September 25, 2012

Final Gardner-Webb Thoughts

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 11:48 am

Been trying to come up with thoughts that strike the right balance in Pitt’s blowout of Gardner-Webb. All the good in the game has to be tempered by the opponent. At the same time, it seems negative to denigrate the performance too much merely because the opponent was so bad.

Let me get the one negative out of the way. With the exception of that huge hole they opened up for Ray Graham on his 78 yard TD run, the O-line was a big disappointment in run-blocking. The pass protection was solid, but the run-blocking looked more like it did against Youngstown State and Cinci. For most of the game, there was no place for the running backs to go in-between the tackles.

Yes, the running game piled up 229 yards, but take out the 78 yard run and the two “carries” for -4 yards by Sunseri and Pitt had 155 yards on 34 carries. That’s a respectable 4.7 yards per carry. Yet, looking closer shows that Pitt collected 73 yards (on 12 carries) in the 4th quarter with Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett running to run out the clock. Did not having Fullback Mark Giubilato available for this game make that kind of difference?

When Graham and Rushel Shell were the primary ball carriers for the first 3 quarters, there was not a lot of yardage gained on the ground. The two had 135 yards on 21 carries, but 91 yards came on just two runs. Shell did not look as strong in the game. He wasn’t hitting the line with the same force he showed last Saturday.

And really, that’s about it.

The bright side to the running game and O-line is that they stayed healthy and did wear down the Bulldogs by the 4th quarter. Making all those runs by Bennett and Crockett possbile. And worth noting, even though Ray Graham fell a handful of yards short of the 100 yard mark for a second straight week, he is still on pace for a 1000 yard season.

The D-line did a nice enough job. Especially without Aaron Donald. Darryl Render did a solid job filling in. Getting his first start as a freshman.

“I just always had to play within myself,” Render said. “I try to mimic things [Donald] does. I wanted to come in and just not miss a beat with AD out.”

From the looks of things Saturday, it was Render who didn’t miss a beat jumping into college football from the high school ranks.

He said Pitt coaches told him during his recruitment that he would play as a freshman, but getting a start just four games into his career was a bit beyond his expectations.

Plus, early in training camp he faced the additional challenge of moving from defensive end to defensive tackle.

Yet here he is, a few months and almost 30 pounds later (Render said he came into camp around 250 pounds, and is now at 277).

Like most freshmen, he said the biggest difference was the speed of the game and the size of his opponents.

“I’m used to just being the top dog and bullying everyone around, but now I’ve got to work a little harder,” he said.

Playing within himself seems to be one of the things Coach Chryst and the coaches are preaching to all the players. Whether it is not trying to do too much. Or knowing what the assignments are. Even though they are rebooting with a new system, it has been kept to the basics.

“I think we’re all understanding our roles and where we need to be to make catches and make plays,” Shanahan said.

The receiving unit is helping each other out on the field, too. In the third quarter of Saturday’s game, Shanahan caught a pass down the right sideline, and Street delivered a crucial block that allowed Shanahan to get loose for a 77-yard touchdown pass.

“I told [Shanahan] I wanted to beat him in yards, so he came over today and said, ‘Thanks for not being selfish,'” Street joked after the game. “So I had to spring the block and he just had a great run after the catch.”

Shanahan said he felt confident the offense would turn things around after Pitt’s 0-2 start, during which the Panthers averaged just 13.5 points per game. Part of that confidence stems from the approach first-year coach Paul Chryst brought to installing his offense.

“He really simplified things,” Shanahan said. “We keep it pretty basic. We run a lot of the same plays. Their philosophy, our philosophy on that is just to simplify things, do what we do well. It doesn’t matter if the defense knows if it’s coming or not because we have things to beat it.”

No one does that apply to more than with Tino Sunseri.

Sunseri put together a second straight, outstanding effort. He didn’t try to do too much. He was solid and accurate with the overwhelming majority of his throws. He’s still hitting receivers further downfield.

Sunseri completed five passes each to wide receivers Mike Shanahan, who had the longest touchdown reception of his career (77 yards); Devin Street, who also scored; and Saddler, who almost scored, getting stopped at the 1 after a 20-yard gain in the second quarter.

“I wish he would have gotten in the end zone,” Shanahan said, “but we told him he has to get in the weight room a little more.”

The day, however, belonged to Sunseri, who also moved to within 21 yards of fifth place on Pitt’s all-time passing list with 6,446 yards.

The comfort level Street and Shanahan have with this offense probably can’t be overstated. They are both playing with confidence and desire right now. The former was definitely lacking last year. The way the receivers are talking, it is clear how happy they are in this system. Almost giddy.

“We didn’t get too high, we didn’t get too low,” receiver Devin Street said. “We knew what we had to do and we just came out here and played.”

Er, not that one. Let me try again.

The Panthers’ big-play ability showed up again when Sunseri found Shanahan for a 77-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. Street threw a crushing block that sprung Shanahan for the score.

“I was kind of tired going into that play, but, once Devin threw that block for me, I knew I had to score,” Shanahan said.


One of his wide receivers, Cameron Saddler, said the offense is coming together under Sunseri’s leadership.

“He’s confident in the huddle,” Saddler said. “He’s making sure guys are doing the right thing. That’s what we need out of our quarterback.”

Sunseri spread the wealth against Gardner-Webb. Saddler, Devin Street and Mike Shanahan finished with five receptions each and combined for 331 receiving yards.

Shanahan set a new career high with five catches, 144 yards and two touchdowns. One of these was for 77 yards, making the game 41-10. This surpasses his career-high of 111, which came last week against Virginia Tech.

“There’s a long season left, but it feels great finally seeing some of the hard work that we do in the off-season finally paying off,” Shanahan said.

Getting there.

Quoting senior wide receiver Cameron Saddler

On the recent play of quarterback Tino Sunseri:

“He has been playing really well. Tino is confident. Tino might have more confidence than me, and that’s hard to do. I feel like Tino, he’s ready to go every week. Even today when we were in our team meeting before we came to the stadium, everybody’s just, you know, we’re small talking and what not, and Tino just goes, “Hey, let’s lock in.” That’s what we need from him, to be our leader. He looks so confident. He’s confident in the huddle. He’s making sure guys are doing the right thing. That’s what we need out of our quarterback.”

And that should do it.

What is strange, is that with all the emphasis on execution and keeping it simple, the penalties continue to pile up. Outside of the YSU game where Pitt was only whistled twice, Pitt has averaged 9 penalties/game in the last 3. Coach Chryst is saying that’s something they will work on during the bye week.

The blowout also allowed Shayne Hale and Dan Mason to actually see some action. And even be statistically relevant. Dan Mason, especially, being out there was something. Hey, Coach Chryst! Can you describe the feeling? Was it “special?” “Moving?” Perhaps, “inspiring?”

“The best part about one of these is we kind of took care of business and also got some guys in (the game),” he said. “It was pretty neat for me to see Dan Mason get in at the end there.

“What he has done and overcome, probably a lot of you guys know more than I do. That’s a pretty neat moment.”

Wow. It earned two ‘neats.’

Love the comment on “2 neats”…

Perhaps we need a “Neatmeter” on Chryst…

Comment by Joe D 09.25.12 @ 12:16 pm

Don’t read too much into the performance.
It’s a “W” period. A game that was boring
for fans ( ok fun) and a game hard for the
players to get excited. Small crowd over
matched opponent. Lets move on at 2-2
and beat the ‘cuse. Then the game w/
Louisville will be meaningful.

Comment by JR 09.25.12 @ 12:25 pm

I think it is neat we have Paul Chryst as our coach. There are going to be more rough patches this year but overall we are headed in the right direction. One comment, I think the key to the run game lacking was due to fullback play more than anything. This offense depends on that position more than people think.

Comment by John In South Carolina 09.25.12 @ 12:37 pm

With regard to the run game. I can’t remember exactly but didn’t Pitt have some short fields to work with? That may account for the lower than expected yardage total over the first 3 quarters?

It was nice to finally beat down an inferior opponent putting up 50+. Wanny would have won 28-3.

Comment by Coach Ditka 09.25.12 @ 12:54 pm

Cuse coming into the game at 1-3. Pretty desperate. Alot like the Raiders.

Comment by alcofan 09.25.12 @ 12:55 pm

I hope Chryst pushes hard during this long span between games. While I don’t see the players believing they are invincible, there have been more than enough mistakes made to cost us in close games…kicking, penalties, blind side sacks to name a few.
I expect the Orange to do the same thing…so it is who prepares best and makes the fewest mistakes who will win this game.
Neither team is good enough to overcome their own errors, IMO.

Comment by SFPitt 09.25.12 @ 1:06 pm

So, to my uneducated eyes, it looked like Gardner Webb was really selling out to stop the run, and the playcalling took advantage of that. Tino hit some nice deep balls, and the TD to Street in particular was a magnificent throw.

I think the running game could have been better sure, but it seemed to me like Pitt did not force the run game, and they took what the defense gave them and scored 55 points in the process. Plus, now opponents actually have film of Sunseri hitting deep balls, which ought to give them something to think about.

I’ll admit I was surprised Pitt did not have more success running the ball, but again it seemed to me like GW’s strategy was to fully commit to stopping the run, which they were only moderately effective at, and dare Tino to beat them, which he was extremely effective at. Heck, it wasn’t a bad strategy considering what we all know about this team.

And let me keep beating the Devin Cook drum, dude forced another fumble!

Comment by TartanPanther 09.25.12 @ 1:17 pm

I’ll take 100 “neats” over a single “high octane” any day.

Comment by longsufferingpittfan 09.25.12 @ 1:18 pm

Tartan, I thought Werner should have least made some mention of Cook in his article

Comment by wbb 09.25.12 @ 1:19 pm

Blogads getting better!!

Comment by DC33 09.25.12 @ 2:06 pm

YSU State now 4-0 and #3 in the country at the FCS level

Comment by rhyno527 09.25.12 @ 2:29 pm

Best 2 weeks of offense we’ve seen since the 10-3 2009 team or maybe even the 2003 Fitz/Rutherford team. Perhaps we should schedule Gardner Webb on a yearly basis, especially if Ron Dickerson is going to be on the staff. Does Ron have any more sons ?
We only got to witness Dorin for one season, it was much too short.

Since we’ve got the offense humming, I don’t like having an off week regardless of the dings and bumps/bruises. And as Syracuse has an off week too, it gives them a chance to collect themselves after a 1-3 start, albeit with a much tougher non-con schedule than Pitt. Yes Stony Brook is better than Gardner Del Webb. haha 🙂

Finally, who is Sam Werner. I played ball with a Kent Werner, it couldn’t be his son, could it ?

Comment by Emel 09.25.12 @ 2:42 pm

I know these schedules are made way in advance (except for the Gardner Webb Game) but somebody doesn’t like Doug Marrone up in Cusie land.

The 5 non-cons
Northwestern, Southern Cal, Minnesota (4-0), and late in the season AT Mizzou (who will prolly need that game to be bowl eligible, as they’re getting pasted so far in the SEC) and the always tuff Stony Brook Seawolves (3-1) of the Big South.
Hey how about that, betcha didn’t know that !
And here’s another, the GW Runnin Bulldogs (as opposed to Sittin Bulldogs) also play in the Big South. And are the league’s perennial doormat.

Hey if the ACC doesn’t work out, we can always move to the Big South (ikr) and dominate !!

Comment by Emel 09.25.12 @ 2:58 pm

@TartanPanther – good call .. GWU definitely had their D-line slanting to cut off blocking angles; LBs in the gaps and a safety up – which is why the deep middle was open and single coverage on the outside .. not counting RG’s 78 yard TD, Graham and Shell were a combined 11 attempts for 13 yards on first down (a usual running down for Pitt) .. whereas Tino was 10 for 13 (w/1 sack) for 213 yards and 2 TDs on first down ..

Comment by TheHoopZebra 09.25.12 @ 3:13 pm

All I know is, that was one EXPENSIVE win for Pitt.

Comment by Get the Glory 09.25.12 @ 3:16 pm

It looked like GW had maybe 20 fans at the game.

Comment by JP 09.25.12 @ 3:59 pm

During the Jackie Sherrill era, in our section of Pitt Stadium, we used to take a poll picking the point spread. We would each put two bucks in the pot and write the number of points we thought Pitt would win by. It wasn’t unusual to write 30 or 35 points on the slip. That was pretty neat!

Comment by Justinian 09.25.12 @ 4:54 pm

@ rhyno527, At our home opener, the better team won that game. I wouldn’t be surprised if YSU goes all the way to the national championship game.

I’m pleased that Chryst is playing as many young guys even true freshman that he is. This will be an obvious selling point for recruits who want to see the field early.

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.25.12 @ 5:54 pm

I also think the new blogad pictures are neat.

Comment by Justinian 09.25.12 @ 6:50 pm

@wbb, yeah, but you only get so much space in the paper and render earned his. Hopefully the Cook-Render inside/outside combo becomes a feared tandem in the ACC! God DAMN that feels good to say!

@HoopZebra – thanks for backing me up with actual analysis. I was watching on my crappy laptop with its crappy picture so I had a fuzzy idea of where guys were and all that.

Here’s hoping the ground attack is well rested and ready to stomp some Orange! Can’t spell suck without SU!

Comment by TartanPanther 09.25.12 @ 8:50 pm

@Hoop Zebra and Tartan – I’d add that Ray-Ray’s 78 yard run is also a byproduct of selling out to stop the run. Once he got past the first level there was just nobody there to stop him.

Comment by The Atlanta Panther 09.25.12 @ 9:54 pm

If we ever started doing helmet stickers for achievements, I would hope that they say “Neat” pittscript-style.

But it’s too bad Dixon doesn’t say “neat” all the time though….so much could be done by rhyming with “Pete.”

Comment by Karate 09.25.12 @ 10:20 pm

Was just able to free some time up next weekend and thinking of driving up to Syracuse. Just looked real quick , but it looks like all hotels are pretty much booked. Anyone have any ideas where there may be some availability?

Comment by Z-Boy 09.25.12 @ 11:03 pm

For those of you following YSU season thier #75 in the sagarin rankings ahead of about 40 division 1 programs and they play #55,in same ratings, North Dakota State Sat. The MVC has 5 or 6 teams in the top 25 and combined the conf. has several wins against division 1 programs

Comment by steve h 09.26.12 @ 2:32 am

YSU could be ranked number 1 and still there is no excuse or
rationalizing Pitt’s loss. Embarrassing period. Frankly I
would rather play The ‘cuse’ schedule than play teams not

Comment by Jr 09.26.12 @ 7:13 am

It’s even more embarrassing when you just get plain old outplayed, beat down for four quarters without the excuses of penalties, turnovers freak plays, etc. Yeah we just got beat. Lesson learned, don’t take ANYBODY for granted, come to play every game.

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.26.12 @ 7:21 am

So the question is losing to a really bad division 1 team is better than losing to a very good division 1A team? Pitt played so bad to start the season someone was gonna beat them.

Comment by steve h 09.26.12 @ 7:44 am

z-boy, Ithaca NY is about 30 minutes south of syracuse, And a beautiful town to visit.

Comment by alcofan 09.26.12 @ 8:28 am

Ithaca, as a college town, has some great ethic restuarants. Cornell is on the top of the hill overlooking downtown. The surrounding area (Finger Lakes) will be beautiful this time of year … especially if you’re a (sweet) wine drinker … there are about 75 wineries in the greater area

Comment by wbb 09.26.12 @ 10:46 am

z-boy, another town you may consider is geneva which is just short distance south of I90 west of Syracuse. It is smaller than Ithaca but has a few nice hotels on the norther part of one of the lakes.

Comment by wbb 09.26.12 @ 11:00 am

Steve, the answer to your question is “yes”. There is just no way to make a positive out of losing to YSU.

Comment by HbgFrank 09.26.12 @ 12:48 pm

Paul Jones from State Penn envisioned Pitt? Get him on the team – no year in waiting.

Comment by Pitt it Is 09.26.12 @ 8:26 pm

Pitt is it – Why? In the land of mediocre at best QBs he failed to rise above the 3rd string level. He’d be at the bottom of the pile next year at PITT also.

Comment by Reed 09.27.12 @ 9:37 am

I agree with you Reed. I see Jones at IUP or Cal next year.

Comment by Rayhpgh 09.27.12 @ 9:58 am

Jones played this year in a game.

Must sit one year

Comment by Frank MD 09.27.12 @ 11:23 am

He does not have to sit next year — he’s transferring from Perv State.

Comment by wbb 09.27.12 @ 11:49 am

He is required to sit out a year if he transfers to a D1 school .. the relaxing of the NCAA transfer rules only applies to players who have/do not practice or play prior to the start of the 2013 season.

Comment by TheHoopZebra 09.27.12 @ 12:13 pm

According to Scott Brown at the Trib:

“Thanks to the NCAA’s relaxed transfer restrictions after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Jones is eligible to play next season at any school, and he will have two years of eligibility remaining.”

Read more: link to
Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook

Comment by HbgFrank 09.27.12 @ 12:54 pm

True points Reed. Actually all set at TE as well. Maybe make him a LB…

Comment by Pitt it IS 09.27.12 @ 12:57 pm

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