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March 18, 2015

In-Between Practice Notes #2

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players — Reed @ 2:37 pm

Pitt Spring Practice #2 is in the books and here are some links and quotes to get the fan blood running.

One common theme we are hearing from the players is that these practice sessions are more “energetic” than the ones under Paul Chryst…  “As a whole, it’s extremely energetic. The way they approach practice, lifting, is different. Not to say that our last staff didn’t bring energy, this is just a whole different level”.  I think that is great although I am a bit wary of too much ‘pumping up’ of players (or workers or students, etc…) in preparation for something because the more you try to infuse that higher level of energy and attention the more susceptible you are of seeming phony and losing your target’s trust.

Let’s hope that things go as planned and the team plays with some extra spring in their step.  At points last year it looked as if they might have been going thru the motions as we were losing the game.  A fresh start all around in the name of the game this year and with it comes new approaches.

DiPaola of the Trib comes in with a nice article on Chad Voytik and then follows it up with a short piece on his blog with “a couple notes”:

After two practices of a scheduled 15-session spring, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has a lot of work to do and decisions to make. Some won’t be finalized until August, and maybe not even then.

But Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth are stepping up as the wide receivers lining up opposite Tyler Boyd with the first team. Don’t read too much into it, but it’s worth noting. “Those are the two guys I have to rely on to free me up out of double coverage,” Boyd said.  At least in the spring.

On defense, coordinator Josh Conklin likes what he has seen from safety Reggie Mitchell and cornerbacks Avonte Maddox, Malik Henderson and Phillipie Motley.
Mitchell, a junior, can play both positions. Henderson is an early-enrollee freshman and Motley was redshirted last year during his freshman season.

Conklin said he was impressed with how three-year starting cornerback Lafayette Pitts, a senior, stayed after practice Tuesday to work with some wide receivers on his footwork at the line of scrimmage.

“Those are the things you want to see from that kid,” Conklin said. “He has a lot of experience. We are challenging him every day to come out and be consistent. The corners can’t hide. What we ask them to do, every rep they have to be on.”
What’s interesting to note is that Jordan Whitehead arrives from Central Valley this summer, and will add to the competition at cornerback. Maybe there actually will be some depth in the secondary.

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Football Scheduling Note

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s) — Reed @ 11:36 am

Hot off the presses…

PITT AND TENNESSEE AGREE TO PLAY HOME-AND-HOME SERIES IN 2021 AND 2022

   PITTSBURGH—Pitt and Tennessee have agreed to a home-and-home football series for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, the schools announced today.  The initial game of the agreement will be played at Tennessee on September 11, 2021. The Panthers will host the Volunteers at Heinz Field on September 10, 2022.  Pitt and Tennessee have played just twice before. The Panthers won both meetings—30-6 in 1980 and 13-3 in 1983—with each of those games taking place at the Vols’ Neyland Stadium.

The 1980 game was memorable for being Pitt’s first encounter with its former head coach, Johnny Majors, who returned home to Tennessee after leading the Panthers to the 1976 national championship. Majors’ former top lieutenant at Pitt, Jackie Sherrill, succeeded him as the Panthers’ head coach. Sherrill’s 1980 squad, considered one of the finest in Pitt history, finished 11-1, including the victory at Tennessee.  NoteJackie Sherrill left PITT for the highest paid contract in college football at Texas A&M. Then came Foge Fazio.

The 1983 game served as the season opener for both teams. Pitt, under the direction of head coach Foge Fazio, defeated the host Volunteers, who were picked by Beano Cook in Sport magazine to win the national title that year. (In response to that prediction, Majors said that Cook, Pitt’s former sports information director, told him “he did it to get back at me for leaving Pittsburgh…Beano likes to kid around and play jokes.”)

BeanoCookPghSkyline

The Panthers’ finished the ’83 campaign with an 8-3-1 record and Fiesta Bowl berth. Tennessee did not win the national championship but did go 9-3, the Vols’ finest mark in 11 years.

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March 17, 2015

Open Thread: Opening NIT, GW-Pitt

Filed under: Basketball,Open Thread — Chas @ 1:38 pm

7pm on ESPN tonight.

I’m assuming the hashtag #NITerrific will be in effect tonight on Twitter. Hopefully only with humor, cynicism and a touch sarcasm; but not bitterness. It’s fine line between being willing to poke fun at your own team and self-loathing/hatred.

GW was never a serious threat to make the NCAA Tournament, but they had a solid season. Big wins over Wichita State (and even, Hawai’i dammit) to win the Diamond Head Classic. Wins over NCAA Tournament teams Dayton and Rhode Island in the A-10.

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March 16, 2015

A Solid Addition For 2016

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:15 pm

For all the frustration of this past season. For all the questions about Pitt’s recruiting. It is easy to forget that the 2015 and now 2016 class looks pretty good.

Damon Wilson is a 4-star point guard that Pitt needs. I’m probably more optimistic about Rozelle Nix than others. Probably more than I should since the last good JUCO addition was Jermaine Dixon, and it has been nothing but whiffs since. There is still hope that Cheick Diallo chooses Pitt — which would change a lot of things.

Meanwhile the 2016 class remains anchored by Mustapha Heron. One of the top recruits nationally, and he has remained firmly with Pitt even with Assistant Coach Barry Rohhrsen going to Kentucky. Maverick Rowan was lost the minute Adidas asserted their influence (shoe deals giveth, and taketh).

The 2016 class still improves noticeably and with a position of need as Corey Manigault verbaled today.

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I’ve started getting the media releases from the PITT media department (they are pretty quick) and will share and discuss those informational nuggets about practices and interviews along with links to the other media sites and what they are talking about this spring.

PITT held its first NCAA sanctioned spring practice on March 15th in no-pads and a helmet and as all spring practice sessions start off it was acclimation and simple run through drills.  Here are the PITT Program notes:

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March 15, 2015

The day is upon us.  The day when it becomes plainly clear that PITT is a football school.

PITT’s long awaited Spring Practices begin today and this is the point in the off-season when we can start talking about actualities when it comes to the football team itself.  We have been discussing the football program and the athletic department in depth since ex-Head Coach Paul Chryst left for his alma mater back in December but until now it has been speculations about the new coaching staff and the last recruiting class… both of which statuses we won’t be able to really gauge until the season starts in September.

But now it is the players’ turn to be in the main spotlight and time for us fans to start getting some serious questions answered about what we’ll see on the field this year.   Whether or not individual units; offense, defense, special teams, etc. will do well or not isn’t going to be evident during these 15 practices including the scrimmages and the spring game.  I say start because we won’t know anything for sure until the two deep is set in mid-August. That is what the fall camp is for.

What we’ll see transpire over the next four weeks are basically tryouts run by the staff for both returning personnel and the class of 2015 recruits.  Last year it was pretty much a continuation of what we had in Chryst’s first two year with some new issues; how would our QB play turnout, who would replace Aaron Donald and would James Conner play both ways?  I still can’t believe that that last issue is still being talked about.  It is the stupidest idea ever and if this staff can’t see that, like the last staff eventually did, then we have a big problem.

All these standard springtime questions are magnified when you have a complete coaching staff change because of two things:

One is that the new staff has a different approach to football than the old one did.  That happens even if there are theoretical similarities among the staffs and thus the new staff comes in with their own set of expectations.

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Sorry to have been offline most of the week. Had to do a bunch of overnights for work this past week, and the adjustment didn’t go well. Basically, I felt like a zombie all week. Missed a ton of games and couldn’t muster enough coherent thoughts in my down time to post. Not even on Twitter.

So, I feel recovered a bit now, just in time for the Selection Shows.

The NCAA Tournament selection begins at sometime around 6pm on CBS. That really doesn’t impact Pitt directly. Other than the discussion of bid steals and what that means in terms of pushing other teams down to the NIT.

The NIT announcement comes at 8:30 on ESPNU. As much as Pitt has lost 4 straight games to knock itself out of the NCAA  Tournament bubble talk. As negative as some have been after everything, Pitt hasn’t pushed themselves out of the NIT. It would be a complete stunner to see them not make the NIT. The only issue is whether they are going to be a high enough seed to host a game or two.

March 12, 2015

PITT’s Spring Practices are right around the corner and starting on Sunday the 15th at the university’s Southside facility.  The NCAA permits 15 practices of which three have to be ‘no pads’.  Here is the actual guidance on exactly what a coaching staff can ask of their players:

For days in which institutions schedule a two-a-day practice, live contact practices are only allowed in one practice.  A maximum four (4) live contact practices may occur in a given week, and a maximum of 12 total may occur in preseason.  Only three practices (scrimmages) would allow for live contact in greater than 50 percent of the practice schedule.

In PITT’s case this season the practices will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the two scrimmages being on the Saturdays and the Spring Game played on Saturday, April 18th at 1:00pm on the field at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh’s Station Square area.  Highmark holds 3,500 seats so any photos taken at the game will at least look somewhat crowded.

One real problem, and this is a huge difference and a big negative I think, is that Pat Narduzzi is limiting media access to a designated 30 minute time period.  After that the rest of the practice will be closed to all but staff and admin personnel.  This is an 180 degree change from Paul Chryst’s policies where the practices were fully open.

I’ll be honest here, there is no way I’ll drive 450 miles round trip for a 30 minute look-in at the practices.  Perhaps Chas or Justin will choose to do so but I’ll break my tradition of attending in person every year if the practices remain closed like this.  I have to assume at this point that the scrimmages will be under the same restraints so I’ll get no eyeballs on the kids in the spring or the Fall Camp if policies don’t change by then and, in turn, The Blather won’t get 1st hand reports.

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March 10, 2015

Slumping Into the ACC Tournament

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 7:41 pm

I had a bad feeling heading into the game with FSU. It’s why I put off the open thread. Left the laptop at my desk so I wouldn’t even look at Twitter. I was already feeling negative about the game, I didn’t need it amplified and then magnified.

Not much to say on that. Demoralized after letting the two games get away from them late, Pitt just reverted to the team that struggled so badly in the first half of ACC play. Weak defense. An offense that struggled and led to more frustration and mistakes.

Is the team tired from all the minutes logged? Probably. But that fatigue only became noticeable as the morale slipped on the losses and knowledge of how they had worked so hard to get to the cusp of an NCAA Tournament bid, only to fritter it away.

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March 8, 2015

(This is part two of a two part series looking at PITT’s chances of having both a Heisman Trophy and a Biletnikoff Award winner in the 2015 season.  Part I was posted earlier)

THE BILETNIKOFF AWARD

Let’s discuss Tyler Boyd and his chances to win the Biletnikoff award.  As we saw in Part I of this article this award has a more narrow criteria for voters than does the Heisman.  It is dedicated to the ‘outstanding’ college receiver of the current season and is announced at a banquet and ceremony in early December.  As described “The Biletnikoff Award is presented annually to the nation’s outstanding college football receiver (the award defines receiver as any player who catches a pass) by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation, Inc.”  That said, the only winners have been Wide Receivers; Tight Ends, H-Backs and RBs have not truly been considered.  As a matter of fact I can’t find any players other than WRs who finished in the top of the voting for any year.

Why did the Club choose receivers to be honored?

Receiver has become the glamor position and focus in college football, as high-octane passing schemes have become the equalizer and college football team rosters are filled with significant numbers of exceptional athletes who play receiver. The 2013 Biletnikoff Award Watch List, the longest in its history, reflected this talent abundance and the 2013 play of the watch list members merited their designation as the finest receivers in college football.

So that makes more sense in the voting mandates then just having a popularity contest among good players. Here are the actual criteria for the award voting and you can see that the fans’ choice for #1 gets the equivalent of one vote in the final tally.

1. The Biletnikoff Award candidate must be an active collegiate football receiver (any player who receives a thrown pass regardless of position) at an NCAA Division 1 (FBS) institution.
2. The candidate, to remain a candidate, must not have been declared ineligible to participate in Division l (FBS) football by the NCAA at the time of any vote of the Biletnikoff Award National Selection Committee.
3. The candidate, to remain a candidate, must not have been declared ineligible to participate in Division l (FBS) football by the candidate’s institution at the time of any vote of the Biletnikoff Award National Selection Committee.
4. An ineligible player cannot be placed on the watch list and cannot remain on the watch list during that ineligibility; he can be added to or reestablished to the watch list based on proper conduct and on-field performance when his eligibility is restored at the discretion of the Foundation.
5. The candidate must display leadership and self-discipline; and he must have a significant, positive impact on his team’s success.
6. The candidate must display a commitment to be the best player he can be.

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March 7, 2015

Sorry. Busy morning. Half-assing it. Just got home.

March 6, 2015

(This is part one of a two part series looking at PITT’s chances of having both a Heisman Trophy and a Biletnikoff Award winner in the 2015 season. Part II will be posted tomorrow)

There was a topic on the Rival.com pay board the other day talking about the idea that PITT might have both a Heisman Trophy and a Bliletnikoff Award winner on the 2015 team in RB James Conner and WR Tyler Boyd.  I chipped in my two cents then realized that this would be a good topic for some off-season football discussion on this blog.  So here it is. An interesting thing is that when I responded to the message board topic I had done minimal fact checking but while writing this I delved into both awards and see that I was rather mistaken when it came to my thoughts regarding Boyd and the Biletnikoff Award.  At first I thought he had no shot at all but maybe he does… (later article).

We PITT fans love these two valuable and star players but sometimes do tend to look at them through our Blue & Old Gold colored glasses, especially when mentally comparing them to other candidates for prestigious awards.  Here is a breakdown of how realistic our chances are to have those two major awards sitting in the PITT clubhouse at the end of the 2015 season.  Both players are in consideration for the awards; Conner is on the Heisman list (at 33-1 odds) and Tyler Boyd is among 75 players on the preliminary Biletnikoff ‘watch list’.  Let’s take a closer look at Conner and the Heisman first.

THE HEISMAN MEMORIAL TROPHY

Just for background, the Heisman Trophy as stated  “annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. “  The Heisman selection committee is comprised of sports journalists who have been selected from six broad geographical areas covering the US. There was 929 voters last year including one ‘at-large’ vote cast by the American public football fans.

It is usually awarded to offensive players (all but one, DB Charles Woodson) who play on winning teams although every player in college football is actually an eligible candidate…. sure!  There is hope for Chris Blewitt then.  Here are the winners in ‘modern times’. I started at 1975 because that was right before The Hawk won it for the home team. Yea Us!!  It is a a long list but the names are linked so it it nice to be able to see what each winner actually did.  Plus in the linked info you can see the runner-ups and their voting point totals.

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March 4, 2015

A win won’t get either team into the NCAA Tournament, but it certainly knocks them down to the NIT.

Lousy ACC Network coverage tonight. Many will be forced on to their computers to watch via ESPN3.com for the 8pm game.

As mentioned earlier, it is Senior Night for Pitt. Those of you going, please get there soon to help send off the seniors before the game.

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Senior Night for Three

Filed under: Basketball,Honors,Players — Chas @ 8:48 am

I’ll toss up the open thread closer to game time. For now, just a focus on the players that move on after this year.

Senior night still matters. It gives us a chance to be reminded that the kids that have been wearing the blue-and-gold are more than the names on the jerseys. They are more than the victories and losses. The successes and failures. The way we support our school through their play.

They have their own stories. They have their own futures. While their playing career for Pitt is ending, so much more of their life is just beginning.

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March 3, 2015

The Narduzzi Build

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Narduzzi — Chas @ 2:16 pm

Pro Day for Pitt seniors. Plenty of snippets on Twitter regarding it.

One of the themes that constantly emerges from the recent spate of articles on Pitt and new football coach Pat Narduzzi is that Pitt is not in for a rebuild or a complete remaking of itself with a new head coach.

In the open workout that the media got to attend on Friday, Strength and Conditioning Coach Dave Andrews echoed that point.

Strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews said the previous coaching staff put down a solid foundation.

“This is an add-on job for me,” said Andrews, who spent last season as Notre Dame’s assistant strength coach. “This is not a tear-down-and-rebuild. The gentlemen who came before us have done a great job preparing these kids.”

It’s a nice nod to the former coaches, but it is also what the players and fans should hear.

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