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August 28, 2014

Blue Hens In-Depth

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s),Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 6:02 am

Here’s a bit more background on our first opponent of the 2014 season… the DELAWARE BLUE HENS!!!!

Delaware is a  member of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) which is made up of smaller schools located on the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts to South Carolina.  Included in that list is William and Mary who PITT used to play sometimes back when I was in school in the mid-‘70s.  Great campus there BTW – right in Colonial Williamsburg.

As stated earlier PITT is 9-0 against teams in the CAA so we really shouldn’t have much of a problem with Delaware, but one never knows.  According to the Blue Hens ESPN site the football team went 7-5 on the season and 4-4 in conference.   In their only out of conference ‘big’ game they were beaten by the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy (Navy) 51-7.  Navy was 9-4 last season so factor that in I guess.

Here are last season’s statistics breaking down the details of the season.  It looks like they could run the ball well with a 4.8 ypc and their passing game was impressive with a 62% completion rate, 240 ypg and 27 TDs.  Their starting QB, SR Trent Hurley, played in 10 games last year, completed 64% of his passes for 2207 yds and had 22 TDs to seven INTs.  He also ran the ball 62 times and if you deduct the sack yardage against him he ran for 4.3 ypc which isn’t bad.  It’s something for the defense to think about anyway.

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August 25, 2014

Game One Preview: Delaware

Filed under: Football,Media,Opponent(s),Players — Reed @ 4:20 pm

Get your game faces on, it’s almost show time!!  Saturday we host the Blue Hens of Delaware at Heinz Field for the opening game of our 2014 season. Yeah Us!!

Here is the PITT SID’s office’s overview of the match-up.  Here are the much more detailed “PITT vs. Delaware Game Notes” that are distributed by that office to the local and visiting media writers up in the press box.  I find it interesting that we’ve never played them before but then again we have never lost to them before either.  Small blessings.

Pitt is undefeated (9-0) against current members of the CAA, most recently beating Maine, 35-29, in 2011 and New Hampshire, 38-16, in 2010.  I think we’ll easily handle Delaware.  The spread is 27 points and that is doable as I think we’ll run right over them.

Before anyone starts talking about ‘we thought the same thing against YSU‘  let’s remember there are huge differences in the two situations.  With the YSU game Chryst suspended six players including starters Ezell and Gonzalez just hours before the game.  That in itself rocked the team. Combine that disciplinary action with the natural uncertainty the players had about Chryst going into his first game of his first year, especially after they were just burnt so badly by Graham, and you had a perfect storm for a loss.  That isn’t the case at all this week against Delaware.

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August 24, 2014

Now that we are at the halfway mark of Paul Chryst’s contract to be the head football coach at PITT and entering his third season in that position, it is a good point in time to step back and take a semi-detached look at where the football program was, is now and what the future looks like.

There is no real need to get into the details, weeds, swamp or muck about what has transpired at PITT after the 2009 season.  We PITT fans know the history like the back of our hand.  But, for clarity it is important to understand the situation PITT was in, why we were in it and what Chryst stepped into as his first job as a head coach.

The upshot is that when PITT offered Chryst the head job we had just run through four different ‘real’ HCs in the 13 month period after Dave Wannstedt was fired (the slowest firing in the history of football by the way).  Four head coaches in a bit over one year might have been a Guinness World Record.  Granted a couple of those HCs were blips on the radar; Mike Haywood didn’t even have time to buy any PITT gear before he was fired and Todd Graham, he of the “High Octane” offense, lasted one season before he pulled chocks and left in the dead of night. Trey Anderson said it best with this quote “I take a nap for 2 hours; wake up to find out my head coach is gone.”

We can debate forever the wisdom of firing Wannstedt after his run as the most successful coach in the last 25 years.  Then again PITT has a track record of jettisoning and/or not fighting to keep successful head coaches.  The decision making in dealing  with Jackie Sherrill right up through Walt Harris and ending with Dave Wannstedt are examples of PITT’s administration acting in ways some fans don’t understand or agree with.  Whether it isn’t offering a truly competitive salary (Sherrill) or firing for cause including issues external to football itself (Harris and Wannstedt), PITT has danced to the beat of its own drum.

Those decisions angered PITT fans royally when they happened but that antagonism has been tamped down now that we are able to look at them with some distance in our rear view mirror, you know – the rear view mirror you have with the nine national championship mini-trophies dangling from it.

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August 17, 2014

The day’s practice schedule was broken up into warm-up drills, then live full tackle drills, a  scrimmage with the referees calling penalties (and lots of them),  full 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills, finishing up with short yardage situations including red zone plays.  During the punting drills Winslow was getting the ball 40-45 yards downfield consistently and on the two directional punts I watch both went inside the 10 yard line and were downed.

Kevin Weatherspoon was the sole punt returner today as the staff had Boyd only warm-up with some drills early on then sit out the live action parts.  In the kickoff drills Maddox, L. Pitts and Ibrahim were on the receiving end and did OK. Maddox is fast as hell and is turning into a valuable guy for the team this season.   Again, Boyd was our leading KO return man last year and would have been back there this scrimmage also if he wasn’t resting.

Something that jumped out at me during these special team drills is that the kicking and coverage squads were populated mostly with players who are starting at other positions. Apparently Chryst is not screwing around with special teams play this season.

Blewitt was down today with a .500 success rate. He made four FGs, including a 52 yarder and missed four.  Not much to say about that except let’s hope that it was an off day and not the norm for him.

In discussing individual offensive units and players let’s first understand two things;  First  is that a scrimmage is in essence a tryout for the 2nd  and 3rd string positions and secondly,  if the offense doesn’t improve by giant steps in the next 14 days we are going to be some very disappointed fans.  You can point to the old saw that in camp “the defense is always ahead of the offense” but right now that’s an excuse.  What we saw from the sidelines was not pretty and centered on the QB position.

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August 12, 2014

Now that we have finished the Spring Drills and are a third of the way through Fall Training Camp it is about the right time to start wondering, with some intelligence in our folders, about how well the program, the coaching staff and players as a team will do this upcoming season.

Moving back to the East Coast after many overseas duty stations I started following PITT football closely again with the Walt Harris firing and Dave Wannstedt hiring as I agreed with both decisions.  One thing I have noticed over the last decade is that a lot of PITT fans make their season predictions based on emotion, more specifically on whether they like or dislike certain people in certain positions in the program.

A great example of this is those who couldn’t stand the “Slingin’ Sicilian” felt strongly that he’d never lead the team to a strong winning season, and with that they were pretty much on the mark as he always seemed to muddle through each year.  Along with that, fans who don’t agree with the Paul Chryst hire can’t see him coaching the team to an ACC championship; those who hate the Matt House hire as DC can’t see him ever molding our defense into a game winning unit, fans who think we can’t replace a superstar player like  Aaron Donald feel that whoever tries will fall way short of the level at which Donald played, and on and on and on…

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August 10, 2014

Earlier we discussed the overall feel and looks of the offensive players, staff and program at the first full pads practice.  Now I’ll try to give you my impressions of the defensive side of the ball.

I always think it’s a bit crazy to say “The Xs are ahead of the Ys so far” because in limited time, and watching from ground level, it is hard to make that call so I won’t do that.  What I will do is address the separate units and some specific players’ production and results, and make some opinionated predictions.

Defensive Ends – I paid more attention to the DEs than the interior DL during this practice, mostly because the idea of moving Conner over to fill in any talent gap we may have there is in rampant discussion.  My feeling now is that we might be fine at that position as is because I think we have some really good raw talent there.  Dave Durham is Dave Durham and he’ll be no better this season than last; he has a skill ceiling that has been reached.  But the other DEs we have are looking pretty good and that’s encouraging.

The DE two deep yesterday was as follows:  Soto with rsFR Luke MacLean as his back up on one side with Durham and Blair on the other.  At first glance that isn’t murder’s row.  Durham and Soto, who was 2nd string last year, are returning guys with game experience.  The two we lost from DE last year,  Murphy and Lippert are certainly replaceable by even average players and not to be rude but “see you later”.  Soto has moved over to the right side as a starter and it looks like both Luke MacLean and Rori Blair will get early playing time as the 2nd stringers.

They are both very young and not super rated recruits.  MacLean was a 3* and Blair was a 2*. However, if you look back at a couple of our past DEs who played as freshmen; 2* Greg Romeus and 3* Jabaal Sheard, and watched them play you can see how things could work out now.  Both those veterans excelled as soon as they got to PITT and each progressed to being a star DE here. Here’s a taste of how MacLean played in HS.  Also some Rori Blair highlights,  along with his position coach Palermo on Blair’s recruitment.

Let me say this about FR Rori Blair; make no mistake, the only reason he was listed as a 2* recruit was because of the stroke he had  prior to his senior year in high school.  He’s a 6’3” kid who is a solid 230+ pounds; is bull strong and quick as hell. He was impressive during his reps yesterday and I’ll go out on a limb and say he’ll surpass Devon Cook or anyone else to be Durham’s back-up at some point during the season.  I also wouldn’t be shocked if he even bettered that and started at one point.   He’s one of those players who the chatter about his play will keep getting stronger and stronger the more camp and the season progress.

Luke MacLean made some great plays out there also and he’s another DE youngster, a rsFR who checks in at 6’5” and 260 lbs; a readymade monster waiting to be unleashed! What I noticed about him yesterday was his good strength in forcing his way through blocks on one play, then using technique and speed in beating his Offensive Tackle to apply outside pressure on the QB on another.

3* FR Shane Roy is another kid who had us scrambling around to find his name on the roster after he made some fine plays.  He’s another big kid at 6’4” and 245 pounds and I was impressed with his speed off the ball.  He’ll probably redshirt this year but he’ll be a big part of the defense in the future.  So, I really think we’ll see a lot of PT from MacLean and Blair this season along with rsJR Devon Cook getting equal time in the field also.  I’m not down on Cook, I think he’s played well in spots in the past and he’s a pretty good ballplayer but I’m just very impressed with Blair and MacLean.

rsJR Nick Grigsby was getting reps at both LB and DE so he might be one who the staff feels his experience will help at the DE position.   At 6’1” and 220 he’s undersized for DE though and that might be a problem, especially if the coaches want more muscle at the position, but he’s got the speed and tackling ability to be successful also.  His will be an interesting issue to watch. (more…)

August 7, 2014

   As a final Part Four of our preseason review let’s look at how the coaching staff has done so far and what we can expect from those paid by the PITT administration to both prepare the team for competition and then guide it to a winning season.   This is an area of the program that elicits the strongest opinions, both pro and con, from us PITT fans and rightly so.  With our four year track record from 2010 through to the 2014 season, we have been pulled through the wringer with the trials and tribulations of not only the football coaching personalities and their actions but also by some debatable decisions made by the PITT administration.

   I don’t really want to revisit the head coaching hires and departures over the past five years in this article; nor do I want to parse the Athletic Director and the Chancellor’s decision making over that time period.  We all know what a cluster it has been and I’m not sure it has much to do with the current football team and the upcoming season at this point.  That said, we need to focus on the Head Coach and discuss what strength of program Chryst inherited as a new hire and how he has progressed from that point until this training camp.

   My personal opinion is that Paul Chryst has done an admirable job under the circumstances he walked into, with his eyes wide open, at PITT.  If you look back at a lot of D1 new head coaching hire’s first two years won and loss record you’ll see a dip from the previous seasons in a lot of instances.  Chryst has avoided that after inheriting a 6-7 team and then having 6-7 and 7-6 seasons, while at the same time strengthening the program from the inside out.  Perhaps it is small blessings but at least we didn’t slide backward in that transition to Chryst as HC.  He has approached this PITT job with a clear intent to recruit players he wants in his systems while also making sure that he gets kids who can succeed academically and take direction well.

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January 27, 2014

Slight anticipation. Bit of excitement. Hard ticket to get.

Pitt got through their road game with Maryland. Duke throttled Florida State on the road.

Briefly, I’ll get some thoughts from the Maryland game out of the way, first.

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January 25, 2014

Maryland Inside and Out

Filed under: Basketball,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 10:24 am

I’ve written at least once this week, that I don’t think Pitt will look past Maryland. If for no other reason than the amount of friends and family that the players will have at the game. Whether it turns out those players press and try to do too much because of said friends and family are in attendance is something entirely different.

Coach Dixon doesn’t seem to be pushing that warning in public, either. Instead talking about the focus they have shown.

He said one of the things that has impressed him the most about this team is, despite having five new players (four freshman and a transfer) playing large roles, the Panthers have been mature and task-oriented and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

“We have been a very focused group, we have been able to key on the next opponent,” Dixon said.

“I think the guys will be prepared and know what to do, but we have to execute as well. We’re not going to be surprised by things and we should have a better handle on where they are trying to score from and how they are trying to attack us.”

I will be curious about the crowd at College Park. This has been a disappointing season so far, and they aren’t playing one of their old foes one last time before heading to the Big Ten.

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December 25, 2013

Friends, Future and Finales

Filed under: Bowls,Football,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 4:34 pm

From a storyline, perspective this bowl has all three.

Merry Christmas everyone.

I still don’t have a handle on this day. I’m Jewish, which meant Christmas was just a really dull day other than watching NBA games on TV. The wife is Christian, though, so there has been a shift in how I have to treat the day. I’ve been doing Christmas with her family or just her and our kids for 17 years (Holy crap! It really has been that long?). You would think I would have a better approach by now. Yet, I still find myself looking at what movie theaters are open and something else to do. At the very least, I shouldn’t let myself whine about it any longer. Yeesh.

Okay. Time for a media run-through. There’s a bowl game tomorrow evening.

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December 8, 2013

As expected, Pitt is headed to Detroit, Michigan for the Little Caesars Bowl. Their opponent? MAC Champion Bowling Green.

While obviously this isn’t the most exciting bowl game, it’s a bowl game nonetheless.  (more…)

December 3, 2013

Sure they lost to Bucknell, but hey that happens to everyone at some point. They had a decent trip to Brooklyn. Beating St. John’s in OT and losing to Ole Miss by a few. Pat Chambers has done a nice job of trying to build this team. Tim Frazier has come back really well from his injury last year. D.J. Newbill has been outstanding. They have a very talented backcourt — on offense.

Their weaknesses are just as obvious. The defense is lacking. They’ll gamble on steals — as much because they struggle to guard players as by design. Not much of a frontcourt. And they lack depth. Frazier, Newbill and Ross Taylor all are averaging over 33 minutes a game. And this is just 8 games in, with a decent amount of scrub teams on the schedule. Don’t be surprised if Frazier and Newbill are out there for nearly the entire 40 minutes (barring foul trouble). Though, as you would expect, their coach downplays the minutes issue.

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November 30, 2013

Open Thread: City Game 2013

Filed under: Basketball,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 12:27 pm

I kind of miss Ron Everhart. Oh, sure there was a certain level of sleaze on him. But, at least he put together teams who at least challenged Pitt and were not a threat to Pitt’s non-con strength of schedule.

Presently the old Stage Magicians are at 2-2. They lost a game to West Virginia and New Hampshire (from the American East conference and presently 2-3… so, not a good loss).

The game is at 1pm on CBS Sports channel. Hopefully you have it on your tv package.

When you spot a good opponent 14 points and you miss an easy FG, you won’t win many games. Those mistakes gave Miami a 17 point cushion and the final was only a 10 point difference. It’d be infuriating if it wasn’t so common. For some reason, this program likes to start games slow then try to crawl back. Unfortunately, they just aren’t good enough to do that. Maybe in a year or two they will be, but not yet. There were some positives and many negatives, but let’s look at both. (more…)

November 29, 2013

Open Thread: Miami-Pitt

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 11:12 am

If you aren’t a little dazed and groggy this morning — whether by binge eating/drinking or shopping — then you may have done our present iteration of Thanksgiving wrong. Needless to say, I’m keeping it simple this morning. Setting the open thread with media run-through.

It’s going to be cold but sunny. I don’t think the temperatures will make anything but the smallest difference for Miami. Sam Werner made the correct observation in his chat earlier this week.

I don’t think it’s a hard-and-fast rule that all Miami teams play poorly in the cold, since the 2003 ‘Canes came into Heinz Field and beat Pitt in the final game of that season. But I was also in El Paso in 2010 when the Hurricanes came out bundled up like they were venturing out onto the planet Hoth. They got smoked that day. If this Miami team is focused and strong-willed (like that 2003 team), then I don’t think the weather will play a factor. But if they’re mentally checked-out and just waiting for the season to end (like the 2010 team was), the cold is just another reason for them to want Friday’s game to be over.

I don’t think Miami head coach Al Golden is a great coach, but he is a very good one. I think Golden will have Miami ready for this one. At least in the first half. This article goes through most key cold weather games for Miami. Not surprisingly, the cold only seems to be a factor when they lose.

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