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September 3, 2017

Less Then Impressive Opener

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 9:14 am

I’ve had a bit of time to digest this. A walk back to a friend’s house in the drizzle. A 2+ hour drive home in the drizzle/mist. A bit of bourbon while half-watching college football the rest of the evening. Getting a long, needed night of sleep. Morning pot of coffee. Prepping ribs for a nice relaxing day of smoking those suckers. Happy in the knowledge that I still get to go pick up a growler of a really good IPA (trying to decide between Revolution Citra Hero or the Fat Heads IBUsive is not the worst choice).

Basically, I’ve just let that game yesterday kind of mellow out in the background.

Let’s start with the basic reality. We watched that game through the prism of what it means for the game on September 9.

The game against PSU was already going to be a very, tough game. PSU may be a bit overrated to start the season (debatable, but let me have my bias); but there shouldn’t be any debate that they a very good team with a complete stud at RB, they are at home, and this is clearly going to be a revenge game.

Pitt did not crap the bed yesterday, but there was a lot of concern by the end about needing to change the sheets.

In this opening week of college football, there were plenty of teams that started slow in the first half against inferior teams. Making mistakes, working the kinks out. Making themselves look less then deserving of the early accolades/respect/expectations. In some cases, giving thought to upsets. Only to see them work it out and ultimately blow out the inferior opponents.

Pitt did not do that.

The Panthers came out and looked like they were playing an overmatched team. They methodically moved the ball on YSU. Sticking to very basic plays. Not going deep. Nothing too wild.

The highlight was a perfectly placed pass from Max Browne to Matt Flanagan for 30 yards. Grad transfer to grad transfer. The throw was on the money and Flanagan made an excellent catch by using his body to keep the defender from being able to make a play.

At halftime, Pitt was up 21-0. About the most worrying thing you could say at that point is that YSU did miss some chances. Their QB just missed some wide open receivers. Especially underneath. But then, we knew Pitt’s secondary was going to be a concern.

YSU had 132 total yards. 131 passing and only 1 rushing yard.

Pitt had 146 yards on the ground, but was well spread amongst Quadree Henderson, Quadre Ollison and Darrin Hall. Heck, even freshmen A.J. Davis got a few touches. Passing was only 93 yards, but Browne wasn’t being asked to do much. He was 7-10 with all but one pass being of the very short, safe variety.

Then the second half happened. YSU didn’t exactly make big adjustments to their offense. It’s just that their passing game got a little more accurate. They killed Pitt’s linebackers and safeties with underneath passes and wheel routes. To put it in perspective. YSU had 311 passing yards on 18 completeions. The WRs only accounted for 6 receptions and 82 yards. The tight end and two RBs had the other 12 catches and 229 yards.

The constant success with the shorter passes underneath, forced the linebackers to start dropping back a bit more. Guess what that exposed? A defensive line that looked very shaky without help. Bad enough that the D-line couldn’t get pressure the entire game. But a YSU rushing attack that only had 1 yard in the first half finished with 107 as the linebackers were not there as a backstop.

Against a team that ran 26 times, the D-line accounted for 6 tackles in the entire game. The linebackers racked up 19.

The defense was a concern, primarily because of the secondary. I’m kind of reassured with the cornerbacks at the moment. But that could simply be due to what teams are going to do against the safeties and linebackers in the passing game.

Then there is the offense in the second half. Very, very clear that the offense was not playing with the full playbook. Also clear that they took their foot off the gas in the second half, thinking they could coast.

Whoops.

Pitt managed only 109 total yards of offense in the second half and overtime. Yes, a lot of that was due to extremely conservative play calling. (10-14 passing for 57  yards?), but the O-line was starting to get beat a lot more in the second half.

Safe bet that Alex Bookser will be at center for next week’s game. Jimmy Morrissey really looked worn down in the second half. But even Brian O’Neill had an absolutely humiliating moment.

I can’t hit the panic on the offense. On the new OC or QB this early. Especially when it was such a vanilla gameplan. Still, there were concerns. QB Max Browne did seem to show a tendency to sail or float passes. Not at all what I expected. His struggles to find Jester Weah until the very end did not help.

Not a disastrous win since there were no injuries. But definitely not a win that feels particularly good.





1. Chas – please fix the comments section. Look at previous posts. The comments sections resets when the site goes over 50 comments without the ability to go back. If it’s not fixable, and just an update/by-product to the website that you can’t correct, please let us know so we can stop complaining 🙂

2. The defensive game plan appeared to be vanilla as well. This is a really hard game to grade how good Pitt actually is. Pitt really just played it’s base defense without offering much in the way of looks to confuse YSU. LB’s were a disappointment. I really hope staying basic was the issue this game. Really, really, really hope. Fingers crossed.

3. This offense is better with a mobile QB. That’s my biggest concern with Browne. I expected some rust. I think he has a short leash though. I watched some of the LSU game last night and it reinforced how vanilla the game plan was for YSU. Made me feel better. No shovel passes, no multi-position jet sweeps, no play action, no “new” wrinkles by Watson … the list goes on.

4. Narudzzi hasn’t shied away from how big the PSU game is. Pitt will be ready. Penn State will be too but I still don’t think they take the rivalry as seriously as Pitt. The hate isn’t there. Pitt is more like an annoying little brother instead of the dude who stole your girlfriend. Narduzzi has Pitt players convinced PSU didn’t just steal their girlfriend’s but knocked them up too.

5. I’ll be up at State College Friday. My wife’s parent’s are from the area and moved back about 8 years ago. 5 miles from the stadium. Picking up my PSU grad brother from the airport at 11am Friday. Looking forward to a fun game. Ordered my “Dominate the State” shirt from Steel City to greet my brother at the airport in.

(link to shopsteelcity.com)

Beat Penn State.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.03.17 @ 9:59 am

Good summation Chas. The play of the D front seven is still the main concern. Hopefully Bookser’s return helps solidify the O-line.

Just don’t see us having the horses to avoid a shellacking next week.

Comment by gc 09.03.17 @ 10:27 am

We will see how good the coaching staff is next week.

If Pitt can establish the run, grind away and make some timely 3rd down plays, possess the ball for long periods, avoid turnovers and key injuries, and if our D can slow down their running game, provide timely stops, not give up any killer big plays, have decent special teams, the coaches call a good game with good schemes….then the game will be close.

But it will take all these things for a close game. In the end, Pitt just doesnt have the talent.

Comment by TX Panther 09.03.17 @ 12:05 pm

Left Heinz pretty dejected. Not just because we went to OT with an FCS school, although that was a big part of it. The crowd at the end of the game honestly seemed like an even split of Pitt and YSU fans among the few thousand left. My 4 year old nephew toughed it out with us til the end. It was his first Pitt game, poor little guy was wet and cold but never complained, hopefully our fan base grew by one, God knows we need the addition.

The O and especially D lines were very disappointing. To generate almost no pressure against what should be an inferior opponent does not bode well moving forward. Pitt’s problems in the secondary have been well documented and without getting pressure on the QB, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Speaking of the secondary the roster has 4 former 4 star recruits. Whitehead, Hamlin, Miller, and Ford. Two of them don’t dress, Whitehead is suspended and watches game from upstairs, and as far a I seen Miller never steps on field. Very frustrating…

Comment by Pap76 09.03.17 @ 12:09 pm

TX – I think you’re wrong about talent. I think Pitt’s game plan will be aggressive not ball control. The LSU game made me feel so much better about the game. LSU didn’t hold back. They also emphasized how easy the offense was to learn. I am concerned about the lack of fear with a QB option will be.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.03.17 @ 12:17 pm

With an aggressive approach on the road with an unproven QB, may be a recipe for disaster. I like the scheme but I’m not sure Pitt can pull it off and they really need to keep Penn States O off the field and not give them good field position. Thats why I favor a conservative approach with the O but the D needs to play hard and aggressive. A conservative approach on O doesnt mean predictable. The team that has the better special teams and fewer turnovers will win. Thats why I think Pitt has a chance…to cover.

Comment by TX Panther 09.03.17 @ 1:03 pm

Anyone catch LSU’s offensive numbers in their season opening 27-0 thrashing of BYU? Almost 300 yds on the ground and their QB was 14-17 for 173 yds.

Oh Canada…

Comment by Pap76 09.03.17 @ 1:05 pm

Pap76 – watched the game. They used entire playbook. Made me feel better about Pitt game. Clearly held back offense.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.03.17 @ 1:17 pm

FYI – YSU was tied with WVU at half last year 14-14 before WVU scored 17 unanswered in the 3rd. 38-21 final score. YSU had over 400 yards of total offense. It’s hard to not get worried but I keep finding solace in other places. Haha. Talking myself off the ledge helps sometimes.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.03.17 @ 2:05 pm

Tossing- I did not. I’ll take your word. All I know is we better have held back a whole hell of a lot or Saturday will be ugly.

Have fun in that sea of blue and white. Bring home a winner…

Comment by Pap76 09.03.17 @ 2:44 pm

Did Browne standing with the ball like a statue remind anyone of the former quarterback whose name will not be mentioned ?

Comment by fred filopek 09.03.17 @ 6:37 pm

How is it clear that Pitt held back on offense? This is Watson’s first season. Who really knows what his offense looks like? Pitt ran plenty of sweep action. They tried to throw 10-15 yards downfield but only connected once. They used all their personnel. The only things I didn’t see yesterday that I saw last year were shovel passes and deep post and go routes. There is no reason to believe next week will hold any surprises.

I can’t understand not opening up much of the playbook with all the new personnel in an actual game situation against a theoretically inferior opponent. Is the full playbook going to be more effective with the same new personnel at Happy Valley with 100,000 fans screaming at you?

Comment by Barvo 09.03.17 @ 7:41 pm

How is LSU’s offense with Canada relevant to Pitt’s offense with Watson? Do Canada and Watson have the same playboooks?

Tossing, aren’t you the guy that preaches system and personnel? Does that notion only apply on defense and offenses are cookie cutters?

Comment by Barvo 09.03.17 @ 7:48 pm

Pitt 18.5 underdog against the Nits. I think this game will be a close one with Pitt on the losing end as it’s tough beating the Lions at home in front of over a 100k partisan fans. But…

Comment by MariettaMike 09.03.17 @ 8:19 pm

Bravo – It’s been stated several times Watson kept the same offense. Even the same terminology, something Watson had never done before. Duzz didn’t want a 3rd offense in a season many years. The entire first half was Pitt’s base run offense from last year. The second half was packages out of Chaney’s offense. Duzz has also consistently said he wants an attacking offense.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.03.17 @ 8:52 pm

Barvo – To answer your question, yes, they have the same playbook.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.03.17 @ 8:53 pm

Barvo – I’ve stated that Duzz is a system defensive coach. Am I wrong? I’ve also stated that the NFL is more personnel oriented whereas college is more system oriented. You have shorter leashes in the NFL and have to have results quicker. In college you turn over the roster every 4 years so you need consistency. I’m not sure the point you were trying to make. That’s the truth. Two different games. Two different approaches. It’s why there is less creativity at the NFL level as well.

To my point though, yes, CFB is system oriented … that’s why Duzz kept the same offense (system). Canada didn’t take the only playbook with him. He took his play calling with him … There is no proof that Watson can call a game like Canada. You won’t get an argument from me with that.

But you can expect to see a very similar offense to what Pitt ran last season. I’m sure it’s a big reason Watson was hired. He’s shown throughout his career he’ll cater to the HC’s wishes for what to run. He did it at Colorado, Nebraska, Louisville and TX. He ran the offense the HC asked. Pitt didn’t hire an innovator like Canada. They hired a conformer.

I only said it made me feel better … helped me back off of the ledge. I’m sorry but I like Pitt football and I enjoy rooting for my team instead of bitching about it. That’s just me though. I like the direction of the program. I wish Canada had stayed but I also know there is zero chance Pitt could pay him $1.7M to stay. Such is life.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.03.17 @ 9:10 pm

Saturday, we’re going to find out if Narduzzi really can coach Defense.

That’s what it’s going to take for Pitt to even be in the Game.

And no excuses about any lack of talent… or… wait until Narduzzi has HIS players.

Saturday is put up or shut up.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.04.17 @ 7:45 am

Unrealistic expectation PoD. Unranked team vs Number 6 in Happy Valley. We are going to get manhandled and it will have little to do with Narduzzi’s coaching abilities.

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 8:53 am

Why the Perpetual Pass for Narduzzi?

Year 3 and the “Guru of Defense” can’t be counted on to come up with a way of just keeping Pitt in the Game against a Team he BEAT a year ago.

Ah, right… it’s the Players.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.04.17 @ 9:47 am

When isn’t it the players? Did Alabama beat FSU because of the coach or the players?

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 9:52 am

Have you guys seen the scores/yards allowed, outside of Alabama/LSU? Defense is dying in CFB. No more two a days. Stricter rules on the 20 hours per week for football. More injury conscious. It’s part of the reason you’ve seen a rise in all these scheme’s/systems. They’re easier to learn. Flash cards. Each position is specialized. Etc.

TAMU/UCLA … USC/WMU … Louisville/Purdue … WVU/VT

WVU put up 592 yards on a vaunted VT defense. 221 on the ground. 371 in the air. VT is supposed to have a top 10 defense.

It’s a different era. Teams that score and don’t take their foot off the petal win.

PSU just beat an Akron team that was 5-7 last year and lost to Toledo 48-17. Y’all are making way too much out of this game. YSU was a better team than Akron. What PSU did to Akron really doesn’t mean much.

Narduzzi in his 3rd year at MSU was ranked 110th in pass defense before turning the corner. Pitt fans hate the word patience because of the last 35 years but that’s what it takes. Like it or not. These next two seasons are transition years from a Chryst team to a Narduzzi team. That’s the reality. Duzz isn’t going to change his scheme either. You can complain all you want but until Duzz leaves that’s what we’ll have.

Pitt had it’s chance to be a blue blood in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Pitt decided they didn’t want to pay that price.

The landscape has changed. You don’t become good overnight and if you do, you’re going to have a lot of eyes on you. Just ask Ole Miss or Baylor. The TCU’s, Boise St.’s, VT’s that took the long term program approach are the ones who first become relevant, then stay relevant, then occasionally have a shot at the playoffs. Look at the the P5 conference members. Name a team that popped up out of nowhere, immediately, and stayed there … It took 3 season for Washington under Chris Peterson to hit pay dirt.

This isn’t the NFL with a salary cap. There isn’t parity in CFB. The blue bloods have a built in advantage. You can cheat to become good immediately or you can try to establish a program with a long term approach. Like it or not, that’s the way it is.

… but please stop complaining about defense. If you look at CFB scores, defense is becoming irrelevant. You better have a team that can score to win. Defense doesn’t win championships anymore. Just look at the Clemsons, Auburns, Ohio States, Florida States that have won. They may have had serviceable defenses but offense won them the national championships.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.04.17 @ 10:37 am

You can hate Narduzzi, but if he leaves Pitt starts over … again. And it will take another 5 years, at the earliest, before you can expect Pitt to be relevant. It’s better that he sticks around. It’s part of the reason I despise Chryst so much. People say he got the program on the right footing again … maybe … debatable … three six win seasons make me question that … but he definitely set Pitt back by bolting.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.04.17 @ 10:40 am

Need a Dorsett like performance from Quadree this week.

Comment by alcofan 09.04.17 @ 12:23 pm

TT, I agree on three points, the bar has moved on what constitutes a good defense, it takes time to build a program and Narduzzi is the guy, and has done a pretty good job so far.

However, you still need guys to make plays on both sides of the ball, Chryst only recruited offensive players and it showed dramatically last year. I give Narduzzi somewhat of a pass this year for a transition, but next year his recruits have to show that they can make plays.

So far his only real star recruit has been Henderson and possibly Aston. A few of his recruits need to produce this year and many more next year.

The biggest problem is the lack of D-ends. Weaver is the only one that shows promise.

If you want to play with the big boys, you need great lines on both sides of the ball. They take time to develop. We are going to lose a bunch of starters from our lines again this year. The young guys need to produce. We won’t be able to blame Chryst any longer.

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 12:49 pm

Funny. Some of the Analysts doing Pitt Games seem to be really critical of Narduzzi and his Defensive Schemes too

But it’s the Players.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.04.17 @ 1:11 pm

And oh ya… Chryst

Comment by PittofDreams 09.04.17 @ 1:12 pm

I expect Narduzzi to field a COMPETITIVE Defense Saturday capable of keeping Pitt in the Game.

Now who’s the Pessimist setting the low bar?

Comment by PittofDreams 09.04.17 @ 1:27 pm

Now I know why DREAM is in your handle.

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 1:54 pm

i’m sure he dreams of the days gone by when pitt was relevant in football. when they actually won bowl games and competed for meaningful games.. wait, i dream of those things as well.

Comment by goalie44 09.04.17 @ 5:33 pm

gc – I agree 100% with this …

“However, you still need guys to make plays on both sides of the ball, Chryst only recruited offensive players and it showed dramatically last year. I give Narduzzi somewhat of a pass this year for a transition, but next year his recruits have to show that they can make plays.”

I still think this team knocks on the door of double digit wins … but I do have to see what this offense looks like in game 2.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.04.17 @ 5:46 pm

gc… Kind of like saying James Conner is a D-End not a Runningback.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.04.17 @ 6:23 pm

As for the Offense… got a feeling we just might see a little of Little Ben this weekend.

Mimimus Browneus exodus!

Comment by PittofDreams 09.04.17 @ 6:29 pm

There were two guys on the D on Saturday that were full time starters last year. Many guys played their first meaningful minutes. Not a recipe for success.

TT, if Narduzzi gets double digit wins with these guys, he will be gone next year. I don’t mean to disparage the players, they are mostly young and should get better.

PoD, funny, we still don’t have any D-ends.

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 6:37 pm

PoD, you might be right about Ben playing.

Especially after PSU’s D-line gets a hold of Browne.

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 6:40 pm

Pitt has 3 TFL and 1 sack

PSU has 14 TFL and 4 sacks

We got em right where we want em.

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 6:51 pm

gc -YSU was the better opponent and Pitt, ridiculously, played vanilla on both sides of the ball. You can’t take much from that game … or the PSU game. Akron was 5-8 and lost to Toledo 48-17 last season. Ooooh … Scary.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.04.17 @ 8:13 pm

BTW, I much prefer PSU’s strategy to start the season. Just play your game instead of playing games.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.04.17 @ 8:19 pm

Browne locked on receivers and tossed the ball into double coverage while missing wide open receivers in his line of sight. I don’t think that type of play is in anyone’s system.

He’s not going to the NFL and I’m not sure he will last the season as our starter.

If your Quarterback isn’t very good the team is going very far. Seeing Browne in action reminded me of seeing Tino all over again.

I really hope I’m wrong as our offense needs to be good to keep our defense off the field.

Comment by Tony In Harrisburg 09.04.17 @ 8:49 pm

No doubt YSU is better than Akron. All I know is what I see and Pitt’s lines did not look good, Vanilla or Chocolate, our guys were getting pushed around.

I really hope I’m wrong, but I see us getting manhandled on both sides of the ball this Saturday.

No doubt we are hoping for a repeat of last year, I just don’t see it happening.

Comment by gc 09.04.17 @ 8:58 pm

Tony In Harrisburg is spot on in his evaluation of Browne’s play against YSU. —My poll for the week against PSU: How many times will Browne be sacked? And if not sacked how many times under pressure will he just throw the ball away?

Comment by pa1702 09.05.17 @ 2:27 am

Apparently there is zero chance Browne will get to throw the deep ball to Weah or Ffrench this week. Might as well mail it in again I guess.

Comment by Grizzly1 09.05.17 @ 8:13 am

Just remember,sat is an exhibitation game, season starts sept 23 at GT.

Comment by alcofan 09.05.17 @ 9:04 am

Too much negativity here. Go over to PittPOV w/ the circle jerks over there if you want to play that game.

Browne made the play when he had to make the play. That was a perfectly thrown ball.

The only legit concerns are Ollison and his inability to make people miss in the open field. Taken down by a 5’9″ 180lb CB solo was embarrassing.

The LB’s are still a cluster. I blame coaching. Who coaches the LB again? Yeah…

Comment by John Ramella 09.05.17 @ 9:38 am

Johnny Boy, now you got me wondering if they don’t like me over at Pitt POV. I’ve been posting on that blog since it’s inception and as of yet, not been invited to a single circle jerk over there. Inquiring minds want to know why ?

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.05.17 @ 10:03 am

& BTW, the “negativity” of which you speak doe’s prevail on the POV. But really, after Saturday’s performance, the Panthers earned the doom & gloom feedback, even being 1-0 after week one.

Now on to some really heavy lifting over the next two weeks.

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.05.17 @ 10:07 am

And if you want to fire a coach start with Conklin not Harley.

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.05.17 @ 10:09 am

Anyone know what happened to wirgiris? ACL playing b ball?

Comment by DocJlk 09.05.17 @ 10:25 am

Talk of firing narduzzi is just plane dumb

Comment by DocJlk 09.05.17 @ 10:26 am

Hoping that game plays out similar to Clemson last year in Death Valley. Heavy dog going in and pull out a W. Good of PN to take the hit for Kessman miss. Similar to Blewitt at Clemson last year. Remember the kiss? Will need Kessman to hit a few FG’s on Saturday.

Comment by Jerry S. 09.05.17 @ 10:59 am

+ 1, John. I’m happy this blog is back up if not because a lot of the negativity has moved over to the other board. Reed does a good job but his POV is a little too remorse for my tastes. Chad does a very good job walking right down the middle. Never teetering too far either way. I also don’t need discussion points to spark conversation, which by it’s very nature spurs arguments and negativity.

It’s rivalry week. It’s okay to be delusional. Delusion is fun. Remember, Penn State does and always will suck.

Pitt was up 21-0 and dominated the first half. Not sure what happened the 2nd half but that was on the coaches. In the first half, on the few occasions Browne did go deep(ish), he tossed a nice ball. There was some rust too, but a rational fan would have expected that.

Jerry at the Trib had a nice antidote with Duzz about the wheel route and a player at MSU yesterday. I’m confident it will get fixed.

I’m not a fan of Ollison as our starting back either. If we run the offense we ran last year, which I expect, he’s a little slow for it. Hall appears to be a better fit. But we’ll see.

Beat Penn State.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.05.17 @ 11:02 am

Ooops … I broke the blog … again. Chas!!!!!!!

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 09.05.17 @ 11:02 am

50 comment limit is odd for a blog

Comment by HbgFrank 09.05.17 @ 11:58 am

WTF!

Comment by Oklahomeboy 09.05.17 @ 3:11 pm

Chas – a fair assessment and I agree 100% with your comments. THanks.

Comment by JoeL 09.05.17 @ 4:24 pm

I’ll feel good if we cover this Saturday. I truly think we will but will lose in the end. How good are our players and coaches against the ‘best’ in the state?

Comment by TX Panther 09.05.17 @ 5:45 pm

Isnt 50 the over/under in this game?

Comment by TX Panther 09.05.17 @ 5:46 pm

Chas do you look at comments? The 50 comment max is killing us man? If it can’t be fixed, it is what it is. But for us faithful Blatherites please at least let us know..

Comment by Pap76 09.05.17 @ 11:16 pm

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