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September 15, 2014

(This is a weekly series of articles entitled “Monday Morning Quarterback”.   I will try to post them two days after the football games are played so as to have our wilder emotions under control by then.  It will be my take on the positives and the negatives we saw happen and a chance for commenters to agree or disagree and to add their own thoughts.)

PITT travelled down to hot and humid Miami to play the Florida International University (FIU) Golden Panthers on Saturday and, after some worry-making moments, came out with a win by the score of 42-25. PITT fans, the media and maybe even the players themselves for a bit, went into the day feeling as if this was going to be a cakewalk but it wasn’t.  FIU played a pretty tough game given their lower stature in the FBS division.

POSITIVES

What first comes to mind is that our defense did a good job for the third straight game.  Don’t let the 25 points FIU had fool you, one TD was a long and freaky tipped ball reception that took FIU down to our three yard line and another two points were on a safety.  Other than that we kept FIU from scoring another TD for 40:40 minutes of game time when they scored with 5:49 left to play.  That is some solid defense.

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September 14, 2014

“The Glass is Half Full”

Well, yesterday we saw some things in a PITT football game that I’ve never seen in my lifetime, including one lightning delay of 50 minutes, two 1st quarter fumbles inside the opponents red zone by the same PITT star RB and three combined team safeties resulting in six points.

Two of those things help PITT to dig a hole against FIU that they had to scramble around to get out of. But they did and came out with a 42-19 win which, on the face of it, isn’t that impressive given the opponent’s perceived lack of talent.

But then if you look closer as the game unfolded you see that it was a game that, after that rocky start, PITT had a good handle on. I’ll also disagree that the kids weren’t up for the game or were ‘sleepwalking’ as some say.

Let’s look at what transpired in the 1st quarter.

On PITT’s second series of the game, after the teams swapped punts, we started our own 20 yard line and moved the ball via the air and the ground 74 yards in eight plays, which is 9.3 ypp. Each play gained positive yardage and it was only the Conner fumble at the FIU 6 yard line that stopped us from scoring.  Is that a crappy start to the game?  I don’t think so, the offense clicked very well.

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September 13, 2014

PITT – FIU Predictions

Filed under: Conference,Football,Opponent(s) — Reed @ 6:00 am

It’s that time of week again.  Hours before game time and we fans are ready, willing and nervous to sit for three hours watching PITT football.  Maybe some time when dreams come true we’ll be able to wake up and feel no trepidation whatsoever that PITT will win the day in solid fashion.  But until then we look at these games from every angle possible and, because we are PITT fans, find a chink in the PITT armor that will somehow let a loss shine through.

That’s how we roll.

Even with all that I can’t see a way PITT loses this football game.  I see ways we can be embarrassed by a way too close score or a very sloppily played game that will really make us doubt the team and the program, but a loss – no.  It isn’t even that PITT is so damn strong that there is no way FIU can keep us from moving downfield and scoring points, we can all understand an off day even though things have been steamrolling in that area for us.

Nor is it we get burned for a few stupid blown coverage TDs or have miscommunications in the defense that will allow more points by FIU then they should ever in a million years put up against a FBS team. Hell, we can even handle overconfidence by the kids while they look toward Iowa next week that might make us kneel and pray this afternoon.

No, it is that somehow the tides of fortune will suddenly reverse themselves on a whim and we’ll botch things down in Miami.  You say that can’t happen?  Tell that to the six players that were stupid enough to get caught doing something against the team’s disciplinary policy and found themselves in street clothes against Youngstown State in 2012.  Oh, by the way, what does 48-14 remind you of?  I’m telling you – not only did those games happen but being the PITT fans we are we came to accept the hand of fate involved in those and many other strange losses.

Again, that’s how we roll.

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September 12, 2014

(Note: This is a follow up article to the topic of discussion we all have been having about James Conner playing on defense)

Scarf  In a separate post’s comment section  our long-time commenter Wbb and I have been bandying back and forth about the coaching staff’s experiment of planning to play SO James Conner at Defensive End at certain times this season.   This has been an interesting and contested topic of conversation since the 2014 Spring Practices when the move was semi-formalized and talked about publicly.  We PITT fans will remember that Conner played a few downs on defense during the Bowling Green bowl game where he got in but had no tackles.  Let’s look at where the staff stands on that now and what we might see in the future.

In a nutshell the staff’s intent of having Conner play DE was to insert him on defense during situation specific needs, mostly 3rd down passing plays, where he could use his size (6’2″ & 250 lbs), his speed (4.4) and his strength to rush the QB.  This isn’t that farfetched as Conner played DE very well while at McDowell High School in Erie, PA.  Supposedly he was recruited by PITT to play that DE position, although I don’t believe that.  Just because a recruiting site labels a player “DE” doesn’t mean that’s what he is.

The fact that Conner ran for 1,680 yards and 21 touchdowns on 155 carries, an impressive 10.8 yards per carry, his senior year at McDowell was the factor in Chryst’s decision to place Connor at RB as soon as Conner set foot on campus and to keep him there in the backfield all of last season.   Personally, I think Conner was always targeted to be Chryst’s ‘Big Back’, like those he had at Wisconsin, all along.

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September 11, 2014

On Saturday, September 13th our PITT Panthers will take on the FIU Golden Panthers on their home turf in Miami, FL at FIU Stadium (20K seating).   FIU, a university with 37,475 students, is in Conference USA (CUSA) and has a 1-1 record at this point in the season.  They lost their opener to Bethune-Cookman 14-12 then went on to beat a NEC member school in Wagner University by a score of 34-3.  FIU is coached by an old NFL head coach Ron Turner who took over from Mario Cristobal a year ago.  In Turner’s first season with FIU they posted a 1-11 record and just missed getting into a bowl game.

The Golden Panthers are returning 10 starters on offense and seven on defense. They are coming off a poor 1-11 year in 2013 where their losses were by an average score of 37-10!  Phil Steel’s forecast for them is four wins and eight losses and you can see that they have a way to go to be competitive at this level of college ball.

So far this season FIU looks like a team with two identities, a poor offensive team with a solid defense to go along with it.  On defense they are ranked pretty well nationally with: 6th in Scoring defense (8.5 ppg); 9th in total defense; 17th in passing defense (134.5 ypg) and 26th in rushing defense (91 ypg).  That is some fine defensive play even considering the level of competition they had.

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Looking Ahead

Filed under: ACC,Chryst,Football,Opponent(s) — Justin @ 10:49 am

Pitt is headed south for a matchup with the Golden Panthers of Florida International and as Chas mentioned earlier, there’s not a lot of important information to discuss. FIU is a team in rough shape; they’re one of the worst teams in FBS and have a true freshman starting at QB. To be blunt, if Pitt isn’t comfortably ahead in the 4th quarter it is cause for concern. The goals for the game are 1) health 2) comfortable win and 3) get backups good in-game experience. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Another statistically great game from James Conner would be a boon to his Heisman whispers.

With that said, it feels a bit prudent to look ahead a little. Pitt’s next two BCS opponents, Iowa and Virginia, have key games this week. Iowa plays in-state rival Iowa State and Virginia faces off against the newest ACC member, Louisville (Louavuhl). Thus far, Iowa appears to be a team that is trending lower than expectations and Virginia is exceeding them. (more…)

September 8, 2014

Monday Morning QB

(This is a weekly series of articles entitled “Monday Morning Quarterback”.   I will try to post them two days after the football games are played so as to have our wilder emotions under control by then.  It will be my take on the positives and the negatives we saw happen and a chance for commenters to agree or disagree and to add their own thoughts.)

Coming off a nice win against a fellow ACC member team in Boston College we PITT fans are feeling pretty good right about now.  The only long lasting problem that arose during the game is when Artie Rowell, our Center, went down for the season with a torn ACL.  Other than that it looks and feels like the team will have nothing but positive ramifications of that win.

POSITIVES

The one thing we can all point to is that, unlike sometimes in past season, we soundly beat an opponent where the odds were close and we were playing in their backyard as it were. Yes, the 30-20 score aside we beat the BC squad up and down and bettered them in every phase of the game.  This wasn’t a pushover team either.  They will win more than they lose this season so for me a real positive is that we didn’t feel overconfident coming of a big 62-0 the week before.

Another good thing that happened is that James Conner had two monster games in a row.  Last season he had a singular two game set where he ran for over 100 yards and that was against New Mexico State (119) and then Duke (173).  Other than that he was way less productive during the regular season having done this for yardage: 27, 1, 28, 3, 35, 102, 26, and 22.  Does anyone actually think we’ll see that type of low production again from Conner this year? Not me.

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September 6, 2014

First off, what a fun game to watch!  Things clicked on both offense and defense and mistakes were kept to a minimum.  That is the recipe for winning football games and that is just what we have seen in our two games so far. The fact that last night it happened against a higher caliber team than last week’s opponent is cause for a bit of relief also.

ON OFFENSE

Right off the top of my head I have to acknowledge the fantastic job the offensive line played last night.  They opened up space at the line of scrimmage for Conner to get through so that he could bull his way around in the second level. They protected Voytik very well giving up zero sacks and gave the young QB some time to make decisions on passing plays.

Since an offense is really only made up of two things, running and passing, that good work they did was critical.  Plus they did it with injuries and shuffling of players.  The fact that in their third year Chryst and Hueber have big, talented bodies to plug-n-play on the line shows me all I need to know about Chryst’s OL recruiting.   In just two full recruiting seasons he’s brought in more OL talent than I can remember in a long time.

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September 5, 2014

OK -Here we go!  Seven hours to game time.

You working guys have already started on the liquid lunches to prep yourselves for watching the game on ESPN.  Us unemployed guys just woke up and are starting to get nervous as always before a PITT game.  No one, if they are honest with themselves, can say that they know what this 2014 PITT team is all about and capable of.  Of course, that why they play the games.

So – what do we PITT fans think is going to happen tonight.  How about we take a shot at predicting the final score and how we score our first touchdown.  I’ll go first because no one else can since I’m the one writing this.

PITT – 28  BC – 24; Voytik to Orndoff passing TD.

 

What say you?

 

Anyone watch Pitt the Packers-Seahawks last night? Man, I can’t believe they would risk their biggest playmaker — Tyler Boyd Percy Harvin — on punt kick returns. What were they thinking using a weapon like that in such a risky place? He can run the ball, he’s a receiver. A vital part of their offense and they risk him on special teams. Why, it’s almost like they want to try and use a versatile and talented player in multiple situations to help the team.

There will be an open thread for the game tonight. I’ll be on Twitter as usual. Probably Justin, but you never know when it comes to games and coping with toddlers.

Remember, Pitt isn’t the only one that needs to raise its game after a patsy first game. UMass is a recent leap to D-1, and was picked for dead last in the MAC. They weren’t exactly a real challenge for BC.

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September 4, 2014

Tomorrow our PITT Panther football team travels up to one of the great US cities, Boston, to play the Golden Eagles of Boston College.  BC is an old rival of ours from the Big East days and our matches with them have always been pretty close games.  They compiled a 7-6 record last year (4-4 ACC) and then ended that season in fine fashion by going 4-1 with bigger victories over Virginia Tech, NC State and Maryland before losing a close one up in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse.

As we all know by this point we are coming of a convincing 62-0 drubbing of Delaware that, for me at least, didn’t answer too many of my preseason questions about the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

We last played BC in their home place,  Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, where they play their ballgames, in 2003 and won by 11 points 24-13 and surrounding that ’03 season we won two games against them, both close overtime games, at Heinz Field.   However and overall Chestnut Hill has not been good for us as we have lost games there at a 1 win – 5 loss clip. Ugh.

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September 3, 2014

Enjoy!

While you are at it enjoy this also!

OK – one more a bit lengthier.  Want to know why I though Durham’s penalty was kind of a big deal.  Listen to HCPC at the 1:10 mark talking about senior leadership.

September 1, 2014

Monday Morning QB

(This is the first article in a weekly series of articles entitled “Monday Morning Quarterback”.   I will try to post them two days after the football games are played so as to have our wilder emotions under control by then.  It will be my take on the positives and the negatives we saw happen and a chance for commenters to agree or disagree and to add their own thoughts.)

Two days have passed since our 62-0 victory over Delaware in the 2014 season opening game at Heinz Field.  As all dedicated fans do, let’s take a look at who we think screwed up and who we believe made bonehead decisions.  I’ll start and then the ill-informed masses can comment with their own take on the issue.

Something that concerned me, and I touched on it in the post-game article from yesterday, was the decision making of Chad Voytik.  On the face of it and by just watching him play out there everything was fine and indeed the results were good.  However, when you are playing a FCS opponent and get a big early lead it is also time to work on your weaknesses in addition to scoring more points.

Since I had a chance to see and hear the offensive coaches interacting with him in a couple of camp practices I noticed some things on Saturday that he needs to correct so that he can get the best out of his own talent and out of the talent around him.  Granted it was his first start but that is when the learning curve gets the steepest.

In a nutshell, Voytik was moving out of the pocket too early and throwing away the chance of deeper completions.  A QB can’t really run through his progressions when he’s rolling out because in doing so his field vision is cut in half.  Once that happens he’s then looking at an outlet receiver to get the ball to for any gain of yardage.  He’s cheating himself of the opportunity to get the most reward out of the called passing play and as a young starter he has to learn to maximize those opportunities.  Some of those QB movement plays we saw were called rollouts but on other plays he bagged too soon and, even though he may have completed the passes, he left better openings downfield.  No use having Boyd open on an intermediate route down the left side if Voytik starts rolling out to his right.

We’ll see a lot of called rollouts this season because Voytik  has the legs and level head for that action, but the majority of his pass formations will be either a three or five step drop or will be done out of the shotgun.  That pocket passing is what he needs to feel comfortable doing.   How he becomes comfortable with it is by sticking with the plan even if it is trial by fire and he gets sacked once or twice.

Another thing to consider with this is the need for him to trust that his offensive linemen will be able to counter the initial rush and keep moving outward with their defensive linemen to create a pocket for Voytik to step up into.  That too comes with experience and I think we’ll see it happen as the season progresses.

This isn’t a criticism of Voytik as I’ve been impressed with his play so far but is written to point out that he’s still a bit behind the learning curve as to how Chryst and Rudolph want him to execute plays as their quarterback.

One other thing I‘ll address is the strange and unnecessary penalty on DE Dave Durham after his sack toward the end of the second quarter.  If you watch at the end of this video clip he’s saying something to the QB right before the Ref threw his flag.  Regardless of what instigated the penalty it was a foolish action on his part on a couple of levels.  First is in the scheme of the game itself.  We were only ahead 7-0, had Delaware back on their own 17 yard line and his sack put them on their own two.  Then his penalty took them from what would have been a 3rd down & 35+ yards from the two yard line to a 1st down at the 26.  So, instead of a great shot at a safety or at the least a probable three and out series, we gave them brand new and decent field position and a first down to keep the series alive.

OK – that’s the in-game situation itself.  What really bothered me was the fact that it was a totally unnecessary show of bravado from a guy who is a fifth year senior and who should be showing 360 degree leadership to the youngsters on the team.  As the youngest team in the FBS, and a team that is struggling to become a winning one, we really need senior leadership both in the locker room and on the field.

Remember Ray Vinopal hearing rumblings in the week before the game of some teammates joking about Delaware and taking the game too lightly?  He did what a true leader does – got in their face and showed them the error of their ways.  You think that wake-up call might have been one reason the whole team played like it was a FBS playoff game with no let up by anyone who got onto the field?  That happened because the starters and upperclassmen showed the way with how they comported themselves from the end of the camp to the finish of the game’s 4th quarter.

I get that Durham was happy, especially with the criticism he seems to get from all sides, and that play was a great one.  I also get that it was a bush call for almost nothing untoward but we see PITT players do great things all the time without showboating.  Conner runs for four TDs and celebrates with his teammates while jogging back to the bench; Boyd has amazing catches and stands up and gets with his teammates to celebrate on the way back to the huddle.

This is part and parcel of what Paul Chryst is trying to teach and instill in his younger players, respect for the game and the opponent and he’s depending on the upper classmen to help with that – we hear it all the time from him and that’s a big reason us PITT fans are so happy he’s the HC.  Durham made a mistake and his position coach leveled the verbal shotgun at him on the sidelines.  I’ll bet a dollar we don’t see that behavior from him again even with the other good plays he’ll make this season.  Live and learn and be an example of what a senior is supposed to act.  I know I sound like a prude and I’m really not, and I’m sure Durham is a good leader, like this guy, but I do think that penalty was kind of a big deal.  That said, I thought the gesture was pretty funny but knew he’d get the flag.

I guess I’d have like to see Anderson throw more passes but his nine yard run from our own one yard line and the ensuing 99 yard drive was pretty nice.  BTW, he’ll be the QB we see if Voytik get injured.  The PITT fans wanting Bertke put in if that were to happen are not thinking straight.

Finally, I really can’t think of any more “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” to be done.  The subject of Boyd as a punt returner has been beaten to death and I won’t address it because there really isn’t any pat answer and won’t be until the end of the season IMO (Sorry Dr. Tom).

 

 

August 31, 2014

My Checklist by Paul Chryst

  1. Good, solid play by new QB
  2. No turnovers by said QB
  3. Offensive Line pass blocking
  4. Offensive line run blocking
  5. Positive yardage on every play by running backs
  6. Crisp routes and safe passes
  7. TE involvement
  8. Defensive Line pressure
  9. Linebackers to the ball
  10. Defensive back’s more aggressive play
  11. Deep kickoffs for touchbacks
  12. 2nd and 3rd string playing time
  13. Keep Boyd in on all punts returns regardless of the score  (Memo to self: What was I thinking?)

I took some time before writing this article so that fans could come down from the Saturday imbibing (myself included) and the euphoria associated with a 62-0 score in favor of us good guys.  It was a beautiful day for football, albeit stifling hot, the crowd was enthusiastic and the staff and players were more than ready to start the season.  And so they did in fine fashion with impressive performances across the offensive and defensive boards.  The units did well, the individual players, especially Voytik, Conner, Boyd, Galambos, Mitchell and Durham, did well and the staff used the lopsided score to get almost everyone who has an outside shot of having to play at some point this season some experience.

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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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