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January 28, 2015

We have been talking a lot about recruiting lately because, well – because that is what is going on right now and we like what we see. I think it’s been made pretty clear that we Blatherites feel what Narduzzi is doing is exciting and really pro-active as seen in the post  “They Hit the Ground Running”. I really do like what I see happening and I think that is echoed through PITT football fandom.

But at the risk of being a contrarian, and that is just what I’m going to do here, all this talk of Chryst not recruiting defensive players is pretty much either hogwash or selective memory. Here is what he did according to Rivals.com (which I think is the stingiest recruit grading website). Note that the 2012 and 2015 recruits listed are the kids who committed while he was the HC. I also included the “ATH” recruits if they ended up on defense:

2012 – seven total recruits – five on defense w/ four 3*s

2013 - 27 total recruits – nine on defense w/ six 3*s

2014 – 23 total recruits – 12 on defense w/ 10 3*s

2015 – nine total recruits – four on defense w/ one 4* and two 3*s

As stated I like what Narduzzi is doing but looking through the burgeoning hype it does look like he’s pretty much in line with what Chryst did while he was here… so far. 2016’s recruiting class will most probably be a whole different story as far as a new HC’s  2nd year recruiting goes (always better than the 1st fractured class) and I think we’ll see Narduzzi bring in some top shelf guys, depending on how the ’15 season plays out of course.

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January 21, 2015

Now that the football coaching staff is in place, the fans are excited and recruiting is in full bloom let’s take a very early preview of who we may see playing ball out there on the field as starters for us in 2015. Paul Chryst left Pat Narduzzi with a very young roster and a younger but experienced two-deep rotation.  Most of the starters on the 2014 team were FR and SOs and sometimes the lack of experience showed up in pretty dramatic ways.

Here is who we either fielded as starters last season or I assume will fill a starting role in ’15. This is my take on it, we’ll know some more after Spring practices (not too far away) and, of course, it will be firmed up over Fall camp:

OFFENSE

POSITION PLAYER YEAR GROUP in ’15 YRS STARTING
QB Chad Voytik rsJR 1
RB James Conner JR 2
H-Back Jamar Parrish JR 2
WR Tyler Boyd JR 2
WR Dontez Ford (?) rsJR 0
TE J.P. Holtz SR 2
LT Adam Bisnowaty rsJR 1
LG Dorian Johnson JR 1
C Artie Rowell rsSR 1
RG Alex Officer rsSO 1
RT Alex Bookster SO 1

 

That setup is probably pretty much etched in stone with the exception of the WR2 spot, rsSO Jester Weah could get in there for speed and maybe the OL will mix it up a little. We scored 32 PPG last year so the skill positions will be held fast. Our new OC, Jim Chaney, won’t have a rebuilding task ahead of him, but my fear is that he won’t see what is right in front of his face and try to get fancy when non-fancy did just fine for us on offense.

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January 15, 2015

3…2…1… RECRUIT!

Filed under: Coaches,Players,Recruiting — Justin @ 10:06 am

The recruiting dead period is over and coaches can now visit players in person. That makes today the day for Narduzzi and company to start earning their paychecks. As Chas mentioned, recruiting was a huge emphasis when hires were made and hopefully this decision will bear fruit soon. Chancellor Gallagher gave Narduzzi a much larger budget than Paul Chryst to hire assistants and the next several weeks will should justify that.

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January 9, 2015

Since we are undergoing a period of changes in the athletic department and the football program in particular let’s take a look at the players who either won’t be on the roster next season via expiration of their eligibility or by virtue of being pushed ‘into their life’s work’ as the saying goes.

At this point we have no idea how sentimental or ruthless Pat Narduzzi will be when it comes to current players he is inheriting on the roster. We saw the large attrition conducted under Paul Chryst but most of those players who either left on their own (few) or were moved out (many) were mostly the type of players Chryst didn’t want to retain because of character issues or by being negative influences in the locker room.

Chryst supplemented those actions by his recruitment practice of weighing personal qualities equally with the talent and skills the recruits would bring to the team. To me it is hard to judge just how well that balance worked out. Some fans care more about the results on the field rather than any off the field issue that might occur; others feel that the players should be actual student athletes who via their play and behavior reflect positively on the university.

Below is a list of players, with their current year status shown, who will be either gone by eligibility or could be on the chopping block for the 2015 season.  A rsJR listed below will most probably be a 5th year rsSR in the Spring and as such they have that last season of eligibility. Given the rest of the roster and what we think we know about Narduzzi’s preferences in the type of player he wants (i.e. faster defensive kids) who do you think we’ll see unexpectedly gone by the 2015 spring practices.  Those practices will start in mid-March and go until the second week of April so they are only about ten weeks away. 

While we are at it let’s also take a look at which ‘players gone for sure’ guys we think will be the hardest to replace by underclassmen at their positions.  Have fun and please explain your reasoning! 

PLAYERS GONE FOR SURE

Isaac Bennett    RB    SR
LaQuentin Smith   DL    SR
Kevin Weatherspoon  WR    rsSR
Manasseh Garner   WR    rsSR
Matt Rotheram   OL   rsSR
T.J. Clemmings  OL   rsSR
David Durham   DL   rsSR
Anthony Gonzalez  LB   rsSR
Ray Vinopal  DB   rsSR
Todd Thomas  LB   rsSR
Adam Lazenga   FB   rsSR

PLAYERS WHO COULD BE ASKED TO LEAVE  (5th year)

Trey Anderson   QB   rsJR
Ronald Jones   WR    rsJR
Khaynin Mosley-Smith   DL   rsJR
Devin Cook    DL   rsJR
Nicholas Grigsby   LB  rsJR
Lafayette Pitts    DB   rsJR
Ejuan Price    DL   rsJR
Artie Rowell    OL   rsJR
David Murphy    LS   rsJR
Jameel Poteat    RB   SR (transferred in last year & is eligible in ’15)

January 4, 2015

I have a confession to make, with a question to go with it.

Was anyone else laughing when the buzzer went off at the end of the bowl game? Honest to God, I was and my wife couldn’t understand it (and I wasn’t even drinking or taking any Windowpane acid either).  When we went up 31-6 she turned to me and said “I guess you didn’t expect this to happen, did you?”  My reply was that there was no way the game was going to end nicely.  Not that I thought we’d lose, I didn’t, but I was sure there would be drama at the end.

When the Houston QB hit those two long completions in a row, 43 yards and 32 yards down to our 7 yard line at the 4:00 mark I was resigned to it.  Then, when Nick Grigsby grabbed his own balls instead of the football on that second on-side kick I knew we were sunk.  Silly women, she couldn’t believe what happened but we PITT fans weren’t that surprised were we?  Reading the 600+ comments in the game thread I can see that that is true.  There was much anger and some disgust but really, no one was saying ‘I can’t believe this happened‘ because deep in our hearts we knew it could.

That’s why I’m not even parsing the game that was played.  It doesn’t matter who did or didn’t do whatever whenever.  IT JUST WAS.  As PITT fans we ‘get’ that.

And perhaps that was Fate’s way of saying “Boys, it is time for a completely clean slate for 2015“.  The Chancellorship changed, the old AD was shown the door,  the head coaching job turned over and I believe all the staff coaches will be gone this week.  Perhaps in the long run, and especially given our recent four year history, this kick in the nuts loss is the perfect way to make us sit back and clear our own minds as far as being a PITT football fan goes.

I’ve decided not to have any expectations whatsoever with Narduzzi and the new people he’ll bring in.  I firmly believe we have a 50/50 chance of being ‘Same Old PITT” as we do with winning lots of football games.  I’ll take things day to day and will walk the “Show me!” line as the off season goes by and the games begin.  I look at PITT football with tabula rasa; a blank slate to imprint with facts and opinions as things unfold and not before.

Anyway, I had a great time writing and conversing with everyone on here during the ramp up to and then the playing of 2014’s games.  We’ll have just as much fun, hopefully more, starting today for the new 2015 season.

Chin up boys and HTP!

January 1, 2015

As seems to happen regularly with PITT football this last year was one that was neither very satisfying or particularly exciting until the last days of the last week of the last month when the personnel changes began happening. Then things started to roll into developments that we can sink our teeth into on here. Some good, some undecided but that still excites fans.

Let’s start from the New Year of 2014 and look back at the most interesting thing that happened in each month. This will be Part 1 and will encompass January until the end of September and the four games played to that date.

Jan 6th:  Tyler Boyd was named as a Freshman All-American Wide Receiver for the ’13 season. That made sense considering he broke the big receiving records that a past PITT star, Larry Fitzgerald (that never gets old), had set back in 2002. Boyd racked up 85 receptions for 1174 yards and seven TDs in his rookie year, all from the arm of transfer SR QB Tom Savage. Not too many people in Western PA were surprised that Boyd did this since he had been a star at undefeated Clariton HS for the past four years. If you remember, the first thing PITT had to do after Boyd signed his Letter of Intent back in 2013 to was enroll Boyd in a Personal Therapy program to teach him how to accept losing football games. He had six chances to show that he was OK in that area. That was a good thing as in this, his second year, Boyd was a fine all-around player and teammate and has built on that to be a stalwart of the future Panther teams.

Feb 5th: LOI day came and went without any real surprises. We signed almost the expected full class with the exception of QB Wade Freebeck who bagged on us for the Vanderbilt Robber Barons. That left us with one QB in the class in Adam Bertke who looked good in the fall camp. As has been Chryst’s plan, a lot of these true FR saw playing time. On offense the FR who contributed most was RB Chris James who played in all 12 games, had 82 carries for 406 yards (4.9 ypc!) and 4 TDs which is a great first year especially considering he was playing behind our star RB Conner. WR Adonis Jennings got in some games in the 2nd half of the season, held back because of limited time in camp practices due to an injury, and had 6 catches for 55 yards (9.2 ypc). Both those guys, including the redshirted RB Qadree Ollison, who at 6’2” & 220 could fill the FB role later or more likely be the thunder to James’ lightning, will be the nucleus of the skill positions in the future.

But it was on defense where we saw the most impact from this recruiting class. DB Avonte Maddox , a future star for us, played in all 12 games eventually starting five in the latter part of the season. He had 27 total tackles. DB Pat Amara played in nine games starting two and had 18 tackles;. LB Quentin Wirginis played in all the games, mainly on special teams coverage squads and had five tackles. Wirginis has a ton of potential and is a ‘tough kid’ as stated by the staff. I don’t doubt that as I know his father from my professional life (he owns the Gateway Clipper Fleet) and he’s no pushover either. (more…)

December 28, 2014

From Now Onward

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 9:58 am

Alright, we have dissected, diagnosed and disagreed for the past week on Paul Chryst’s tenure as the HC at PITT over the last three years.  We’ll keep doing so I’m sure but the last thread was 400 comments and trying to keep a decent conversation we can all follow with that many is impossible.

So, here is a new thread and what I’d like to see is our opinions and hopes about what Pat Narduzzi will bring to the PITT table given what we know about him, his track record as the DC at MSU and what he is stepping into in a few day at PITT.  What is he getting in terms of player’s talent, experience and potential, perhaps the most important of all considering he’ll almost surely be here at least three years, and what he can do on the recruiting trail from now until LOI Day?

Is the lack of a new AD for perhaps months, maybe even into the spring, going to impact his start here?  Will we really put out the big money for staff?

What do you see our play like in 2015 given our returning starters, our opponents and the fact that we’ll have a new coaching staff (I still think Rudolph goes to Wisconsin after the bowl game).

This will be fun and remember that we save all these comments so when Narduzzi departs in three years to be the DC at YSU we’ll have our opinions to look back on.

December 25, 2014

Our new Head Coach has been hired after what was a short and poorly kept secret search.  The PITT Search Committee floated some misdirection out by leaks here and there but since late last week it was narrowed down to Pat Narduzzi, the ex-defensive Coordinator for Big Ten’s Michigan State and basically no one else.

Love it or hate it,  in my opinion it smacks as same old, same old for PITT’s run of head coaches.  Not that I disagree or even dislike the choice, I’m OK with it actually, but it runs counter to what  PITT’s stated goal was after Chryst left.  That was to open the purses strings and make a “splash hire” by getting a successful guy who had already held a head coaching position in college and who knew how to handle to rigors of both on and off the field requirements of a large university’s football program.

The only variation, and it is a big one, is that the incoming HC won’t have to deal with the previous AD in Steve Pederson.  That right there gives Narduzzi a bump in the right direction.

But in essence it feels like we replicated almost exactly what we did three years ago when we hired Wisconsin’s Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst, taking the gamble that he’d have a successful transition to the Big Job.  A coordinator turned Head Coach who had stronger loyalties for another school other than PITT as we have just seen. Now we are doing it again with Narduzzi so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that times change as the personnel do and that the last three years are bettered under the new HC.

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December 21, 2014

I wanted to let the dust from the recent PITT Football program shakeup settle a bit before I wrote down my thoughts about what transpired.  Since the end of the Miami game I checked out of football and went travelling around for a few weeks so I didn’t get back to looking at anything sports related until last week when I saw that Chryst would (certainly) be the new Wisconsin Head Coach.

Chas has kept up a fantastic running commentary of the breaking news and Justin has done some very interesting opinion pieces so now I’ll send in my two cents.

First off I believe a good thing happened when Chancellor Patrick Gallagher fired Steve Pederson from the Athletic Director position. I’ve said many times on here that it wouldn’t bother me one bit if ‘SP was gone tomorrow’ meaning that I’d probably have a neutral feeling about it.  That isn’t the case now though, it’s a positive feeling and that is due to the circumstances and timing of the events.

I especially like the fact of how the dismissal was timed as it sent a strong message that Gallagher himself would be more involved in the program than his predecessor, Mark Nordenberg, was.

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December 4, 2014

This is the first of a multiple part series on how the 2014 PITT football season unfolded over the last five months.  This first article will address the actual games of the season themselves.

None of us fans were jumping up and down about our final won/loss record after PITT’s 2014 regular season ended last Saturday, even though we did win on an upbeat note. We finished the season 6-6 which replicates our records from 2011, 2012 & 2013.  PITT is nothing if not consistent.

Right now we are waiting to see if the mysterious Bowl selection process will choose us to play in a post-season game.  Chances are we will and that, if it happens, gives us fans a bit more football to look forward to and talk about. Also, and maybe most importantly, it could give us a shot at another 7-6 full season record.

However, right now, just after the regular season finishes, is a good time to cast our eyes and thoughts back to the pre-season, the month of fall training camp, and on through our regular season play to see if what we previously thought and hoped would happen, did happen… or not.

Let’s take a look at what transpired between August 2nd when it all really began to come together for this year’s season and November 29th when we ended the year with a convincing win at Miami.  There are a million things to talk about but I’ll limit the topics to the season, the team and the team’s individual units, the staff and the football program over all.  Let’s look at the season’s games first…

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December 3, 2014

James Conner: ACC Player of the Year

Filed under: ACC,Football,Honors,Players — Justin @ 1:26 pm

It was just announced that Conner has won the ACC Offensive Player of the Year Award. Conner beat Jameis Winston 16-13. Naturally, he’s also the Offensive Player of the Year as well. Conner had a historic season in 2014 which included breaking Tony Dorsett’s record for rushing touchdowns in a season.

Not bad for a guy who was initially recruited as a DE.

December 1, 2014

Monday Morning Quarterbacking, Vol 12

Filed under: Football,Players — Reed @ 9:59 am

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.)

POSITIVES

1.  The Offensive Line. This group has played well all year, especially in the running game. Against Miami it opened up running lanes for Conner and cast allowing our RBs to gain 226 yards at a 4.8 ypc clip. Conner got two TDs for the record and our other RBs, who we have listed in these articles more than once, continued to shine when called on.  Most specifically, SR Bennett and true FR James took over for the ailing Conner (hip pointer against SYR) and combined for 188 yards (5.1 ypc) and a 15 yard TD run.

Running backs don’t get to do that unless the OL in front of them are doing their job correctly and our OL was executing well.  Some of the holes to run through were almost unbelievable especially early on with Conner carrying.  Obviously the staff figured we’d need to power run this game and we did.  The fact that the OL is young with a rookie starting Center means that this group is well poised for 2015 and beyond.  It will be interesting to see how many FR OL will get to play in the bowl game to get them ready for next season.

2.  Our special teams. Most games are won by taking advantage of good starting field positions and making the other guys start with a long field. PITT did that almost perfectly on Saturday.  Tyler Boyd racked up 190 yards on six kickoff returns and that gave up an average starting point of around the 35 yard line.

He had a spectacular and timely 53 yard return right after Miami came within one point at 21-20 after their first drive of the second half.  Having Boyd take that return to the Miami 43 started a five play TD series, in which he also caught a 17 yard pass, gave us the lead needed to win.

Blewitt and Winslow did well also; Blewitt putting out deep kickoffs that either resulted in touchbacks or returns deep in the opponent’s territory averaging 15 yards.  Winslow had four punts of which three were fair caught with two inside the 20 yard line and Miami had zero return yards.  They both made it a lot easier for our defense to function given the poor Miami starting positions..

3.  The rushing defense. Miami had 21 1st downs during the game of which only five were on the ground. They averaged a decent 4.5 ypc but that is a bit deceiving. Their record setting RB Duke Johnson ripped off a 28 yard gain but other than that play Miami had 97 yards on 27 carries (3.5 ypc) which made the Hurricanes turn to the passing game.  Miami had no TDs on the ground either so that is good.  Soto, Mosley-Smith, Durham and Justin Moody, filling in for injured Daryl Render, did a fine job.

NEGATIVES

1.  Our 3rd down defense again. This is the second game in a row where we really have been faltering on stopping our opponents on 3rd  Miami was 8 for18, right around 50% and we should be better. Our defense was weird anyway.  In the 3rd quarter when we were up 28-20 we gave up a sustained 12 play 61 yard series where our pass defense held fast on two consecutive plays; a 2nd & 10 and 3rd & 10 to make them settle for a FG.  Then on their next series we hold them to a quick three and out series.

2.  Soto’s strange outburst and subsequent actions. I’m still not sure exactly went wrong on the field but it seemed like Soto was grossly overreacting to whatever transpired during the play.  Then the angry shoving match between Soto and Thomas didn’t make things any better.  The penalty itself, a 15 yard Unsportsmanlike Conduct call gave Miami a 1st down to our 14 yard line and led directly to a Miami TD.

3.  Not much else really, You guys can add yours.  I thought the survey sent out by the AD was a bit over the top though.

 Ying & Yang

This is a special weekly section dedicated to the quarterback play of Chad Voytik so that we can look specifically at how he’s doing, whether he is progressing or not, and what his impact on the team and games are week to week at this point in the season.

Voytik had a good game distributing the ball when asked to do so, including a nice 40 yard swing pass to Conner out of the backfield.  This was a run-first day and it showed in only 12 pass attempts.  He completed eight of those for 134 yards so he was productive when asked to be, but again, wasn’t called on to do much.

There was a good reason for that other than the rushing game plan and that is Voytik was pretty sick the days before the game and I think that staff wanted to keep things as simple as possible for him.  He played well under trying circumstances.

We’ll do an “End of the Regular Season Wrap” article later to discuss his season but at this point the future looks pretty good at QB, not only going into a bowl game (fingers crossed) but into 2015 also.

November 24, 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.)

POSITIVES

1.  Any RB not named James Conner, again. What a great supporting cast at RB we have. Conner gets a hip pointer and is pulled after tying the ACC TD record and chasing hard after Famous Tony Dorsett’s record and our running game doesn’t skip a beat.  We were up against a Syracuse defense that wasn’t too bad against the run (139 ypg & 30th nationally) and pretty much had our way with the.  True FR Chris James was the lead horse but the other two RBs certainly chipped in when needed.  The box score reads like this:

James: 19-122, 6.4ypc;  Bennett: 11-75, 6,8 ypc;  Ibrahim: 3-23, 7.7 ypc.  When you have three backs that average above  6.4 ypc over the course of 33 carries both the backs and the OL are clicking.

Bennett had a nice 9 yard ramble on a 2nd & 3 yards play that got us a 1st down and led directly to Voytik’s TD pass to Ford to make it 17-0 and an easier game to play. But all three of those guys had very nice running skills and are a mixture of some power, Bennett and James particularly and shiftiness (all three).

We all want Conner healthy and able to set some records of his own against Miami this week but it helps us fans to know that we have some pretty reliable backs behind him.  I thought earlier this season that if Conner had gone down with an injury it would be a loss but we would also have the OL and the RBs to still mount a successful rushing game.  Glad that it didn’t happen for many reason and on is that having Conner behind Voytik has allowed this staff to bring Voytik along slowly and that has paid dividends in the second half of this season.

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November 19, 2014

One of the great things about college football is having friends who also follow it and then debating with them the different points of view about our favorite football program.  We do that like crazy here on the Blather so as a switch from all the negative things we fans have been dealing with when it comes to the program lately let’s sit back and take a look at some past and present team and player comparisons.

A bright spot of the 2014 season is the production of some of our underclass starters on offense.  Boyd is replicating his great ’13 season, Conner has blown up after a pretty darn good true FR year and it looks like Voytik has settled in a bit and could be more productive in 2015.  Next season we should see even more increase in the offense play of these three as a whole.

The thing that jumps out to me first and foremost is how exceedingly productive James Conner has been at Defensive End Running Back. PITT has a great history of running backs especially going back to the 1970’s with Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett. For timely comparison sake let’s go back 10 years and look at the best rushing yardage years of five of PITT’s most productive RBs of that decade with the best production in red.

RB GP Carries Yards YPC CPG YPG TDs
Dorsett 11 370 2150 5.8 33.6 195.5 22
Lewis 13 325 1799 5.5 25.0 138.4 17
Conner* 10/12 250/300 1562/1874 6.2 25.0 156.2 21/25
McCoy 13 308 1488 4.8 23.7 114.5 21
Graham 12 222 1042 4.7 18.5 86.8 11

* – Conner’s projection for the whole 2014 season is in bold italics, assuming no bowl game :(

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November 15, 2014

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. Durand Johnson’s season long suspension.

“Durand will remain in our program and practice,” [Head Coach Jamie] Dixon said. “However, he will not compete in any games this season. While it is disappointing, we will encourage Durand to make the most of this year personally, academically and athletically.”

There was no nebulous “team rules” citation. This appeared very suddenly, as a week ago Johnson was playing big minutes in the final exhibition game. My instinct in a suspension like this, is that it is academically related. That appears to be the likely reason.

It sucks for Durand Johnson. Everyone raves about him as a person and a teammate. He accepted his role as an energy guy coming off the bench. He worked on his defense. There was a strong expectation that he could make a leap coming back from his ACL injury and with more playing time coming his way.

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