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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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November 12, 2014

Mental Health Break

Filed under: Football,Players — Chas @ 8:07 am

From the comments, many of you have checked out on the season. Some have stated or threatened to check out even further than that. Oddly, despite how maddening, frustrating and agonizing the last couple weeks have been I haven’t checked out on this year.

Oh, my expectations/hopes are extremely shallow at this point. And it is probably more about individual stories, performances and that feeling of being unable to turn away from a wreck. Still, I’m feeling connected.

I’ve checked out before. I know the feeling. 2007, definitely checked out early (notwithstanding that final game of the season). Same with 2010. More detached. Les angsty. Much more focus on basketball.

Having said that, I needed a little time after the Duke game.

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November 3, 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.)

I have to start off by saying that because of external family issues; a death of a good friend, my having to set up his Memorial Service ,  having the wake at our home and then having house guests all weekend I didn’t watch the game and I didn’t record it either.

I took a look at the box scores and watched a few video highlights and that’s it – you guys can do the MMQB’ing this week…

POSITIVES

1.  Chad Voytik. That is his second consecutive game that he’s shown improvement in his actual passing production.  From watching a couple videos of his passes it looks like his passing skills are getting better also. 16 of  24 for 236 yards (66.8%) with a ypa of 9.8, which is excellent! And two TDs is a good day at the office for any QB.  Good for him.  He lead the team to 31  regular game points.

On our second TD drive we had to go 32 yards and he did that with only two plays, a 16 yard pass and a 13 yard run.

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October 27, 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.)

We met the enemy and they are us.  After some games this season it has been kind of hard to find three positives to list in this series’ articles.  Today it is virtually impossible.

POSITIVES

1. The holder on our PATs. At least he didn’t fumble the ball.  Seriously.

2.  Our Running Backs. A while ago I mentioned ‘every RB not named James Conner’ in an article. I’ll do that again here. Ibrahim, Bennett and James all had good plays to try to keep us in the game.  Ibrahim (3 carries for 66 yards)  took a handoff down the left sideline for 50 yards to set up a Conner TD; Bennett, although he was one of the now-record breaking PITT fumbling crew, took a beautifully thrown wheel route from Anderson down the right side for a 35 yard TD and Chris James contributed a nice show of yards after the catch on a short dump pass from Voytik that James turned into a 23 yard gain.

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October 23, 2014

Georgia Tech Preview

Filed under: ACC,Chryst,Football,Opponent(s),Players — Justin @ 10:51 am

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are coming to Heinz Field this Saturday in an attempt to continue the craziness that is the ACC Coastal Division this season. Everyone in the division is 2-1, 2-2, or 1-2. That means each team is still within one game of first place. There are scenarios in which the entire division goes 4-4, a cluster%&#@ that would certainly make things interesting. A win this weekend and next will suddenly put Pitt in the driver’s seat to take the division. (more…)

October 18, 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.)

We met the Virginia Tech Hokies on the turf at Heinz Field on a rare nationally televised Thursday night game and came away with a very satisfying 21-16 win.  It was a close game and one that even to most optimistic of PITT fans had to doubts about as the 4th quarter unfolded.  The win puts us at 4-3 on the season with a 2-1 ACC conference record that is just about what we figured we’d have at this point of the season.  It is safe to say that we needed to start the second half of the season with a conference win if we want to have any chance at a Coastal Division championship.

POSITIVES

1.  Our defense, again. When you hold a team, any team, to 26 yards rushing on 21 carries (1.2 ypc) and 2 of 14 on 3rd and 4th down conversion tries you are playing excellent defense.  That is the kind of stout play that results in low scores for the other team (16 points with three FGs) and a win.

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October 12, 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.)

Now that we are in the middle of the 2014 schedule let’s take a moment to look at what we fans have liked or disliked about the staff, team and players after six games have been played.  We stand at 3-3 with a 1-1 record in ACC conference play.  Last week we lost a close one to Virginia Cavaliers on their home field and this coming Thursday evening we play the Virginia Tech Hokies at Heinz Field.  It is safe to say that we need to start the second half of the season with a conference win if we want to have any chance at a Coastal Division championship.

POSITIVES

1.  Our defense. Yes, we have given up some big plays and yes, we have allowed the other team to score more points than us in three games but there were a lot of factors that went into that.  One factor that stood out and pretty much crippled us in our recent three games losing streak was our crap offense (see “Negatives #1″ below).

But we are holding our own on defense this season and while it doesn’t seem like it at times it’s true.  Granted we stumbled a bit against Akron when we let a team not know for its run game tear up the field but that was mainly due to a couple of long runs through pretty poor arm tackle and angle taking attempts.

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October 9, 2014

Historical PITT QB Ratings

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s),Players — Reed @ 7:52 pm

(Before any statisticians or math majors get excited and start ripping this apart please realize this is done for fun and researched as well as I could with the internet resources available.)

Last week we put up an article titled Past PITT QBs’ Ground Games exploring how well PITT’s recent quarterback’s could run when they actually tucked in the ball and tried to get positive yardage.  We did that because at present we are having a lively discussion of PITT’s current QB, Chad Voytik, and his strengths and weakness in the position.  I think it’s safe to say that we all recognize that running the ball is perhaps the greatest strength he has at this point.

In writing that article and looking back over the numerous and lengthy debates we have had on here about how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ a QB was for us I wondered that because  it is so subjective an issue there must be a way to at least compare QBs in a somewhat standard way.

To start I chose to go back to Alex Van Pelt, because he was so good for us, then to Rod Rutherford and all our major starters since then; Tyler Palko, Bill Stull, Tino Sunseri and now Chad Voytik.  I  included Tom Savage in the initial comparisons even though he had a short one season stint with us.

The first thing I had to address was exactly how to show the QB’s side by side measurements.  We have all seen the “QB Rating” numbers at the end of a player’s box score after the game but do we really know what that means? I didn’t realize there was more than one way of numerically rating a QB’s performance, but there is.

Background of the Ratings
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October 6, 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.)

These MMQB articles are getting harder and harder to write given the inconsistencies of our coaching staff’s decisions, our team’s efforts and our individual player’s success’ and failures, even from play to play sometimes.  I’m still not sure exactly what caliber of PITT football team we have this season.   I’ll put down some more personal opinions at the end of this article.

POSITIVES

1.  Todd Thomas’ play at OLB on defense. He came rigged to play last night and ended up with 12 total tackles; seven unassisted, five assisted with one tackle for loss, most of which seemed to come in crucial situations. He was all over the field and at least two of his tackles stopped important 3rd down conversion attempts.  There is a lot of fan discussion this morning about how DC House is substituting for Thomas in certain situations, most specifically passing downs and against the spread formations we have seen in some past games.

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October 1, 2014

Past PITT QBs’ Ground Games

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s),Players — Reed @ 3:00 am

(Note: “Fun with Stats!” again – there maybe some small math errors and lapses in info from RR’s years but this is a pretty accurate take on this subject.)

We have spent a good amount of time discussing Chad Voytik’s short career as a starter with both articles and hundreds of reader’s comments. We have talked about his past, his time since coming to PITT, his winning the starting job and his performance in that position through the first five games of this 2014 season.

What has been one common thread in those discussions is Voytik’s ability to move well with the football.  That includes called rollouts on passing plays, called running plays where he is the primary ball carrier and scrambles away from the defensive line pressure.

His box score with ‘ball in hand’ is as follows:

Opponent Rush Attempts Yards YPC Long TDs
Delaware 2 11 5.5 7 0
BC 6 47 7.8 23 0
FIU 12 144 9.5 40 1
Iowa 5 6 1.2 15 0
Akron 8 7 0.9 15 0

So on the season, adding back the sack yardage (-38 yards) which comes off the top of his rushing totals, he’s has 33 carries for 253 yards at a 7.66 ypc clip with a long of 40 and one TD.

QB Games Played Rush Attempts Yards YPC YPG TDs
Voytik 5 28 253 9.0 50.6 1

Now that is his production when he has the ball in his hand and makes a positive move to pick up yards on the ground, and is what I consider a basis when talking about a QBs running ability His stats in this are very good.  He accounts for almost 20% of PITT’s 1,347 yards rushing total to date.

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