May 6, 2012

One of our regular and more prolific posters, dhuffdaddy,  wrote this in a comment while in one of his more lucid moments the other day:

“Eight in the box with run blitzes will expose Tino and will lead to 5-6 sacks per game. The passing game needs to set up the running game except if you are alabama, lsu, etc. We are not elite linemen or runners and have no threats at receiver to actually hurt opponents for putting 8 in a box. PC has his work cut out for him and I expect him to do well.”

The idea of a defense stacking the box with Sunseri is, and has been, a common complaint of PITT fans looking back on 2010 and forward to 2011.  But what really happens when Sunseri is at QB and what impact does this have on our offense now and in the past?

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that our QB play contributed to the dramatically putrid sack numbers last season.  But some blame has to be shared and it can be in different ways.  A lot of the problem in not getting the passes off in time was based on the overall confusion that the PITT offensive players had with Graham’s offense.  This is a somewhat hidden issue but one that greatly contributes. We heard both Shanahan and Saddler stating that the staff basically said ‘run out to a zone and get open‘.

It also had to do with the fact that our OL was like a sieve on passing plays. What looked like ‘too long‘ sometimes was magnified because of that.  In an ESPN article their beat writer sums it up correctly:

“Pitt was bad in pass protection, though mostly because of strange blocking schemes that none of the players fully endorsed. Sunseri held on to the ball way too long, too. Let’s face it — neither Sunseri nor his offensive linemen ever fully grasped the timing concept that is the heart of the Graham offense. “

Add the WR confusion to that and you get 62 sacks and a pissed off fanbase.

However, this problem wasn’t as prevalent during the 2010 season when Sunseri was more comfortable in the Pro-Set offense and had a better OL in front of him.  That offense required the OL to hold their blocks longer and we saw a more normal passing game because of it. That year he was was sacked only 23 times for 1.77 sacks per game. I believe we’ll see this aspect of the offense level back down to 2010 sack numbers or even better.

As far as stacking the box against Sunseri? That happened some in both 2011 and 2010 and in ’10 we had 1088 rushing yards from Lewis and 958 from Graham. In addition, last season when the defenses really moved up into the box, Ray Graham had almost 1000 yards in the first seven games.  We had decent rushing success with whatever the defense did.

I think this is an issue that PITT fans may worry about too much sometimes.  There is an impact and the ideal situation would be that run stacking doesn’t happen at all because of a productive and efficient passing game, but even if the defenses do come up it isn’t the end of the world.

Our running game has been pretty good with Sunseri as QB. We were 45th nationally in 2010 and, even with Graham’s injury, 72nd in 2011. Had Graham not been injured halfway through the year we’d have been in the top 50 last year also.  You may say that isn’t too good either but here’s the thing…

… PITT has never had a fantastic rushing game even under Wannstedt with any QB at the helm.  He had some decent years but his running game had an average  rank of 64th.   However, Wannstedt did show improvements every year culminating in his best season in 2009 because he built to a strong running game.

What is going to be the difference between Todd Graham and Paul Chryst is that Chryst will also build to a strong running base.  He’s done this every year while OC at Wisconsin with sterling results.  Where the run game was an afterthought in the “High Octane” offense it will be the bell cow in Chryst’s.

Even with that you’ll see our 2011 yardage totals, under Graham and with the same QB we’ll have this year, were the third best in yardage but dropped to the fifth best in yards per carry over the last seven years.

Here is how we ranked from 2005 to 2011:

2011 – 72nd  – 1824 yds/3.52 ypc/21 TDs;    Sunseri and Graham /Brown

2010 – 45th  – 2154 yds/4.58 ypc/24 TDs;    Sunseri and Lewis /Graham

2009 – 34th  – 2344 yds/4 .89 ypc/25 TDs;   Stull and Lewis / Graham

2008 – 65th  – 1808 yds/3.67 ypc/29 TDs;    Stull and McCoy / Stevens-Howling

2007 – 71st – 1697 yds/3.62 ypc/20 TDs;     Bostick and McCoy / Stevens-Howling

2006 – 78th  – 1476 yds/3.88 ypc/15 TDs;    Palko and Stevens-Howling / Brooks

2005 – 93rd  – 1285 yds/3.20 ypc/9 TDs;      Palko and Stevens-Howling / Jennings

Out of those seven years we can say that we had subpar passing QBs four times, once with Bostick, once with Stull and twice with Sunseri.  Yet in each of those years we had at least a 1000 yard rusher and three of those years we had star RBs and fantastic production out of McCoy, Lewis and Graham.

In Stull’s good 2009 season we fared the best on the ground which makes sense.  A telling point is that even with Tyler Palko, coming off his great 2004 SO year, we our two worst all around rushing years in 2005 and 2006.

So, does the fact that Sunseri will be starting at QB automatically mean we’ll see eight in the box and a terrible ground game?  Who really knows, but I don’t think so.  Historically we’ve still been able to move the ball on the ground even without a great passing game.  Obviously a better passing game equates to more yards on the ground though and that would be really what we want.

If Graham comes back to his pre-injury form, Bennett plays at the level he did in the spring and Shell contributes we’ll have a good, if not very good, running game with Sunseri back there.  If Sunseri can regain the confidence and composure he had in 2010, with a less porous OL,  then that’s all the better.

The Thaw in Pitt-Penn St… Or Not

Filed under: Football,Non-con,Schedule — Chas @ 10:49 am

I’m sure many of you have seen the stories. That Penn State’s new coach expressed a desire to reestablish the Pitt-Penn State series.

Penn State and Pitt last played Sept. 16, 2000, when the Panthers beat the Nittany Lions, 12-0, at Three Rivers Stadium.

“I would love to see that game played on an annual basis,” O’Brien told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in a story published Saturday. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Pitt coach) Paul Chryst and their program, and that’s a great rivalry.

“For the fans of Pennsylvania to be able to see that game every year, I think that’s pretty neat.”

From the earliest days of this blog, I have maintained that Pitt-Penn State would resume some time after Paterno not only retired, but had passed away.

Now we have the home-and-home coming up in 2016, and it seemed obvious that there would be some discussions as it got closer to extending it. Especially since by then no one expected Paterno would still be coaching.


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