Even Coach Paul Chryst can’t downplay this one.
“There is so much real motivation for every guy on this team to play well,” Chryst said. “There’s a lot of different good reasons guys play the game. That’s great, and that’s what makes this sport good.”
I, for one, am disappointed he said “good” and not “neat.”
The anticipation, the excitement. Everyone is eager.
“I don’t remember a game to open the season that has been this anticipated,” athletic director Steve Pederson said.
Not sure how much there is to say about this game.
It really is all about the lines in my mind. If Pitt is going to pull this off, the O-line has to be solid. To give Savage some time and whoever will be running the ball some space. On the other side, the defensive line has to be as good as we hope. They have to get penetration and get to Jameis Winston. Check that, they can’t just get to him, they have to bring him down and not let him run wild.
The difference will be how Pitt is able to corral Winston’s running ability. Although Pitt struggled last year against mobile quarterbacks Munchie Legaux of Cincinnati and Everett Golson of Notre Dame, defensive end Bryan Murphy said this year’s unit is more athletic.
“We are pretty much a contain defense (now),” he said. “We are a lot more mobile on the edge.”
Pitt’s defense will expose Winston to multiple looks. If Winston tries to compensate for his inexperience by turning to junior running backs James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman, House has a counter for that, too.
Defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ty Ezell will be the center of Pitt’s run defense.
“No question, we are counting on them,” House said. “They prepared to have a good season, so I’m excited to see them on Monday night.”
Obviously this game has meaning beyond the win or loss. As you would expect there are going to be tons of recruits attending this game.
Guest: Which potential recruits will be at The Florida State game, Monday?
Sam Werner: Quite simply, all of them. Notably, Washington RB Shai McKenzie, Aliquippa S Dravon Henry and Mt. Lebanon OL Alex Bookser will be there. Those are probably Pitt’s “Big Three” at this point of guys they want to get.
Obviously, it should be good for Pitt to sell a “big game” atmosphere to the recruits, but there’s always the danger of suffering a bad loss to Florida State. Especially with guys like McKenzie, Pitt’s on-field results are going to go a long way in determining where he signs. Pitt is going “all-in” in some respects for this game from a recruiting perspective, so we’ll see how it plays out.
Keep in mind, a loss won’t break the season for recruiting. But a win would help a hell of a lot more.
Over on the FSU side of things…
Pitt isn’t the only team with a lot of young players on the 2-deep.
On Florida State’s depth chart for the season opener, there are eight true freshmen listed on the two-deep.
Three are three on offense. Four are on defense. And one on special teams. And they all have a chance to play, according to head coach Jimbo Fisher.
“There’s going to be a lot of them (in the game) at different times,” he said. “Some of them will have to mix in more than others, but I’m looking forward to it. I hope they all make (an impact). The more guys you get out there, the more experience you get them earlier in their career.”
No. No. No. Redshirting is the answer so they can get bigger. Learn the system and be ready to contribute later.
QB Jameis Winston is not a true freshman. He’s a redshirt making his Seminoles debut as the starting QB. In the last 30 years, the record of FSU QB’s in their first start is 17-6.
It could be argued that the top five debuts for FSU quarterbacks over the last three decades all came on the road — Kanell at Maryland; Trickett at Clemson; Manuel at Wake Forest; Danny McManus (14 of 19 for 191 yards, 4 total TDs) at Tulane in 1985; and Lee (22 of 36 for 286 yards, two TDs) at Maryland in 2006.
So there’s precedent for Winston to succeed on Monday night.
But, as Kanell said, the one thing you can’t know is how a quarterback is going to play when he finally takes center stage.
If you want more reason to worry, Winston has excelled at first impressions.
First impressions have always been a specialty of Winston’s.
Like the summer before his freshman year of high school, when he competed with his Hueytown (Ala.) High teammates in a 7-on-7 tournament at Jacksonville State.
“I was behind the offense watching,” said Chris Elmore, who was the Hueytown offensive coordinator at the time and is now the head coach at Chelsea High in Alabama. “You would watch him make some of those throws, and you were like, ‘Man, this is going to be special.’ Now, we didn’t know how special he would end up being.
“But I remember the Jacksonville State coaches came up to us and said, ‘He’s a ninth-grader? Wait. He’s just now going into the ninth grade?’ And they just shook their heads. We all knew then.”
And the expectations haven’t dropped off. When he was part of the 2012 class, Winston was the No. 1 dual threat QB per most recruiting sites.
Sorry, I don’t feel like talking about any more disappointing moments in Pitt history. There are enough recent ones, I don’t need to go digging back to 1980.
I think I’d like to have the Joe Tessitore effect for better chances of weirdness at the game going in Pitt’s favor, but Rece Davis doing the play-by-play for ESPN is pretty damn good. But he’s not exactly thinking Pitt’s going to win.
“I think Pitt’s going to hang in there and make it a tough game. But I would probably be less than forthright if I told you that Pitt will win,” Davis said. “I think Florida State is being a little undervalued nationally. I have Florida State picked to win the ACC, and I’m not going to be surprised if they play in the national championship game. From talking to Florida State’s players, I definitely think Pitt has their full attention. And I don’t know how well Pitt’s offense is going to move the ball.”
Regarding Pitt’s offense, Davis is eager to watch senior quarterback Tom Savage, who reinvented himself following success early in his career at Rutgers. Two schools later, Savage will direct the Panthers’ offense.
“I remember when Savage came out of high school how highly regarded he was,” Davis said, “what kind of tools he has in terms of being able to throw. (Pitt coach) Paul Chryst has always done a marvelous job of putting his quarterback in position to build confidence.”
Davis believes FSU’s superior team speed will be a determining factor. While the Panthers always have faced opponents with fast players, the ACC in general — and FSU in particular — offers new challenges.
“It’s not that there weren’t skill players in the old Big East,” Davis said. “I just think they’re going to see more of them on a more consistent basis, week in and week out, in the ACC.”
It’s a safe prediction.