October 30, 2017

Continuing the 2d Half Improvements

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 7:47 am

In both the season and after halftime.

Two games deeply colored many people’s perceptions — especially mine — on the progress of the defense. The Oklahoma State game, obviously. And the first game of the season against Youngstown State.


Oklahoma State just devastated Pitt’s defense. From the receivers to the O-line to the quarterback scrambles. By all appearances, Pitt had not simply taken a step backwards defensively. They had fallen backwards over a cliff.

It was that opening game against YSU, though, that really started it. A 1-AA team, albeit a very good 1-AA team, was moving the ball throughout the first half. The YSU offense, made key mistakes that kept them from scoring until the 2d half when they racked up 21 points to send it to overtime. That was when most Pitt fans went, “Uh-oh.”

But really, aside from those two games, the defense had been showing improvements. Even in the Penn State loss, they looked better after a big stumble in the first quarter. Keeping a very, very good offense in check the rest of the game.

They just lacked (still lack) the depth and were being hurt badly by an offense that was floundering. But the progress was there.

In the last four games, the defense has definitely made strides. Even in the losses, you could see the defense making more plays. Getting stops. Not everytime or consistently, but the stops were happening more often. The defense was stepping up more and more.

So with two starters missing in action Saturday against Virginia, it was only reasonable to expect a step back. Instead, Pitt’s front four was as strong as ever, holding the line on two fourth-and-1 runs — one with the end zone at their backs — and notching a season-high three sacks in the 31-14 rout.

“That’s big-time football down near the goal line, so I was proud of what our defense did,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Kids hang in there. You go through adversity through a season, things don’t go your way early, but our kids have hung in, been resilient, and couldn’t be more proud of those guys.”

Two projected senior starters, tackle Jeremiah Taleni and end Rori Blair, dismissed was a rough way to begin the process of replacing three graduated standouts. This week, it was the loss of redshirt freshman tackle Keyshon Camp, who was listed as questionable with a head injury but didn’t dress; and end Dewayne Hendrix, who was suited up Saturday at Heinz Field but never played with an undisclosed ailment.

And yes, Virginia and Duke as opponents make a difference as compared to Oklahoma State, PSU and GT. But Pitt’s defense showed improvement even in losses to Syracuse and NC State.

The young players look like they understand what’s expected, which has allowed them to let loose their athleticism.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the Virginia game was that Pitt used only one senior on defense: end Allen Edwards, who didn’t start. But the loss of senior cornerback Avonte Maddox (arm) will be felt against better opponents.

“We’re a young group, so we had to get our groove,” sophomore middle linebacker Saleem Brightwell said. “Now, we’ve got it going. I just love being out there with my defense, my brothers, and just making plays happen.”

In the Virginia game, the Cavaliers challenged Pitt by going for the conversion on fourth down five times. Pitt turned away all but one threat. Pitt also stopped Virginia on 11 of 17 third downs.

“We talked about getting paid on the money down,” Narduzzi said. “We stopped them four out of five times on fourth down. That’s big-time football.”

It was pleasantly surprising to see when that happened.

The offense was competent against Virginia. Once more, Ben DiNucci took every snap. This time, he was a bit better then he looked against Duke. He is definitely a game manager QB, and his deep throws almost look like a shot put, but it’s difficult to argue with success.

The O-line finally seems to show a semblance of gelling, which means the run game is happening. Darrin Hall built on his breakout performance last week with another 100 yard game. Qadre Ollison got a big run, seemingly as a reward for serving as a fullback in this game. Ollison’s blocking abilities, as an aside, are generally very good; and likely served as the reason he got more chances in the first half of the season to be the starting tailback.

Then there was Quadree Henderson. He’s had a frustrating season, to be kind. Teams haven’t been dumb enough to kick to him very often. They key on him when they see him on offense. He’s appeared to be hobbled at times by nagging injuries.

“Teams are going to game plan for you,” Henderson said. “You can’t make a big play every time you touch the ball. You’ve just got to let things come to you. Me not making plays in the previous game, I’m a team player. I let the game come to me and whatever happens happens.”

But then came that punt return.

During his 75-yard punt return in the second quarter of Pitt’s 31-14 victory against Virginia on Saturday, Henderson was looking at the Heinz Field Jumbotron — fortunately, he was running in that direction — to gauge where he was in relation to the defenders.

After fielding the ball near the Pitt sideline, Henderson said, “I saw a big lineman. He tried to get me. He got my shirt. I wiggled out of that tackle.

“Number 29 (Virginia’s Joey Blount) was chasing me, and I’m looking at the Jumbotron. I see 29 dive, so I high-stepped and got out of that tackle.

“I saw (safety Quin Blanding) keying in on me, tailing. I just dove and put the ball across the pylon.”

Henderson said he used the Jumbotron “like eyes in the back of my head.”

And the topper of the evening was Ohio State taking the wind out of Penn State.

Dave Wannstedt was in a good mood.

Sorry the clip doesn’t show the actual high-fiving he started doing with Buckeye fans.

Plus a small troll by Head Coach Pat Narduzzi that has unsurprisingly upset Nitters.

Almost immediately after Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley’s desperation fourth-and-15 pass fell harmlessly to the field at Ohio Stadium, essentially sealing the Nittany Lions’ fate and ending their unbeaten season, Narduzzi sent a tweet:

“Hail to Pitt!”

That’s all it said. Yes, Pitt won Saturday, 31-14, against Virginia. Narduzzi’s Twitter account had been quiet since the game ended around 3:30 p.m., and it sure seemed a curious time to send up a celebratory flare.

The timing was perfect. And it was beautiful. As usual, PSU fans sense of humor ends when they are on the receiving end of things.

Unquestionably, DiNucci did step it up Saturday.

The reality is… DiNucci has SO LITTLE experience at this point it only makes sense that we’ve not yet seen the BEST of Ben!

Watson also seemed to go back a bit to the Offense he is accustomed to running instead of the Offense he has attempted to emulate (i.e. Canada 2.0).

That SHOULD play to DiNucci’s strengths. We shall see.

Comment by PittoDreams 10.30.17 @ 9:34 am

By the way… there is a STAR among Pitt’s Defensive Front.

Rashad Weaver… future NFL Pick… maybe a VERY HIGH one.

Comment by PittoDreams 10.30.17 @ 9:40 am

and now we can expect a similar performance against NC and hope for an upset after that … One can dream, eh!

Comment by xkegroller 10.30.17 @ 11:24 am

My concern with UNC is Duzz’s track record coming off of a bye.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 10.30.17 @ 3:39 pm

If we end up 5-7 I would still view it a good year. Then wait till next year!

Comment by pittintampa 10.30.17 @ 4:06 pm

After the first 3 games and watching our future opponents I figured 2/10 season then after another week I thought maybe 4/8 or 5/7. I still think 5/7 but after watching Miami this week maybe even 6/6 which would be great for a bowl possibility and the extra month of practice and recruiting help.I also felt our OC is finally learning how to best use the talent he has here.

Comment by Pitt60 10.30.17 @ 8:33 pm

Another recruit lost. We’re going to be here for years hoping for 6 or 7 wins. PSU was inches away from the death penalty and they’re killing us and WVCC is still taking their share of local kids.

Comment by JLE 10.30.17 @ 10:15 pm

I guess the Aliquippa recruit is going to WVU for the outstanding education he will receive. HAAAAAA.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 10.30.17 @ 10:18 pm

Folks, we will win one more game (UNC), both Virginia Tech and Miami will kill us. Why do people expect more next year??? WE play Notre Dame, Penn State, UCF, Virginia Tech and Miami, already predictable losses. Georgia Tech will be very good again and we cant stop their offense. Our best hope again is 6 or 7 wins. This coaching staff needs to start recruiting better or the future years will not be much different.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 10.30.17 @ 10:45 pm

The recruiting has been fine on that side of the ball. With a system defense, it’s plug and play. That’s the entire point of running a system. Next man up. The hard part is getting the system installed. Narduzzi was putting 2 star DB’s into the NFL at MSU. This defense just takes a lot of time to install. It did at MSU too. You need players to have at least 3 years in the system. Just look at MSU recruiting rankings and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s the same on the offensive side of the ball. If you run a system, it hides the holes. It’s why I think this pro-style offense crap is for the birds. Just plug in a spread offense and run a base RPO offense. You can still be a run based team out of it.

Regardless, the offense needs a QB. Let’s hope Kenny Pickett or Nick Patti end up being special. That’s the real secret sauce to being a top 15 team. You need a special QB.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 10.31.17 @ 10:32 am

Tossing, you are kidding about a top 15 team I hope. This program will not see anywhere near a top 15 ranking in the foreseeable future, the Duzz cant event recruit the 4 star quality kids locally how in the hell can he do it nationally? As far as Nick Patti, lets see if he signs during the early signing period In December.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.01.17 @ 2:54 am

The recruiting has me the most concerned for the future. It must have also been to Narduzzie this year when he shook up the roles of the participants and hired Charlie P. Re-watched Virginia game Mon. night. Slow but steady improvement is the course.Still see 5 wins as most likely season.PS and ND next year Same start as this year. Our receivers have to start making more catches. Too many big plays missed even when Dinuccie does his part. Ollison seems to catch better than the receivers and ends.H2P

Comment by Pitt60 11.01.17 @ 8:36 pm

We just do not have the players folks.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.02.17 @ 1:50 am

The athletic department sent a message out that they will be giving away 4 free tickets for the North Carolina game on Thursday to create the impression that Pitt has a fan base and fake out the country on TV. They ought to try giving free tickets to anyone at the casino on Thursday, there are more people there than will be at the game.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.04.17 @ 9:30 pm


Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.04.17 @ 9:36 pm

For all those that think we need an on campus stadium. Miami certainly does not play on campus, Hard Rock stadium is much farther than Heinz field is to PItt. And guess what? they filled the place up. hmmm, could it be they have a winning football program??????

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.04.17 @ 10:21 pm

If you win…..they will come. But we’re never going to win with the type of recruits Nardwozzi is getting especially on offense. The line, running backs, blocking tight ends and especially the QB all need better athletes before we see 9 or 10 wins.
Ask Dabo Sweeney and he’ll tell you it all starts with a great line and then a better QB.

Comment by Crusader 11.05.17 @ 8:56 pm

So lets talk about recruiting. Some say recruiting starts in the back yard; I’m not convinced that’s the case anymore but lets assume for a moment that it is. The best players in Pitt’s backyard get offers from:


Push that envelope out a bit and you find:

– MIchigan
– Michigan State
– Notre Dame

That’s a nice mix of perennially ranked “Tier 1″ and Tier 2” teams.. So there goes most of your top level kids. The best of the best get offers from anywhere, but I’m keeping it in the family for now. So that leaves Pitt competing for talent with who?

– Syracuse
– Boston College
– Virginia
– Cincinatti
– Louisville
– etc…

I consider these “Tier 2/3) schools and Pitt appears to be losing that battle as well. Again, we haven’t left the region yet, but other regions have this type of segregation as well. So, if we remain in region, and assume that Pitt would encounter the same issue in most other regions, we are left competing for the same level of talent as:

– Bowling Green
– Kent State
– etc…

Pitt typically beats these “Tier 4” teams, but usually not by much, and not always. I’d almost like to see Pitt play a MAC schedule just to see how it would shake out. Historically I’ve seen more talent parity with these teams than any other. That doesn’t mean Pitt can’t beat better teams. They can and do. There is often a diamond in the rough (James Conner); someone surprises you and helps carry the team. But pound for pound, I’d say Pitt is at a 3.5 in terms of Overall talent and coaching. So then the question becomes “why”. Let’s use Louisville as an example. Why has Louisville had more success in recent years than Pitt? It’s not a great city, it’s not an esteemed academic institution… outside of basketball you’d be hard pressed to find anything “fabulous” about the entire city, let alone the institution. Still, year after year, teams like Louisville outperform Pitt. So to me, they are either getting better talent (HOW???) or better coaching (WHY???) or some combination of the two. I’d really like to know. Is it money? Apathy? I don’t think its lack an OCS, but it sure would be nice to try to at least make the game day experience more like a college event and less like a mini-Steelers pimp-fest. The marching band hardly plays, the cheerleaders hardly chear, and the dance team hardly dances. You can’t tell me that doesn’t have an impact on recruiting, not to mention attendance. So again: how does a school like Pitt attract better talent?

I have no idea how to change it, but I’m not expecting things to get much better until things improves drastically, and I’m not convinced that’s possible.

Comment by 55 11.06.17 @ 12:39 pm

Pitt does everything to take the focus away from the team and game.
Take the score board, too loud, always some nonsense is being played up. This takes away from any band or cheerleading excitement.
The band- same old music, same old chants. Quiet most of the game. Notre Dame, Penn State and WVU bands take over the game excitement from beginning to end. Not our band, restricted so the athletic department and use the score board for nonsense.
Cheerleaders- Giant joke, there is little excitement generated by the Pitt Cheerleaders. No new cheers at all. Same old “lets go Pitt” over and over. After every score they used to take the field and lead a sectional cheer spelling out PITT, seemed like it generated a lot of fan involvement. I was told the so called “Fan committee” did not like it, therefore it stopped, nothing replaced it.
Dance Team- What can I say, its as if they are practicing for performances at “Blush”. It has no place at a game. ND, WVU, Penn State etc. just do not do this crap.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.07.17 @ 2:41 am

Also, the “fan committee” stifled Sweet Caroline. They did not want to see students leave after it played before the 4th quarter. Now they play it anytime. Bottom line , the kids still leave anyway. The grand plan really worked. The athletic department actually pays people to come up with these decisions. Too many people with too much time on their hands. Fire them and place the funds on better coaches and recruiting.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.07.17 @ 2:47 am

Why in the hell don’t we put the student section behind our players bench…….

Comment by Crusader 11.07.17 @ 2:39 pm

I agree with you Crusader. There certainly is enough room.

Comment by Pitt Dreamer 11.07.17 @ 6:13 pm

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