September 2, 2016

Less than 24 hours until I hit the road to Pittsburgh. The familiar giddiness is building. A smile creeps over my face as I think about it. I’ve missed this.

Think the Pitt coaches are hammering home to the players about what nearly happened to Tennessee against Appalachian  State last night? The risk of taking a team likely, simply because they are FCS? Without any doubt.

So what’s news?

On campus, a bonfire rally was done in the shadow of the Cathedral.

In front of a blazing bonfire, a crowd of students and alumni chorused along to Pitt’s alma mater, as Narduzzi took the makeshift stage to let his audience know what the Panthers plan to show them this year.

“We’re going to let the Panthers out of the cage,” he yelled to deafening cheers. “We expect our guys to play for four quarters, and the fourth will be the best!”

On Thursday night, Pitt fans of all ages swarmed onto the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning to show their school spirit in anticipation of the upcoming football season. Pitt Program Council’s Annual Bonfire and Pep Rally drew a crowd of nearly 2,000 people, chanting “Hail to Pitt!” in unison and dancing to blaring music.

Pitt’s marching band played upbeat anthems as people continued to trickle onto the Cathedral lawn and, by 8:45p.m., the crowd reached into the thousands.

Though Pitt’s season begins at Heinz Field at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday, as the Panthers take on the Villanova Wildcats, the crowd wasn’t shy about its feelings for the week-two matchup against Penn State.

As the bonfire’s flames rose, so did a chant of “F— Penn State!”

/wipes a tear from eye

They grow up so fast.

This is the final season for Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley. The guy has been there for 32 years since Villanova resurrected its football program.

“I thought about it the other day, when I was sitting outside smoking my cigar. I can’t believe it. I made it through five ADs, with five completely different personalities, and three presidents.

“How many people can say that?”

Indeed, it’s been quite a run, even if there were some speed bumps along the way. But he’s survived. And thrived. Now it’s coming to a conclusion, largely on his terms. How many can say that?

“It’s really not that hard (to be leaving at this point),” said Talley, who will stick around for another year after he steps down in the role of coach emeritus. “At 73, when I put it in perspective, I had a chance to look at a lot of things . . . We have an opportunity to finish with a really good season. The program is one of the best FCS programs in the country, and has been. We have a new football operations building (set to open shortly), which should catapult this program into the top 15 teams, year in and year out. My longtime associate head coach (Mark Ferrante) is becoming the head coach, my handpicked successor. The coaching staff that’s been loyal to me continues to be here.”

Imagine building a program up to national relevance. Retiring while still on your game, with your reputation intact, no scandal to torch everything on you ever claimed to stand for. Well that’s not for every program.

Pitt’s defense is aggressive and takes chances. That leaves the secondary often on an island. Last year, those islands did not fare as well as hoped.

Opponents didn’t need to get inside the red zone to score against Pitt. The Panthers allowed 18 touchdown passes between 29 and 79 yards.

And it was evenly spread between the two Pitt teams — nine in 2014 under the previous coaching staff and nine last season under coach Pat Narduzzi, who is not afraid to take risks on defense.

What happened? Poor play in the secondary? A weak pass rush that allows the quarterback too much time to find an open receiver?

Narduzzi suggests another possibility.

“Maybe nobody messed up,” he said. “Maybe it’s the coach. We point the finger back at ourselves.”

That may be one reason wide receivers have been running free in the Pitt secondary the past two seasons. Narduzzi said there are other reasons, and all are investigated when the staff convenes the next day to review video.

“It’s going to be structural (something designed by the coaches), physical (someone got beat) or mental (a coverage breakdown),” he said.

Well… yeah. Those would be the choices. The secondary should be improved, though. Talent is there (even with Hamlin still hurt) and the players have had another year in the system to learn.

The third thing, is that Pitt should be able to generate more pressure up front this season. A key component to a Narduzzi defense. Pitt wasn’t able to do that as often last year which made it harder for the secondary.

I referenced 1998 yesterday. Villanova remembers it as Brian Westbrook’s coming out party.

The game had just ended, Pittsburgh had survived over Villanova, 48-41. Pitt coach Walt Harris walked over to shake hands with Villanova coach Andy Talley.

“The first thing he said, ‘Who in the hell is No. 20?’ ” Talley said this week.

Suspend any knowledge you have of Brian Westbrook. Block out his Eagles glory years. Don’t focus on the entirety of his Villanova career. Go back to September 1998 and the opening game of Westbrook’s sophomore season.

All Westbrook did on a hot afternoon at Pitt Stadium, in his first game as Villanova’s clear-cut No. 1 tailback, was go for 428 all-purpose yards. He scored two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown – running 48 yards on a fake punt – and he scored a fourth touchdown on a kick return, 89 yards.

“The game was up for grabs, no question, and Brian almost single-handedly beat them by himself,” Talley said. “We couldn’t stop them, and they couldn’t stop Brian.”

The article notes that Pitt was especially bad that year, but still. Westbrook helped make a name for himself and got himself to the NFL in no small part because of that game.

Finally, read this entire story on Jaryd Jones-Smith. From the gruesome injury he suffered last year. To losing his father before finishing high school. The kid deserves plenty of cheers when he gets out on the field tomorrow.

Good story. Especially the Westbrook one. Glad you are back. Will read every day.

Comment by Justin A. 09.02.16 @ 7:37 am

Chas, fantastic line…

As the bonfire’s flames rose, so did a chant of “F— Penn State!”

/wipes a tear from eye

They grow up so fast.

Comment by notrocketscience 09.02.16 @ 7:49 am

good thought about Jones-Smith. His story gets lost in all of the hullabaloo with James Conner (not bitching — certainly JC is the headliner) but he does indeed deserve the cheers.

He is a big guy who should be a starter next year (his final eligible year), and if healthy, may have a chance of being drafted

Comment by wbb 09.02.16 @ 8:35 am

Watched second half of Tennessee Appalachian St last night. Tennessee got lucky, their QB fumbled into the end zone on 1st possession of OT, Tennessee recovered for TD. Appalachian St failed to convert. If they had recovered a FG would have won it, however their kicker had already missed an extra point and badly missed a 42 yd FG.

Appalachian St moved up to FBS. Went 10-2 in the Sun Belt last year I believe, also beat Ohio in bowl game.

Getting restless for tomorrow. I’ll be there as always.

Hail to Pitt!!

Comment by Pap76 09.02.16 @ 10:21 am

The weather will be beautiful for the game tomorrow. Around 75 at kickoff with low humidity & sunny, high of 80. Get there & cheer on the boys with an adult beverage.

Comment by Nick 09.02.16 @ 11:37 am

On Mike and Mike this morning Greeney makes the point that James Conner should spike the ball and the officials should look the other way. I agree with him.

Comment by Jeff in CPa 09.02.16 @ 11:42 am

I hope we don’t awake in some sort of weird Twilight Zone episode, involving a coach in his 32nd and final year.

Comment by Emel 09.02.16 @ 12:17 pm

Chas…..I can’t tell you how great it is to have you back. You’re a hell of a writer and very entertaining. Between you and Reed we get a double dose of Pitt. Love the hoops coverage. BB is just as important to me as football. Keep it coming buddy. See all you guys at the game tomorrow.

Comment by The Hagen 09.02.16 @ 1:09 pm

Upitt…the Carrick arts and crafts class really outdid themselves. Looks like about a 25 foot long Pitt script at midfield.

I do wish we could have the ACC logo on the field instead of the sidelines.

Comment by Pap76 09.02.16 @ 1:58 pm

The smell of college football is in the air. Or is it those sausages I’m cooking on the grill right now?

Comment by TX Panther 09.02.16 @ 2:49 pm

Pap76 – Yeah, I watched the 2nd half of the TN game too, obviously they appear to be over-rated, but they also don’t have a QB that can pass the ball, which makes me appreciate Peterman a little more.

Lots of things to look forward to tomorrow. One thing that comes to me is, which new receiver (if any) will step up and have a good day? We always seem to have great WRs and RBs, I would bet Matthews to be our next go-to guy, if I had to guess. Should be fun.

Comment by 1618mt 09.02.16 @ 3:21 pm

Penn State Sucks!!!

Comment by RMT 09.02.16 @ 5:41 pm

I’m looking forward to a new and successful football season for the Pitt Panthers.

Hail to Pitt!

Comment by MariettaMike 09.02.16 @ 8:36 pm

Watching the angst distress and disbelief of Tennessee fans during the 2nd half of the App State game reminded me so much of looking up at Pitt fans 2nd half of Navy and countless other Pitt struggles with inferior teams. We truly are a hardened bunch. No trouble w Nova. Narduzzi too good a coach and Pitt too much talent to let that happen.

Chas, like you, I’ve missed Pitt Football. Always a tear in my eye for the first game.

Comment by Dan 72 09.02.16 @ 9:41 pm

notrocketscience 09.02.16 @ 7:49 am types my exact thought.

RMT fell a little short, how about “Fa Q PSU”.

Is the game available anywhere on TV or cpu?

Comment by TVax1 09.03.16 @ 7:06 am

Voytik last night in a 31-10 loss:

Passing C-A-I Yds TD Long Sack
Voytik, Chad 11-24-0 124 0 83 3

I watched 2 offensive series and went to bed.

Nevertheless, wishing him the best and hope he’s having fun

Comment by steve1 09.03.16 @ 7:14 am

steve1 – Voytik’s sacks were due to very poor shotgun snaps by the Center. He also does not have a very good supporting cast. He ripped off a few nice runs while scrambling for his life.

Here’s hoping his successor NP has a much more impressive start to the season today.


Comment by Erie Express 09.03.16 @ 7:22 am

It’s go time!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Comment by Dan 09.03.16 @ 7:50 am

I think the website has been hacked, keeps redirecting me. Anyhow, it’s game day and H2P!!!

Comment by ptg 09.03.16 @ 8:14 am

Voytik had 2 possible (1 for sure) TD passes that were dropped by receivers. The offense seems to call fro him to run a lot which is good for him. But overall, Toledo was just the much better team

Comment by wbb 09.03.16 @ 11:30 am

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