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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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October 29, 2014

That’s right. ACC basketball media day is today. Coach Jamie Dixon, James Robinson and Cameron Wright are down in Charlotte for the day.

The ACC is doing interviews and taking fan questions on Twitter with the hashtag #ACCTakeover . I don’t see any problems when UNC Coach Roy Williams gets his turn. What could go wrong?

There will be coverage on ESPNU and on ESPN3.com all day today.

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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 3, 2014

Pitt Lands Jordan Whitehead

Filed under: Chryst,Football,Recruiting — Justin @ 1:53 pm

Pitt just landed what is at worst the second biggest commitment of the Chryst era in Jordan Whitehead. The four star cornerback from Central Valley (Monaca) chose Pitt over Ohio State, Penn State, and West Virginia. Whitehead is rumored to will be enrolling in January and could push for a starting position as a freshman. Also important is that Whitehead ends the run of bad luck in Beaver County for Pitt.

Celebrate the victory today and hope for another tomorrow, Pitt fans.

*Quick edit, the early enroll isn’t a rumor now, it’s confirmed.

September 23, 2014

(Note:  For some time I’ve been wanting to do a separate piece on Chad Voytik, his recruitment and what he was like in the camps and practices leading up to his winning the starting job.  This is that article and I’ll remind readers that if what I write isn’t a solid fact like a statistic or a direct quote then it is my opinion.   That said, here are Voytik’s current statistics:  He has started all four games and has a 3-1 record; He’s passed 48 completions in 79 attempts (60.8%) for 534 total yards and 133.5 ypg along with 5 TDs & 3 INTs for a 130.83 QB efficiency rating.)

 Now is the time, with four games into the 2014 regular season behind us, that we should take a minute to review the question marks we had going into this year and we all felt that QB play was the biggest of those.  Let’s look at the background and history that brought Voytik to his starting position at PITT and while we do that let’s also remember that Voytik has been in the program for over two years and is a first year starter at QB.

After attending some of the 2012 spring practices, and watching Voytik in practices and scrimmages since then, I’ve paid close attention to his play and skills because it wasn’t too hard to figure out that he would be our starting QB  sooner or later.  Sunseri was going into his last season at PITT back in ’12 and we had Trey Anderson as the only other valid QB on the roster for ’13.  Tom Savage wasn’t on PITT’s radar screen yet so the field was open for Voytik to fleet to being a rsFR starter in ‘13.

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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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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 3, 2014

Honors And More O-Line

Filed under: Football,Players,Recruiting — Chas @ 7:15 am

He only played in the first 21 minutes of the game, but it was enough for James Conner to be named the ACC Offensive Player of the Week. 14 carries for 153 yards and 4 TDs will do that. Though, I am kind of surprised Tyler Murphy of BC didn’t get it. Or FSU’s Jameis Winston — out of reflex.

I did not know the ACC also did an Offensive Lineman of the week, but that went to senior OG Matt Rotheram. The O-line made sure that Pitt had 0 runs for a loss and there was not a sack of Chad Voytik.

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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 27, 2014

Do you want to know how some of that ACC money is being spent and what dividends we’ll get out of spending it?  Look no further than the growing PITT walk-on program.  Walk-ons are an interesting breed with interesting rules attached to them.

There are two different types of walk-on players; the preferred walk-on and the regular walk-on.

The Preferred Walk-on is usually contacted by the school because they want the kid on standby for whatever reason, maybe because they know a player is leaving school and they want to have the preferred walk-on in place.

But he isn’t offered a scholarship directly out of high school as are regular recruits.  They are given a promise that ‘at some time’ during the kid’s first training camp a spot on the roster will become available in the fall.  Enter the practice of many coaches not inviting back players who are entering their fifth year of eligibility or targeting players they want off the roster for any reason.  Cutting them loose allows those preferred walk-ons’ scholarships to magically appear if the staff wants to offer.

This allows the players a solid opportunity to stay on the roster, practice every day with the team thus staying in the staff’s awareness and also possibly get to travel to away games.  It is a good first step to a scholarship if they can make the grade and prove they are worth the risk.

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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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