Monday, January 5, 2009

Sun Bowl: The Quarterbacks

I feel that this one deserves it's own post as much attention has been given to the play of the quarterbacks in this game.

Lets rewind to 2007. Pat Bostick became the starter after Kevan Smith struggled to successfully replace the injured Bill Stull. As a true freshman who had missed some of camp, Bostick struggled in games going 3-5 as a starter. Despite this poor record, he did have us in position to win against Louisville and Rutgers as he led two last minute 4th quarter drives that we stopped by a Shady fumble and a bogus pass interference call. Throughout the season as Pat struggled, many people assured us that 2008 would be different as Bill Stull was capable of playing at a much higher level.

In 2008 we saw Stull lead us to our first bowl game under the Wannstedt regime. The major point in the season seemed to be the Rutgers game when Stull was carted off the field. It seemed like Stull was a different player when he returned after that hit. At the end of the regular season Stull finished with 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions after playing in 11 of the 12 games.

What we saw from Stull in the Sun Bowl was just terrible. Even Bill will tell you that he played poorly and has accepted responsibility for the loss. Despite the poor play, there is no reason to pile on the kid. Remember, he is only a college student doing this because he loves the game and because he loves Pitt. While I do believe it is fair to analyze his play, I do not think it is fair to throw personal insults out at Bill. With that said, I will try to keep this as fair as I can with talking only about the play and quarterback qualities, while leaving all of the personal stuff that you've probably read on message boards out of this article.

From the beginning of the game, the staff gave Stull the chance to shine in this game. Maybe it was to catch OSU off guard, maybe it was because Stull had a great week of practice, but for some reason, Pitt came out throwing against the Beavers. The problem for this was that Stull was unable to come close to completing anything. On his deep throws, he was unable to get the ball anywhere in the vicinity of the receiver, and when it was close, it was usually out of bounds. On his short throws he over and under threw routes to the running backs and threw the ball behind the receivers on many plays leaving them extremely vulnerable to a big hit.

These types of passes are ones that we have seen from Stull all season long, so it was not like we should have expected anything different from our passing game. The other problem with the passes were that they lacked zip. I know some people don't feel like that is an important part of passing, but getting the ball to the target faster will allow that person more time to make a move or give the defense less time to make a play on the ball.

All season long, those who have defended Stull have claimed that he is a great game manager who makes very few mistakes. The problem with this is that if you're having an off day, you can not complete the passes to keep drives going which allow you to manage the game. In fact, the only ones who were able to manage the game was the defense.

One thing about Stull that has really concerned me all season was his lack of ability or perhaps desire to check down on his options. Watching the game it really showed that he focused on one receiver and unless he was sacked or threw it away, he was going to throw it to that guy no matter what. If you have the chance to re-watch the game and are OK with subjecting yourself to it once again, you can see several times when other guys on the field were open including plays such as ones we saw later in the game that went to Dorin over the middle. There were times when we had the chance to make plays with the passing game, however poor execution prevented us from establishing any real threat in the air.

The one valid excuse for Stull which I think is a very important one, was the terrible play by the offensive line. The tackles were letting guys get by them all game long and Stull had to make fast throws all game long because of the pressure. I know that if I was in his situation of coming back from a scary injury in which he had to be carted off the field, I would be nervous about getting leveled from one of the defensive ends. If the line won't give you the time to make a play, then you simply won't succeed.

This was definitely the worst performance by the Pitt offense in quite some time. The hardest thing to deal with was seeing that Stull was simply not the answer, yet we stuck with him for 55 minutes of the football game.

When Pat Bostick entered the game, the staff did the right thing by showing full confidence in him since they let Shady run the wildcat for 4 plays and then had Pat hand the ball off on 3rd and 9 (sarcasm here). When they finally did give Pat a chance to throw the ball, he went 2 of 3 with a couple of nice down field strikes to Dorin Dickerson. Sadly the offensive line hindered Pat as he had about 2 seconds on the last play of the game before a defender hit him for the sack.

While at the tailgate, I sat with a guy who claimed that Stull was the be all end all of quarterbacks. He also enlightened me to the fact that Pat was slow, had no arm, no zip, and couldn't read a defense. That my friends, is what is wrong with this fan base. Objectively speaking, yes Pat is slow and he does have that little hitch in his throw. He may not have the zip that I would like of a quarterback but Pat can throw the ball deep, Pat is accurate, and Pat can read a defense. In fact, I would say that Pat probably has the highest football IQ on this team. He is a dedicated, hard working guy who puts everything into becoming a better player to help his team. How many high schoolers do you know that develop plays during their senior year to bring with them to college to help out the team?

The biggest difference between Pat and Bill is leadership. Pat is just a natural leader on the field. He is always trying to motivate and bring the best out of the players around him. He is always the first to congratulate a player after a big play or there to pick them up after a mistake. One thing that concerned me about Bill was that when on the bench he often sat by himself and avoided his teammates. A quarterback has to be the leader of the team since they are such a crucial part. Just because Shady is a great leader and the best player on the team does not mean that everyone else is relieved of their duties to motivate the team. In a game such as the Sun Bowl, we needed a leader to motivate the offense and get them going, sadly, the leader was missing.

I really wish we would have seen Pat earlier because it could have changed the entire outcome of the game. Instead we were left with a 3-0 loss which actually may be better for the long term success of our program (check out my next post about the staff).

Next year we really do deserve a true quarterback competition, not the fake one like we saw this year. We all knew that Stull was going to be the quarterback no matter what this year. Next year, I do believe we will see the same thing. I am 95% sure that Bill Stull will be your starting quarterback for the 2009 season. He is a senior and a Pittsburgh guy who Wannstedt likes. For those of you who want Tino, well that little redshirt freshman tag by his name probably will be enough for Wanny to not trust him with the offense just yet.

We have often seen too much hype coming from kids straight out of high school and while I was guilty of it last year with Pat, I feel that our Pittsburgh fan base is falling into the same trap with Tino. We haven't seen him in a game and just because he had high school success does not mean it will translate to college. Next fall, if Tino truly is the best quarterback that gives us the best chance to win, then he deserves to be the starter. If he is not, well then he does not deserve to be the starter just yet. In my biased opinion, I'd go with the guy who has proven he can win the big game, the guy who can make plays when he needs to, and the guy who has shown he has what it takes to lead the team to victory in crunch time. Pat Bostick should be your 2009 opening day starter. He will be a true junior which is good since Wanny likes the older guys. He has proven he can win and win the big games which no one on this roster has shown they can do yet.

I just hope that whatever quarterback option we see used next year is the best one for the team. While I think it will be Stull, it will be very interesting to see how it plays out. I also enjoy looking forward to reading the Tino is the next Marino threads across the internet that we will see over the next 7 months.

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