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September 13, 2011

Secondary Concerns

Filed under: Assistants,Coaches,Football — Chas @ 4:05 pm

Reed has been all over the issues with the QB controversy disgruntlement. Everyone is frustrated by the continued exploitation of the linebackers. The O-line has its issues. The area that really has me bothered, though, is the secondary. Unlike the O-line and linebackers there is experience, talent and some depth in the secondary.

Antwuan Reed, Buddy Jackson are K’Wuan Williams may not be the absolute best, but they are more than adequate. Williams has been picked on as the youngest player in the secondary. What’s troubling is that they haven’t been aggressive as expected. They have played soft in the coverage and given the receivers in the two games space. This is not part of the aggressive defense we expected. Few if any attempts made to jump routes

The Buffalo game was baffling with that issue even to Coach Graham — other than possibly old instincts from the previous coaching regime kicking in — but the Maine game could at least be explained because the Maine game plan involved using short passes and slants before the Pitt defense could really get coverage. Exploit the weakness in the pass defense with the linebackers.

There was no secret that Maine would keep doing that in the second half, yet there was no adjustment to the defense. No bumping off the line by the corners. More glaring, though, the safeties were not brought up to add congestion to an obvious soft spot in the defense.

Jared Holley, probably Pitt’s best player in the secondary, had only one tackle against Maine. Jason Hendricks only had one tackle (he had one other tackle on punt coverage). Andrew Taglianetti had 3 tackles (and 2 assists on special teams).  That shouldn’t happen in a game where the QB threw 46 times (completing 27 of the passes). That really shouldn’t happen when the safety is supposed to be Pitt’s real strength in the secondary.

The safeties have to be more of an element on the defense. They should be playing up more if just to help in pass coverage where the linebackers are a known and exploited weakness.

The haven’t been out there helping K’Wuan Williams. Williams has been picked on by opposing defenses in the first couple of games, yet I saw little from the safeties in shading his way. To give him extra help. To let him try and break on passes and play tighter coverage. Anything. Yet, so far the safeties have been a non-factor.

95 pass attempts in two games (only 69 running plays) to allow 610 yards and 62% completion rate (59-95-1). Coach Graham has expressed his surprise and disappointment over the lack of turnovers. well when the opposing offenses are passing 58% of the time (actually it’s probably closer to 61% when you factor in that 5 of the “running plays” were sacks)  and the secondary is playing soft, turnovers are going to be harder to get.

This brings us to the pass defense coordinator/secondary coach, Tony Gibson. I’ve previously stated some wariness about Gibson. Gibson to this point has been every bit as bad as he was under Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan. Gibson is a good recruiter, but his secondaries were a source of lamentations in both Ann Arbor and Morgantown. It’s only two games into his time at Pitt, and I hate to jump the gun on any conclusions — but this is not a promising start.

Either he is not actually running the defense expected, or the players aren’t listening to him to this point. My bigger worry, though, is the lack of any adjustments to the secondary so far. Both games saw the opponents pass even more, and little was done to adjust to it. In other phases of the games we at least saw attempts to adjust if not outright differences. But not in the secondary. An area where everyone is healthy and reasonable depth.

And in case you are wondering how bad Gibson was viewed in Michigan?

If you believe the message board chatter about Tony Gibson’s coaching acumen, Curt Mallory is a huge upgrade. My favorite apocryphal story is that when Scot Shafer resigned he told Rodriguez he would take all the blame publicly if Rodriguez admitted to Shafer that Gibson was “the worst secondary coach in the country.” Shortly after his resignation, Shafer did pop up in the News stating it was all his fault. Poppycock? Probably, but you can’t rule it out.

Now I’m willing to concede that Michigan’s secondary was very thin last year between injuries and players quitting, but he’s not off to a good start.

About the only good news for the secondary at this point is that Iowa is Iowa under Kirk Ferentz. They are a conservative, run first team. 58-42 splits in the first couple of games, with a first year starter at QB now that Ricky Stanzi is gone. If they exploit the hell out of Pitt’s passing defense, then I might be ready to go to panic.

Pass defense starts with the pass rush. Was supposed to be the strenth of the team, but so far has been my biggest disapointment.

Comment by alcofan 09.13.11 @ 4:18 pm

Chas, I see that Dokish has a new long entry on his blog and he said nice things about this site.

Comment by Mike 09.13.11 @ 4:20 pm

a DB coach who is a good recruiter but a poor position coach … now where have I heard this before?

Comment by wbb 09.13.11 @ 4:21 pm

ya…looks like we made an even trade dealing Hafley for Gibson.

I will say, at the college level especially, defensive back is one of the most difficult positions to coach. Passing offenses are often much more efficient, receivers are more skilled/run better routes/make more plays and the QB’s deliver the ball on time and on target (if we only had one of those QB’s huh?) Unless you are working with kids who are exceptionally talented and have a knack for turning to defend the ball at the right time (a skill in and of itself) it can be difficult for many DB’s to make a successful transition from high school ball to college. That being said, its still all relative and our secondary needs to improve. And they aren’t going to get better without solid coaching…let’s hope it improves, but only time will tell.

Comment by sweet caroline 09.13.11 @ 4:35 pm

Dokish is really high on Graham and stresses not to make any quick judgments, and is positive that Graham will be a success. However, Dokish also has a concern about the defense and wonder if the concept of outscoring the opponent will allow Pitt to reach the level that Walt and Wanny didn’t.

I agree with him here. It’s possible that our defensive coordinator (and Graham’s college roommate) is even less accomplished at coaching defense than is his defensive back coach.

Comment by wbb 09.13.11 @ 4:43 pm

Guys – here is that Chris Dokish website Mike mentioned. He’s been around PITT sports forever and his insights are usually spot on.

link to

Comment by Reed 09.13.11 @ 5:03 pm

While Gibson for me was an average hire at best, I always took complaints about him by WVU fans as continued sour grapes.

Another poster an myself looked up WVU’s stats for the final 5 years he was there (2003-2007). I’m too lazy too look them up now but I remember them genrally.

For passing YPG, they were ranked around #100 twice, around #40 twice, and #12 for the 2007 season. A pretty wide range. Keep in mind some of those stats can be skewed by WVU jumping to a quick 28-0 lead in games.

For passing effiency, the numbers I believed ranged from #30-#60. Not great, of course, but certainly better than what most WVU fans will try to tell.

Now for his Michigan tenure, yeah, I can’t put much spin into that, other than the DC over there was Greg Robinson.

Comment by OriginalEther 09.13.11 @ 5:47 pm

If Iowa is a rushing team and according to the splits provided by Chas, they are.
Then wouldn’t it behoove us to have the bigger Aaron Donald playing on the line, instead of the 20-25 pound lighter Brandon Lindsay. Iowa usually has a huge offensive line and I would think you’d want some beef opposing it.

Add in the fact that Lindsay is a pass rushing specialist and Iowa is only passing 42% of the time and this move at this time is somewhat perplexing. While I’m not totally against the move, I just question it, this week, against this opponent.

Comment by melvinbennett 09.13.11 @ 6:09 pm

I think a better move would be just to have Lindsay in his current position of Panther back, just line up in a 3 point stance more often and play as a DE rather than dropping back in pass coverage.

Comment by melvinbennett 09.13.11 @ 6:13 pm

I guess all you Pitt fans picked the wrong season to stop sniffing glue!

Comment by Steve McCroskey 09.13.11 @ 6:18 pm

lol Mr McCroskey.

How are things at the airport !

Comment by melvinbennett 09.13.11 @ 7:02 pm

If the Safeties are an issue. Why not plug Taglianetti(spelling) in back there. The kid is a gamer, always makes big plays and is a pretty football savvy player. I didn’t like the move with him to LB, as his talents and size are more suited to Free Safety.

Comment by melvinbennett 09.13.11 @ 7:06 pm

melvin, I believed you spelled it correctly but using Tags is so much easier

postive note: Iowa is ranked 82nd in rush defense giving up 167 yards per game. Graham is averaging 161 by himself. If we can run the ball, it should at least be a competitive games. Of course, Iowa will probably crowd the line so it will be a chess match.

Comment by wbb 09.13.11 @ 8:05 pm

The Iowa game is huge.

The cupcakes have been eaten.

If we win playing Tino, Coach gets a filet mignon on me.

If we lose playing Tino, those cupcakes are a lot tastier than crow.

If we win playing Trey, Coach eats whatever he wants, on me.

If we lose playing Trey, Coach still gets a meal on me, but at Lombardozzi’s for lunch.

Comment by steve 09.13.11 @ 8:24 pm

This is a big game for us, since we were so terrible on National TV last year. If we lose people we say,,…same old Pitt.

We need to take advantage of the fact, Iowa is retooling and they were only 8-5 last year as well. New qb to boot. Of course we’re having our own QB problems, much discussed before.

Comment by melvinbennett 09.13.11 @ 8:46 pm

If it’s the same old Pitt, attendance will plummet and the players might eventually quit. Iowa is a must win. Pitt needs a jump start and momentum going into the ND game. Need to hit hard on defense – Raven style. And Steve,have a sniff for me.

Comment by TX Panther 09.13.11 @ 9:23 pm

Pitt can win this game only if Tino hurts himself and Anderson comes into the game.

Comment by Professor77 09.14.11 @ 12:09 am

Teams that run a spread offense are going to put up passing yards on any D. It is impossible to judge the DBs unless you know the coverage on each play. What were the LBs, CBs and Safeties responsibilities? I doubt anyone has that inside information. Ripping the Pitt secondary after two games against spread offenses is ridiculous.

Comment by notrocketscience 09.14.11 @ 6:08 am

@steve, I have to agree with Professor77 (with the exception that I hope Tino doesn’t get hurt). Sticking with your foodie theme, unless Tino gets pulled and Anderson is permitted to run Graham’s offense at the tempo demanded to be successful, I fear on Saturday we all eat sh*t and die.

I sincerely hope that Tino proves me wrong but his prior performances have demonstrated his limitations in this offense and his upside potential has been reached IMO. Soooo next!

As already stated, this is a huge pivotal game for the team’s confidence and momentum. I hope Todd Graham has the balls to pull Sunseri and go with Trey early enough in the game to salvage a win. Because a win in this game is essential for success going forward.

As always though, Hail to Pitt.

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.14.11 @ 8:34 am

I agree with alco fan pass defense sucess depends on pressure on the passer. We bought the 3-4 defense because the Steleers had been effective wit it getting pressure on the QB but they are pros. Pitt before this year was among the top sack leaders in the country and in the proper alignment in my opinion would be again. Moving Lindsay back to his natural position of DE and inserting Clemmens at the other DE would I think help protect the linebacks and what may be one of Pitts better secondarys. However this requires a change in the defensive scheme (esaily adopted by the players)and use of the best atheltes on the roster not just the ones who fit a specific system.

Comment by DRW 09.14.11 @ 10:02 am

Tino is not known as a pressure guy so if he senses pressure now, expect him to implode…

I actually think Pitt matches well with Iowa and expect a solid game. A win this Saturday (I think) really propels the team to believing in the system and that they are winners in the system. Helps the psyche and helps to avoid reverting to old habits as mentioned by Graham.

I also think Ray Graham runs for 200 against Iowa and starts getting some love on the Heisman watch list.

No glue sniffing.

Hail to Pitt.

Comment by Pitt it Is 09.14.11 @ 10:03 am

Pitt 30
Iowa 20

Comment by Pitt it Is 09.14.11 @ 10:04 am

Steve, hope you’re not a Penn St. troll!!

Penn St. -7 1/2 vs. Temple

I knew you’ve fallen, but, wow, only giving Temple 7 1/2, yikes!!!!

If a WVU troll, losing to Norfolk St. at halftime. Wouldn’t celebrate yet, me thinks you’ll have some bumps on the road too.

Comment by DAN 09.14.11 @ 10:56 am

Thoughts on a new “Big East” Super Conference

Big East “West Division” TCU, Texas, Tex Tech, Baylor, Kansas, Kanas St and Missouri

Big East “East Division” Uconn, Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, WVU, Lousville, South Florida

14 team with room to grow by 2 More….Notre Dame and Navy moving forward

Comment by vspanther 09.14.11 @ 11:13 am

vspanther – I don’t think you want Texas – they have too big of an ego – which is why their conference is falling a part.

Comment by markp 09.14.11 @ 11:21 am

I hope everyone is right about Grahams production this year because in my opinion he is one of the best backs in the country. However looking at Tulsa statistics last year the leading rusher by far was the QB. This is not a system, the trhowing of short quick passes that helps a running back. The opponent knows that the system is designed for quick passes so the CB and safties come up closer to the line of scrimmage and the linebackers take a step back on the snap. Also the lineman and we have 2 who will play in the NFL primary response is not drive blocking. This why Graham only had slightly over a 100 yards against Maine and until the 75 yard run about 135 against Buffalo and he needed 28 carries and against Maine with 28 carries he was held to 122 yards.

Comment by DRW 09.14.11 @ 11:28 am

vspanther, what happened to Cincinnati?

Comment by wbb 09.14.11 @ 11:40 am

Graham is currently leading the nation in rushing. Oregon runs a similar spread, fast tempo offense and LaMichael James led the nation in rushing last year.

It’s interesting that you’ve chosen DRW, as in David Raymond Wannstedt, for your name and continue to knock the new coach’s systems in favor of the old systems.

The only point I can agree on is that we don’t have the right players for a 3-4 defense right now, at least in the returning starters and more experienced subs. In some cases, the new coaches are trying to fit square pegs into round holes, but in many cases they just need to get the best players on the field for their system. That means eventually sitting those who don’t fit in favor of those who do, which I think we’ll see more and more of as the season progresses.

The 3-4 defense works and it should work better against spread offenses, which we’ll be seeing more and more of in the new BE. Like Dokish said, we just need to give Graham some time.

Comment by TampaT 09.14.11 @ 12:17 pm

If the passing game progresses,and gets in sync, short passes, medium passes, long passes, it will open up even more for Ray Graham.

He’ll be just fine, and Coach Graham has allready said many times, he knows what kind of special player Ray Graham is.

Comment by DAN 09.14.11 @ 12:26 pm

Yes, I know it’s a quick hitter offense, but, again, if the short passes click, as Coach Graham has said, there will be oppurtunities for the mid and long ball at times.

Just wanted to get that in before someone jumped on me.

Comment by DAN 09.14.11 @ 12:28 pm

Forgot Cincinnati in my New big east….Put them in the East, move Louisville to the west, and go get 1 more if ND is a no go….

Comment by vspanther 09.14.11 @ 12:28 pm

Not to change the subject of this thread, but since I mentioned the Dokish article earlier, I was excited to see that Dokish is excited about the talent that Pitt’s basketball team will have over the next couple of years. As those who follow him know, he hasn’t been very high on our past talent.

So, to get back on topic: Antwan Reed still makes me very nervous. The Notre Dame game will be the real test there, and I’m afraid we might fail miserably unless we get some better schemes in the defensive backfield. Like Chas said, the Safeties need to get more involved. They’re the two best ballhawks back there.

Comment by TampaT 09.14.11 @ 12:50 pm

TampaT, I am more than willing to give Graham sufficient time but, of course, we all are hoping for a quick turnaround. I actually believe that Pitt will ‘play up to the competition’ although Iowa looks not to be as good as the past few years.

What I am less forgiving about is how the defense is handled … and your man Dokish echoed this concern. My hope is that the defense played vanilla the 1st 2 games and will be more effective this game. However, I must admit to having little faith in the defensive strategy (as Dokish had pointed out) as well as the competence of its coordinator. (Hope I’m wrong)

Comment by wbb 09.14.11 @ 2:27 pm

wbb, you know I’ve shared your concerns about the defense and several times pointed out that you voiced those concerns, while everyone else was focused on High Octane.

I’m not a hardliner on sticking with a 3-4, although as Steeler fans we know how well it works when it works well, but I think schematically, it’s better suited for the likes of USF, WVU and others in our league who are adopting more spread oriented attacks.

My main point is that the wrong people on the field will make for a bad defense in whatever scheme you use. We had issues with the LBs and DBs last year too. So, time will tell how good the coordinators on the D-side are. Their track records elsewhere and at Pitt so far certainly gives cause for concern. I guess I’m playing the optimist right now, just like I did early in the season last year. But I can turn like a viper. 🙂

Comment by TampaT 09.14.11 @ 2:49 pm

Agree that this defense has been a little worrisome so far…no issues with offense other than Tino of course. The points and the yards have been out there for the taking and if we just find Tino some bench space, I see us scoring 35-40 per game the rest of the way. Its really not a system issue as so many (including Zeise et al) have brayed about…Tino just aint very talented — what else is there to say?

Too bad Wanny couldn’t stick around as DC — clearly his strength — obviously wasn’t gonna happen but if egos were not involved, kind of woulda made sense for everyone really. We could have made him de facto assistant AD/frontman too and a nice way to soften the blow.

Comment by Matt N. 09.14.11 @ 2:51 pm

wanny did ok in his 1st game as DC for the Bills … especially when you look around the NFL and see how many defenses gave up 400 yard passing (even Cam Newton had > 400yds)

Comment by wbb 09.14.11 @ 3:09 pm

Waany is asst. Head coach and inside linebackers coach.

Comment by markp 09.14.11 @ 3:13 pm

I belive that is the same title Sal Sunseri has at Alabama. You see this in college but strange hat an asst HC is not a coordinator in the NFL.

Comment by wbb 09.14.11 @ 3:36 pm

Sometimes (ok, oftentimes) people get elevated beyond their abilities…Wanny clearly is a defense guy but when Chicago, Miami and Pitt waved the head job at him, he couldn’t resist — I bet he even knew he wasn’t up to it.

Can’t blame him I guess but nice to see people who know what their limits are and find their spot…would have saved alot of heartbreak the past 16-17 years for many a Bears, Dolphins and Panthers fan. The road to excess/distress leads to the palace of wisdom, er something like that.

Comment by Matt N. 09.14.11 @ 5:49 pm

roff, consider running for president

Comment by steve 09.14.11 @ 6:40 pm


Skip the run for president.

Go for something really challenging to show what you’re capable of. Build an algorithm that will account for academics, traditional rivalries, intra-state politics, TV markets, geographic proximities, recent performance in major sports, research grant volume, total dollars in endowments, and school colors, and then allign 64 college athletic programs into 4 mega conferences such that each of the 64 schools sees a net increase in total revenue, improved attendance in football and basketball and better than average SAT scores for all incoming freshmen.

Accomplish that and the cyber-world will beat a path to your door.

No, seriously, I claim no expertise in your area, but it does appear to me that network security will be a growth industry if it isn’t already. Good Luck.

Comment by dinosaur 71 09.14.11 @ 7:03 pm

Matt N, Wanny has done bettter than a lot of people as head coach. There has been multitudes of coordinators (in colllege & pros) who have failed through the years – you just don’t know of them because they didn’t last long.

But I agree .. he has been a darn good cordinator but has never met expectations as a head coach

Comment by wbb 09.14.11 @ 7:16 pm

Walt as OC / Stache as DC. Graham as head coach.

Comment by AtlantaPanther 09.14.11 @ 7:44 pm

I have one question I realize several college teams have gone to the spread offense but have any major college teams adopted the concept of no huddle and snapping the ball within 15 seconds? If not is such a sytem really any more of an inherent problem problem for the defense as it also may be for the offense that obviously does not have the oppotunity to adjust if the defense is aligned to blow up the called offensive play. This is not an opinion but rather an inquiry.

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