Trib. either must have freaked out from Wannstedt’s press conference where he seemed to talk a bit too much about ND running the ball against Washington or he decided to freak out Pitt fans with a headline of, “Pitt focused on Irish running game.” The actual article stresses, however the passing aspect of the Irish.

Eric Thatcher has taken a lot of criticism the whole season for his actual play at safety. Much of it deserved. I just don’t see Wannstedt making a move with him. He’s a senior, been a “good soldier” for Wannstedt, and he stands up and takes the responsibility.

What in the heck happened to Pitt’s pass defense? Safety Eric Thatcher tried to figure that out in the film room on Monday.

“We got kind of lackadaisical at the reception point, and they went up and attacked the ball,” Thatcher said. “On some of the routes, we didn’t get our hands on receivers to slow them down. Teel had a ton of time to sit back there and decide who he wanted to throw to, and the secondary, we gave him a ton of options to pick from.”

“I kind of take ownership of what happened because I’m the senior in the secondary,” Thatcher said. “I’ve been around and I know the things we need to do. On Saturday, we just did none of those things.”

“We know that we’ll have a ton of people watching,” Thatcher said. “We want to show people that last week was just a mix-up and that we can cover in that secondary.”

A great guy, but he’s just not good enough on the field.

On the Notre Dame side, they have some minor injury issues.

Weis said senior wide receiver David Grimes, who missed the Washington game because of back spasms, told him Monday he was “100 percent.” Weis said he’d wait until Tuesday’s practice to see how far along the captain has come.

Meanwhile, Weis said sophomore linebacker Brian Smith, who suffered a mild concussion against Washington, will be limited in practice this week but is expected to play against Pittsburgh.

Both are starters.

Charlie Weis thinks Pitt will go with the “circle the wagons” approach.

After posting five consecutive victories, Pitt took a step back last week with a 54-34 home loss to Rutgers. And because of that, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis believes the Panthers may have an extra edge about them when the two 5-2 teams meet Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I think they’ll take an ‘us against the world’ mentality,” Weis said during his Tuesday meeting with the media.

Can’t hurt. Go with the “no one believes in us” approach. Pin up the Smizik column all over the place.

The legend of LeSean McCoy continues as the South Bend paper puts out the story on McCoy checking his name off a sign at the Georgetown-Pitt game.

A year made a big difference for ND’s offense which could go from dead last in 1-A last year to top-40 or better.

Finally, Rakes of Mallow — an excellent ND football blog — offers a personal view of Dave Wannstedt as a Dolphin fan who grew up in Western PA.

With South Bend, not a long drive to Chicago. To say nothing of all the ND alum and pretend alum in Chicagoland, the Irish get a lot of play there. Now with Pitt visiting, it’s time to recall the Dave Wannstedt era.

The pieces were in place, Dave Wannstedt insists to this day.

Wannstedt made his oft-repeated and frequently mocked proclamation before the 1996 season, his fourth with the Bears.

“I believed in that with all my heart,” Wannstedt said Monday. “And I would have said it again.

“We had Bryan Cox and Curtis Conway, and Erik Kramer had just set a bunch of Bears record. Rashaan Salaam was coming off a nice rookie year. And I really felt like the pieces were in place. And they were – for three weeks. And then Erik broke his neck, and obviously you can’t win without a quarterback.”

“I’ve always believed,” Wannstedt said, “that whether it’s at Pitt or the Bears or the Dolphins, for every coach there’s a window that opens up. It might be the first year. It might be the third year, the fourth year. The stars either align and things fall right or they don’t and the window closes.”

No, he doesn’t say what happens after that.

Actually the stories, are not much on rehashing his Chicago time, though Chris Zorich is still pissed at Wannstedt for cutting him from his hometown team.

“The wins and losses aren’t where anybody would like them to be,” said former NFL offensive lineman Bill Fralic, a three-time All-American at Pitt. ”Dave is building a program, and good things are happening that the administration and fans really like. This is the year he’s got to go to a bowl game to sustain the other things that are going on. It needs to happen.”

Although South Bend, Ind., is 75 miles from Chicago, and although it has been nine years since the Bears fired Wannstedt, bitter feelings remain. Former Notre Dame All-American and Bears defensive tackle Chris Zorich said the way Wannstedt treated him and other Bears players makes him root against his former coach.

”I’m extremely surprised that he landed a college job with his reputation,” Zorich said. ”The majority of players who I know who played under Wannstedt were not fans. Obviously, I’m not a fan. I’m surprised at the success he has had at Pitt.”

How do you really feel. I’m thinking that Charlie Weis is going to let Chris Zorich fire up the Irish before the game on Saturday. Bitterness and bile are a fun brew.

From the day both Wannstedt and Weis were hired and slated to face each other in their opening games, there has been a built in storyline. And this season keeps it coming.

The pieces were in place, you might say.

Final score: Rutgers 54, Pitt 34. Ouch.

Now the former Bears coach has to pick up those pieces, put them back together and bring them to South Bend. Notre Dame awaits Saturday.

It’s an intriguing matchup of teams and coaches with remarkable similarities. Both teams are 5-2 and unranked in the AP poll but receiving votes.

Wannstedt and Charlie Weis are each in Year 4. You could make a case that both programs have turned a corner. Or you could argue that neither has accomplished anything significant, other than luring promising recruiting classes.

Weis hasn’t won a bowl game, and Wannstedt hasn’t coached in one.

Wannstedt and Weis patrolled opposite sidelines in their first game as college head coaches. The date was Sept. 3, 2005. It was a night game at Heinz Field.

“It was a big, hyped game and I thought the intensity was in the wrong place,” Wannstedt recalled. “About half the articles were about how I came from the Dolphins and Charlie was with the Patriots.

“It was a little embarrassing, to be honest. We were just trying to get this thing going and play the game.”

Notre Dame won big, 42-21, piling up 502 yards.

“It’s funny. The two guys starting for us at defensive tackle – Rashaad Duncan and Gus Mustakas – were starting as true freshmen,” Wannstedt said. “I remember thinking: ‘Gus isn’t even old enough to vote yet.’ “

It’s been a slow transition to being a college coach, hasn’t it?

October 28, 2008

Basketball Notes, 10/28

Filed under: Basketball,Players,Recruiting — Chas @ 10:31 pm

So, I feel like going upbeat. How about some basketball things.

Starting with recruiting. Dominic Cheek will visit Pitt this weekend. He’ll be joined by guard Isaiah Epps.

“I should be going out there [to Pitt] next weekend,” he said. “I don’t have any favorite schools. I’m open for anything.”

Epps said he had no other visits planned, but “I should be going to Seton Hall and Rutgers, too, on unofficial visits.”

A quick, talented combo guard, Epps said he also garnered interest over the summer from Texas, Michigan State and Virginia Tech.

Hopefully they will be staying through Sunday. Pitt kicks off the exhibition season with Seton Hill and then has a student event afterwards. I’m sure Josh (merlin) and the rest of the Oakland Zoo will have more information. Be sure to check them out, and if you are students, definitely go to the game and the event afterwards.

Durand Scott has previously visited Pitt. He’s also narrowed his choices to Pitt, UConn and Miami. UCLA and Tennessee have been eliminated.

Scott’s former Rice teammate, Kemba Walker, is a frosh at UConn, one of several built-in advantages the school may have, along with its proximity.

“Kemba is like a brother to me and that’s forever,” Scott told the Journal Inquirer after the UConn visit. “He’s going to do college a year before me, so he’s definitely a person I can get advance from and bounce ideas off of. But a person should never go to a college just because another person’s there. When you come down to it, it’s your life, not that other person’s life.”

As for the Pitt visit last month, Scott joined Pitt commits Dante Taylor of National Christian and Lamar Patterson of St. Benedict’s. During the Iowa-Pitt football game that weekend, the basketball team was honored with its rings for winning the Big East Tournament.

“It went really well,” Scott said then. “I had fun out there. I met the coaching staff. I know a couple guys out there, Travon Woodall and Ashton Gibbs and Levance Fields, so I felt very comfortable. I felt right at home.”

Scott also plays AAU ball for the New York Gauchos. Pitt’s video coordinator, Rasheen Davis, was a coach for the Gauchos U-17 team and an assistant coach at Rice High. So, there is some extra comfort there as well.

Scott may be making up his mind sometime this month for the November signing period.

Levance Fields’ foot remains heavily scrutinized.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said LeVance Fields will do five-on-zero workouts this week but will not participate in any contact drills. The plan for Fields, recovering from foot surgery and an infection that occurred after the procedure, is to go two days on, one day off for the foreseeable future. Dixon said Fields is due for X-rays to check on the healing of the foot on Monday.

I twitch a bit as I type this, but don’t rush back. I’d rather some early struggles and then have to work Fields back in — but healthy and ready for the Big East portion and the second half of the season.

If there is an excuse for people to doubt Pitt’s chances for success this year, this will be it.

7. The Levance Fields situation at Pittsburgh is going to be one worth keeping an eye on all season.

The Panthers’ coaching staff is taking it slow with the senior point guard because they realize without him, they would be reliant on a freshman floor leader and that means they are dead in the water. Sam Young didn’t deny that fact. Fields just started going through non-contact workouts, but don’t be surprised if Jamie Dixon & Co., use kid gloves with him all season.

The guard situation is the overall concern for Pitt. Travon Woodall is likely to be playing a lot of point in place of Fields. The shooting guard spot is open between sophomore Bradley Wanamaker, junior college transfer Jermaine Dixon and freshman Ashton Gibbs. Obviously on Pitt defense is expected. What will help any of the contenders’ chances will be the ability to make 3s on a consistent basis.

“One of our best 3-point shooters left, in Ronald, and … what I do is shoots 3s,” Gibbs said. “So far I’ve shot pretty well in practice. If I have an open shot, I’m going to take it.”

Junior-college transfer Jermaine Dixon had a team-high three 3-pointers in the scrimmage, although that is not his forte. He is a strong penetrator and decision maker, but as a shooting guard he is going to be asked to make more than his share of outside shots.

“Coach [Brandin] Knight has been working with me everyday on 3-pointers,” Dixon said. “When I was in junior college, I shot poorly. But I feel comfortable shooting the 3.”

Jamie Dixon acknowledges the lack of proven outside shooters on his roster, but he also believes the 3-point shot will be less of a factor in games than in previous years.

The NCAA moved the 3-point line back one foot to 20 feet, 9 inches.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Dixon said. “Obviously, we lost some [shooters], but the line goes back a foot. I think it’s going to be different. I don’t think people are going to make as many 3s. It won’t be as much of a factor. It won’t be shot as much. It won’t be made as much.

“It’s going to change a lot of things. It’s going to change how people play defense. You’re going to see a lot of zone defense. You’ll see more teams sagging in the post and helping on drives. It’s a harder shot.”

Pitt still needs to knock down some 3s, if for no other reason than to make sure the inside is opened enough for Young, Blair, Brown and a guy like Jermaine Dixon to attack from the perimeter.

Dixon, 21, has been one of the standouts during Pitt’s opening week of practice. He showed his progress Sunday afternoon when he scored a team-high 16 points in Pitt’s Blue-Gold scrimmage. Dixon was 6 of 11 from the field, including 3 of 5 from behind the new, deeper 3-point line.

Dixon’s team lost to the Gold team, 63-54, behind 22 points and 13 rebounds from sophomore center DeJuan Blair as part of Fanfest at Petersen Events Center. But Dixon, who has two years of eligibility remaining, appears ready to play a key role in Pitt’s backcourt.

“He’s gotten better,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “He’s very physical, tough (and) athletic.”

Because of where he started, Jermaine Dixon takes nothing for granted. He played at Blake High in Baltimore before spending one year at prep school at Maine Central Institute.

“He’s a humble person, and he plays that way,” Herrion said. “You don’t see a lot of fanfare with him.”

For those that don’t know or remember the Dixon brothers history from when Juan Dixon was part of the 2002 Maryland team, it is still a great achievement of what they have overcome together.

October 27, 2008

Okay, I’m putting this to bed as early as possible for once. There’s little that can be gained by picking at this open sore all week. I figure, most are already wondering what horrors will come with Notre Dame, if Rutgers can kill Pitt with the pass. Considering that is practically all the Irish do on offense.

On the bright side, at least even Coach Wannstedt knows that.

On the idea that future opponents will look to pass more:

“Yeah, I would think so. I would. Notre Dame may throw it 60 times this week.”

On Notre Dame’s offense:

“We expect them to come out and throw the football. That’s what they’ve been doing. They have been throwing it and I think their quarterback is getting better. He’s got a lot of talent. Last year was a rough year on him but he’s gotten better. They have a lot of receivers who can make a lot of plays for him. He’s got a good supporting cast. They came out against North Carolina and ran the first 15 plays without a running back on the field. They went with four wide receivers and a tight end and throw it every down. They did that by choice. I expect them to come in against us and be balanced. They’ll probably run the ball and play-passes. It’s no different than they’ve been doing. They try to be balanced but they ran it 50 times last week against Washington for 250 yards. They are very capable of running the football.”

Oh, crap, he’s going to game plan off of what they did against an 0-7 Washington team, rather than every other game this season.

For the record, they ran for 252 yards against Washington. In the other 6 games they had a total of 607 yards on 187 attempts for a 3.25 average. Focus on the pass defense. Please.

So, since we are looking back first, what happened with Rutgers and the offense?

On trying different schemes against Rutgers:

“Most of what they did was play-pass. You could double cover those guys but to be honest with you I believed that they were going to come in and run the football. Every time we’ve played these guys they’ve run the football, played defense and played special teams. That’s how they beat Connecticut the week before. So we went in thinking that on first and 10, we needed to stop the run and we got hit by a big pass.”

On Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano’s game plan:

“I don’t know that what they did was his plan coming in. When they hit the first big play, they came back to it and had success. But that doesn’t have any bearing on it. You’re coaching with players you have and trying to utilize everybody you have. It changes every year and every game.”

Over to you, Greg Schiano.

On Rutgers’ running game against Pitt
Well, the plan going in was that we probably weren’t going to run it quite as much. Just because we had some things that we thought we might be able to do in the passing game. When that came to fruition, we kind of rolled with the hot hand in Mike. I thought we did some things — we ran the ball when we had to and I thought that there were some positives. Now, again when you’re playing against an experienced front and a strong front like Pitt has. We’re not at the point yet — physically — where we can manhandle people. We’re still young and we’ve got to get there. Right now, we’re not. I think we’re getting better, but right now it’s going to take a little time to really be the kind of running football team that can just overpower people.

So, you know. Stopping the run is a strength of Pitt’s this year. We haven’t really done a good job of running. So, why not throw the ball until they could stop us?

Back to Pitt. At least there were adjustments.

On defensive changes in the second half:

“We did a couple things differently. But really, when they were running those routes in the first half, they kept both backs in and the tight ends. They were sending two receivers out and it was maximum protection. They neutralized our defensive line – I think they only ran five or six running plays the whole first half so Scott McKillop wasn’t much of a factor. They blocked us up front on play-pass but not on third down. If you look at third downs, I think they converted five of 15 third down conversions. So when they knew it was pass and we knew it was pass, we did a decent job. We’ve been around the thirty percentile every week – which is pretty good. It was the first-and-ten play passes that cost us.”

Those other times. Well, not so much.

At least it was something that hadn’t happened in a while.

Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel had a record-setting day against Pitt’s top-ranked pass defense, throwing for 361 yards and six touchdowns in what Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt labeled “the most disappointing defensive performance since I’ve been here.”

Pitt hadn’t allowed 50 points since 52-31 loss at West Virginia in 2003. The last time Pitt allowed 50 points at home was in 1993, when the Panthers allowed 63 points in consecutive losses to Virginia Tech and Ohio State.

Rutgers’ 34-24 halftime lead grew to 48-31 by the start of the fourth, leading Pitt’s defensive captain to agree with Wannstedt’s criticism.

“We didn’t come out and play,” said linebacker Scott McKillop. “…It’s very disappointing.”

Small corrections. Pitt allowed 54 points to Ohio State at home in 1995 as well (Pitt also lost to Rutgers 42-24 that year). In 1996, Pitt gave up 52 points to Temple at home (to Temple?) but won 53-52.

Still, this was an achievement. Under Wannstedt, Pitt had only allowed scores in the 40s — Louisville (twice), WVU (twice), UConn, Virginia, Navy, ND and USF. Never before had the 50 point barrier been crossed.

I have to admit, I think Paul Zeise is more upset about Pitt’s loss than anyone else. Both in his Good, Bad & Ugly segment and the Q&A.

Like I wrote earlier in this — anyone who has watched Rutgers this year knows there are only two players on that offense who can hurt you — the two receivers. And thus every team has played some sort of deep zone and forced Teel to make tight throws underneath — which he is not very good at. And they also didn’t worry about the play-action stuff because RUTGERS NO LONGER HAS RAY RICE and their running game scares nobody. Again, let’s review — a team with no run game is able to play-action pass you to death — that tells me the defense was gearing up to stop what is a non-existent running game. And this much was unfortunately confirmed when you consider the coach said after the game he was expecting Rutgers to run the ball, not pass it. The fact that Elijah Fields can’t get on the field on a day when the secondary is providing the least resistance possible is amazing to me. I don’t know if the guy knows his assignments — the party line as to why he is not on the field that much — but I do know this — he can’t possibly be worse at covering receivers than what we saw on Saturday — and lining up to do that doesn’t require much thinking. Just when I think I’ve seen it all…….

Yeah, if you think you are pissed about the secondary and keeping Eric Thatcher out there, Zeise is right there with you.

Q: What is the obsession at Pitt with playing slow safeties who can’t cover? From Tez Morris to Sam Bryant to Eric Thatcher, it’s painful to watch these guys try to make plays against receivers. This staff has failed miserably at recruiting players who can actually cover.

ZEISE: At least all of those guys KNOW where they are supposed to be and they don’t miss assignments, so they automatically have to play because when the tape is graded, they all grade out very high in terms of missed assignments and mental mistakes, because they don’t make them. Of course, forget for a minute the fact that knowing your assignments is only one-half (and I’d say maybe less) of the equation — the ability to actually be able to get to where you are supposed to be and make a play once you get there is a the other half . If you ask me, give me a kid with a lot of athleticism and speed and size and all the measurables and some idea of what he is doing over a kid who knows the defense and knows his assignments like the back of his hand, but is a little too slow, a little too short or a little too small to make most of the plays you are asking him to make. There is a reason that Princeton, Harvard, Vanderbilt, Duke and Stanford aren’t the five best teams on the planet. Yes, I’m sure those kids, as smart as they are and as “blue collar” as they are, they don’t ever or they rarely miss assignments and get graded highly after games by their coaches. But when they play against kids who are bigger, faster and stronger, they usually get clobbered…

The November 8, Louisville game at Heinz Field is slated for a noon start. As Gorman notes, that puts four of the six Pitt home games this season at noon starting times.

I guess we can give AD Pederson credit. He said that if Pitt wouldn’t be televised, no noon start time.

Can’t Muster the Sarcasm

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Wannstedt — Chas @ 12:19 pm

You know, maybe it’s the dreary Monday. Maybe it’s the medication. I’m just having a hard time working up the requisite anger and frustration I should feel.

I’m in no mood to defend Wannstedt. I don’t think I’m numb to it all. Yet, I just have this self-pitying sadness about the whole thing.

The timing of these losses have been exquisite. I’m seeing some of the usual rationalizing stuff about how, if Stull hadn’t been knocked out Pitt would have come back. Or how Pitt is only 5-2 and can still win the Big East. All true. Yet, the hope has been beaten out of many and is barely hanging on for others.

Again that goes to the timing of each of the two losses. Both at home. Both on important home dates. Both with crowds over 50,000. Both after getting back into the rankings and national discussion. Both with the fanbase and even the local population ready to get behind the team completely. Fanbases can only take so much of that over time. But in one half of a season?


DAVE WANNSTEDT IS THE NEW TOMMY BOWDEN. The former Clemson coach “stepped down” a little less than two weeks ago, and we already have a successor to his letdown throne – Pitt’s Wannstedt. Few would have been disappointed if Pittsburgh lost two games this season, provided those losses were at USF and to West Virginia. Instead, Pitt has lost to Bowling Green and Rutgers, both of whom are 3-5. Pitt is on the same path as recent Clemson teams: If you find a reason to get a little excited, get ready to be wildly disappointed. Pitt’s 54-34 loss to Rutgers gets my vote as the most embarrassing performance of the season. Pitt made Rutgers look unstoppable. Mike Teel had thrown three touchdown passes all season; he threw five in the first half against Pitt. Kenny Britt hadn’t caught a touchdown pass this season; he had three before halftime. Rutgers hadn’t scored three touchdowns in a game against an FBS (i.e., Division I-A) team all year. The Scarlet Knights topped that with 10:43 to go in the first half. That should suspend any talk of a Big East title in Pittsburgh for the rest of the season.

Of course that could be unkind to Bowden. At least Tommy Bowden took Clemson to bowl games in his first 9 years, and actually finished the year ranked 4 times. Granted it set the fanbase up for bigger spirit crushing losses, but at least the hope wasn’t completely irrational.

In Florida they liken Pitt under Wannstedt to a classic character.

Ah, Pitt fans, we hope you are enjoying The Dave Wannstedt Experience. You must feel like Charlie Brown attempting to kick a football from Lucy’s hold. The Panthers had control of the Big East race right there in front of them, and struggling Rutgers yanked it away with a 54-34 rout.

Yes, and the media started believing as well. So much for that.

One day, we’ll all stop falling for Dave Wannstedt‘s tricks. Until then, however, we’ll continue to believe in his Pittsburgh Panthers, only to have them make fools of us time and time again.

Today’s “gotcha” moment came courtesy of Rutgers (Yes, the same Rutgers team that’s delivered so few noteworthy performances this season, we’re all still talking about Mike Teel‘s helmet-hitting habits and the tavern ruins unearthed during stadium excavations), which marched to a 54-34 win over the No. 17 Panthers.

It’s only been two weeks since Pitt reasserted itself as a top 25 team after beating South Florida (whose latest woes are chronicled below) and already, it’s lapsed back to its Week 1 ways and lost to an unranked opponent.

Pile on the Wannstedt. Pile on the Wannstedt.

2. Dave Wannstedt indeed still coaches Pittsburgh: Wanny is known throughout the land as the worst kind of coach: one who can recruit like crazy but then has trouble with the actual coaching part. Until Saturday, it looked like he had shaken that label.

Then Rutgers put up 54 points as Pitt made so-so Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel look like Dan Fouts. At one point, Teel had completed 13 passes and six of them went for touchdowns.

It’s going to be a fun week.

BlogPoll Week 9, Draft

Filed under: Bloggers,Football,Polls — Chas @ 7:02 am

There aren’t 25 teams worth ranking. Maybe 20 teams legitimately should be in the rankings, but then it’s almost random. Teams with horrible warts, bad losses, just big problems. I actually found myself weighing a ranking of Virginia and Maryland. Neither team should be ranked, but I had one spot I had been unable to fill. Ultimately it feels like a crap shoot.

Rank Team Delta
1 Texas
2 Alabama
3 Penn State
4 Oklahoma
5 Georgia
6 Southern Cal
7 Florida
8 Texas Tech
9 Utah 2
10 Boise State 3
11 Ohio State 2
12 Oklahoma State 2
13 TCU 3
14 Ball State 3
15 LSU 3
16 Tulsa 7
17 Minnesota 3
18 Oregon 6
19 West Virginia 7
20 Missouri 1
21 Brigham Young 1
22 Florida State 4
23 South Florida 8
24 California 2
25 Notre Dame 1
Dropped Out: Pittsburgh (#14), Kansas (#18), Georgia Tech (#19), Virginia Tech (#25).

Why does Pitt drop out and USF stay? Well, USF lost on the road and it was a close game.

Reasoned arguments always welcome. I drafted this late last night, so there’s a good chance I missed something obvious.

October 26, 2008

I think everyone is.

It would have been one thing to lose in a bitter defensive struggle. The game stays tight and just a play here or there. I’m not saying it would have been better, but there would have been something expected about it. But to have the defense just get completely lit up, caught so unprepared and be unable to adjust to it. Well, that was just — and this is where I wish I had some photoshopping/fark skills to jam the Wannstedt’s face on Wallace Shaw from the Princess Bride — inconceivable.

Instead we get general befuddlement from Coach Wannstedt.

“I really thought that coming into this game, that this would be a 17-10 type of game one way or the other,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “This is the most disappointing defensive performance since I have been here. And the only thing they did different than we thought — we expected them to come out running the ball and they came out throwing it. We didn’t get much pressure on them, and they ran right by us, just right by us.

“So, it was very disappointing from a defensive standpoint, particularly with the guys we have and how we have played to this point as a defense.”

As much as the secondary has been flamed for getting torched, I can’t help but ask what happened with the D-line? The Scarlet Knights had a patchwork O-line and a QB that had been easily rattled all season. Pitt seemed unable to get the pressure on Teel. I mean, Eric Thatcher was taking the blame for the D-line not getting pressure.

Pitt safety Eric Thatcher added: “Their play-action was good, I guess you could say, but we didn’t flat out cover — we didn’t cover on the back end, we didn’t give the front seven enough time to make plays and that is what we have been doing all year. We’ve been covering good all year, and today we just didn’t cover. “

Obviously, Pat Bostick actually had to come in and throw the ball in this game. Interesting about that interception. Both Kevin Gorman and Gene Collier found the play call very questionable.

With another third-and-1, this time at the Rutgers 17, Pitt called for Bostick to roll left and throw a pass across his body. He was hit by defensive tackle Pete Tverdov and the pass sailed into the hands of linebacker Kevin Malast, who returned it 74 yards before being knocked out of bounds by McCoy at the Pitt 8.

Collier was really bothered.

With Pat Bostick, his redshirt still smoking, took over for Stull late in the third quarter, Cavanaugh had him throw to the boundary to tight end Nate Byham on third-and-1 from the Pitt 40. That play called for McCoy as well, but it clicked for 34 yards to the Rutgers 26. Three plays later, on third-and-1 from the 17 (McCoy!), Bostick rolled ponderously to his left, against his throwing motion, got hit as he threw, and the resultant interception was taken 74 yards the other way.


So let me get this straight.

Third-and-1 from your own 40 trailing by 10 — long pass to the far boundary.

Third-and-1 from the opponent’s 17 with an opportunity to cut the lead to 3 — have the right-handed slow guy roll left.


Not sure what to say about the day Aaron Berry had. His struggles at returning punts are now in his head. He can’t be back there any longer. As for being the starting CB, well, I guess the coaches believe he is the best Pitt has. That or they feel, he’ll make fewer mistakes.

The good news — as such — is that Bill Stull had “only” a mild concussion.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said tests on Stull were negative, but he spent the night under observation at UPMC Presbyterian as a precaution. Stull Sr. said Pitt chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg visited Stull this morning before he was released.

Stull, who sustained a concussion and stinger, will undergo more evaluations this week to determine whether he can play when Pitt (5-2) visits Notre Dame (5-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in South Bend, Ind.

I’m sure Stull wants to play. And, yes, he gives Pitt a better chance of winning. That said, keep Stull out for at least a week. It’s a concussion. You just don’t take stupid chances with it. Especially, since the O-line is now going to be rejiggered.

The news was not as good for starting center Robb Houser, who likely has a broken ankle, which happened also in the the third quarter. Houser will have an MRI today.

With Houser out Wannstedt will have to shuffle the offensive line as starting left tackle C.J. Davis will move to center and reserve Dom Williams will move to left guard.

The center spot was the spot on the line with no depth. Now, it’s scary the rest of the season.

Those still with anger at Wannstedt, are at least still feeling emotion. The numb, frustration is setting in for others.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of losing 4 straight to Rutgers.

October 25, 2008

Bit. Spit. Pitt.

Filed under: Big East,Conference,Football,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 10:37 pm

So, um, that happened.

I rank Pitt once more in my blogpoll ballot and again they lose. Will anyone get upset if I simply refuse to rank them the rest of the way? Just to avoid the jinx?

I’d love to tell you all about the first-hand misery of being at this game.

I really would, but I was unconscious for almost all of the game.

Yeah. It seems that getting into your late-30s. Being sick for the past couple of weeks, taking antibiotics, and then drinking during the tailgate for several hours before the game. Well, it turns out, my body just doesn’t put up with that kind of abuse the same way. Go figure.

Apparently I was the lucky one, judging by the looks on the faces of everyone else as we left the game.

I guess this just leaves a lot of questions once more.

Not to mention a simple truth.

Do not mess with the football gods. They are vengeful, bitter deities.

I know I quietly took pleasure in seeing Paul Rhoads’ Auburn defense get dismantled on Thursday night. Laughing as there before the world, was what Pitt fans had endured. That, clearly last year’s 13-9 triumph, was all Wannstedt taking control of the defense and coming up with the superior gameplan.

So, um, of course Pitt lets themselves get completely torched by one of the most offensively inept offenses in the country. A team that hadn’t scored more than 21 points against a 1-A opponent this year. A team that had maxed out at 38 against 1-AA. And Pitt lets them hang 54.

Four straight losses to the Scarlet Knights. The excuses for the last couple are not applicable. When did we become VT to their Pitt?

Updating Stull

Filed under: Football,Injury — Dennis @ 10:27 pm

Chas is probably not anywhere near a computer, and he never deleted my account so…

Today was, um, ugly. Thankfully, Bill Stull is not seriously injured:

Stull was talking and moving his arms while leaving Heinz Field, and preliminary tests revealed no serious injuries. For precautionary reasons, Stull planned to spend the night at an on-campus hospital, UPMC Presbyterian.

“It looks like he’s going to be fine,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. [ESPN]

It was scary to see him down for so long, mostly motionless, and carted off on a stretcher. I knew in the back of my mind that it could be entirely precautionary, and it was great to see him give the fist pump as we left the field. The AP report mentions it happened after he “struck” LeSean McCoy. I didn’t see it clearly enough and I don’t really understend what happened…anyone?

Keep venting, we deserve to do it. Today was just so damn frustrating.

Okay, time-delayed. For those stuck with, the extra misery is it is my understanding that with broadband only there is a good chance that it is without any announcers. Let me know if that’s the case.

In any case, the floor is open.

Okay, I read this headline and it keeps making me laugh. Elijah Fields playing CB.

Pitt coaches like to describe Elijah Fields as a hybrid defender who has linebacker size, safety speed and cornerback coverage skills.

After playing strong safety and outside linebacker in Pitt’s nickel and bandit packages, Fields could see some time at cornerback when the No. 17 Panthers (5-1, 2-0) play host to Rutgers (2-5, 1-2) Saturday at Heinz Field.

“I think, athletically, he could play corner, I really do,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who said Fields is still a safety. “He’s very gifted, very talented. We use him in the nickel package, and half the time he’s on the slot back and covering a receiver no different than a corner would. He’d be capable of playing both, but he’s such a good tackler and with our lack of depth at safety that, right now, he’s a safety but yet he does some corner work.”

Fields — prior to the Navy game — was being talked of as possibly playing almost at linebacker. The problem would be trusting Fields to stay with his assignments. DC Phil Bennett ended up not playing Fields at all. He attributed it to Dom DeCicco playing so well (not to mention Greg Williams at linebacker) still there seemed to be a bit of a concession that maintaining defensive assignements was an issue.

That Pitt is even talking about playing him at Corner at this point — without any starters out at the spot — would be funnier if it was someone else’s team. It just screams about subtext of how much he must drive the Coaches nuts. He has this immense talent, but absolutely no interest in understanding the game. He just wants to go play.

That would seem to be a major reason why they would even be discussing Fields as a corner. He is so built to be the modern safety. But he doesn’t have the mental discipline. So, why not stick him out there as a corner where most of the time he could just be one-on-one. Not have as many responsibilities and assignments.

As I discussed with Jon at Bleed Scarlet, the issue going into this season on offense was relying more on the pass. What with Ray Rice gone, but two 1000 yard receivers back this year. Despite those lofty numbers last year, it has been a struggle this year for them.

Neither Britt nor Underwood has caught a touchdown this season, but Rutgers has won three consecutive games against Pitt, and its 20-16 victory last season was highlighted by Teel’s 53-yard touchdown pass to Britt to tie the game at 10-10 late in the first quarter.

“He’s a big-play receiver,” said Berry, who expects to cover Britt. “They throw it up and he goes and gets the ball. Nobody really knows what route he’s running because his speed is so deceptive. He gets by corners pretty fast. I definitely have to respect his go-route.

“In order for us to win the game, I’m going to have to do a good job locking him down, going into the game with a chip on my shoulder.”

Strangely Pitt fans have been disappointed with the CB play, yet the numbers make them look good.

That’s not the only reason that the Scarlet Knights have a healthy respect for Pitt, which leads the Big East in pass defense at 156.5 yards a game and held South Florida’s spread offense to 129 passing yards on Oct. 2.

“There’s really no weak spot in their defense,” Underwood said. “Those guys in Pitt’s secondary are on the smaller side, but they like to get up in your face and challenge you. They’re very aggressive, so you have to stay focused and do your job.”

Of course a good portion of that has to do with Pitt’s defensive line producing a lot more pressure on the QB this year. Forcing the ball to be thrown a lot sooner.

That could play in Pitt’s favor. The Panthers have proved to be adept at pressuring quarterbacks and are tied for the league lead with 18 sacks.

Rutgers will attempt to keep the Panthers honest by not abandoning the running game. Kordell Young and Jourdan Brooks have split the carries with a limited amount of success.

Brooks has the only 100-yard rushing performance for the team, and that came in a 23-21 loss to Navy.

And Rutgers’ O-line has struggled with replacing players and injuries.

Heading into Saturday’s Big East game at Pittsburgh (5-1), Rutgers already has used five different starting lineups on the offensive line through the first seven games. And there’s no guarantee that last week’s starters — Davis at left tackle, Mike Gilmartin at left guard, Blaszczyk, Art Forst at right guard and Kevin Haslam at right tackle — will stay intact a second straight game, since head coach Greg Schiano has hinted at more changes because of the ongoing struggles on offense.

“I think more than five guys will play, but we’ll be pretty much the same guys,” he said.

All that is certain is this: Blaszczyk will be the starting center, since he is the only offensive lineman to start every game during Rutgers’ 2-5 start.

Rutgers ranks in the bottom quarter nationally in terms of total offense and rushing offense. They are absolutely one of the worst in scoring offense.

The over/under on this game is 43 points. Unless you think Pitt is going to put up somewhere in the 30s against Rutgers, the under seems more appealing.

October 24, 2008

LiveBlog Open Casting Call

Filed under: Admin,Football,liveblog — Chas @ 12:53 pm

Okay folks, I know many of you are planning to go to the Rutgers-Pitt game tomorrow. As am I. That means no Live Blog unless there are some volunteers to run the show.

Here are the job requirements:

  • Ability to type without excessive profanities.
  • Willing to moderate/approve comments.
  • Able to do this while paying attention to the game.
  • A good enough computer (or computers) to have running and the CIL interface.

I’m looking for at least one person, though, having a few volunteers makes it easier on everyone.

Just shoot me an e-mail at pittblather -at- gmail -dot-com to let me know if you can meet these standards.

Otherwise I’ll just set-up a comment thread for tomorrow.

Yes, Lute Olson has retired. I already have been spending more time than i would care to on this for FanHouse, and expect to be doing a lot more. And yes, the rumors are already flying that Arizona will go after Jamie Dixon  or Gonzaga Coach Mark Few.

There’s really nothing that can be done about the rumors at this point. Dixon has been mentioned as being a possibility for Arizona when Olson retired for some time. It’s nothing new. All anyone — including Arizona — can do is wait until April. There is no way any coach Arizona would like to hire — that is presently employed — would leave his team right now. Definitely not Dixon or Few. Especially considering the potential of the teams they have.

Cynically, the way Olson has left is the best way possible for keeping Dixon. Here’s one thing I noted.

As far as the Wildcat team, this looks like a lost season and definitely a lost year for recruiting. Lute Olson certainly didn’t intend it, but he leaves Arizona mess. Two years of interim coaches. Recruiting has suffered — Abdul Gaddy and Solomon Hill have all but said they are re-opening their recruitment. Talent has fled to Europe — and after this year it is good-bye to Chase Budinger. Don’t be surprised if Nic Wise and Jordan Hill also get out after their junior year.

Add in the fact that any coach hired would have to clean that up and follow a legend. Something that is rarely a formula for long-term job security. Long-term, Arizona is a great job. Short-term, a coach is looking at money, a mess and then rebuilding his reputation somewhere else.

I’m rooting for Mike Stoops’ Arizona football team to implode in the second half. Forcing another coaching change — and stretching money with buyouts — to make it more difficult for the Arizona Athletic Department to throw too much money at Dixon for him to say no.

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