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September 12, 2016

Finding Their Way on Offense

Filed under: Football,Narduzzi — Justin @ 1:42 pm

In hindsight, the Penn State game could not have gone any better. Pitt won, but the second half showed the areas Pitt needs to improve. I had a great conversation with a coworker, a former high school offensive coordinator with decades of experience, about the game. I mentioned the thing that bothered me was how Pitt dominated the game, but still almost lost.

The issue, as we both agreed, was passive coaching. The second half was a terrible combination of the offense stagnating due to conservative plays and PSU’s offense getting into a rhythm. I’m not entirely sure what happened on defense other than they started playing tight after PSU began moving the ball consistently. The offense, however, is very easy to see. Here’s where Matt Canada and the offense went wrong in the second half. (more…)

September 5, 2016

Reminder, this is a noon game because the Pirates are assholes who somehow think not even considering moving their game time will generate more fans to support them.

“We have not asked MLB to consider rescheduling our [Sept.] 10 game,” Pirates vice president of communications and broadcasting Brian Warecki said in a statement. “We are instead very excited about what should be a full and fun weekend on the North Shore. In addition to the baseball and football games on Saturday, we will have dueling Pitt and Penn State University Days on Friday night [Sept.] 9 in order to give the great Pitt and Penn State Pirates fans the opportunity to show their school pride on Friday night as well.

“Working together with Pitt, the SEA and ALCO Parking, we will ensure that Pirates fans have access to the North Shore and reserved parking well in advance of our 7:05 start.”

Be sure not to give the Pirates any money this weekend.

(more…)

September 3, 2016

Nova Thoughts

Filed under: ACC,Football,Narduzzi — Justin @ 8:18 pm

Before I go into anything about the actual game, remember something: it’s just a game.

This is real life.

No matter what happens this season, it is truly an honor to be a fan of James Conner. I had a chance to talk to him after practice and a few games during my wannabe journalist time and it’ll be one of those things I talk about for the rest of my life. I’ve been choked up following his battle numerous times and his first touchdown was a special moment and vintage James Conner. His stiff arm started at the 6 and continued several yards into the end zone. It was a beautiful symbolism to see him attack a defender with such intensity.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post. (more…)

August 30, 2016

Special Season

Filed under: ACC,Football,Narduzzi,Schedule — Justin @ 12:00 pm

I noted this on twitter a few days ago, but I wanted to expand on it a bit further. 2016 could potentially be a special season for Pitt. All of the elements are there: experience, leadership, talent, depth, coaching, and opportunity. The national spotlight will be on Heinz this Saturday with the return of James Conner and it won’t leave with Penn State visiting the following weekend. Back to back road trips against ranked teams, Oklahoma State and UNC, pose big challenges.

Hypothetically, what if Pitt starts 4-0? A win over a rival and two ranked teams on the road plus the emotional angle of Conner would make the national media nuts. That would lead to a top 15 ranking with the easiest stretch of the schedule ahead.

Why is this not crazy? (more…)

June 21, 2016

Recruiting Stars & Pitt Players

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players — Reed @ 3:18 pm

Here is a post I had in draft form and forgot to put up.  I did it before that “Art of Recruiting” series of last week.  Discuss-able info as far as stars awarded and Pitt player – present and past.

YR Player Position Stars Nat’l Rank Top 3 Schools
2003 Larry Fitzgerald WR 4* 15 OSU
2003 Andy Lee P NR NR
2006 H. B. Blades ILB 3* 32 Auburn, Iowa State, VA
2007 Scott McKillop ILB 3* 31 Nebraska, PSU, VT
2007 Jeff Otah OT NR NR Pitt
2008 Scott McKillop ILB 3* 32 Nebraska, PSU, VT
2009 Dorin Dickerson TE 4* 8 (ATH) PSU, Michigan, Tennessee
2010 Jabaal Sheard DE 3* 23 Auburn, AZ State, RU
2013 Aaron Donald DT 3* 37 Akron, RU, SYR
2014 James Conner RB 3* 26 (DE)                YSU, Ohio, E. Michigan
2014 T. J. Clemmings OT 4* 16 ND, PSU, Florida
2014 Tyler Boyd WR 4* 12 ND, PSU, Wisconsin

This is an interesting list I think.  As I was looking up the All-Americans I also jotted down the lower rated kids who have become either stars or real solid producers for us.

(more…)

June 19, 2016

PA won the annual Big 33 football game yesterday – forgive the PSU slant with the link but apparently this is the best coverage I can find… (neither of the two major PGH papers had a word on it at the time I wrote this)… even though it looks like Pitt recruits contributed also.  But with three TDs (in only 67 yards) he gets the lion’s share of the publicity.

Our DB Damar Hamlin  did well also.  Pitt had six on the roster compared to PSU’s two.

This is an interesting bit about SYR recruit Joel-El Shaw… apparently he thinks coaching staff’s words don’t carry much weight:

At first, Jo-El Shaw almost balked at the opportunity to represent Pennsylvania in the annual Big 33 Football Classic. It was at the first team-wide practice in April and the Pennsylvania coaches figured Shaw would play fullback since that’s how he’s listed on the roster.

“I told them I was going to go home,” said Shaw, now a Woodland Hills High School alumnus. “I told them, ‘You can go find somebody else, because I ain’t playing fullback.’ ”

To what ought to be no one’s surprise James Conner is still giving back more than he receives…

Conner was honored at a dinner hosted by his oncologist, Dr. Stanley Marks, on Friday night at the Field Club in Fox Chapel.

Not only was Conner honored with the award, which is given annually for the past 30 years to a cancer patient, it was re-named the James Conner Courage Award, Marks said.

“James is the first recipient,” Marks said.

(more…)

June 15, 2016

Here is a detailed and in-depth look at the Panther football program under Pat Narduzzi.  It was written yesterday by Bill Connelly of SB Nation  and is a wealth of historical and present (and future) info about where we have been and the direction he thinks we are going into the 2016 season.

Here is an opening salvo to get your attention:

As fans, we have plenty of funny tendencies. If you raise the stature of our program just enough to break our heart with high-stakes losses, we will resent you for it.

It’s funny (if you’re not a Pitt fan, at least) to look back to the end of the last decade.

Under Dave Wannstedt, Pitt pulled off one of its most significant upsets, in 2007 (taking down WVU in Morgantown to prevent the Mountaineers from advancing to the BCS title game), then went 9-4 and 10-3 over the next two seasons. The Panthers went 8-5 in 2010, giving them 27 wins over a three-year period for the first time since 1981-83.

And Wannstedt resigned under pressure, hated by a large portion of Pitt fans.

But I’ll disagree – unless he thinks I am the only Pitt fan whose opinion matters I don’t think Pitt fans hated Wannstedt at all.  It was more like they were so disappointed with all the crap that went on back in 2010 and his inability to outright win a BCS bowl bid in his six years as head coach that any sort of a change was a relief.

But let’s not put binders on as this writer has – there were a hell of a lot of Pitt fans that didn’t want to see DW go at all.

Aside from that this is a fantastic read.  It is a breath of fresh air to read someone state the true comparisons between Chryst’s time at Pitt and Pat Narduzzi’s first year.  We fans are infused with a lot of Narduzzi’s energy and exuberance so we look at last season with an overly positive view.

(more…)

June 12, 2016

Surfing the message boards I saw the following on Rivals.com.  It is an interesting article put out by SB Nation’s Football Study Hall regarding HC Pat Narduzzi’s defensive schemes at Pitt.

This is the lead into the article and I think he hits the nail right on the head regarding our pass defense:

“The most difficult positions to fill in the Narduzzi secondary are probably the boundary corner, free safety, field corner, strong safety, and star LB (space-backer) in that order.

The latter two positions of strong safety and star are the tip of the spear for this defense, these guys are set to up make plays and put pressure on the offense, which is what defines this scheme. Their aggression and freedom isn’t possible without the play of the former three defenders who have to establish the “no-fly zone” so that the strong safety and star can spend their time hunting down running backs.

As it happens, the Panthers are returning their boundary corner Avonte Maddox, free safety Terrish Webb, and strong safety Jordan Whitehead but are looking for players to step up at field corner and space-backer.”

Well, most likely that field cornerback will be true FR Damar Hamlin after the dust settles during fall camp.  At least that is what the pundits (and myself I suppose) think.  He’s highly rated at 4*s and had offers from across the country.  If we are looking for another, or different, newcomer to take that spot then 4* FR George Hill could fit the bill also.  We discuss him a lot on here, our mysterious commenter Pitt of Dreams can’t envision him anywhere but at running back. However, needs must and if the staff wants him there they will put him there.

(more…)

June 9, 2016

(Here is the last of a three part series on recruiting the prospective college players.  We left off yesterday talking about recruits and football camps… and greyshirts, etc…)

Rivals.com Chris Peak just wrote about the Pitt “Senior Elite” camp that we held last Sunday… here is an excerpt:

The Pitt coaches had positive feedback for all three local linebackers, as they did for Canton (Oh.) McKinley’s Kadeem Trotter, who was as impressive as any of them. The same goes for Buffalo (NY) Bennett’s Isaiah McDuffie, who is committed to Boston College (and was previously committed to Syracuse). And there were a few more who stood out, but I think you’re getting the picture: the linebackers were pretty good, and there are probably a few in that group who could be offer-worthy.

So here we have a recruit at our camp, Isaiah McDuffie, who has already committed to two different schools yet he’s paying his own way to attend a camp where he wants to get noticed by yet another school.  This is how it’s done these days.

A lot of fans and a ton of schools want the NCAA to adopt an ‘early signing’ policy in football like they do in basketball.  Last year the Conference Commissioners addressed the issue and punted it to at least this summer.  The gist of the proposal is that the schools would have the ability to have recruits sign an LOI as early as December of the recruiting year so they can ‘lock down‘ the kids they really need.

Is it a good thing?  Here is a great overview done by SB Nation in June 2015 that lays the details out well.

“College football’s National Signing Day is a February tradition. That’s the day recruits sign pledges to universities and commitments finally become official.

The Collegiate Commissioners Association is voting this week on a proposal that would create another three-day signing window, giving high school athletes the opportunity to sign prior to February. It’s expected to happen at some point — an early period could go into effect this year, from Dec. 16 to 18 [Update: the decision’s been “tabled,” so no early period for 2015] — and there wouldn’t be a limit on the number of recruits a school could sign during the early period.

Football has been one of the few college sports without an early signing period, joined only by soccer and water polo. Basketball’s early signing period has been considered a major success, because colleges do not have to continually recruit committed prospects once they’ve signed.”

(more…)

June 8, 2016

(Yesterday we had Part 1 of this recruiting article where we addressed a couple of pertinent question about the business.  This Part 2 continues that and we’ll have Part 3 on Thursday to wrap up…)

3.  Is it only the players who have to be convinced to go to a certain school?

The answer to this is a resounding no!  Every Pitt player’s family, mostly parents, I have talked to said that the coaching staffs probably spent as much time selling their school to the family and recruit’s HS coach as they did with the recruits themselves.

After all that is why they do “in-home” visits.  On those trips the staff doesn’t necessarily need or want to talk to the recruit so much as have the family hear them talking to the recruit.  A good recruiter will have already had many, many conversations with the player before an at-home visit. Walking into the home itself is when showtime begins.

Here is an interesting website that covers recruiting from a family point of view.  Covering in-home visits the author, a past college football staff coach says this:

(more…)

June 7, 2016

After I posted the podcast Saturday, and we since we have had our discussions about where Hill and Pugh should play, I started wondering more about the more human parts of college football recruiting.

We all pretty much know the NCAA rules and regulations behind the recruiting process with the official and non-official visits, verbal commitments, dead and quiet periods, Letter Of Intent day(LOI), etc…  But I began to scratch my head and ponder just what a head coach and recruiting staff really look for in recruits.

I have a good friend here in Maryland who is a legendary head coach in Maryland (Baltimore) High School football, Roger Wrenn.  He was in the football coaching profession for 43 years and retired with 14 city championships to his credit.

One thing to understand about Coach Wrenn’s position in high school ball here in Maryland is that Baltimore County football is taken as seriously here as WPIAL football is in PA.  Way above what the PGH City League is like in fact and national reputation.

I’ve talked with Coach Wrenn extensively on the subject of recruiting and he firmly maintains that the ‘best’ college HCs look at raw talent and character combined first.

(more…)

June 2, 2016

We’ll take a lead for some of the discussions of the last week or so and discuss the Pitt QB situation, both present, future and some past.  I said in a comment “Its been a long time since Pitt had a star QB” and it truly has – certainly none in the last decade and that’s an eternity in college ball when rosters and starting lineups changes regularly.

Top 10 QB Commitments Since 2010

2016: Thomas MacVittie: Only 1 interception in 211 attempts his SR HS season

2015: Ben DiNucci: Redshirted this season as a freshman; Alex Hornibrook: Verbally committed to Pitt, signed with Wisconsin

2014: Adam Bertke: Redshirt freshman, never played, transferred out; Wade Freebeck: Verbally committed to Pitt, signed with Vanderbilt

2013: Tra’Von Chapman: Attended spring drills, dismissed after criminal charges, backup at Akron

2012: Chad Voytik: Started in 2014, lost starting job and transferred to Arkansas State

2011: Trey Anderson: Didn’t join team until second week of fall camp, graduated from Pitt as a career backup

2010: Anthony Gonzalez: Played a few snaps at quarterback, two-year starter at linebacker; Mark Myers: Transferred as a rsJR to John Carroll College

Man – that transfer record is brutal especially when there weren’t any star QBs in front of all those kids who transferred out before they had a chance to show what they could do after a couple year in the program.

(more…)

May 31, 2016

One of the more intriguing and anticipated recruits who will land on the Southside in early August is George Hill.  He is a 6’0″ 205# ATH and has earned his bona fides on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

There is a real benefit in recruiting high school football players who are listed as “ATH” (labeled as such for an unspecified position he would play in college ball).  Foremost it implies the kid is so good he can play multiple positions well which is always a good thing.

(more…)

May 26, 2016

Here is the Doctor who also worked very hard to help James in his battle.  Thank You!!

So – A few days then the medicinal entry port comes out of Conner’s chest… then however many days it takes to heal and we are back to full contact for the fall camp.

Note especially here that Conner didn’t want any special treatment as a patient.  That is he wanted to be in the cancer ward with every other patient and did what he could do to make the world a better place for them, and I’m sure their families.  His initial diagnosis wasn’t good, the cancer was very large according to his Dr. and yet he was joyful and, at least publicly, calm every day.

I’d like to take a second and mention someone who most fans don’t know.  Mike Gallagher from Erie, PA is much like a surrogate father to Conner.  He himself has had multiple physical problems that stemmed from a sideline hit in a college game he was covering for his local  newspaper… so he was a great role model and support – as was Gallagher’s family I’m sure – during this entire process.

Mike Gallagher and James Conner are two of sports success stories and I’ll say a big Thank You! to Mike also for all he has done, not just for James, but anyone he has come in contact with. I met Mike last fall and he and I had a long conversation about many things – not all Conner or football related. With guys like Mike involved, even if just on the outskirts, of Pitt’s football program we are in great shape.

One last Conner bit:

Anyone who has watched the sun set over Lake Erie can attest to its beauty.

Two years ago, 15-year-old Meghan Gallagher couldn’t see it from her hospital room at UPMC Hamot, where she spent three weeks getting treatment for a kidney ailment.  And that bothered her friend, James Conner.

During one of his regular after-school visits, Conner decided to do something about it. He knew how much Meghan loved going to the beach and watching the sun set with her father Michael. So he picked Meghan out of a hospital bed, cradled her in his massive arms and set her down in front of a window.

“The sunset relaxed her mind,” Conner said.

Kind of says it all…

Two days ago the Trib had another Chris Peak Podcast, this time with Ken Laird, and they start out talking about the Pitt-Penn State game’s kickoff at noon on Sept 10th and the accompanying bitching done by Pitt fans. This is a good listen to have on at work in any event:

I’ll say now, and fans may not like it, that the Pitt-Penn State game is important to the state of PA but other than that – and for the rest of the nation – the game is like any other.

It certainly wasn’t like that in the past.  Back when both teams were at the top of the ranking regularly this match-up was an event. Now however we are two programs that college football fans have a short memory about.

Jerry DiPaola has an fun blog about the complains regarding the noon start.

Here we have an example of what I do when I’m bored.  I was thinking about Pitt’s history, uniforms, Pitt-PSU and all the previous doings of Pitt football that we like to discuss on here and came up with the novel idea of … talking about recruiting.

With the above discussions by Peak and Laird about the departures of players and the numbers game to get down from the current 87 (with recruits coming in) roster players down to the mandated 85 bodies I wonder not only who the next two guys to go are, but also, as they discussed in the podcast, which players from the ’16 recruiting class will be prepping at a secondary high school (like Fitzgerald, McCoy and Dion Lewis did) or will be taking a greyshirt.

(more…)

May 22, 2016

I was trying to decide what I wanted to put up on a rainy Sunday afternoon (at least rainy here in MD) and saw a great Sports Illustrated article written in Oct 1962 by a previous Pitt Chancellor, Dr. Edward Litchfield, about the national debate if Grant-In Aids (athletic scholarships) were a good thing to have on college campuses.

This intro below is a personal bit about why this article strikes my fancy.  The article itself is the other audio bar.

Here is the body of the article – excuse the small mistakes if you will, I’m not a professional at this.  I especially like the contrasts between Litchfield’s descriptions of Pitt athletics then and today’s state of college football.  There are some great points made here – especially some timeless ones that hold true today.

Hope you enjoy it!

“Camel Driver” – try putting that on a kid today!  I also love that we stole almost a whole opposing team –

Far back in 1903, for example, out-university felt mortified to have been defeated two straight years by the football team of little Geneva College. Football in those days seldom made much money at the box office but many colleges recruited passionately, simply because they found defeat unbearable. In the wake of our losses to Geneva, corrective action was deemed imperative and there seemed only one surefire way of seeing to it that we beat Geneva the next year. We took it.

We lured to our campus most of the Geneva players and the following season, 1904, defeated Geneva 30-0. During the balance of the decade Pitt football teams lost only 13 of 71 games. Now what sort of boys were they, do you suppose, that could be proselyted so frivolously? Because many of them have passed on, we were able to trace only 17. Of that number, four were physicians, five dentists, two attorneys and one a Ph.D.

(more…)

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