Monday, December 15, 2008

My Regular Season Review

So now that the 12 games have played out I thought I would give my thoughts and opinions on this season as a whole. This has been quite the roller coaster ride of emotion and success. My prediction on the podcast at the beginning of the season was 11-1 but that didn't come to be.

The first three weeks of the season absolutely broke me as a Pitt fan. I've never been a fan of Wannstedt and I couldn't believe that this season was going to be any different than the past 3. Losing to Bowling Green opening week just reinforced my pessimistic view of the staff. We came back week 2 and barely squeaked out a win against Buffalo, who over the course of the season has proven to be a decent team. Then we played Iowa when they were starting the wrong quarterback and having much of the same problems that we did, we some how squeaked out another win. 

After an extremely shaky first half we found a way to get past Syracuse then game the South Florida game. Beating USF, while USF was still ranked nationally, felt like the turning point of the entire program on that night. Next week at Navy we had our first dominant performance of the Wannstedt era. Then came the big loss at home against Rutgers and we were back to square 1, another terrible home loss for a coach who has had his fair share. At Notre Dame we squeaked out another one and it there were back at weeks 2-4, barely beating teams who we should have arguably blown out. 

Then came the big win against Louisville and we were staring down the Big East title. The Cincinatti game was another spirit breaker and another step back from the ultimate goal of a Big East title. An emotional win at the Backyard Brawl helped put the season back on track. Finishing out at UConn with a big win gave us the reward of the Sun Bowl. What a confusing narrative of a season and what is the final story?

Things I have taken from this season:
  • Shady is an all-time great player and next year for him has the potential for ultimate greatness. He will be a Heisman contender.
  • Our QB situation is much worse than it was at the start of the year. We now have statistical and video proof of the lack of talent we have at the position. Something needs to change here in the off-season. 
  • If we can find a replacement for Scott McKillop the defense could be great next year. I thought by the end of the season we had a legitimately good defense.
  • This team is incredibly resilient and that trait makes them extremely dangerous. I'm in awe of the leadership to keep fighting through bad losses to salvage this season into something positive.
  • The offensive line has become a real unit under Tony Wise and I'm interested to see what the line will look like next season.
  • Speaking of needing change the offensive play calling needs to be revamped. Whatever we are doing isn't working and bad play calling in key situations has cost us games. If that means a new staff on that side of the ball so be it.
Finally, I would like to say that this season has been a wash for me. We are exactly were I thought we would be and I'm excited to see us in a postseason bowl. All the positives of the postseason bowl are slightly negated with the obvious problems that still exist on the offensive side of the ball. This season feels like the start of the ascension of the program to its place as the power in the Big East but let's not get ahead of ourselves and forget the problems of the season.

All in all a very enthusiastic thumbs in middle (but that is a fairly good thing considering how the season started)

8 comments:

Michael said...

my assessment is simple: we lost games that completely crippled everything he had worked for until then. Bowling Green we obviously should have beaten, and losing essentially made the previous season even more of a waste. everything we had worked for was lost in an instant.
the next two weeks the team took stock in beating two beatable (but turns out decent) teams (thanks again iowa). Playing against the black and gold in heinz field must have been amusing to many locals. USF was a big win, and at the time many thought it was a bigger win for the program than the 100th Brawl. turns out it wasnt, as USF turned out to be shit. sorry bulls. screw you, goatse. yadda yadda yadda, navy, yadda yadda yadda, RUTGERS!
everything was going well. we were on an amazing high. we had beaten USF and smashed navy in a revenge game. and rutgers was suffering more than we were last year. But sure enough, our secondary got annihilated, billy got knocked out cold, and we lost in every aspect of the game. it's a shame, too, because shady's first drive was immaculate. but Teel answered... This loss was the worst loss that could happen to us this year. Not only losing when we were ranked against a down and out team that had no business in beating us, but we lost BIG. Our offense did their job. We put up 34 points, if I remember correctly. Our defense let us down, namely the secondary. Teel torched us and decided he wasn't gonna lose anymore. This loss ended up costing us a lot. It killed momentum at the wrong time, and it basically cost us the Big East.
We win more and more and then lose to Cincy. This game was winnable, but it would have been very difficult. We could have won, if we somehow found a way to score in the middle two quarters. we only start and finish strong, which is good, and gave me confidence when we were down against WVU.

The last two games were mainly emotional ones. Games to get monkeys off our backs. The Brawl was great, and so was beating Uconn.

Keys to success? consistency. Stull CAN make those passes, but has proven to be a huge question mark. Will Tino ever play? Will Bostick ever start? I dunno. Our secondary needs to play with more consistency, and our linebackers need a leader like McKillop to dominate. Our scheme can now be more creative, instead of funneling everything to him.
I don't know man. Shady has some things to think about as well. I think he'll make his final decision (despite what he claims) after the Sun Bowl. He's staying here, most likely, as he has shown himself to be a completely selfless player and model student, even if he doesn't always wear a shirt to class.

rkohberger said...

I don't know if, after reading your assessment of the 2008 season, I should laugh or cry. What I do know is that you lay the blame of not reaching YOUR expectations of an 11-1 season at the feet of the coaching staff instead of examining your own overblown expectations.

I'll look at finishing with the most wins in 25 years as a good season - especially coming off a 5-7 season in 2007. Most programs, even ones that have a better track record of success than PITT does, would look at a four game swing in the W/L record, and reaching a good bowl game for the first time in years, as a real achievement instead of a disappointment. But that's PITT fans for you.

As far as our recruiting goes - If you think DW and staff went out on a "QB hunt" to get someone that can contribute in this upcoming 2009 season... you're dreaming. Wannstedt has clearly stated he'll never start a true freshman again, and he won't. Whomever we bring in as a QB recruit in this class will sit behind someone currently on the roster for at least one year, if not more.

Complain as you will about Stull's play, and it was terribly inconsistent, in some way he did what DW wanted him to do. Mostly that was limited turnovers (he had an very low Pass:INT ratio) and make enough plays in the second half of games to allow PITT to come back and win. Don't underestimate what that meant to the staff. I'm not saying Stull is, or should be, a lock to keep the starting QB spot, but I'll be surprised if he's not the front runner by virtue of being the QB in eight wins this season.

Personally I'd like to see a real open competition at QB going into the training camps. Whether or not DW feels the same way is the question.

However - pointing fingers at our QB play to explain away our losses is a bit of misdirection IMO. We need to take a real honest look at our defense if we want to figure out what went wrong in our losses. As good as we'd like to believe our defense was - it was also the root cause of each loss - 27 points to a MAC team, a complete meltdown against RU (when our QB did everything possible to keep us in that game) and allowed Tony Pike to operate at will against Cincy.

Football is a team game and so I think it's whistling in the wind to point to any one thing or any one player to put all the blame on - but IMO our defense is accountable as much, if not more so, than our QB play.

DPJ said...

RKO -

When I initially read this I first completely agreed that 11-1 was a very high standard to set for this team. But after thinking about it, we were very close to reaching that goal.

The Bowling Green loss is one that I really put most of the blame on the coaches. The team was not ready for this game and that is a problem with the coaching. The game plan execution was awful too. You hit the nail on the head when you said what a qb needs to do for Wannstedt is to manage the game. That has been Stull's great strength this year. He doesn't make too many big plays, but he doesn't make too many costly mistakes. However, the staff did not feel they could rely upon him and the rest of the offense to go for it twice in Falcon territory.

The Rutgers loss was a bad one as our coaching was not prepared again ("we never expected them to throw on us") as we weren't prepared for the pass and we didn't adjust when they came out and did it. Given the Stull injury I won't put this one on the coaches but I will say that we were not ready for that team.

In the Cincy game, just like many others our first drive was thing of beauty. We were prepared and the planning had worked perfectly. In the end we didn't put it together because we stalled so much in the 2nd and 3rd quarter. For that, I won't and can't blame the coaches.

I think realistically 10 wins was an appropriate estimation as a weak big east and a weak OOC schedule should have permitted us to get 10 wins. Now to say we couldn't have snuck out another one for 11 wins isn't inappropriate either. In the world of sports, you always see teams that shouldn't win pull out a victory (see last night Cleveland state vs Cuse).

The national quarterback search is a real thing. While we will never see a true freshman start at qb again, I have been told that they want guys in here who would be able to play early. For them that most likely means as a redshirt sophomore, but the staff does feel that the qb position is their number one weakness on the team and is why they are going all the way to Texas to land Kolby.

In the end people had there fair share of blame to go around and I just hope that the players and coaches who were accountable are held accountable.

Kyle said...

Don't forget the importance of Duncan in the middle. Our defense is built around him; McKillop's numbers are so impressive in part because offenses have to double-team Duncan. Replacing his role will be a high priority next year.

DPJ said...

We have a very big upgrade over Duncan if a certain someone is healthy, and that is a truly big IF.

Doug Fulmer looked like the best lineman in camp this year. He was unblockable. If he can get healthy and return the form he was at in camp, he will have no problem filling that role.

johnny said...

Dave,

I'm holding out hope on Fulmer, but two ACL surgeries worries me. Best case scenario, I'm betting he won't be at full speed until week 6. I am optimistic that a fully recovered Mustakas will be improved, though he had a good second half. I'm also interested to see if the hype around Caragein's development is for real.

rkohberger said...

IMO expectations should be based on what we have returning and on what kind of schedule we will face. In all honesty, I though we'd lose three or four games. Cincy was the only loss that I wasn't surprised at, although RU didn't shock me much - except in the way the game actually played out.

I was very skeptical of fan's exhorting 10 or 11 wins - and looking back with hindsight and saying "it was doable" isn't addressing expectations. Anyway IMO going into the 2008 season thinking we'd win 11 games was too much.

I don't doubt that the staff is actively looking for another QB to fill out the roster spots in the future - but if you read the PITT fans message boards you'll see that a ton of fans are hanging on this Texas kid like he'll be able to waltz in and steal the starter's job right away. My point was that will never happen n 2009, for a variety of reasons.

As to the Duncan replacement - he was a good one no doubt - although I thought his play was pretty streaky. IMO Caragein will be a very good replacement for him, possibly even better than Duncan was. Mustakas is healthy again, and we have some great players returning on the D line, so that aspect of the defense should be OK.

I'm not too worried about the LBs either - we have seen kids under DW move into starting roles there and do very well. McKillop obviously, but even Ransom's switch produced positive results.

My main concern is at DB and we better have some young kids that are ready to get playing time, because IMO all the DB and Safety spots should be up for grabs. Berry and DeCicco probably have their positions safely under their belt - but we need desperate help both on the field and in the defensive coaching side there.

dugdogmaster said...

I don't know how anyone could be disappointed in this season....