masthead.jpg, U3dpdGNo-a25, DIRECT, 14766, RESELLER, 30666, RESELLER, 5d62403b186f2ace, 1117, RESELLER, switchconcepts, RESELLER, switchconceptopenrtb, RESELLER, switchconcepts, RESELLER, 560031, RESELLER, 3160, RESELLER, switch, RESELLER, switchconcepts , RESELLER, 1934627955, RESELLER, switchconcepts, RESELLER, 59, RESELLER, 1356, RESELLER, 96786, RESELLER, fafdf38b16bf6b2b, 180008, RESELLER, 52853, RESELLER, 1058, RESELLER, pub-3515913239267445, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0
September 12, 2012

Anyone remember this?

“I don’t understand it,” Jack Swarbrick said as a new round of conference hopping in college athletics moved into high gear Sunday. “How do you vote as a collegiate president on something that has the potential to provide some benefit for your institution and the conference you’re affiliated with but has a very negative consequence for a host of other members of the academy, as presidents like to call it?

“I’d like to know how much of these discussions are: What’s right? What is the best thing for the larger enterprise, and how many other schools would be adversely impacted?

“I just don’t know that that’s happening.”

Yes, the ND AD complaining about the selfish behavior of Pitt and Syracuse moving to the ACC. He and his institution are so far above such crass things. They would never make a move out of no where without giving their present partners a fair notice. Notre Dame’s president put his money-where-Swarbrick’s-mouth was. Why, Rev. Jenkins even headed up the Big East expansion committee. So you know they wouldn’t act against the best interests of the Big East while helping to make big decisions.

Oh, what’s that?

The University of Notre Dame accepted an invitation today (Sept. 12) to become a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in all sports except football.

That exception for football was even in the sub-headline of the press release, “Football to stay independent but will bring five games annually to ACC.”


August 5, 2012

Ever since the silliness of Notre Dame associating/aligning themselves with the Big 12 died, there have been intermittent reports of a possible alignment of Notre Dame with the ACC.

The ACC members have been vehemently opposed to partial memberships in the past and have had the attitude of “all in” or “not in” but Swofford said today he’s not sure if that is still the case and of course, he wouldn’t say it but others already have – that subject is indeed being considered with respect to Notre Dame. So don’t be shocked if in the near future Notre Dame is an ACC member in all sports except football and has some sort of scheduling agreement to play X-number of ACC schools in football each year.

Now this one.

Speaking of ND. The Irish and the ACC continue to focus on a deal which would allow ND to play 6 games a year against ACC teams in exchange for getting full membership in the ACC in all other sports.

The sticking point would be in basketball. Putting together a schedule for a 15 team league is much tougher than doing it for a 16 team league. Talks will continue.

I’ll give you reason to panic a bit further down, but for now, take a breath.


June 25, 2012

Ah, what is expansiopocolypse without the idea of Notre Dame making a move?

Last week, my favorite Big 12-based “throw-shit-against-the-wall” expansiopocolypse outlet, Chip Brown of’s Orangebloods had his latest. It was the big card: Notre Dame.

Two sources in the Big 12 said Wednesday the possibility of Notre Dame moving its Olympic sports out of the Big East and into the Big 12 is becoming more and more likely.

Speculation is growing among those sources that an announcement could come from South Bend before the end of the summer.

As part of such a move, Notre Dame, which has a contract with NBC to televise its home football games through the 2015 season, would agree to play up to six football games against Big 12 competition (but most likely three or so to start with), sources tell

Notre Dame would maintain its independence in football … for now.

As far as speculative fiction goes, it was something of a doozy.  Reading the piece as a whole you can see it a couple ways.


June 1, 2012

I may do some more on other aspects of the Big 12 meetings, TV deals and such, but I just want to get this portion out there.

The Big 12 has continued to claim that they have no interest in expanding. It has also been noted that the SEC claimed they had no interest in any other teams after taking Texas A&M as the 13th member. Then 3 weeks later Mizzou became the very obvious 14th team they were going to add. So, just because they say it, doesn’t mean it will stay that way beyond the moment they make the claim.

I wonder, though, if the Big 12’s denial of any planned expansion to 12 is driven much the same way that the Big 10 did not expand to 12 teams for 20-some years after taking Penn State as the 11th member: Waiting for Notre Dame.

We mock. We laugh at the thought. It seems like such a bad fit — academically, geography, reputation, and so on. It smacks of more Texas-driven arrogance that they believe they could land Notre Dame. It also smacks of a Texas long-term plan of at least luring ND to park all but football in the Big 12, to eventually become a full member. Or to be the wedge to let Texas go independent in football as well.


November 18, 2009

Nothing like a strong national win, to change Bruce Feldman’s opinion (Insider subs).

I was skeptical about Pittsburgh. Not anymore. I do think it’s one of the country’s best teams. Dave Wannstedt has built a very solid team in all areas, and the Panthers showed that Saturday night against Notre Dame. They have a much-improved QB in Bill Stull, a great RB in Dion Lewis and two playmaking receivers in Jonathan Baldwin and Dorin Dickerson. Plus they have four excellent D-linemen and a capable secondary. That was a very good offense that they bottled up for much of the evening.

As for the Irish, what more can you say at this point about Charlie Weis? His O-line looked overmatched again, and his defense was shaky.

Baldwin got a haircut before the ND game which provided a hook for a couple stories.

Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin showed up for Saturday’s win against Notre Dame sporting a Mohawk haircut. It was a new look for the sophomore off the field, but on the field it was the same old Baldwin, making acrobatic catches for touchdowns and helping to keep drives alive.

“I was sitting in the barber’s chair at Damions in Ambridge paging through the haircut book and I liked the Mohawk cut so I went with it,” Baldwin said. “I just wanted to go out in this game and have a good time in helping us win.”

With the talent on ND, and many of them juniors and seniors it’s no surprise that plenty of scouts were there as well as media. So, you know that Baldwin just rocketed up some boards for 2011.

The new ‘do made Baldwin stand out, but it was the epic performance he delivered in a 27-22 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday night that turned heads all over the country.

NFL scouts in the press box must have been drooling when they watched the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Baldwin make two catches that any great receiver this town has seen — Larry Fitzgerald, Lynn Swann, whoever — would have been proud to call his own.

Notre Dame’s star receiver, Golden Tate, was getting all the publicity heading into the game, which led a reporter to wonder if Baldwin was trying to “make a statement.”

“I don’t get much into that stuff,” he said. “I just go out there and make the plays that are there to be made.”

Pitt made the big plays throughout the game. On the ground and air. Something that ND’s defense has allowed to happen all season.

Didn’t we just see this last week?

The Irish defense, one of the worst in the country giving up plays of 20 yards or more, was true to form. The Panther offense had six plays of at least 20 yards.

Weis calls them “explosives.” Saturday they detonated a desperate bid. Later, they may add to the implosion of a regime.

Pitt generated 429 yards of total offense. Stull wasn’t sacked, and the Panthers didn’t have a turnover.

The puzzling over ND’s struggles keeps falling on the coaching since they have the talent.

Recruiting evaluations over the last five years don’t add up to explain the present situations facing the Notre Dame and Pittsburgh programs.

Both have head coaches that took over in 2005. Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis and Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh had to do some scrambling to put that first class together.

Since then, the Irish have had talent success that hasn’t necessarily translated onto the field.

That first year was the only year that rated the Panthers (38th in the country) ahead of the Irish (40).

Notre Dame has had its classes ranked in the top 10 three times – 2006 (eighth), 2007 (eighth) and 2008 (second). Those years, Pitt was 21st, 26th and 28th, respectively. Last year, Rivals rated Notre Dame 21st and Pittsburgh 47th.

In those five years, the Irish have signed seven five-star recruits while Pitt has landed just one.

But there is always that decided schematic advantage.

Even as Pitt is on the edge of discussions for the BCS bowls, the team is sticking with the “one-game-at-a-time” position.  It makes them a collectively boring quote.

Q: I see a really positive trend in the maturity of this team Paul. I have noticed in this six game win streak, the team has had less penalties. Aside from the absurd 4 or 5 pass interference calls against them in the Syracuse game has this team matured through this year?

ZEISE: Yes, the maturity factor is key to the success. And while there are a lot of signs of it on the field — the lack of penalties, the composure, the lack of panic, the lack of making key mistakes and turnovers — where it really shows up is during the week. This team is all business. A lot of us media types often say this team is one of the most fun Pitt teams to watch in recent history – but one of the most boring to cover. And by boring, I mean, they are focused, they are serious and they don’t say much of anything during the week. It is just all business with this group. They practice hard, they are focused and a couple of the guys who are seniors have set the tone by making it clear that anything less than a Big East championship will be a failure.

Pitt QBs have endeared themselves to fans when they show toughness. Rutherford won over many when he ran over defenders — particularly in a VT game. Palko for knocking over a BC guy. Not only tough plays, but moments that swung the momentum and energy completely to the Pit side of things. Stull didn’t do it like that against ND with the ball and plowing a guy over. Instead, he threw a key block that was big.

Stull’s numbers — 15 of 27 for 236 yards and a touchdown — were rather ordinary. Yet, Stull’s extraordinary lead block helped pave the way for tailback Ray Graham’s dazzling 52-yard run in the third quarter.

Graham scored from the 2-yard line on the next play to give Pitt a 20-3 lead. The margin was too wide for the Irish and their star quarterback Jimmy Clausen to erase.

While Graham’s touchdown and a 152-yard effort by tailback Dion Lewis enabled the Panthers to stretch their record to 9-1, it was Stull’s block that fueled a Pitt engine that seemingly ran on empty much of the first half.

“That was a highlight reel in one run,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. “I’ll have to wait and see (who missed tackles).”

It wasn’t the missed tackles. Rather, it was Stull’s block of Notre Dame strong safety Sergio Brown — a telling blow that energized his teammates and the Pitt fans.

And luckily he didn’t get concussed doing it.

It seems a little early — what with two games left — to declare the promise fulfilled, but it fits with the whole full circle of the ND game now and in 2005.

That was in 2005, Dave Wannstedt’s first game as Pitt’s head coach, a 42-21 loss to the Irish. After the game he said the Panthers would not be able to compete until he rebuilt their lines. He then preached patience because he said rebuilding lines — as well as changing the mentality of a team — took time.

With that in mind he took to the recruiting trail hard in search of offensive and defensive linemen and made several changes in the next two years that he believed would give the Panthers’ lines a chance to develop into dominant units.

Those included moving Greg Gattuso from tight ends coach to defensive line coach after the 2005 season and hiring Tony Wise as the offensive line coach and Buddy Morris as the strength and conditioning coach after the 2007 season.

Fast forward to Saturday night when those same Irish came to Heinz Field to play the Panthers. By the time that game was halfway over this much was clear — Wannstedt has delivered on his promise of rebuilding the Panthers’ offensive and defensive lines into physical and dominant units.

West Virginia next week will be the continuation of another full circle moment regarding the need to “get faster.”

November 16, 2009


Other than a cash cow for ESPN and the author, this is why you wait to write history.

Plenty of copies still available from this 2006 epic. The reviews, were awesome especially this one that links to the Ty Willingham specials.

You will forgive me if I don’t bother with much of the national media which is just working on the autopsy of Charlie Weis. It is the dominant storyline. It is the way it is. It was the big story going into the game and nothing changed.Here’s a fine fact sheet on Weis that was compiled before the loss.

Generally, the Irish fans are almost past caring. He’s done. Just fire his ass. Get a new guy (paging, Brian Kelly) — especially since Gruden seems to be staying in the booth. Weis even canceled his usual Sunday post-game presser for the first time since coming to ND.

ND isn’t going to make it easy to watch the coaching search. They are even blocking the tracking of their private plane.

November 14, 2009

Or is that Link Dump Notre? Notre Link Dump? I feel like I’m leaving something  out. Oh, well. Plenty of stories. No time to hash them. Sort through them yourself.

Q&A with Adam Gunn — McKillop wishes he was playing this weekend.

Apparently Notre Dame likes to pass. This Jimmah’ Clausen appears to be a decent QB. Best Clausen of the bunch — FWIW. It might test the secondary. In fact, the secondary faces its biggest challenge since NC State. Eep.

Any chance ND repeats its 6 trips to the red zone with only 2 scores to show for it? Considering they only came away empty handed 4 times in the prior 8 games, I doubt it.

The magic number is 10. As in top-10 wins for Pitt since 2002. Plus it’s been 10 years since Pitt beat ND in Pittsburgh — I feel even older.

Notre Dame likes to blitz. It is expected. But their defense has continually failed in big games.

For those Pitt fans who think too many older Pitt fans are living in the past of the 70s, it beats hanging the hat on the 60s and wistful memories of Ara Parseghian.

More speculation on Weis surviving at ND. Meanwhile, Coach Wannstedt is sympathetic to Weis’ plight.

Some work on on revisionism and/or trying to figure out how Wannstedt became an NFL punchline. This one’s a tough sell for anyone who is a Dolphin or Bears fan.

Happy, fluffy puff piece on Dorin Dickerson finding his position and success.

Former special teams/DB Pitt player from York, PA now in his first year as a defensive assistant coach at Duquesne.

Everyone’s favorite OC, Frank Cignetti gets the hometown love from the Indiana paper.

November 12, 2009

Now Stagger the Irish

Filed under: Conference,Football,Indies,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 11:34 am

For those of you worried that Coach Wannstedt has been almost too perfect the last few weeks with the team and what he said, breathe easy. The struggles to return a punt instead of having Aaron Smith fair catch everything brought out the silly talk.

Wannstedt said Pitt’s lack of production on punt returns is because of the spread of rugby-style, directional punting throughout college football. The Panthers are averaging 5.3 yards on 15 returns, with a long of 17 yards, using primarily Aaron Smith.

“When there are returns,” Wannstedt said, “they are very short ones.”

Wannstedt, who doubles as Pitt’s special teams coach, noted Notre Dame’s explosive Golden Tate is averaging just 6.5 yards on punt returns. Pitt is allowing only 4.5 yards on punt returns.

Of course it is all because of the punters. Among punt returners (who average more than 1.2 punt returns/game) Aaron Smith is ranked 53d. For the record, Tate got yanked on punt returns in the Navy game which Weis claimed was to save Tate from taking extra hits.

In case you weren’t aware, it’s going to be a big football weekend at Heinz Field.

Weird headline for this story, “Irish anything but a distraction for No. 8 Pitt.” Apparently the idea being that an unranked, non-con game before a bye week and the final two conference games would be something Pitt would overlook. I mean, it’s only on primetime TV and against ND. Now if the theme was the coaching situation and daily drama that is ND football, I might understand the distraction argument.


November 10, 2009

Another First Since…?

Filed under: Conference,Football,Indies,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 12:26 am

The last time Pitt beat Notre Dame in consecutive years? The Mike Gottfried era. Pitt did it in ’86 and ’87. Obviously it has been a while.

There is always drama surrounding Notre Dame. It is the nature of the program. The attention, money and simply it is what the Domers love. It plays into the mindset that everyone pays attention — love or hate.

The drama this year remains the job status of Charlie Weis.

But, regardless, the gnawing question mucking up the background will be: If you have the nation’s third-most efficient passer, two receivers who will likely finish 1-2 in every career receiving category, a future NFL tight end, competent running backs and offensive linemen and you might get a bid for to the Gator Bowl, how are you going to climb higher when the stars aren’t as perfectly aligned?

When Swarbrick broke his short silence early last December, announcing Weis would return for a fifth season, his decision took heavily into account who he thought Weis could become.

Now it’s more about who Weis is. And what Weis has to show immediately is the ability to reverse the trend of eight losses in his last 11 November games. He has to show he’s capable of beating a team that will bring the goal posts down – even if it’s at someone else’s stadium.

He has to show that all this strong, consistent recruiting and evolution from NFL CEO into college coach is going to lead to something special, starting with moving back into the same sentences with, yes, new national bullies TCU, Boise State and Cincinnati.

Part of the issue is that the Irish were outschemed. The Navy coach said as much and a player even agreed causing the coach to smack his own player for the comment.

Navy second-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo probably was quoted in more papers Saturday than he has been in his entire career with the suggestion that, essentially, that the Mids had a decided schematic advantage offensively over ND’s defense.

More specifically, he suggested that the Mids expected Notre Dame would use the same strategy that hamstrung Navy’s offense in 2008, so the Mids’ coaches simply tweaked their offense. And Irish nose tackle Ian Williams, point blank, said ND got outschemed.

“I think that question was presented to Ian and it was also presented to (safety, defensive captain) Kyle McCarthy,” Weis responded Sunday. “And from what I understand, Kyle McCarthy’s answer was quite different. He said it had nothing to do with the scheme.

“So there’s a reason one guy’s a captain and one guy’s not.”

Apparently that reason is that one guy says things that do not make the coach happy.

So, at this point, Weis is demanding “accountability and dependability.” But he’s not pointing fingers or anything.

“There’s going to be plenty of evidence today of guys understanding who was at fault for what situations,” Weis said. “As you know, after a loss, I’m not big on giving up players, ever. That’s not my way. But I think when they watch the tape, there’s going to be plenty of evidence. Don’t sit there and point the finger at anyone other than yourself because here’s what happened on the play.”

Notre Dame indeed must get its mind and its execution right, given a date Saturday at No. 8 Pittsburgh.

“It’s always easy because I always start with me,” Weis said. “But there’s plenty of evidence in this game where these guys are going to feel sick to their stomachs. For the guys that really care, which I think will be most of them, they’re not going to feel very good about what they’re going to see.”

Good to see he’s handling the pressure well. Apparently he sees the role now as spoiler.

Before the possible program-shattering consequences of the loss had time to sink in, Weis was already talking about going to Pittsburgh next Saturday night and “spoiling (the Panthers’ party).”

“It’s like the sacrificial lambs are rolling into town,” Weis said of the trip to Pitt. “We don’t intend to be that.”

From the bravado just a few days ago of controlling BCS destiny, to “spoiling”a party and being considered “sacrificial lambs,” the tune has certainly changed.

It’s still up to Pitt, not to be spoiled.

November 9, 2009

Some Quickies

Filed under: Bowls,Conference,Football,Indies,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 11:00 am

I’m actually happy that GameDay is not coming to Heinz Field this Saturday. There are enough parallels to the 2005 from a storyline perspective to keep piling on.

Here’s what confuses me about the Navy-ND game. Doesn’t the Navy win somewhat help Pitt’s computer numbers, at least right now, since they already beat Navy? Would it have been better for Pitt’s computer numbers if ND had won and then beaten ND?  Is it a wash?

It’s BCS or Meineke for Pitt, by all appearances. The Gator can take ND as long as they are within 2 wins of who they would have to take from the Big East. If you want to assume Pitt beats ND, then WVU but loses to Cinci, then Pitt finishes 10-2. Notre Dame would have to lose their remaining games versus UConn and Stanford to finish 7-5. Even then, the Gator would work like hell to make it happen.

This year the floor is probably 8-4. “Last year our alternatives were mostly teams with seven or eight wins,” Catlett said. “This year, there could be Big East teams available at 10-2. It wouldn’t be impossible to take a 7-5 Notre Dame over a 10-2 Big East team, but it would be difficult.”

Cue outrage and frustration in 3, 2,…

One game at a time. Of course all opponents look vulnerable. This is a very flat year in college football. It’s not like Pitt doesn’t have big weaknesses concerns that could cost them (secondary, kicking).

Notre Dame will be difficult enough. They managed to screw up so much in the redzone, that it is somewhat hard for me to believe that will happen in a second straight game. This is one of those games where they can fall back into total sports cliche mentality: Us against the world, back against the wall, nobody believes in us, we love our coach, etc.

October 29, 2008

Maybe. Maybe not.

We know some change will occur with C.J. Davis taking over at Center and Dom Williams at left guard. After that the rest of the two-deep on the O-line is apparently in potential flux.

Pitt offensive line coach Tony Wise believes Davis will handle the transition seamlessly. Davis already was taking pre-practice snaps with quarterbacks, so he has the mechanics down. The main adjustment will come in making the calls on blocking assignments. Davis not only knows the offensive scheme but occasionally helped Houser in that regard.

Where it could affect the Panthers is in the run game, as Davis was adept at pulling for lead blocks on power plays. But Wise looks at the move as an advantage, considering Davis is one of the team’s most powerful players and will be going head-to-head with Notre Dame 310-pounder Ian Williams.

“Their best player is a nose tackle, so, in some ways, that’s a little bit of a benefit,” Wise said. “C.J. is a little bit more powerful in there. There’s a downside at left guard, but he could possibly be a benefit at center with him being covered by this guy.”

Wise didn’t rule out the possibility that Pitt could make future changes to the starting lineup, hinting that freshman right tackle Lucas Nix could get a long look at left guard as a backup to or replacement for Williams.

The one constant appears to be Davis staying at center.

The fact that Pitt has no real back-up center is just mindblowing. So far, Wannstedt hasn’t recruited any centers beyond Houser last year. Instead, trying to develop one from O-line recruits. An experiment that has failed miserably every year. As witnessed last year when senior Chris Vangas still won the job by default. Before that, Vangas couldn’t beat Joe Villani, who transferred from Bucknell. Do you know who the back-up has been and is (PDF)? Alex Karabin — a redshirt sophomore walk-on and no, he isn’t a center by trade.

Bill Stull may or may not play/start at QB. Here’s my view. I don’t care if he’s medically cleared. He should not play. He took a concussion. Mild or otherwise, it is still a brain bruise. Stull is a bright kid. He wants to play I have no doubt. It’s not his call, and it shouldn’t be. The coaches and the program have a responsibility to the players. Given the present state of Pitt’s O-line and a blitz happy John Tenuta (TAH-NOO-TAH BLITZ!!!!) on the other side, it isn’t worth it for his long term health.

I just don’t know whether Coach Wannstedt means it when he says there may be changes, whether it applies to the the secondary. The beat writers don’t even seem sure of what Wannstedt will actually do.

The other areas that could see changes are in the secondary — which was torched for 371 yards and six touchdowns by Rutgers’ Mike Teel — and at punt returner, where Aaron Berry has struggled and had a costly fumble against the Scarlet Knights.

Reserve cornerbacks Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed likely will get some extended looks in practice this week and split some time with Jovani Chappel. At safety, Elijah Fields might play more than he has had in recent games.

“I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that we’re going to have changes,” Wannstedt said. “But we are evaluating everyone on what we’re doing and who we’re dealing with.”

That promises exactly nothing.

The headline editor at the Trib. either must have freaked out from Wannstedt’s press conference where he seemed to talk a bit too much about ND running the ball against Washington or he decided to freak out Pitt fans with a headline of, “Pitt focused on Irish running game.” The actual article stresses, however the passing aspect of the Irish.

Eric Thatcher has taken a lot of criticism the whole season for his actual play at safety. Much of it deserved. I just don’t see Wannstedt making a move with him. He’s a senior, been a “good soldier” for Wannstedt, and he stands up and takes the responsibility.

What in the heck happened to Pitt’s pass defense? Safety Eric Thatcher tried to figure that out in the film room on Monday.

“We got kind of lackadaisical at the reception point, and they went up and attacked the ball,” Thatcher said. “On some of the routes, we didn’t get our hands on receivers to slow them down. Teel had a ton of time to sit back there and decide who he wanted to throw to, and the secondary, we gave him a ton of options to pick from.”

“I kind of take ownership of what happened because I’m the senior in the secondary,” Thatcher said. “I’ve been around and I know the things we need to do. On Saturday, we just did none of those things.”

“We know that we’ll have a ton of people watching,” Thatcher said. “We want to show people that last week was just a mix-up and that we can cover in that secondary.”

A great guy, but he’s just not good enough on the field.

On the Notre Dame side, they have some minor injury issues.

Weis said senior wide receiver David Grimes, who missed the Washington game because of back spasms, told him Monday he was “100 percent.” Weis said he’d wait until Tuesday’s practice to see how far along the captain has come.

Meanwhile, Weis said sophomore linebacker Brian Smith, who suffered a mild concussion against Washington, will be limited in practice this week but is expected to play against Pittsburgh.

Both are starters.

Charlie Weis thinks Pitt will go with the “circle the wagons” approach.

After posting five consecutive victories, Pitt took a step back last week with a 54-34 home loss to Rutgers. And because of that, Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis believes the Panthers may have an extra edge about them when the two 5-2 teams meet Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I think they’ll take an ‘us against the world’ mentality,” Weis said during his Tuesday meeting with the media.

Can’t hurt. Go with the “no one believes in us” approach. Pin up the Smizik column all over the place.

The legend of LeSean McCoy continues as the South Bend paper puts out the story on McCoy checking his name off a sign at the Georgetown-Pitt game.

A year made a big difference for ND’s offense which could go from dead last in 1-A last year to top-40 or better.

Finally, Rakes of Mallow — an excellent ND football blog — offers a personal view of Dave Wannstedt as a Dolphin fan who grew up in Western PA.

October 17, 2008

This week, as the team gets ready for Navy, the defense has talked of being more aggressive and physical against Navy this year. What we haven’t heard, is how the offense is preparing. Are they going to keep to a similar offensive approach that they had with USF and even against Syracuse? Are they going to keep things mixed up and take shots over the middle and deep? Will Greg Cross see the field?

I don’t know. I do know that if you went to the Zeise chat, it wasn’t reassuring.

JoePa_Fears_Pitt: What’s the over/under for touchdowns scored by Greg Cross this Saturday?

Paul Zeise: 1/2 —- and I am taking the under. I just don’t think coaches are going to use him that much in situations where he can score a touchdown. I am telling you they are very nervous about this game and generally that means — sort of like going into the Bowling Green game — we’re going to see a relatively conservative game plan. I hope I am wrong, but I fear I am not.

Pitt_Script: It seems that the Pitt coaching staff opens up the playbook and doesn’t play conservative when they are underdogs. However, when they are favored, they go in shell and back to their conservative ways. Why is that?

Paul Zeise: That is a great observation and question. I have no idea. I think it is a problem though that when you play teams you should blow out, you leave them in the game because you are so afraid to make mistakes. That’s what happened against Bowling Green, let’s hope there is not a repeat performance.

I hate doing predictions. All I will say is that if Pitt keeps Navy under 30, then Pitt will win. Pitt’s scored 30 or more only once this season. so while there are plenty of weapons on the offense to score it goes against the natural order.

October 16, 2008

The big concern for Navy is getting by without Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada at QB. Navy has won without him, but the offense has struggled to finish with Jarod Bryant at QB. It’s not that he is bad. It’s that Kaipo has been the best QB at Navy to run the triple-option. Ever. The coaches don’t disagree. He makes great reads, is decisive, precise and as Pitt fans know, really good. So anyone that has to take his place afterwards will look bad.

[Navy head coach Ken] Niumatalolo and [offensive coordinator Ivin] Jasper admit that’s a fair assessment and said Bryant needs to get better.

“Jarod isn’t playing bad, but he’s not playing as well as we want him to,” said Jasper, who doubles as the quarterbacks coach. “I’m taking that personally. It’s my job to get him ready.”

Jasper spent a good portion of the bye week addressing the situation. Concerned that perhaps he’s put too much time into being offensive coordinator and not enough as quarterback mentor, Jasper decided to go back to the basics with Bryant.

“Last week, I spent more time on film and the fundamentals just to make sure I’m doing all I can to get that kid ready to play,” Jasper said. “Jarod can be just as good as Kaipo in this offense. It’s my job to make sure he knows what’s coming and has the confidence to trust what he sees.”

So, now we know what the QB and OC did with the bye week. Hopefully Pitt will be ready, because that means just because of what the coaches have seen on tape of Bryant this year, does not mean Pitt will see the same.

“We had a bye week before the Navy game last year, too, and that didn’t help,” McKillop said. “But our mentality is totally different this season. … Any time you have a big victory, that makes it a lot easier.”

The Panthers were on a three-game losing streak when they played Navy last year, but they have won their last four this season. Navy (4-2) has won its last three.

During practice, Wannstedt has emphasized the necessity of remaining disciplined against an opponent that runs on almost every down yet remains difficult to stop. Navy is third among bowl subdivision schools with 1,881 yards rushing and is second at 313.5 yards rushing per game.

“They’re still the same team,” Wannstedt said. “It doesn’t take much for a defense to be out of position a little bit and, all of a sudden, it’s a big play.”

Kaheaku-Enhada has been hurt, but replacement Jarod Bryant ran for 101 yards and a TD and fullback Eric Kettani ran for 75 in a 33-27 win at Air Force on Oct. 4. Navy blocked two punts and returned them for touchdowns.

“They have multiple ways of blocking each play and multiple plays with each offensive formation,” Wannstedt said. “It’s really unique because you follow them during the course of a game, a defense will come out and change their front or slide somebody to take something away, and it’s almost as if they just turn the page and say, “OK, that’s over, let’s go to this.’ There’s nothing that you’re going to do on defense that they haven’t seen before.”

On the flip side, Pitt has a player who is very familiar with the triple-option.

Josh Novotny, a Carmichaels graduate, played for the Midshipmen in the 2005 and ’06 seasons before walking on at Pitt this fall. “He’s an offensive lineman, so he’s talked a little bit about what they do with some of their techniques and schemes and stuff,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “It’s been helpful, just to have somebody who’s been there and been through that. I haven’t had him talk to the team or anything, but he’s talked to our defensive guys enough for them to get a feel.”

Of course, Pitt’s defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has a sense of familiarity to the offense.

Bennett played outside linebacker in the mid-1970s at Texas A&M for Emory Bellard, the man credited with inventing the Wishbone offense. Bennett has vivid memories of avoiding its low blocks and stopping its fullback dives as a player, as well as scheming to simulate the intricacies of the offense as a defensive coordinator.

“It’s a challenge as a coach, a challenge for all of us,” Bennett said. “You’ve almost got to become part of the triple-option cult, to think like they do.”

Bennett has experience doing just that, whether it was facing Oklahoma’s Wishbone or Nebraska’s I-option as defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Kansas State.

So, Bennett has more than an idea of what to expect.

“I’ve always admired his ability to take away what the opposing offense likes to do. Phil tries to make you play left-handed, and he’s good at that,” CBS College Sports Network analyst Trev Alberts said. “That’s the conundrum with Navy. I will tell you, I don’t care who the defensive coordinator is. If the option is executed well, it’s really hard to stop.

“What Phil is great at, is he knows exactly what Navy wants to do. What he’s trying to do is make them uncomfortable, force them to do what they can do but not the No. 1 option. What Navy wants to do is establish the fullback and get to the outside on the pitch.”

Navy’s Flexbone offense, Bennett said, relies on seven basic formations and one personnel grouping that includes three running backs, two receivers and a quarterback at the skill positions. It’s a variation of the Wishbone, adding wrinkles such as four unbalanced formations that force defenses to determine the eligible receivers at the line of scrimmage and distribute the coverage.

“It’s the same-type plays, what they call triple-option — fullback, quarterback, pitch — but they do it from multiple formations,” said Bennett, who credited former Navy coach Paul Johnson, now at Georgia Tech, with adding pass-game twists while at Georgia Southern. “They came up with the idea of spreading the field, so that if you don’t spread with them, they’ll throw the ball. It’s a running version of the run-and-shoot.”

The run-and-shoot gets negative connotations from its days in the NFL. Credit, as much as anything goes to Buddy Ryan for derisively calling it the chuck-and-duck — it was funny and it stuck, but it , there are a lot of similarities — and  direct lineage — between the run-and-shoot and spread. The difference of course, is that the spread actually incorporates the run and direct snaps, far more than the straight run-and-shoot. Still, even the spread has plenty of variations like at Texas Tech. Sorry, I’ve gone completely off on a tangent.

The issue is not that Pitt doesn’t know what’s coming. It’s whether the defense can stop it.

On the other side, Navy has a freshman starting at defensive end — Jabaree Tuani. The first freshman to start on their d-line in 10 years. And this bit may be familiar to everyone. He’s a slightly undersized defensive end with great speed. He’s “only” 6-1 and 242 pounds. There’s more.

Said Navy defensive line coach Dale Pehrson: “He’s a very smart football player, he came from a really good [high school] program, he catches on very quickly. He’s got a long way to go still, but he’s making tremendous strides for a plebe.”

If the second-half performance against the Tigers gave Tuani the confidence that he could play right away on the college level, it was what he did against the Demon Deacons that solidified his spot on the defensive line.

“I knew that he had that in him, but I had no clue that he’d play that well in his first outing [start],” Pehrson said. “That was a big game and for him to handle the mental part the way he did. He had no missed assignments; he just really did a nice job.”

Tuani had six tackles, second on the team, including two for losses. He continued that the following week at Air Force. Tuani led the team with eight solo tackles, tied senior safety Jeff Deliz with a team-high 10 overall and also forced a fumble, one of two he has caused this season.

Tuani’s 22 total tackles this season are the most among Navy’s defensive linemen, and his 4 1/2 tackles for losses and 1 1/2 sacks lead the Midshipmen.

While Pitt doesn’t want to repeat the performance on defense as last year, they do want to replicate the offensive performance.

October 15, 2008

Pitt wasn’t the only team to have to turn things around after a bad start.

Back on Sept. 13, Navy’s chances of earning a sixth straight bowl berth looked questionable. Navy was 1-2 after suffering consecutive road losses to Ball State and Duke, opponents that didn’t garner much preseason respect.

More troublesome was the fact the Midshipmen faced an ominous stretch of three potentially tougher games leading up to the current bye week.

On the horizon was a Rutgers program that had been to three straight bowls, a Wake Forest team that was an early favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and service academy rival Air Force.

The Midshipmen swept those three games. A good rebound for the program under a new coach this year. Right now the new coach is talking up Pitt.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo was asked last week if he watched the Pittsburgh-South Florida game, which was televised nationally on ESPN the previous Thursday.

“Unfortunately, I did,” Niumatalolo said.

”Pitt is a good football team and is going to want revenge from last year,” Niumatalolo said. “We snuck one out against them last year. I’m sure their coaches have been talking about that. That’s not going to happen this year. If we think we’re going to sneak up on them again, we’re in for a rude awakening.”

Part of the reason for the slow start was that starting QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has been bothered by a sore hamstring for a good chunk of the season. His status is still up in the air for the game, but Kaipo killed Pitt last year.

Coach Wannstedt remembers, but saw it differently.

“I remember coming out of that game being disappointed that we spent so much time on their triple option and they really moved the ball and scored points on offense,” Wannstedt said. “They beat us by throwing the ball. That was the most disappointing thing. …

“They put a lot of pressure on you to stop the run and when you least expect it, or in a passing situation, they are a more capable passing team than anyone gives them credit for. So, they’re not just a one-dimensional team, even though everyone would like to think they are. I think we learned that lesson last year.”

Um, yes. They passed for two TDs including one in OT. They were efficient with 9-14 for 166 yards. That said, they could do that because they were killing Pitt running the ball out of the triple option. 331 yards on the ground and 4 rushing TDs — all by different players. They ran the ball 70 times and passed 14. All things being equal, I’d rather take my chances with Navy passing rather than running.

Wannstedt is also worried about running out of time.

Wannstedt said another major issue when dealing with Navy is the new play-clock rules, which have shortened games because it makes it easier for teams to kill time, because the Midshipmen are so good at keeping the ball. He said the Panthers need to execute well on offense and take advantage of every possession they get because they likely won’t get that many opportunities.

“With the new rules, they say there’s anywhere from eight to 10 plays less in a game,” Wannstedt said. “It will be a factor. It’s been a point of emphasis for our offense. They [Navy] play a similar defensive scheme in that they’ll do a little bit of pressure and some things inside but on the back end they’re kind of conservative. They play defense to try and match their offense.

“They make you try to out execute them, knowing that if you make a mistake, you turn it over, you take penalties, you lose a possession, it could come back to cost you a game.”

The defense is vowing not to repeat what happened last year.

“When you look at last year, the game caught us off guard,” Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop said. “We just have to read our keys. It’s going to be physical along both sides of the line of scrimmage.”

Last year, Pitt was criticized for not attacking the Navy offense.

“We have to be aggressive,” McKillop added. “What they want to do is establish the fullback and get him his carries. Last year, he got six, seven yards every time.”

Linebacker Shane Murray didn’t even make the depth chart this week. Seems that partially torn ACL in his right knee is still a problem. Go figure. You can see the full depth chart in Pitt’s game notes (PDF). Here is the Navy game notes.

Want to learn more about some of the nuances of Navy’s attack? The Birddog breaks down Navy’s midline option. Fantastic stuff. Even better is this on the QB reading the defense to decide what to do — which by odd coincidence was written the week before last year’s Navy-Pitt game.

October 7, 2008

The Navy game is more than 10 days away. Of course with a bye week, there’s plenty of time to wonder.

The game will be on CBS Sports channel (formerly CSTV) at 3:30.

Navy is also off this week, so they will have plenty of time to prepare as well.

The Birddog is the Navy blog to check for all your opposition research.

Oh, and this game is Navy’s homecoming game to boot.

Powered by WordPress ©

Site Meter