Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Recapping the Press Conference

Luckily class was canceled for me since my professor was nice enough to let me use her Steeler tickets. Then she was nice enough to cancel the class to allow me some time to sleep, so that means we'll get to take a look at the Dave Wannstedt press conference.

It was interesting to note that when Dave started the presser, after he congratulated Lee for being named special teams player of the week, he said he was going to focus on USF. That plan must not have worked out as the reporters were focusing upon some of the plays from last week against Syracuse.

I'm not shocked anymore when Wannstedt comes out and says "we're not where we need to be". At least this week, he didn't throw out any fake percentages, he just said we aren't where we need to be. He didn't say where we needed to improve or how we were going to improve, he only stated he thought we weren't where we needed to be yet.

Paul Zeise asked an interesting question referring to how at one point under Dave we were 1-9 vs D1A teams and now in our last ten we are 6-4. Wannstedt appeared to be confused by that question and responded with "we have a few extra guys who made a few extra plays". I'll just take that as a non-answer.

The question about Shane Murray's status came up again. Luckily Dave says that "Shane will play some more" but then we were given a lecture about how Austin Ransom has been playing "tremendously" and that his play on special teams and in the nickel package has been "invaluable' all season long. I'd much rather have Murray out there. While he isn't the best linebacker in the world, I believe he is a much better option than Ransom. Shane needs to play a minimum of 50% of the plays this week and then even more against Navy on the 18th.

This week was also the first time I've heard some criticism of Bill Stull from Dave Wannstedt. He said that Bill was not playing fundamentally sound by remaining poised in the pocket, using good footwork, and not going through the right progressions. Just as I thought a valid point was being made, Wannstedt added that it only happened while Stull was under pressure. I am glad however that we addressed a problem here that is one that could eventually lose us a game or two.

This weeks approach to the game (and this is word for word from Wannstedt): "Don't worry about the score, don't worry about the score board. Just be the best team you can be for 3 hours. At the end of the day what matters is how you played, not what the score is".

Oh boy. While I believe he has half of that right, as a Pitt fan I believe the score matters. As a coach or player for Pitt, I would imagine that the score probably matters than anything else. Let me give you some examples. Last year against Louisville in basketball at home, our team played almost flawlessly. We shot near 50% and only had 4 turnovers all game. Despite that, Louisville played the perfect game and beat us by 2. No one was happy that we played well despite the fact that we lost. Everyone was upset that we did not come through and lost the game. Now, last night the Steelers played like garbage in the 1st half. Baltimore was beating the Steelers pretty soundly, but the Steelers made plays when they needed to. The outcome was a 23-20 overtime victory. Just like Ben Roethlisberger said last night, "we played terribly, but when it mattered we got the points we need to win".

I'm not a big fan of moral victories, I'm a fan of victories. I believe we need to do whatever it takes to win the game. Shady could have 3 fumbles, Stull could throw 2 interceptions and Grothe could throw for 500 yards against us, but as long as we won that is all that matters. I would much rather talk about where we need to improve after a win (like we did with Syracuse) instead of trying to figure out how we can minimize our mistakes after a loss (like Bowling Green).

Also this week, the subject of Jonathan Baldwin and Lucas Nix was brought up. Dave said that it was unfair to the older guys like Joe Thomas to have them out of the game for a freshman. He also cited inexperience and mistakes as reasons of why they could not play. Luckily someone in the audience pointed out that Baldwin caught the 2 point conversion pass and almost broke a screen pass on a 3rd and forever into a first down. The only response Dave Wannstedt had for that was that we were on a 3rd down and wanted to do a safe play where we would not lose any yardage. I wish someone would have pointed out the continual bad play of Turner and asked about that, unfortunately we were left with a non-answer.

The vibe from this press conference really gives off the impression that Wannstedt knows what our limitations are, but he refuses to address and change to fix those weaknesses. I really don't think Greg Cross will get any significant playing time, and neither will Baldwin or Nix. I'm also afraid that this team is not being given any motivation to go out and upset this team. If the team does not believe we can win, then there is no way we will win. We need to come out angry and play like it is us against the world just as we did last year vs WVU. I just hope that on Friday morning there are a ton of comments telling me that I was wrong.

How We Can Beat South Florida

Yes, everybody even a negative fan like myself sees this South Florida game as completely winnable. We have all seen the massive collapses that the South Florida teams have managed in the past few years and I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop on their season. Believe it or not, I believe this Thursday could be the start of the collapse or not but I can envision scenarios where we sneak out of Raymond James Stadium with a victory. Here are my must-haves if we are to have this special win:
  1. Shady needs to be the player he was last year the entire game. Our running game is going to need to generate 20+ yard runs and at least three touchdowns. Against Syracuse Shady finally began to run with more confidence and did a great job of finishing every play. The USF defense is going to be keying on him but primetime games on national tv are where big stars in college football are solidified. 
  2. The secondary needs to completely turn around their play. Against USF we can't allow them the big plays and touchdowns off missed coverages. If Aaron Berry is the top-level corner that he is advertised as this is the game we need him to show it. An interception or two would make this game much more winnable.
  3. Our defensive line and linebackers need to put together an entire game and not just one quarter. I expect Scott McKillop to have a great night because that is what legitimate All Americans do but we need better play out of everyone else in the front 7 around him. Hopefully, Shane Murray isn't injured because we need him badly in a game like this against a very well run spread offense. Sheard and Romeus need to contain Grothe in the pocket and combine for at least 3 sacks. Getting to Grothe with a 4 man rush could create havoc with USF's offense and if he can't run it makes USF one-dimensional. 
  4. Playcalling wise we need to leave every ounce of the playbook on the field. I'm talking running the wildcat more than just once or twice. If there is anything creative in the playbook use it early and often. Getting a touchdown in the first three possessions is imperative to winning this game. 
  5. Jonathan Baldwin needs to touch the ball at least 5 times. I know this seems impossible considering what we have seen all year but Baldwin is the type of player who can make a difference in big game. USF as his coming out party would be quite the story.
Thursday is the biggest stage our Panthers will have all season. The last time we were in primetime on national tv we all know what happen. A win against USF changes absolutely everything about the program and that isn't an exaggeration at all. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

Something Positive

Over the past two weeks we have won the Big East Special Teams Player of the Week with Dave Brytus and Conor Lee picking up the awards respectively. Considering the style of football we play having a good kicking game has been a godsend. Brytus had a big hand in winning the game against Iowa with some great punts including putting the Hawkeyes on the one yard line for their final drive. Lee against Syracuse did a great job not leaving points on the board in the first half when the offense was consistently settling for field goals. Three 40 yard plus field goals is very impressive and Lee is absolutely automatic on extra points. 

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What 3-1 Really Means

So we are at the point in the season that everybody was looking towards the week of the USF. Looking at our schedule during the preseason 3-1 was the worst our record could be coming into this game and that is what the record is. The way we got to 3-1 though is what the big cause of concern as to what the rest of the season is going to hold for our beloved Panthers.

Bowling Green week 1 is arguably the signature loss of a coach with a losing record. This loss took us out of the national spotlight and completely derailed the momentum we had after the shock WVU upset the season prior. Then we grab an 11 point win against Buffalo in a game that could have easily gone the other way. A one point win against an Iowa team who could lose the rest of their games. Then yesterday we saw another unconvincing win against an extremely bad Syracuse team. So that's it 3 wins against 3 teams that we should have beaten and a terrible loss. Are you ready for USF now?

Would being 4-0 really help that much at this point in terms of the quality of play we have seen on the field? Not really but we would still have some juice nationally and perhaps we would have a much more confident fanbase and program. Making every game we play difficult, no matter how bad the opponent is, has put our program under a cloud of pessimism. Nobody around the program can or should be excited about 3-1 against 4 teams we should have easily beaten.

USF on Thursday is the biggest game we have had since our BCS Bowl game against Utah five years ago. This is Wanny's one chance to have a relevant program nationally that actually has a meaningful win, our two top 25 rankings were based off nothing but hype. If we get blown out against them then all of the Wanny bashers, myself included, will have been proven right in that he can't win the big game when it matters. A win over USF would put us in the top level of the Big East and could energize us into a title run. Say USF wins by 21 like the odds makers are saying we are in the same position we have been for the last 3 years.

Don't take this game lightly at all....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why Run A Wide Receiver Screen on 3rd and Long

I know this subject has been written about countless times on the blog but I have to do it again. Our offensive play calling continues to be extremely conservative and completely ineffective. Today we ran the exact same types of plays that we have ran since Day 1 of the Wanny and Cavanaugh regime. Our running game finally got on track because we were playing the worst team in the nation. The Syracuse defense can make anybody look good and luckily we played much better in the second half.

The two plays that absolutely infuriated me watching the game is the screen pass to the far receiver on 3rd and long. Finally Baldwin got a chance to touch the ball but he got his chance in a situation where he was bound to fail. Both times we ran this play we got over 8 yards but not the first down which is the most important thing on 3rd down. I like this play call and it would be perfect on a first down but on third down it is giving up. Why even throw the ball if your not going to give the quarterback downfield options. In almost all situations Wanny proves that he has no faith in Bill Stull not to throw an interception. Imagine what that does to a player when the head coach through the play calls tell you that you can't do it and your going to make a mistake.

I realize that we were in field goal range but take a touchdown off the board just because your scared of turning the ball over. How are we going to continue to win these close games where bad decision making and poor play by the other teams bail us out? USF isn't going to hand us the game like Syracuse did after they jumped up to a 14-0 lead. This style of coaching is killing the fanbase and turning even the most ardent fans against Wanny and Co. When you watch college football all day after Pitt plays we look like dinosaurs. Every successful program in the nation has coaching staffs that put the game in their players hands, we absolutely will not give our players the chance to win it on the field.

I'm getting really tired of the section of the fanbase that says "coaches don't play the game". This sentiment is true but it is also extremely misleading. Our players don't get the chance to succeed or to fail, they get a chance to play extremely conservative football and try to manage a small win. To win a game we need to put the ball out there for our guys to make the play or to not make the play. I'm watching the Alabama-Georgia game right now and to start the game off Alabama threw to Julio Jones. A national powerhouse gives a guy like Jones the chance to succeed not do what we do with Jonathan Baldwin. When is Baldwin going to get his chance to succeed or fail because it certainly hasn't come yet, he has exactly two touches in his college career 4 games in.

This game and how difficult the coaching staff made it is a microcasm of what is wrong with the world of Pitt football. The same tired plays, the same mistakes, the same mismanagement of talent, and the same attitude. I know we are told to just suck it up because this is the style of coach we hired but this style of football is not only unappealing to watch it is unsuccessful on the field.

I know we are 3-1 but we should be 4-0. Even the worst opponent on the schedule made it a close game. Wanny is going have another opportunity to embarrass himself on national tv and if we play anything like we played today it will be a giant blowout.

Live Blog Pitt vs Syracuse

Well here we go again. It's a road game so the live blog returns. I'll be doing the majority of the blogging but DPJ will make an appearance or two.

10:58- No worries in the Chelsea game 1-0 up on Stoke in the first half. How pumped are the Georgia fans today? Although they do have some unattractive cheerleaders, didn't see that one coming.

11:02- I hate these human interest stories they put on every single sports show that ESPN produces. It was like when we hosted College Gameday for basketball and Rece Davis made a fake crying face when talking to Jamie Dixon about his sister. They all seem so demeaning and unnecessary.

11:08- Is it possible for Kirk Herbstriet to come off more unlikeable?

11:14- I like how they have the Yankee Stadium Monument Park for dogs. Also Julio Jones shouldn't have over 10 receptions, HE IS A FRESHMAN AND HE COULD MAKE A MISTAKE.

11:20- Why did the Colorado fans rush the field when they beat WVU? I would like this explained to me.

11:25- Biz Nasty giving it to Ryan Hollweg last night! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7EGIc9f8nE

11:37- 2-0 Chelsea, Anelka with the goal and yes I realize you don't care but I do so just humor me.

11:57- Anybody else getting nervous. I always get like this right before games under Wanny.

12:00 - DPJ is here. Anyone planning on listening to Sweet Caroline at the end of the 3rd quarter?

12:05- How stupid are those mousetraps?

12:07- This is the worst camera angle and crew I have ever seen.

12:08- Turner with a drop early on, who didn't see that one coming. (dpj)

12:12- Ok two things Stull can't throw a fade and we need to attack more on 3rd down. We always run the same types of plays on 3rd down.

12:16 - Ugh, we're losing to Syracuse. (dpj)

12:23 - Stull gets McGee killed, Turner runs the wrong way and does not get the first down, then we have a delay on a punt......I hope this is just first road game jitters. (dpj)

12:26- That screen on 3rd down is the most Wannrific call I have ever seen.

12:29- The good news is that Shane Murray isn't playing. Also our defensive line is getting dominated. Good times.

12:33- Down 11 to the worst team in the nation. Wanny is the best!

12:37 - Good thing my tuition dollars that went to athletics were wisely spent on mouse traps.........

12:39 - This isn't going to stop. They are destroying us at the line of scrimmage. Our defenisve line hasn't sniffed the running back yet. Thanks for the undersized defensive tackles and linebackers playing defensive end.

12:47 - At least the stadium noise is carrying over through the commercials to make me laugh. It's the simple things in life that matter. (dpj)

12:57- Lee is a good kicker that is something I guess.

1:07 - Hot Rod really is doing well this season. That was a very nice run.

1:10 - Hot Rod has saved this game. Poor play call on 3rd down but great effort.

1:20 - Thatcher starts because he is a senior. That is all have to say after that long run. (dpj)

1:49 - Aaron Berry could you do me a favor and look for the ball once? Really great catch though.

1:50 - I agree with Jason Jones. That was an incredible catch.....Incredible.

2:03 - Stull has to make that pass. No excuse for that.

2:22 - That was a nice 34 yard run by McCoy. Thats the end of the 3rd Cuse 24 Pitt 16. Baldwin has his one play of the game in the books so it looks like we get to wait until USF for him to come back out. (dpj)

2:24 - The damn stadium mics are on during the commercials. This is very annoying. (dpj)

2:26 - Excellent run by LSH. He really has had a good few games this season. I would like to see the wildcat for the 2 pt conversion, but Stull hits a nice fade pass to Baldwin and the game is now tied! (dpj)

2:49 - Shane Murray gets in, Sheard strips the ball and Romeus recovers. Good play.

2:55 - TOUCH DOWN HOT ROD! 34-24 Pitt. That should seal the deal. I'd just like to note that I predicted us to get 34 points.......Thank you very much. (dpj)

3:04 - Joe Thomas is injured.

3:05 - the game ends with Thomas hurt, Collier getting some carries, and no sign of Greg Cross. This was a very embarrassing win. (dpj)

3:06 - It was a win that's all I'm saying. Wanny actually took a slight bit of blame about the special teams giving up the touchdown.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pitt-Syracuse Predictions

Well its the first road game and the first Big East game but luckily its against Syracuse. The Carrier Dome is a place that we have had problems the past couple of trips but this season will be different. Syracuse is perhaps the worst team in BCS conference history and they are just biding their time until they can hire Lane Kiffin. All that being said, I'm extremely worried about this game. Onto the predictions:
  1. We will have our first 100 yard rusher and our first 100 yard reciever this game (Shady and Kinder). The offense will be able to be successful against a Syracuse defense that was overwhelmed by such powers as Northwestern and Akron. I think the turf and the bad Syracuse defense will allow for a couple of 40 yard plus plays. 
  2. Defensively I think we will see a 3 or more forced turnovers. If we can bring the level of pressure that we did in the fourth quarter of the Iowa game the defensive line can make some big plays. As long as the invisible man doesn't travel we could see Shane Murray back in the starting line-up. 
  3. The coaching staff will make this game much closer than it has any business being. I see us jumping up 14-0 then the reigns will be tightened and Syracuse will slowly pull back. This is a game that we have no business losing but the fear and pessimism that coaches the team will make it hard. Wanny ball will be out in full force in Upstate New York.
I'm looking forward to watching the game on tv so that I distance myself from the emotion and fustration that has enveloped Heinz Field during the first 3 games. Syracuse is not good and this game is a bridge to that national tv opportunity against South Florida. Nothing is impossible with Wanny but this game is as close to a lock as there is in the nation.

Pitt 24 Syracuse 10

Cat Basket Episode 19

DPJ riding solo again for the Syracuse preview.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Predicting the Rest of the Season

I thought I would bring back a column I haven't done since before Buffalo and give what I think the current temperature of the rest of the season is. This will all prove to be wrong probably starting this week but let's do it anyway
  • At Syracuse: This has to be a win no matter what. A loss against the worst program in the country would completely erase any ounce of momentum we got from the win against Iowa. Robinson is a lame duck coach but this team being bad is much more than just coaching. Chances of winning: 97% (I'm not discounting our poor play at the Carrier Dome but this team is just bad beyond bad)
  • At South Florida: This game will define the season. If we win, the BCS Bowl bid is within reach. If we lose a close one, we could still finish 2nd or 3rd in the Big East. If we get blown out, this season will be the same. Chances of winning: 35%
  • At Navy: They are not half of the team they were last year, and I can't see them running the option as productively as they did last year. Chances of winning: 90%
  • Rutgers: This is a team in disarray but we always have trouble with Schiano coached Rutgers teams. I think the result of this game will depend on how we play against South Florida. If this game comes after a great performance in Tampa, I think it could be a solid victory, but a loss would make every game a battle. Chances of winning: 70%
  • Notre Dame: I see this game as a guaranteed loss because of the pressure of a national tv audience on the coaching staff and the fact that Notre Dame is much improved. A win in this type of environment could be beneficial to the program down the line. Chances of winning: 25%
  • Louisville: This game is a crapshoot. I have no idea how we compare to Louisville this year. Chances of winning: 50%
  • At Cincinnati: We always play well against Cinci and I think that we will be able to keep the River City River Boat River Phoenix Trophy. Chances of Winning: 70%
  • West Virginia: HA!!!!! 13-9. Chances of Winning 13-9%
  • Connecticut: We haven't played well against the Huskies and I'm not sure if this game is going to be any different. Chances of Winning: 40%
The way I see it 6 wins is a worst case scenario. Our schedule on paper is comical and it seems impossible not to put together a winning season but with Wanny nothing is impossible.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Opening Up The Offense

On simplifying Pitt's offensive play-calling:

"When you look at the plays we're running -- we're running zone plays, we're running tosses, we're running flip screens, we're running inside screens, quarterback draws, reverses, wide receiver screens. My wife would have a hard time drawing up more plays than we've got. In fact, I'm almost to the point that we have too much. It can get that way."

This is from Kevin Gorman's column this morning where Wannstedt is talking about the upcoming game at Syracuse. These three sentences show what the problem is with this coaching staff and playing the college game. It seems as the people (person?) in charge and some of the fanbase see different play variety as the only way to open up the offense and that isn't the case. One reverse and one flea flicker isn't alone enough to change the conservative nature of the offensive play calling.

What everybody is talking about in regards to opening up the offense and changing the perception that we are a conservative team is the type of play calls we run consistently. It's the 2nd and 8 runs up the middle after we ran a similar play on 1st down. It's the draws on 3 and 11 instead of throwing past the 3rd down marker. It's a bubble screen to the outside reciever when the other team is in bump coverage. It's putting in Greg Cross and running a simple bootleg on a 2nd down. It's putting Jonathan Baldwin in 7 plays and having him run the same route 5 of those 7 times.

Finding ways to get the ball to playmakers has nothing to do with many different styles of running plays we run. I've seen countless games where top teams will run entire drives where plays look identicial with small changes, but the plays work because it gets the ball to the team's playmaker. Throwing the ball to Shady seemingly helped him get a couple bigger gains later in the running game. It feels like much of the time, players only get one or two chances to touch the ball in unique situations, and then it's back to the same play they get every other week.

I'm not touching the part of the quote about his wife because I don't know what that means.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The invisible man strikes again

"We had about a half dozen plays for Greg today but never had the opportunity to get him in there."

That is Dave Wannstedt referring to not using Greg Cross more. He also did say that it was because we started between our own 20-30 for many drives in the game. The thing that gets me is that Greg had a nice run on his first play and then we didn't see him for another 2 quarters. Also, when Wannstedt says half dozen, that is deceptive wording. It's like saying 12 inches instead of 1 foot. Basically we had 6 plays ready to use for Greg Cross. He was able to get in for 2 of them, but the invisible man held him out of the remaining 4 plays.

Some people are saying the play calling remained too conservative after the first quarter. That really isn't the case, the play calling remained the same but Iowa adjusted to it while we did not. The key to putting your foot on the gas and taking the life out of your opponent is to remain creative and try new things to keep the defense guessing. In our offense we stick with what works. That is what gives our fans the perception that we are too vanilla. We also try to stick with plays Wanstedt thinks we need to run like LSH or Shady up the middle when we have seen all season long it will not work.

I do give credit to Cav for calling more shotgun this week. I think that could be huge for success throughout the year. Even some version of a shotgun spread will give the backs more room to run and could take away the "vanilla" tag that we've associated with the offense.

The one thing we did with Cross that I really liked was having Stull in the backfield with him. While it is technically not the Wildcat when you have 2 qb's back there, it is still tricky enough to give your offense room to operate. It can go to Stull for a pass, he could hand off to Cross, the play could go to Cross who can take off, or drop back and pass it too. There are many things to worry about with them both in the backfield and I think we need to do that more often.

I also think that if we are going to run the standard Wildcat with Cross and Shady in the backfield, we need to get Stull off the field. Stull won't ever been a receiver on that play and he certainly won't be able to throw a block. It is basically just taking a chance to blow Bostick's redshirt by having an injury to Stull.

Cross needs to be in for at least 10 plays against Syracuse. Any type of close win there and the coaches will have some how found a way to get back on the hot seat despite getting a win. We can't hide anything for USF. While we should be 3-0 we are now 2-1. It only takes 6 wins to get to a bowl game and we are 33% of the way there. Just like used 33% of our designed plays for Cross, we need to step up and get qualified for a bowl as fast as possible.

Please don't take what I'm saying as be aggressive and throw 90% of the time. I'm saying be aggressive, but be smart and creative with it. We need to play to our strengths by utilizing Cross and Dickerson more. We need to spread the field to allow Shady and LSH the running room they have not had all season. Lastly, we need to get a lead on our opponents and try to build it up as much as we can instead of trying to kill as much clock as possible.

Hopefully the invisible man doesn't like going on the road so that Wannstedt can do what he wants to without any interference from the invisible man.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cat Basket Podcast 18

Post game Iowa and a very special visitor!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What makes a good fan?

Well if you're reading this site, then you probably read most of the sites that we link to on the side of our blog. Since the Buffalo game, we have seen a wide variety of topics covered. We still have the standard people complaining about parking, script, on campus stadium, and other stuff. We also saw some discussion about game planning and changes that have to be made. Now I'm all for discussing things like that because when you're constantly evaluating yourself and trying to find ways to get better, you are more likely to succeed. While the coaches do read many of the Pitt sites, don't expect them to use some of the ideas they read about. I do believe that when the fans continually question, it encourages the staff to grow and change for the better.

On that note, this staff does not seem willing or able to change when required. Before this post turns into another bashing of the staff, I want to address a major theme I have seen popping up across almost all Pitt sites.

As a Pitt fan, I want Pitt to do whatever it takes to win. If Pitt wins, then I am happy. As part of my personality, I always like to assess the "what ifs". As part of the "what ifs" I am convinced that if we lose our next 2 games, coach Wannstedt would step down either immediately or at the end of the season. There are Pitt fans who are hoping that we do lose so that a change happens. I don't particularly agree with this, but I can see the point. I do believe some changes are in order, but I would never want Pitt to lose to an awful team like Syracuse. I also don't consider those who are somewhat hoping that we lose the next two games as bad fans. I see them as people who want a change because they are tired of seeing the same results. I also believe that deep down, these people ultimately want Pitt to win and if we did so they would be happy. Just because they see a benefit in losing, does not make me consider them bad fans, I see them more as fans who desire change.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have those that will defend the program no matter what. Having a group like this is essential for a program. These are the people that will continue to buy tickets, spread awareness, and donate money no matter how we perform. These are also, not bad fans. The key with this group is making sure they don't out number the reasonable fans who can justify their opinions.

Here is what makes a bad fan in my opinion. It is the fan who will buy season tickets but not care. The fan who will purchase the cheapest season ticket, show up to all of the games but have no opinion one way or another on the team. I believe a fair comparison would be a standard pirate fan who goes to a game on a Saturday night not because of the team, but rather just as something to do. This type of fan neither drives support towards the team or calls for a change to be made when necessary. A large group of these fans simply make the team stagnant.

My point is this, we will never agree on what is the best course of action for Pitt. The important thing is that we still care enough to debate about what needs to be done for the team to be the best it can be. So before I (and hopefully all of you) begin to throw any Pitt fan under the bus, just stop and take a moment to try and see why a person believes in their opinion. As long as it is to support the immediate and long term success for our Panthers, then I have no problem in accepting it. I just might not agree with it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting Excited for Pitt-Iowa

I've been really struggling all week to get excited for this game. I think I'm hitting the limit of how much I can trick myself into expecting the turn around to finally come. Watching Iowa play really put me in a funk about this game just because of the style of football that I expect during the game on Saturday. On the other hand, I don't think I have ever been into college football as much as I am right now.

When kickoff comes I know I will be extremely excited but looking at this game and trying to write columns has sucked all the anticipation out of me. Pitt should beat Iowa on a purely talent standpoint but I don't think any Panther fan will throw a bet down on this game. Iowa is a big name in college football but this year they aren't any great shakes despite being 3-0. Preseason I saw this game as the chance for Wannstedt to break out and prove he can win the game he always loses but now what would a win mean? 2-1 isn't terrible but nobody can look at the record and say that should have lost a game yet. If we lose and go 1-2 the season isn't over but any sort of national respect and a decent bowl could be out the window.

Many in the media and in the fanbase are saying this is the most important game of Wannstedt's time here at Pitt but I completely disagree. This game is the type of game Wannstedt always loses; home against a manageable opponent when we are the favorite and after a bye week. A narrow win would only mean that we are around the same level that we were coming off of the Buffalo win and a loss means we are back to square one. Iowa having some profile in college football is the built in excuse for the coaching staff if we lose this game. 

Our only hope that this season is turned around is if we can manage a blowout. If in some crazy scenario we put a 25 point plus win on Iowa then I think people can start to get a little excited again but everybody knows this game is going to be close.

Sorry for the continued pessimism but I'm struggling to the see the positivity in a 1-1 season playing against a down Iowa team. On the plus side everybody there will be two podcasts this weekend, look for the first one tomorrow night.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Looking towards Iowa

Much attention has been given to the size of Pitt's defensive line over the last couple of days. Chas over at Pittblather has a good post up summarizing that some of the defensive line's problems are due to the scheme rather than the size of the guys up front. He also referenced that they are very similar to the Michigan State team that we saw last year. I don't know about you, but I can remember 2 years ago when MSU came to Pitt, I was shocked at how big their offensive line was. If the sizes of the Iowa offensive linemen are accurate and comparable to that of Michigan State I think this could cause some problems for our Panthers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that our defensive line isn't fast or strong enough to overcome the Iowa line, I just believe that we will have problems when our coaches don't make any adjustments to the way we are playing. One of the items that Jones and I will be discussing is the impact of Buddy Morris on the size of the DLine and how it is impacting our game play. While I will leave out an opinion on that until later, I do think that our line is not as bad as we are playing right now.

After the Navy game last year the DLine showed great improvement, but maybe that was only due to the defensive adjustments we made. This season we really have not been aggressive on defense and I believe that is the main reason we are struggling. If we blitz more with the linebackers that could make the line more effective in terms of getting to the quarterback. I just don't see us doing it this week. Everyone knows that Iowa runs an offense that a Wannstedt defense is designed to beat. This will be two NFL style coaches going after each other. My fear is that Ferentz will be more likely to adjust to Pitt's play than we will be to Iowa's.

So far it appears that 99% of our problems have been due to coaching decisions and I'm very sure that the defensive line woes are from the same source. When Wanny lets Bennett run his style of defense instead of the 2002 Dolphins defense, then we will be in much better shape.

Also if you haven't heard, there will be some basketball recruits at the Iowa game. The Zoo has been instrumental in helping the football team to land some recruits in the past few years. The Zoo really is in good position to help out because we know where the recruits will be sitting and for some reason, football recruits love the attention they receive at the basketball games. If you have noticed, every basketball player the Zoo has tried to influence to come really hasn't worked out. Herb Pope, Kevin Jones, and some others have all slipped through and gone other places.

I think it would be great to try and get something going for the basketball players that are coming this weekend (it would be amazing if we could get Durant Scott) but trying to organize 8,000 students to cheer for someone that we don't know where they will be let alone if they even come would be a hard task to accomplish.

There are a few students who read this blog so hopefully the awareness of the recruits coming increases and we can do more to try and help them like Pitt even more. I don't want to be a downer, I just want to try and stay realistic about something like this.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Some Monday Thoughts

After the bye week the news hasn't been exactly pouring in and I have been trying to forget the first two weeks. I thought I touch on a topics coming into the Iowa game.

  1. Elijiah Fields taking a starting job is not a big suprise at all. Fields played much better in the second half against Buffalo than DeCicco had the first game and a half. What puzzles me about this move is how Wannstedt and Bennett seem to be on two different wavelengths. Bennett says Fields is the starter and Wannstedt said that Fields is and has always been a co-starter with DeCicco. Wannstedt coming out and immediately correcting his defensive coordinator seems completely uneccessary and adds more fuel to the fire about Wannstedt being incompetent when speaking to the media. 
  2. I seriously doubt that the Wildcat formation was being saved for the Iowa and I doubt we will see it at all this week. Cavanaugh has come out and talked about how he should have used the Wildcat and Cross during the Bowling Green game. My feeling is that you can read between the lines of Wanny's comments about it being a "run-only formation" and a "gimmick offense" as we aren't going to see this anytime soon. The part that makes no sense is why even recruit Greg Cross if your going to ditch this formation or if your hiding the formation why not at least give Cross a couple of plays at QB the first two games. Cross has never played a down of D1 football and getting him used to this level in the first two games may have been a good idea.
  3. Despite the fact that we lost the opener against Bowling Green we can still win the Big East. The Big East has gotten so poor (except South Florida) that if we can play reasonable football we can win every single game (except South Florida). This team has the talent to make an impact if by some act of god our coaching staff gets it this could still be a big year.
Be back tomorrow hopefully with more news to write about.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Early Iowa Thoughts

Since Directv has a million sports channels I thought I would take a look at next week's opponents Iowa. That probably was a bad idea in terms of entertainment value because Iowa plays an extremely boring brand of football. I just turned the game off after they put up a big stop inside their 5 yard line. I'm not sure how good Iowa St. is but Iowa didn't look impressive at all. 

Iowa is a very physical team and that is about it. They have a big offensive line which could cause our defensive line the same types of problems that Buffalo did. Their running back Shonn Greene is pretty good but their offense is toothless due to horrible quarterback play. The starter Stanzi played a terrible game and they brought in the backup Christensen who played ok. There offense shouldn't cause us many problems but with their size and focus on the running game we need to see a much better defense line.

I only got to see two defensive series for the Hawkeye's but the defense looked fairly good. They seem to be lacking speed so hopefully we could see Shady get his first big game. 

This game is completely winnable but with the way the season has played out I don't know what to expect. With the style of play this could be a hard football game to watch.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The perfect storm

If there is one thing Coach Wannstedt would love to do, it is having a winning season, going to a bowl, and not having to fire any of his assistant coaches. After the Bowling Green game, that seemed to be a dream that he would never realize. Despite a victory against Buffalo, our Panthers still showed the same problems that we not only saw one week before, but the same problems we have been seeing for 3 years. It was finally starting to happen that the strong Wannstedt supporters were becoming more in favor of replacing the coach.

Prior to this season the best way to describe our fan base was "half and half". There were those in Group A who felt that Wannstedt would be a good coach at Pitt and that all he needed was more time so that he could get his players in to his system. Group B consisted of members who were tired of 3 straight losing seasons and often cited Wannstedt's struggles at Miami, Chicago, and Pitt to warrant his departure.

Following week 1 of the season, the "half and half" group became more of an 80-20 split, with 80% of Panther fans feeling that it was time for a change. Even the remaining 20%, while still in favor of Wannstedt, were agreeing with the other group that there had to be some change, especially with Matt Cavanaugh.

As we are entering week 3 of the NCAA football season, it is looking more and more like the 80% group may not get their wish, and here is why.

Last night UNC, destroyed Rutgers at home. Last week, ECU manhandled a top 10 WVU team. Pitt lost to a MAC team in the home opener.

It is no secret, the Big East is awful this season. After completing 2 weeks of football, only USF and UConn are the only remaining undefeated teams in the conference. Syracuse and Rutgers still do not have a win. Syracuse lost to Northwestern and Akron, but things don't get any better as they travel to Penn State this weekend. While I predict Syracuse will finish 1-11 (only beating Northeastern) they could easily get 4 wins from their schedule based upon the overall weakness of the teams in the conference.

Rutgers has two cupcakes left on their schedule, but outside of those games, they stand a good chance of losing out the rest of the way. Louisville plays a mediocre schedule, but the rest of the teams they play are all D1 schools. They are just like Pitt this season, they could have any where from 4 to 8 wins. Cincinnati has a few MAC/CUSA games before they enter Big East play, but despite being dominated Oklahoma they may stand a chance to do fairly well. They are a middle of the road Big East team, but that might just be good enough to finish 2nd or 3rd this year. UConn could barely beat Temple, but as we saw last year, they can surprise some people. It will be interesting to see how they perform at North Carolina to compare to Rutgers.

For the South Florida Bulls. They should be the Big East BCS representative this year. Outside of Kansas, they do not have any tough teams on their schedule. 9-3 or 10-2 is a record they should achieve this year which will be good enough to clinch the Big East title.

So what does this mean for our Panthers? Well it's simple. Since everyone is down and every game is winnable, Wannstedt can show progress. People have grown so accustomed to losing that all people are hoping for is a bowl appearance. Our schedule should allow us to win 7 games. They won't be the most fun to watch, they will be tight close games, but they will be victories.

When this team finishes 7-5, we will hear about how we made great strides, and how the team is coming around as expected. I also believe that 7-5 will split the two Panther groups back to "Half and Half". Most importantly though, 7 wins and a bowl appearance in what might be the worst conference in America will allow Matt Cavanaugh to keep his job as well as to encourage Dave Wannstedt to stick with the current design for the offense and defense.

The worst thing Panther fans can hope for is 7 close wins since nothing will change. 8 or more wins will give us hope for the future. 6 or less will require some type of change. My only hope is that we do not remain stagnant.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cat Basket Podcast Number 16

The podcast is back and DPJ is riding solo. He goes over all of the big stories coming out of the Buffalo game and going into the bye week.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wanny's Press Conferences Make Me Think I'm Crazy

Over at Pittblather they did a great write-up of the Wanny's weekly press conference. If you ever get a chance go and read the transcript or listen to one of these things, you will question your sanity almost immediately. Wanny could be one of the greatest blame deflectors in the history of sports. 

Wannstedt does something that I absolutely love and he has been doing this for over three years, no matter what the situation we are never seeing the team at 100%. Its always an injury or its too early in the season or we have too many inexperienced players but the team is never at 100%. I imagine that if we ever got to 100% the entire team would become immortal and a black hole would develop in the north endzone at Heinz Field.

No matter how crippling and how embarassing the loss is Wanny spins it into a benefit to the team. Getting beat by Bowling Green was some sort of wakeup call and it got the team more focused. That is true but isn't it Wannstedt's job to make sure the team is always focused? Of course not and thats the beauty of Wanny's deflections. He pushes the blame down to the team for a lack of motivation when motivating a group of college players should be the coaches job.

The topper to the Wannstedt press conference deflections are when he flat out tells the media what they want to hear so they will get off his back. Last week we heard about how Nix and Baldwin needed to get playing time but when gametime came around neither really got significant playing time. I'm not calling Wannstedt a liar when he says things like this because thats too harsh but he is most certainly misleading people on purpose to deflect critcism. He does this every single week because of his personnel decisions. It has be because he is arrogant enough to believe that the media shouldn't question a guy with his much experience.

Losing as many games as we have has been the worst part of the Wannstedt coaching tenure but these press conferences are fairly embarassing. It makes me long for the days of Walt Harris and his oddly morose speaking style to the press.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sweet Caroline

As I'm sure you all know, I was a big supporter of getting the Sweet Caroline song played at the Pitt games.

The students embraced it and it sounded great.

If you didn't hear it or want to hear it again, you can hear just a part of it here.

This is compliments of the athletics department of Pitt. I'll let them decide when they want to distribute the whole song, but enjoy this little bit.

Monday Afternoon Buffalo Thoughts

I thought I would try to close out the recap of the Buffalo game with a couple more thoughts:
  1. Bill Stull had a really solid game going 22 for 33. His decision making and control of the game is quite encouraging. He has limited arm strength and doesn't always through the best ball but he makes the right play. What the offensive staff needs to improve on is running more plays that take advantage of what Stull does well. I have no problem with Stull's play the first 2 games and with an improved running game and play calling he could be an above average quarterback.
  2. Shady seemed to turn the corner in the second half and I'm expecting a big game from him against Iowa. I think the main problem with his play has been the target his national hype has put on his back. The first two games it seems as though the opposing teams are tackling at a higher level when he has the ball in his hands. Three touchdowns and almost 5 yards a carry is an improvement and I think once he breaks his first 40+ yard run he will begin to dominate again.
  3. TJ Porter had a really great game and needs to feature in the offense more. He found the open spots in the middle of the field. Stull had some chemistry with him and he has extremely sure hands. Oderick Turner played much better this week as well but he needs to do this over a 4 or 5 game stretch.
  4. The special teams were much better this week and I like Briggs as the kickoff specialist. Our defensive line is extremely good at blocking field goals and I have a feeling this is going to win us a game or two. The return and coverage teams look pretty good as well. I will give Wannstedt this his special teams are becoming rather solid.
Two weeks to prepare for Iowa is a scary proposition. As we saw last year we played terrible when he had an extended week to prepare for Navy. Hopefully we don't lose the slight momentum we have from this win.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thoughts on Buffalo

If you've been watching a Wannstedt coached Pitt team you knew exactly how this game was going to end up. A win is a win though and it feels better than last week. At 1-1 we can still have a good season and with the way yesterday went down could still win the Big East. Let's get to some quick observations on the game:
  1. Baldwin got around 5 plays and Nix got 2 plays due to injury so its obvious they aren't getting a chance to earn more playing. All we heard this week was about how important it was for both to see the field and neither was used in any significant way. The "invisibile man" who apparently controls our personnel needs either stop lying about playing them to the media or actually use them. I expect by week 10 we will get to see the wildcat and Greg Cross. Elijiah Fields did play which was good
  2. Another huge problem propped up and its our defensive line. I was convinced this line was going to be dominant and the base of our defensive success but I was wrong. The problem yesterday was the big offensive line of Buffalo manhandled the line in the running game. Greg Romeus flat out hasn't shown up this year and has been a major disappointment. Having such a small defensive line appears to have left us vulnerable to the straight up the middle running game. Extremely poor performance in the run game by the line and they are going to need to improve vastly over the course of the season or teams are going to run all over us.
  3. The fan turnout yesterday was pretty encouraging. It looked to be about the same size crowd as the Bowling Green game. The new "Sweet Caroline" fourth quarter opener was a big hit. Hopefully, more night games means less excuses for fans not to come.
  4. Offensively it looked like we called the game exactly the same way as we did against Bowling Green. The style of football we saw yesterday is the same style of football we will see until we get new offensive coaching. It worked yesterday because Buffalo's defense was worse than Bowling Green's.
  5. On defense the missed tackles and blown assignments are still there. Scott McKillop played much better this week which contributed to the better defensive performance. I feel like we are improving and hopefully we get a better performance against Iowa.
Overall the game was a win so there was that. The expectations for Wanny and the program are so comically low that every win seems like a great accomplishment. Buffalo was signficantly worse than us and we only beat them by 11 points so take that into account to.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cat Basket Podcast Number 15

We are back for a bonus episode and the preview of the Buffalo game. Not only that but we have our first legitimate interview with former Panther Justin Acierno about his experience as a player and the initiatives of the marketing department.

Cat Basket Podcast Number 15

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Buffalo preview

Before I break this down, I just want all of you "Panther fans" to make sure you come to the game on Saturday. There is more on the line than you think. An 0-2 start likely will be the start of the fall. Also of interest is that many people have been saying that Turner Gill (the coach of Buffalo) could be a likely candidate to eventually replace Wannstedt. Gill has Nebraska ties as he worked with Coach Osborne and we already know how that Nebraska connection fits in with our athletics department.

The one key thing about Gill that makes this game dangerous for Pitt is not his run first mentality. It is the fact that Gill is willing to change styles when required to win. Last week in a dominating game against UTEP, Buffalo put up over 200 yards of offense both passing and running the ball. I don't fear any team running against us. I do fear Gill seeing what killed us last week and then using the spread to his advantage. One great thing a coach does is teach his team different ways to play. That allows the team to conquer against another team's weakness. Buffalo does have the ability to use the spread and yes they have used it before.

What you need to know. Drew Willy (a.k.a. Dr. Wily) is their senior quarterback, and he is a good one. He hasn't thrown an interception since early in the 2007 season. After one game he is leading the country in passer rating. If there is one guy we need to watch out for it is him. I can see him using his WR's to destroy the linebacker mismatches we will see. When you see a 4 wide set, don't expect us to break out of our 4-3. That is when Dr. Wily will have his chance to shine.

Sophomore Brandon Thermilus had a very good game last week. He put up over 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. The other backs helped the Bulls combine for over 260 yards on the ground. Hopefully we have shed the "Rhoads' Still Running" awards and hold their game in check. The thing about this group is that they can catch the ball out of the backfield which may just be how the running backs get effective touches in this game. The key to winning this game will be limiting Thermilus and company. If him and the backs have a bad day, that means Pitt will be having a great day.

One more thing about the Bull's offense. Their line is massive. They're the biggest line we've seen here at Pitt since MSU marched their giant offensive line on the field. Hopefully Buddy Morris has the right idea with his philosophy of "fat doesn't mean force". If the hogs from Buffalo take out our DLine, there is no way we will win this game.

Now on to the defense. Buffalo will march out a trio of linebackers will little experience. Despite this, those guys, like the rest of their team, had one great game against Buffalo. They were able to finish their tackles and get some sacks. If they play their backers into coverage, we need to exploit them with Dorin and Nate. Will Wanny and Cavvy recognize that? Probably not. However, Gill isn't afraid to unleash the linebackers on the blitz. That should be something of concern for Panther fans since Joe Thomas just doesn't have problems picking up the blitzing linebackers, he can barely stop the guy lining up directly in front of him. If he struggles early, we need to see Lucas Nix.

If we run Shady to the outside, maybe throw in some misdirections instead of just running up the middle all the time Shady should hit his 100 yards easily. Now if Buffalo lines up 8 or 9 guys in the box, we can not abandon play action. We need to do the things early to keep these guys off guard. Run, run, pass will not work against this and if we see your typical Cavanaugh offense, Buffalo will beat us.

This game really is a toss up. We should win this game, but we should have won the Bowling Green game too. I'm really hoping we win especially after we had some guys from Buffalo post on the PantherLair.com message board talking smack on us. I have news for Buffalo fans, before you start running your mouth, try winning more games against major conferences (except for the one win you had against Rutgers in 2002). Since you were so adamant about calling it the University AT Buffalo, I will refuse to do that. So Buffalo University, thank you for giving us the awful second season of Sorority Life and the only season of Frat Life on MTV. Despite that TV gold, you might want to avoid watching the game this weekend. I have a feeling the Panthers are going to come out angry and with something to prove. Even Matt Cavanaugh came out and said he needs to change the way we approach the game. My level headed prediction says Pitt will win 24-20 in a close clock possession game, the optimist in DPJ is going to say Pitt will win 38-17. A 3 touchdown win should give the team back some swagger and put Buffalo back to a world I like to call reality.

We'll see you on Saturday rain or shine, fireworks or no fireworks.

P.S. look out for the Cat Basket standard on the field.

Some Slight Praise for Cavanaugh

In the Post-Gazette today Paul Zeise wrote a column about the frustrations of OC Matt Cavanaugh and Shady McCoy about the poor offensive performance we saw last week. Surprisingly, somebody on the staff finally took some blame for the poor playcalling and gameplanning. What really suprised me is that Cavanaugh owned up to the mistake with the calling the draw on second down then kicking the field goal. This is a start because as we know the first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem.

Shady in this article continues to show how mature of a player he is. At no point does he pass the buck to the play calling about his poor play and continues to take the blame. I'm expecting a big game from McCoy this week to prove that he belongs in the national spotlight as a player to watch. We couldn't ask for a better ambassador for this university and football program. All Panther fans should be proud of Shady for his attitude.

The only thing that is missing now is the head coach and leader of the team taking some blame for the loss but we know that won't happen. Where is Wanny backing up his staff and his player in the media? All decisions made have to go through him and as the final decision maker it is his job to put his neck out for his guys. Just another example as to how Wanny just doesn't get it and will never get it.

Cavanaugh and Shady take some blame

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Adam Gunn's injury worse than expected.

Well I will admit when I am wrong. During the game I got a text saying that Adam had a concussion. During one of my columns I reported that it was a concussion. Well, the early word was wrong, I was wrong. Adam has a cracked vertebrae and will likely miss the rest of the season. Even if he could return by the USF game in December, I hope he is wiser than some other players (especially one NFL linebacker in San Diego) and chooses to sit out until he is fully healed. Any injury involving the neck or spinal cord must be treated delicately. He is still eligible for a medical redshirt and could extend his Panther career by one year.

When he returns next year he will be guaranteed a starting spot even if his replacement (Greg Williams) has an all pro-season. He will still be a senior while Williams will be a redshirt sophomore. In this system seniority rules, so Adam, play it safe, sit out 2008 and use this time to progress and turn yourself into an NFL linebacker if you can.

All the best Adam.

What If........

I thought we would try to change the focus, like the coaching staff is begging the media to do, to the Buffalo game this weekend. I'm not going to preview this game or make any predictions we have our usual columns for that. What I'm going to do is give a few scenarios and what those scenarios would mean for the state of the program. Get ready for the Ok, the Usual, and the Catastrophic.

The Ok

The margin of victory for us would be in the mid 20s or greater. Stull would continue his solid play of the first half against Bowling Green and put up decent numbers in the passing game. Shady would bounce back from the bad game and return to his All American form. Baldwin would replace Turner in the starting lineup and arrive with a bang. Lucas Nix will get enough snaps to lock down the right tackle position.

Defensively we would see more pressure and usage of nickel packages. Elijah Fields gets a decent amount snaps and he makes an impact. McKillop bounces back and gets 15 tackles. The defensive line dominates the Buffalo line.

Gameplan wise we see a less conservative system that takes chances and turns those chances into touchdowns.

Percent chance of this happening: %1

The Usual

Margin of victory would be at the most 10 points. Shady bounces back and has a big day scoring a few touchdowns. Stull continues to manage the offense reasonably well. Baldwin recieves a few more snaps but doesn't start and isn't used in any significant way during the game. Nix gets a few snaps in the second half when the game looks pretty well in control.

The defense plays similar to what they did in the first half of the Bowling Green game. Elijiah Fields gets a series or two in the second half again, when the game seems well in control. No real changes to the pressure and very few uses of the nickel/dime packages.

Gameplan is almost identical to the one used against Bowling Green. The only change is that the difficult decisions of a close game aren't need to be made. Wannstedt then can claim that his gameplan and system works to perfection and no changes need to be made. Nothing has really changed other than we beat a team we should have beaten and we are still at square 1.

Percentage chance of this happening: 49%

The Catastrophic

All of the problems with the offense continue. Stull has a problematic game due to problems with the offensive line. We see Baldwin used in an almost identical way as to last game. Thomas "earns" his spot on the offensive line and we see no changes to the position.

Defensively we are tricked and neutralized in the same way Bowling Green did. The Bulls gameplan is too difficult to for the coaching staff to figure out and we see the same game. Fields continues to stay on the bench as the coaching staff cites there was no situation they could have used him.

After the game we would see the same blame spreading to some sort of execution breakdown and turnovers. Wanny continues to posture to the media about someething that happened to him in 1991 while coaching the Dallas Cowboys. Pederson comes out and throws a parade down 5th ave for Wanny and Nordenberg signs off on that lifetime extension.

Percentage chance of this happening: 50%

Nothing particularly good is going to come out of this game unless we see a complete 180 from the coaching staff on philosophy and personnel choices. Beating Buffalo with the same style of gameplan means absolutely nothing in the end, all the problems we had against Bowling Green will still be there. The coaching staff will parade a win over Buffalo around like it is a bowl win though no matter what. I don't root against Pitt, it is why I always lose in NCAA Tournament pools, so a win will feel at the very least even.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

No Changes and No Accountability

I've been trying to stay away from writing a column until the reaction of the program to the loss against Bowling Green came out. Well it has come out in the past three days and we have seen the same old tired lines. Nothing has changed with the program, at least, in the public forum because AD Steve Pederson has come out and given Wannstedt his support. Meanwhile, Wannstedt has passed the buck directly to his players blaming the loss on execution.

The biggest indictment of the program and Wannstedt that has come out is the lack of change in the two deep. One position, right tackle, obviously needs to be changed but the official announcement is no change. Wannstedt has said that Lucas Nix needs to play this week no matter what but he has stated that before, remember his interviews before the Bowling Green game. Joe Thomas played the worst game of anybody on the offense but it appears that wasn't enough to lose his starting job. This is indicative of Wanny's entire reign here and I would expect not to see Nix unless we are in garbage time. Another offensive player who is getting the "needs to play" BS is Jonathan Baldwin. Oderick Turner has spent the last two years trying to lose his starting job with inconsistent and undisciplined play but he continues to get reps. Are we to believe Baldwin will start this game? Or is it going to what we usually see and Baldwin getting an extra 10 plays and Wannstedt coming out and saying he wasn't ready.

On the defensive side of the ball I don't believe that Dom DeCicco should lose his job over one poor game but Elijiah Fields needs to see significant playing time. Can we use him in a nickel package as an extra secondary player or perhaps using him in a scenario where he plays closer to the line? Finding ways to get such a talented player on the feild seems simple but with our coaching staff it seems like an impossibility. Our rigid and ineffective defensive gameplan doesn't allow for the usage of all our talent on the two deep. Hopefully, Greg Williams will get a chance to start in place of the injured Adam Gunn because he played extremely well during the second half.

I'm extremely disappointed in the language and tone of Wannstedt's comments since Saturday. He continues to show his arrogance and the fact that he just doesn't get it. Getting flustered and angry about legitimate questions about the performance of his staff is par for the course with Wanny. More and more Wanny is becoming a joke in the local and national media because of his ancient offense and attitude of a time long passed. I'm embarrassed whenever I hear Pitt brought up in the sports media and this situation is only going to get much worse.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Some Labor Day notes

Still frustrated, still upset. That's the only way I can say I feel about everything right now. Given that, I wanted to see how history may play out for the Panthers following this. Looking in my handy dandy media guide, the good news is since 1970 we have only lost the opening game 8 times. Of those 8 times, we have only earned a bowl game appearance once.

4 of our remaining 11 games are scheduled to be on TV. Our record under Wannstedt in TV games is 11-20 following Saturday's game. So maybe that's a good thing that as of now we aren't scheduled too much.

Unless the coaching staff changes the base of their philosophy on both sides of the ball I think we will be in for another tough season. I just don't see the coaches sitting there and going with the same play calling, especially on offense. This Pitt team should beat Buffalo by 40, but the coaches can and just might hold us back from doing that.

On the defensive side of the ball, I just don't see Wanny changing anything. If Adam Gunn's concussion is serious enough for him to miss significant time I think that we will see Austin move to the opposite side with Shane Murray's return this weekend. I also don't believe you will see Elijah playing over Dom.

We haven't seen this staff adapt much to the other team and we certainly haven't seen us make changes to the players who are not performing (with the lone exception being Bostick replacing Smith). So given that, it is no surprise that today Wannstedt said that Lucas Nix needs to "see" more playing time, but didn't say that he would be starting on Saturday. I guess he does need more playing time since he didn't even get on the field for one play last game. It is a terrible thought, but the way I am reading those comments by Wannstedt tells me that Thomas will play until he either gets Bill Stull injured, or until Wanny decides it's time to pull him for no reason. It almost sounds like they don't have anything planned for Nix. There aren't any situations they're planning to use him in and they're not setting a certain criteria for Thomas to fail at before he is yanked.

Another problem I have is that Wannstedt admitted what our plans are for Baldwin. He said "we have certain situations and packages for him and you saw them on Saturday". It must be nice for the other coaches to know that when Baldwin is in, it will either be a deep sideline pass in the 4th quarter or a fade in the redzone. I'm tired of saying it, bench Turner, get anyone else in there. Wannstedt loves the older guys because they don't make "freshmen mistakes". Well, I'd say consistently dropping passes, not running routes when the play isn't for you, and giving up in the middle of a play are all mistakes you would see from a freshman. Bench Turner.

This will be the last thing I write this week about Saturday's game. I'm going to move forward and start covering what we must do to beat Buffalo as well as preview what Buffalo brings to the table.

Before I wrap this up, I want to address something that was brought up in the comments section from a post back in late July. A website was brought to our attention which focused on coaches on the hot seat. Obviously Wannstedt's seat is hot and Cavanaughs is already on fire. 6-6 would warrant a change for the program as the man who wrote it proposed. He also had a much more realistic expectation of our season than I did. I thought 8-4 or 9-3 was what we should expect. Neither of us had us losing to Bowling Green and now I can see us finishing anywhere from 3-9 to 8-4. Since Wannstedt has that new contract that Nordenberg forced on Pederson, we won't see Wanny get fired anytime soon. There is too much money the university would have to eat to get rid of him. I do think that if he goes 6-6 or worse, we will see him step down or at least be encouraged to step down.

The powers that be forced Wannstedt to be hired here 4 years ago and now while they may be fragmented over who supports him and who doesn't, the important thing is that he still has the support of Nordenberg. As long as he has that, it will be hard for Pederson to do anything.

The site also mentioned some interesting names as possible replacements. I will cover them only when action is made to replace the head coach instead of just adding to the speculation. I will however from now on demand that Matt Cavanaugh resign or be fired immediately. Unless we have a terrible offensive showing against Buffalo, I don't see any reason why Cavanaugh would be forced out now. If there are any changes (and there should be with Cavanaugh) they will occur at the end of the season.