Wednesday, December 15, 2010

See ya later Pantherland

Well over the last few years we've had a great time doing this blog. We were there with the hope of 13-9 and the crashing of the last Backyard Brawl. We had always hoped that once Wanny was gone we'd take a step in the right direction. We were wrong.

We thought people who said "Pitt won't be able to get anyone" were out of their mind. We were wrong.

We believed that people who said "Steve Pederson and Mark Nordenberg would screw this up" didn't know what they were talking about. We were wrong.

We thought that the days of Pitt being cheap were over and that a new coach would be given market value. We were wrong.

We laughed at everyone who said that the Pitt administration does not care about football were out of touch. We were wrong.

It is clear that Pitt does not want to make the financial contribution to the program to ensure we will be successful. We will not over look things found in almost every person to find a guy to take us to the next level. We simply are an academic basketball school and nothing else.

We allowed WVU to steal our #1 candidate for the job. We are seeing Penn State start preparing a war chest to hire a top notch coach once JoePa passes. While at Pitt we see a school hiring a guy because he comes on the cheap.

I don't want to bash Mike Haywood just yet. He did turn around Miami (OH), but he was not dominant. He was a few plays away from a 7-5 record. He was known as an offensive guy, but his offense only ranked 83rd.

If Pitt wanted to make a splash we know that the top guys would command top dollar. We even had coaches begging for this job (Bradley/Austin) but did not listen to what they had to say.

This hire is not exciting. The people who threatened to not renew if Wannstedt was removed will most likely not renew now.

Pitt botched this search. It is time to realize that we are a MAC team in a BCS AQ conference. So in the next few years as Syracuse, Louisville, TCU, and our rival WVU are competing for BCS bids as top 20 teams, we will be there along with the Temple's and Rutgers of the world.

If I cared more at this point I would lead the charge to fire Steve Pederson, but I just don't care enough any more. Congrats Pitt. You have taken one of the most die hard passionate fans you've had and now have made me apathetic towards the team.

I will keep posting on the twitter page, but the days of fighting for news, attending press conferences, and having the same level of passion won't be there.

We're grateful for all of the support we've received over the past few years. It's been fun and we're certainly glad that we had some great company along for the ride.

Is it Haywood?

News is spreading all over the place that Mike Haywood will become the next head coach at the University of Pittsburgh. This story started gaining some legs on Tuesday night as Paul Zeise and some others started mentioning his name a bit more prominently. There are also some rumblings that Pitt will be having an official announcement tonight to introduce Haywood as the coach. I've contacted some sources about the topic but have not received a yes or no.

Another report had Todd Graham moving up the list. The main issue with him had money being the biggest issue as Graham was making quite a bit at Tulsa. The raise Pitt would have to give him might just be out of the price range. Graham had a very good offense this year. He also turned around a terrible Rice Owls team and then expanded the success that Steve Kragthorpe left him with at Tulsa.

Now back to Mike Haywood. For an offensive guy his numbers were very underwhelming. He isn't exactly the big splash we had expected Pitt to see either. The big thing about him though is that he is: 1. a family man 2. Has a squeaky clean background and 3. He is extremely affordable. He was only making a few hundred thousand at Miami (OH) and it isn't very likely he will be making much more than a million at Pitt if he does get the job.

Haywood is an extremely interesting candidate as he has been getting rave reviews from many people associated with him. With that said he also was fired from Notre Dame and doesn't have the world's most impressive resume. He did play UF close early on but we later found that isn't the same Gators squad we were used to seeing. They were blown out by Cincinnati and went winless in their non-conference schedule.

His turnaround of the Redhawks was impressive that it did take place in 1 year and that he was able to beat the next great coach (Golden) to win the MAC championship in year 2.

The problem with this hire (if true) is that it won't be one that fills the stadium. We also won't know for a while if it was truly successful. I do fear that if he does become successful that we won't have the money (or free up the money) to keep him here long term. Before you bash me, I'd be thrilled if we had 3 straight 10 win seasons and then saw someone move on to greener pastures. I just think there is too much risk with this hire that outweighs the potential rewards. I would hate to see us take a step back from where we are.

That's the problem with a coaching change, we are all afraid of uncertainty. I would feel more comfortable going for a guy considered to be a "can't miss", but Steve Pederson and Mark Nordenberg have made it clear they are not willing to spend the money to get that type of guy.

So if this is true, I can't say if it's a good hire or not based on early assumption because I'm not getting a strong feeling one way or another. If it is Haywood, let's check back in 3 or 4 years and see how we're doing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What we have come to know about the coaching search

In my years in the Oakland Zoo I have had the privilege of working with many great people in the athletic department. Through creating those relationships with the athletic department staff, coaches, players, and trainers we have been able to report things which may have gone unsaid. Sometimes the people giving the information want it to be released from a source other than an officially released athletic department announcement. Other times we are given info that we are asked not to share and we always request those wishes.

With that said, I have to fully agree with Paul Zeise that getting information about the coaching search is like getting information from the Kremlin. One of the reasons that the information is not coming out easily is because Steve Pederson and Mark Nordenberg are doing a great job of keeping the search between them. Typically with other things in the athletic department, some staffers are given information which they need to complete their jobs. This time, Steve Pederson is identifying the candidates (along with the search firm), using the 3rd party to initiate contact, and then completing the interview. If the person passes Steve's interview, they will move on to Chancellor Nordenberg. This is the main area of the hold up. He has given the thumbs down to Bo Pelini and Dana Holgorsen.

What I can tell you is that Dana Holgorsen and Al Golden were the top 2 on the search. My information leads me to believe it was Holgorsen as 1 and Golden in 2 spot despite what has been reported. I also believe Steve Pederson truly believed he was going to land one of those 2 guys. One thing to keep in mind when reading the released information is that sometimes reporters need to feed information at the request of athletic departments to help negotiations, stall other ones, or for any other purpose. This is a necessary thing because people who get paid to do the investigating need to make sure they keep their contacts and sources of information. That is why sometimes they are the first one on the report and sometimes why they don't give out bigger news items (remember Dion Lewis not practicing and not playing earlier in the year without any reports?). I do this just for fun, so I try to bring you what I can without getting any of my contacts in trouble.

So, right now, all I can tell you is that I have no idea where the next coach is going to come from. I would continue to follow guys like Paul Zeise and Chris Peak as they will probably be first on the scene given their connections. At this point you have to start figuring out who it could be by eliminating some potential guys first, just like PZ did in his redshirt diaries.

From what people have said here are a few names and notes for potential guys:

Mike Leach - if we're making a splash he is the guy. He won't be hired though because if Holgorsen couldn't pass the "purity" test, neither will leach.

Kevin Sumlin - Seems like a guy that would make a great fit, but for some reason his name just isn't popping up.

Mike Haywood - Turned a bad Miami OH program around quickly, but he isn't someone that would really "excite" everyone and the resume isn't exactly "complete" for what we should be looking for in a coach just yet.

Brady Hoke - Success at Ball State, success at San Diego State, but a new deal means he isn't very likely to be coming to Pittsburgh.

Paul Chryst - Another name that has popped up recently, but no information is being provided as to how interested both sides are with each other. The silence between the two is quite interesting.

Paul Pasqualoni - I think the reports of him being a candidate are bogus and don't buy for a second that he is truly being considered.

Teryl Austin/Frank Cignetti/Tom Bradley - Maybe as coordinators but surely not as head coach.

Chris Pederson - He was listed early on as the #1 guy but a great setup out west would probably only be left if the $$$ was above what he really should be paid.

Jay Norvell - He has a limited role in the Oklahoma offense, but has been the OC at places like UCLA and yes.....Nebraska. That right there will give him a huge advantage.

Mark Stoops - What he has is the name and the family tradition. What he doesn't have is all of the success ready to show he should be a serious candidate. The other thing going against him is that he is a defensive guy and Pitt appears to be headed to a guy with an interest in offense. He is a name though that would create a buzz.

Yes this is a lot of information. From this list Norvell and Haywood would be the two I would expect to get the biggest look. You can put me in the Leach, Sumlin, Pederson camp. Any of those 3 would be able to do a good job at Pitt, but as mentioned earlier there are strong reasons against them.

I will do my best to keep digging up information, but at this point it's hard to come by and much of what we are reading is inaccurate (intentionally and unintentionally).

1 week ago today

If you've followed this blog at all over the past few years, it should be clear to you that Jones and I were very much in the anti-Wannstedt camp. We were tired of losing to the Ohio's and Bowling Green's of the world. We had enough of too many excuses and not enough results. Finishing in 3rd place the last 3 years was unacceptable given the weakness of the conference the past few years.

As we reported on our twitter page on the day after the brawl, the plan was in place to have major changes made. It still remains unknown whether or not Wannstedt fell on the sword for his assistants or if he truly was fired after not achieving the goals laid out for him at the beginning of the season. You may have your assumptions, but regardless of what they are the point is that Dave Wannstedt is no longer the coach of the Pittsburgh Panthers.

I wanted to wait and write this article a full week after it had happened because immediately after the news broke (I will admit) I was very excited and felt that Christmas had come three weeks early. What happened after that was something I did not expect at all.

Seeing Dave Wannstedt visibly upset at the press conference really brought out something I never thought about in the 6 years he coached here. Dave Wannstedt and I both want Pitt to win national championships each year. We both want Pitt to be respected in the best light possible. I just never thought I would feel such an emotional attachment to a man that I wanted to see removed for the past few years now.

I suppose it was a combination of seeing someone who loved the University so much fail at the quest he laid out for himself, the team, and the fans. It certainly didn't help the way it was handled by the Pitt administration. For the first time since he was hired, I felt bad for Dave Wannstedt and felt he deserved better.

He will have the freedom in his new job to come and go as he pleases just like Johnny Majors, so he can be involved as much or as little as he wants to be. I hope that even though he is still removed from his role as head coach, he does not become too involved with the new coach. The new coach needs to have his space and needs to be able to mark the squad as his team now. How much involvement he will have won't be known until some time passes, but it will remain an interesting question until then.

As we stand now though, we have a man who failed at his job and was rightfully let go. He was unaware a change was coming and as a coach you need to be very sensitive to things such as that. The fact he remained unaware of the thought of a change was the last example of a regime that was defined by excuses and an attitude that made it appear as if he had a life time contract. Since it is all said and done, I hope he is able to do well in his new position and can leave Pitt on his own terms now with his head held high.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pitt vs Cincy Preview

Typically by the end of the year you can get a pretty good feel as to where every team stands making these little previews and predictions a bit easier. For the 2010 version of the River City Rivalry, this is not the case.

The 4-7 Cincy Bearcats have only won 1 game in their last 5 including three losses by 20 or more points. Part of the reason for this has been the struggles of the Cincy offense. We all know junior quarterback Zach Collaros can sling the ball all over the field, but recently that has included the other team. He had 4 picks in his previous game which was a huge reason why the Bearcats earned their 7th loss instead of fighting for bowl eligibility this week. One thing which might be surprising to Pitt fans is Cincy's ability to run the ball. Isaiah Pead has only appeared in 9 of the 11 games this year, but is closing in on 1000 yards for the season. More impressive is his 6.8 yards per attempt. So while the common thought is that Cincy will pass all over Pitt like they did last year, we should expect to see a more balanced offense from the Bearcats this year.

As for Pitt, we all know where we stand. We've dropped 2 of the last 3 including a nail biter against USF along the way. With the exception of a phenomenal performance by Dion Lewis, Ray Graham, or Jonathan Baldwin, the Panthers should not expect to have a 1000 yard rusher/receiver this year which is surprising given the hype and expectations placed on two of those 3 players.

The defense has had their share of problems recently, especially in the passing game. That has been the one consistent mark of the Panthers over the past 6 years. Whether it's Paul Rhoads, Phil Bennett, Chris Ball, or Jeff Hafley, we can't stop the pass (except when you have Revis on one side of the field). Add in to the mix we're asking linebackers to cover receivers and we are asking for trouble.

Butch Jones has had success before the Cincy job and I expect him to have success with the Bearcats. This game is important for them because finishing 1 game away from bowl eligibility can be a much easier sell than finishing 4-7 while playing in the worst BCS conference.

As of now, the Bearcats are 2 point favorites against Pitt (that's embarrassing). To be honest, I don't even know how this game will play out because you don't know which Pitt team will show up and you don't know which Cincy team will show up. If we have the Pitt team that played Cuse and Louisville we will win regardless of how well Cincy plays. If we are average and the Cincy team that played Oklahoma shows up, well we are in trouble.

I would love to be able to have 2 guesses on this one. I would say if Cincy can pass we will lose and if they can't we win. I do believe that the first team to 30 will win the game. If the scores stay below 30 then Pitt will win.

My prediction is that Pitt will win 31 to 7, Wannstedt wins this one and the bowl game against some MAC team and my nightmare of Wanny on the sidelines continues for another year as this 8-5 disaster season comes to an end.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dave Wannstedt, It is Time to Resign

From the moment he was hired, all we hear about was how lucky we were to have a true Pitt guy. People were worried our next hire would end up like Ben Howland and leave for greener pastures. Add in to the mix the statements that he is a great guy, a great ambassador to the University, and a players coach. All of the items that people claimed the previous coach was not.

Now in year 6 we find ourselves in the same spot we have been in for the past 25 years. We are stuck in the middle, not able to get over the hump. The worst part of this is all is in each of the last 3 years we have had an easy path to the Big East Championship but have blown it each time. Every year the path becomes easier, but we find a new way to serve what Pat Forde calls "A Wannstedt Special" by blowing it. In 2008 we needed to beat Cincy at Cincy but failed. In 2009 we needed to beat Cincy at home, but blew a 21 point lead and lost at home. This year with a 2 game lead and 3-0 start to Big East play, we blew it again and now are looking at a third consecutive 3rd place finish.

With TCU coming into the league in 2012 the path to the BCS becomes even harder. Upon their arrival and with the improvements around the league, Dave Wannstedt will never be able to win an outright Big East title.

So now, if all of the statements of Wannstedt being a "Pitt guy" are true. If he really is a great ambassador to the University and wants what is best for our school he will resign. He will not force Pitt to wait another year due to a buy out. He will not continue to create strain among the relationship between Steve Pederson and Chancellor Nordenberg as they both have different ideas of what should be done.

Dave Wannstedt has the easiest choice to make in all of this. He can resign effective immediately after the bowl game and retire. If he isn't ready to let go yet, then he can offer to take a huge pay cut and serve as an assistant to the program much like Johnny Majors did. If he refuses to step down, if he refuses to negotiate a buy out, and if he makes Pitt take the tough road, then he is not truly a Pitt guy.

Johnny Majors left the program for Tennessee, but when he returned and failed he did the right thing by taking a different job and freeing Pitt to move forward (which they did). Foge Fazio was a Pitt guy but realized he would never be anything more than a successful coordinator. It is time for Dave Wannstedt to realize he is just like Foge. He is a Pitt guy who is best suited for the coordinator role, but is ruining his team.

People in Chicago hate Dave. People in Miami hate Dave. It is time to take the high road here and leave before everyone in Pittsburgh, your city, your Alma mater, end up hating you as well.

Dave Wannstedt, it is time to resign.

Friday, November 19, 2010

PItt vs USF

BJ Daniels, BJ Daniels, BJ Daniels. There ya go. That is the key to this game.

When Matt Goatse was hurt and Daniels came in, South Florida found out very fast they had a quarterback that could make some plays. The only thing that troubled him was consistency (sound familiar?). Well in the last few games for USF, BJ Daniels has played very well and the Bulls are on a nice little winning streak giving them just a glimmer of hope in the weak Big East.

Before you give up on this game, just remember Pitt has had some success and some failures against dual threat quarterbacks which should make this game very interesting.

The first thing you should know is that the plan is for Dom DeCicco to play in the linebacker position to spy the quarterback. This means that we will be stuck in our base 4-3 all game (hey Nickel packages are gimmicky right?). This also means the pressure will be on the secondary as we play more towards a run stopping defense leaving the secondary in more single coverage.

Daniels has shown that when he is off, he looks terrible, but when he is on, the defense is in for a long day. If Skip Holtz has watched any of Pitt's games in the past, he should know that a run-spread option isn't exactly the best method to beat Pitt. Actually the game plan should be to copy Russell Wilson and NC State from last season.

A hurry up spread-pass option with a dual threat quarterback is probably the worst situation for Pitt. Given our refusal to adapt quickly (or at all for that matter), a fast paced offense to take advantages of mismatches early might be the best way for the Bulls to put the Panthers away.

The results of this game will be directly related to BJ Daniels. If he can muster up a good performance with few mistakes in the passing game the Bulls will be in good shape. If he makes some bad choices and relies too much on the run then Pitt will be in the drivers seat.

I'm saying Pitt wins this game 28 to 21.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

All aboard the excuse express

Yeah yeah yeah, we've heard it all. We're young, we didn't execute, blah blah blah.

All I can say is that Wannstedt built this team from top to bottom, he should know how to win with it. We lost to a team that was blanked by Louisville. We gave up on a punt block and gave up selling out for the run to get the ball back close to the redzone.

Crap coaches play well in games that don't matter but lose the ones that do matter. We have a crap coach.

So what does this mean? Well we can finish 8-4 lose in a BCS game and have the same thing happen next year.

We can finish 7-5, end up in a tie for 1st, still failing to win the Big East out right (unacceptable) and get blown out in a bowl game.

We could finish 6-6 (not unfathomable) and really would things change?

Nordenberg loves Wanny and has too much control over athletics. He wants them to have a clean program (which I'm glad we do), be moderately successful, and not spend the real dough needed to be a top tier team.

If you've ever wonder why Pitt fans don't show up to games, don't have an atmosphere, or just don't care in general.........well, look at the picture of Dave Wannstedt and that is your answer.

He has lost all of the good will he had early on from even the most staunch supporters. The kool aid drinkers will tell you the cupboard is bare, Romeus is hurt, we lost our line/Adam Gunn. Well enough excuses. Just say, I messed up, I am at fault. It is funny people labeled him "Not my fault Walt", but when was the last time you ever heard Wanny accept blame for something? I'll give ya hint, the answer is never. It was always the fault of someone else.

Pitt is mediocre because we choose to allow incompetence year after year. In the end, it doesn't matter though because after all we got our Pitt guy. The Pitt guy that no one else wants.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's time for Uconn

I don't know about you, but I get pretty upset looking at our record when playing in Connecticut. From the slide, to flash in the pan quarterbacks, it seems like Uconn just gives us fits. To make matters worse, this game is a Thursday prime time game which will be an extra incentive for the fans to be a little louder than usual.

The fun thing of this game is that we're seeing the Big East favorite against everyone's "Big East Darkhorse". Well sorry folks, that pony is dead because Uconn straight up sucks.

Sure they have the win over WVU, but let's face it, that had more to do with WVU turnovers than it did with the play of Uconn.

This game should be a breeze for Pitt, but if you read any message boards you'll find some interesting stats such as: Wanny is something like 3-8 following bye weeks and he has a losing record in prime time games.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't get the feeling that we are or will ever be in jeopardy in this game. To me it feels like the basketball game we saw the Panthers win on Monday against URI. Sure there might be some tense spots, but you know what's going to happen at the end of the day. It will be a Pitt win.

I'm hoping Romeus gets some plays in to allow him to knock the rust off for the games we will truly need him for later on. Because of the Ville doing us a favor against Cuse and the other Big East teams helping us uphold the great Big East reputation, Pitt should be able to get to the BCS game even with a hiccup along the way.

As of right now I'm hoping for 3 things.

1. A 27 to 10 victory over Uconn tomorrow night
2. Beating WVU in the brawl so bad they decide to fold the university
3. Somehow getting to the Orange bowl and beating a crap ACC team (even though we'll probably end up against the B12 in Arizona).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bring on Buttgers

This Saturday at noon, 40,000 people will be there to watch the 3-3 Panthers take on the always overrated, never anticipated Scarlett Knights. Pitt did what it had to do last week and dominated a weak Syracuse team. This week the Panthers should do the same.

Rutgers comes in with an over inflated record of 4-2 having beat teams such as Army and Norfolk State while dropping games to UNC and the powerhouse Tulane Green Wave. The most striking thing about Rutgers record is that most of their games are extremely close. All of their games against teams not named Norfolk State have all been decided by a touchdown or less.

If Rutgers plays Pitt close, then I do not like our chances. We typically do not fare too well in close scoring games. This plus the fact that Schiano has really dominated Wanny over the past few years does lead to some cause for concern (but not too much).

The thing you'll hear most about this week is Eric LeGrand who suffered a very serious injury leading to him becoming paralyzed from the neck down. Pitt is taking the right approach by having students and fans sign a well wishing banner. I am sure everyone has the same attitude as me where an athlete in this situation is much bigger than the game. I really do hate Rutgers, most of their fans, and pretty much the entire state of New Jersey, but I hope that Eric is able to recover to the best of his ability and hope that this does not limit his life or future in any way.

The Pitt students from 2006 and on really have been much better about showing class in many different situations for all sports. You don't see too many incidents like Chris Quinn or Chris Thomas, heck even the F*** The (insert opponents name here) chants have taken a backseat in the past years. I know the students will do their best to cheer for the Panthers and not do anything tasteless in reference to the current situation.

Back to the game, the real question I have is which Dr. Jeckyl or Mr. Hyde team will this Panther squad be? Will we be the team that plays fearless and has the chance to be successful like we did against Utah and Syracuse, or will we come out in a shell and not perform as needed to earn the win like we saw versus Miami and Notre Dame.

The tough thing about the 2010 Panthers is that there really isn't a way to know which squad will come out. A down and out Panther squad beat favorite Cincy at home when all hope was looking lost for the season in 2007. We also saw the 6-1 2006 squad get blown out at home to Rutgers ending our season with 5 straight losses and no bowl.

We will see the good Panthers this week if we are able to do the following items.
1. Stick with the hot running back. We don't need to worry about Dion or Ray's feelings. The running back who is having the most success should get the bulk of the carries.
2. Don't allow Rutgers to throw all over us. Every player in our secondary not named Jared Holley has really not performed as needed. The defensive backfield has been a huge question mark for Pitt under Wanny and if we can't stop the pass, we can't win the game.
3. Don't stall out on 3rd downs. This is a simple one to figure out. Most teams lose games when they aren't able to convert on 3rd down. This means running routes to the sticks on passing plays and not the "safe" dump play or draw.
4. Pressure Chas Dodd. Most people thought Tom Savage would be leading Rutgers for years, but Dodd has made the most of his chances this year. If we are able to knock down the passer early, we should be able to limit his performance.

The bad Pitt will be present if:
1. We rely on our linebackers to stay in single coverage against 3 or 4 wide receiver sets.
2. We need Tino to carry us on his back throughout the game. The young quarterback isn't ready yet in this season to win a game by himself. This basically means don't let Rutgers get out to a big and early lead.
3. The defensive line does not get pressure. We are build to destroy the line of scrimmage, and if our front 4 rushers can not contain the line to stop the run and get to Dodd, then we are in trouble as you know we won't blitz all that often to make up for the DLine struggles should they be present.
4. We continue to have penalty problems. Every game this season has seen Pitt making too many mental mistakes. Even last week we were committing too many penalties (even if they were coming late in the 4th quarter).

This is a game Pitt should win (and I hate typing that), but with Rutgers and Schiano you never know. The hopeful future Penn State coach seems to have Wanny's number and can always implement a new scheme or idea which we aren't ready for (remember the "we didn't expect them to pass" excuse?).

I say Pitt wins this one easily by a score of 28 to 17.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Expectation Creation

I had a discussion with a fellow Pitt fan (and huge Wanny supporter) who basically accused me of being a bad fan for expecting Pitt to finish either 1st or 2nd in the Big East every year. This fan stated that with the cyclical nature of football we should expect to win one or two per decade while sharing the rest with the rest of the teams.

This person didn't find it too amusing when I reminded him that Wannstedt had set the bar in terms of expectations immediately after his hiring. "the 52-year-old Wannstedt thinks Pitt can win a national championship and contend each year in the Big East Conference. ". I guess sometimes the truth hurts when you take off those blue and gold color glasses.

That is the problem with this team. Real fans want to win 10 or more games every season. They want the Panthers to finish at the top of the league and earn BCS bids. Will there be a bump in the road from time to time? Absolutely. That does not mean that we can accept one 10 win season surrounded by extremely mediocre seasons. We rose from the dead at the end of the 90's only to be stuck somewhere in the middle. Year 6 of Wanny and we're still average/below-average.

When Pitt heads into this game on Saturday, just remember we have gotten to the point that in year 2 of the Doug Marrone era, Pitt is an underdog to Syracuse. So if we win, the apologists will claim we won a game we weren't supposed to win on the road. If we lose, no big deal, we weren't even favored.

How have we fallen this far where in year 6 of Wanny, we are now underdogs to Syracuse.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Checking out

Well folks, he's finally done it. Dave Wannstedt has pushed Jones and I to the point where we can't just take him anymore. For all of the problems he has had, the items we have complained about, and countless disappointments we have stuck by the program through some good times and bad. The one thing that kept us coming back was the possibility of hope. It was started with promises of Big East titles and a pledge to be competitive on the national stage. Hope was quickly lost after 3 bad seasons, but restored with a 13-9 victory. Bowling Green started to take away some of our good will, but a nice season kept our hopes on the rise only to be dashed by a terrible Sun Bowl performance. A nice 10 win season was lost after a major collapse against NC State, but even worse a loss to the rival hoopies in a meaningless loss meant that after a Wannstedt style failure against Cincy kept Pitt at 3rd in the Big East. 6 years into the Wannstedt era, only 2 bowl games, 0 Big East championships, and finishing no better than 3rd.

This past weekend, we took the annual Cat Basket road trip to Notre Dame. As we played not to win, Jones and I talked about our road trips and how Wanny has ruined almost every single one of them.

MSU - With Kevan Smith struggling, Oderick Turner dropping game winning passes, and Shady starting only due to an injury to Larod, we waiting too long to make changes. We had plenty of opportunity to win the game, but Wanny stuck too long with Smith and never let the Wildcat develop in the 2nd half where it showed some promise. Pitt loses a winnable game on the road.

Navy was a game which should have been celebrated as a blowout win against a team that had beaten the Panthers in a very questionable game the year before. Instead of being able to enjoy a great experience and seeing the Panthers move on, for some reason Wannstedt felt it was needed to put Pat Bostick in the game for no reason. Pat later played at and beat Notre Dame, but at the time, putting Bostick in and wasting a potential red-shirt was a major mistake.

Buffalo saw the Panthers build a nice lead, only to have Buffalo claw their way back. It wasn't until late in the game when the Panthers put away this MAC team. This was probably the best performance I have witnessed from the Panthers on the road.

The Sun Bowl against Oregon State, well, this one speaks for itself.

Notre Dame this year. We play non-aggressive football. Most disappointing was how the game started to wind down and with 5 minutes left we call 2 straight runs into a weak interior portion of the line. Rather than being prepared on what to do, we have to call a time out just to punt. We wasted that time out and showed we had no desire to win that game.

Those are the type of items that fuel the Wannstedt bashers, and those are only from 5 road games. Mix in all of the other disastesr we have witnessed and been a part of, it is clear that this team will never be more than mediocre with Wannstedt as the coach.

Pitt was terrible pretty much from the moment Jackie Sherrill left the school. It wasn't until Walt that we returned to mediocrity. Dave Wannstedt has continued the practice of being average/below average and we won't get out of it with him in charge.

The best case scenario for Pitt would be for Wannstedt to resign (which he is too stubborn to do) and to find an innovative coach to take over. The apologists will say no one wants this job. I think that Utah, Cincy, CMU, Boise State, TCU, and others have found pretty good coaches for programs who aren't (or weren't) considered elite. Another great argument is that it is a stepping stone job. Well my question is would you rather have a lifetime of 7-5 or a span like we saw in the late 70's/early 80's where other schools are actually interested in our coach? I'd rather take the chance to have a national championship contender, because right now, no one is interested in taking Wanny off of our hands.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Time to beat the drunks

Well after a blown call, 3 way too close quarters, an offensive bust out in the 4th, and another stellar day for Ray Graham, the Pitt Panthers are headed to South Bend this weekend with a 2-2 record.

The offense looked pretty bad at times last week and really didn't find a groove until the 4th quarter. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this team will not have a chance to crack the top 25 again unless Tino becomes more consistent in his last 3 years of eligibility. While the offense was struggling the defense manhandled the inferior Golden Panthers and prevented this game from being more of a nail biter than it could have been.

The strong defensive showing is a good sign heading into our 2nd toughest road game of the season. This week we will be up against the best coach that we have seen in the last two seasons. Brian Kelly is a great coach and has really dominated at every level he has been at. No matter where the guy ends up, he wins. The reason for this is that he can find ways to mold his system around the players he has instead of trying to mold the players into the system. As we've seen here, that doesn't always work.

Notre Dame will be spreading out the field against Pitt. The match up I'm most interested in seeing is if Dom DeCicco will get significant time again at linebacker. I don't buy Wanny's excuse that it is a nickel package. Dom is basically playing linebacker in a coverage role. Regardless of that, Dom is the one guy I would trust to line up at linebacker and cover a receiver. Sure Dom probably isn't as fast as most of those guys, but he is a former secondary player and having experience at safety should lead him to have a better grasp on proper coverage than a linebacker.

The thing that will make this game is does Brian Kelly still have the blue print on how to beat Dave Wannstedt? Now some people will tell you that Kelly has destroyed us when we've met. Let us not forget that 3 years ago Pitt defeated a ranked Cincy team at home. 2 years ago with the Big East title on the line LeSean McCoy was in the middle of a play to tie the game when the Cincy Students rushed the field and for some reason everyone stopped, Wanny never mentioned it, Cincy didn't get flagged, and the game just ended. Last year, well, that was all Wanny's fault for not adjusting the special teams and the game plans when things were getting a little troublesome. That is exactly what happens when you take your foot off the gas and have an attitude that "any mistake is never able to be overcome".

This will probably be the worst ND team we see over the next few years, so the Panthers better strike while the Iron is hot. Both teams have huge question marks and neither squad should be underestimating the opponent. Playing in South Bend is never easy. Heck, I'd probably guess and say it's impossible for a sophomore quarterback with only a few starts under his belt to go on the road and beat Notre Dame on the road (wink wink).

At the end of the day, this game means more for Pitt than it does for Notre Dame. For national perspective Pitt needs to with the game for ourselves and for the Big East. A loss here most likely means a 7-5 season after predictions of 10 wins and a Big East championship. That simply would be unacceptable. A win however then gives us a victory over 1 of the 3 actual real non-conference opponents. It sets the table for Pitt to enter Big East play on a 2-0 run in a league that is winnable for any team.

Picking a winner of this game will be tough because Notre Dame is flat out awful this year. What makes it tricky on the Pitt side is that you never know what type of Wanny coached team you will see on the road against a major opponent. Do we play aggressive on both sides of the ball or do we come out in a shell like we did against Utah?

My best guess is that it will continue to be a low scoring contest (I'd take the under) and neither team will win by more than a touchdown. The line is currently Notre Dame - 6. Somehow I just see the Panthers winning another nail-biter here. Pitt wins this one 24-21.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The reality of being a Pitt fan

Year 6 of Wanny and we are still rebuilding. That is the only way to look at this year's team. I spent the weekend refraining from all of the Pitt message boards, didn't listen to any local media outlets, and tried to clear my head to allow myself to think clearly about the realities of the program.

Last night I watched the game again and felt like I was stuck in Groundhog Day. The same issues we are seeing in year 6 are the same we saw from Wannstedt throughout his career. The offense is completely ineffective, the quarterback isn't given any opportunity (from coach or line), and the defense is based all on the defensive line.

In the past 6 years we have accumulated some great talent at running back and defensive line. What we haven't done is find a quarterback who can win games with his arm, we haven't found and developed offensive line depth to play at a high level with capable backups ready, and we haven't found a back 7 on defense that can do much.

The entire problem stems from the offensive philosophy. We are doing what Wannstedt thinks should be done regardless of whether or not we have the players to do so. Our interior line is by far the worse since I started following Pitt football in 2000. This group prevents us from running the ball and controlling the clock. That is what is needed to win under the Wannstedt system.

Miami and Utah sold out their defensive backs to stop the run, especially up the middle. What did we see when they did that? Well Pitt decided to run the ball up the gut play after play. We had a situation in the 3rd quarter where Dion ran a sweep and gained 12 yards. The next play was power-16 right up the middle for no gain. Round hole, meet square peg.

The inability of the offense to dominate the time of possession forces the defense into a position where they can not win since we decided long ago to play a "bend, don't break" style of defense.

Last season we saw Cignetti get creative with his weapons. This season with a new quarterback, the loss of our star Flex-TE, and several new starters, we have become more bland on offense than anyone could have expected. When we do switch it up, we use a play that everyone was ready for when Greg Cross was tackled for a loss on his reverse pass. Part of me feels that Wannstedt used that play not caring if it failed because if it did then he could use that as an excuse as to why we have to stick with our base power-run offense. If it did work then he could say he does use different wrinkles when appropriate (even if it is only 1 time per game).

At the end of the day, none of this matters. Nordy and many blue and gold sunglasses fans are happy because they have a coach who would rather tell you about how he was successful in different places because of Jimmy Johnson and while painting everything blue and gold rather than focusing on winning a game.

Dave Wannstedt is not suited to be a head coach. He failed with the Bears, he failed with the Dolphins, and he is failing at Pitt. With him in control we can expect one or two 9-10 win seasons every 5 years with several 5-7 win seasons mixed in between. The worse part about it is that the people who can make the choices don't seem to care.

I have given up faith not with Pitt football, but with the Pitt administrators who seem to have made every bone head choice with Pitt football since the 1980's. I have lost faith with the fan base who accept mediocrity because they're paranoid that no other person would want to coach a division 1 team in a BCS conference. These fans would rather embarrass Pitt in national TV games instead of hearing that their coach is wanted by another school. The sad fact of the matter is of the division 1 schools, none of them are trying to hire Dave Wannstedt.

This is what we have folks. We have an average team with depth at running back and defensive line. We have a coach who is well below average at what he does. We have an administration who is not willing to make the moves or invest the money to improve Pitt back to a national power. So while we talk about how great we were in the late 70's, we can give future generations of Pitt fans new memories that we are a basketball school that once had football tradition.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pitt vs Miami preview

Well folks we are 2 days away from what should be our toughest game of the season. The U returns to Heinz Field after their last trip here prevented Pitt from making the Orange Bowl. The big difference these days is that Miami is not the powerhouse, national championship contender, they once were. Today they are a shell of their former self with a few good play makers but many average college players.

Both teams have already been tested in big games with the Panthers falling at Utah and the Hurricanes falling against Ohio State. You don't see two BCS teams like Pitt and Miami heading into their 2nd big game of the season after 3 weeks of college football, usually that time is reserved for cupcakes (just ask VTech).

The story of the game is how the Panthers will stop the overrated Jacory Harris. Let's set this straight folks. Harris just isn't as good as he is made out to be. He can make plays and does show some good flashes now and again, but doesn't do enough, or enough of it consistently to be an elite quarterback.

What he does possess is the skill set to defeat the Panthers. He is a mobile qb who can throw the ball out of the spread. This spread is something different than what we saw vs. Utah as the Hurricanes offense tends to go for longer plays putting more pressure on the defensive backs than Utah did. So while both spreads could hurt us, they are different styles. The good thing about their system is that it helps bring back the defensive line into the game instead of eliminating them through quick passes.

I don't think Randy Shannon is dumb enough to ignore our major weaknesses in the back 7. I expect to see Miami come out with different looks and different over the middle passes that we haven't seen from them yet this season.

Now on the offensive side of the ball for Pitt expect to see a little more of an even split between Dion and Ray. The key is does it matter with the way our line is playing? Lippert and Turnley should be seeing some time this week over the injured Karabin and the struggling Greg Gaskins.

On a prime time Thursday night game, I fully expect Wanny to go into all out conservative mode like we saw against Utah before the end of regulation. If we don't adjust to the stacked box, we won't be seeing Dion have too much success for the 3rd straight game as we are playing directly into the opponents hands.

Overall I see Miami frustrating us with their passing ability. This countered with stopping the run is the recipe of disaster for the Panthers.

The game will be close at first, but eventually I just see Miami pulling away with a score of 31 to 20.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blowing a redshirt

With the struggles on the line, how great would it have been to include John Malecki and Joe Thomas on this team. Sure they were seniors last year and their time is passed, but guess what. We had a chance to have them on this team.

In Thomas' case, he played a significant amount of time his freshman year so technically we didn't blow the redshirt. In the case of Malecki, he played about 4 plays on defense his freshman year. What we were left with is a huge hole in the middle of our offensive line.

Now with Greg Romeus potentially out for the season there is talk that we may burn TJ Clemmings redshirt. Now don't get me wrong, I think that Clemmings is going to be a fantastic player by the time his career at Pitt ends. The issue here is that the DLine has been our deepest position for a few years. Now with one star going down, we're talking about blowing a redshirt for what surely will only be a few plays.

Wannstedt almost never plays the freshmen. Look at the team this year, we do not start any true or redshirt freshmen. The youngest players we start are true sophomores Dion Lewis and Dan Mason. The rest of the team is made up of redshirt sophomores and older guys.

To "fake" use Clemmings for a couple of plays this year would be counterproductive for future success. I really hope Wannstedt does not blow it in this case.

Mason's mysterious suspension

Well I shouldn't really call it mysterious, but who doesn't love some alliteration. Dan Mason was with Jason Douglas when he was involved in the DUI/Hit and run. Since he was there and was involved by association, there was a price to pay.

Today Dave Wannstedt announced that Dan Mason would be moved to the 2nd team for Miami. That probably means something like the suspension that Rod Rutherford had for kicking out that girl's window at Philthy McNasty's way back in the day.

My guess is that Mason only misses a series or two.

Think about this Pitt fans. Against Miami, our starting linebackers will be Tristan Roberts and Greg Williams on the outside with Max Gruder playing middle linebacker. That is scary.

Romeus out indefinitely

The good news keeps rolling in for Pitt. Senior defensive end Greg Romeus had surgery on a disc in his lower back. Right now it is unknown how long he will be out for. Dave Wannstedt said he hopes to have him around for the conclusion of the season.

Given how secretive Pitt is with injuries it is hard to know exactly how much time he will miss. If he is unable to play for the rest of the season he may be eligible for a medical redshirt. 99% of the time he would most likely go pro after the season regardless of the injury based on his potential, but the high likelihood of an NFL lockout may have him consider his options a little more carefully.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Extra room at running back

Well this can not be good. As reported by Chris Peak at, freshman running back Jason Douglas found himself in some trouble. On a personal level for the kid, this could be disasterous. Two major felonies might not just mean the end of his career at Pitt, he could be looking at some serious penalties in life for this type of action.

For Jason, I hope he can learn from this and eventually avoid situations such as these in the future.

For the Pitt program, our Fulmer Cup standing will likely increase. We will really need the Graham/Lewis combo to stay healthy as these two will be the work horses. We should be able to find a kick returner relatively easy given our depth at the skill positions. Lastly, I hope that Savon Huggins sees this and knows there might just be some extra room for a 5 star running back here.

Kick them back to the 'Shire

After a tough loss, serving up a FCS school is exactly what the team needed. It allowed some of our guys to rest (Romeus), it allowed the coaches to see players perform in real game action (Tino), and allowed guys to get back into their groove (The D-Line/Ray Graham).

What the game didn't allow us to do was see improvement in our 3 most needed areas: Interior O-Line, Linebackers, and Secondary.

For the second straight game, Pitt chose to run heavily up the middle with Dion Lewis. The Panthers failed again to create holes for him and he was limited to very small yardage against a team we should have dominated. To make matters worse, Chris Jacobsen left the game with what appeared to be a lower leg injury. With a big game coming up against Miami, this would be a good time to see if Ryan Turnley can play as well as he appeared to play this week against a legitimate FBS team. If Jacobsen can go, then it is absolutely time for the staff to sit Gaskins. He appears to be too timid and shys away from contact. Those are traits that an offensive lineman can not have.

There is a vocal group of Pitt fans who seems interested in switching to Jack Lippert as the center. While I think it would have been a good idea to do last week if there was a chance he was needed, this is not the week to do so. Against Miami, we will need a group of linemen with some experience ready to go. I don't see the need in starting a red-shirt freshman in his first year at the position at the division 1 level against Miami in a prime time game. This is one situation where experience/age trumps potential ability.

The defensive line was a bright spot shutting down a successful offense. We were able to get to the quarterback 6 times after failing to do so against Utah. Like I've been saying all off season, this team will only go as far as the D-Line takes them.

I'm lumping the linebackers and D-backs together in one group. This really is a huge weakness for the team. In all of the games we will lose this season, I can promise you will see poor O-Line play, and defensive breakdowns in the back 7. We are simply asking guys to make plays they can not. It appears that while Max Gruder may be the "thinking man's linebacker" of the group, where he knows the defense and plays a big role, he just lacks the play making ability. Dan Mason still has potential to grow, but in pass coverage he constantly finds himself out of position. I have no complaints with his run stopping ability, but the other half of his game needs to improve. The Roberts/Williams combo still hasn't shown much for me to say there has been legitimate improvement.

The one area of major improvement which I love seeing was the Panthers coming out and throwing the ball more. Tino showed that he can make the plays when given the chance. We also saw that when we can run the ball, we can use the pass to set up the run. That might not be music to Wannstedt's ears, but it is the truth. Ray Graham exploded for over 100 yards and 2 TD's after we used the early second half passing game to establish the run. I have a feeling we will need to do this for say........every game as we can't trust the interior line to create holes for the running backs.

Overall this was a good game for the Panthers to get back on track. Wanny still used his tired excuses of "we're not where we need to be" and "we are a young team" (despite not starting any freshmen), but with more experience we can move to where we need to be and inexperience is lost. We just need to use what we learned from the 2nd half an apply it to Miami. If we come out slow and conservative, we will not win this game.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Villanova invited to the Big East, and no one cares.

When news leaked about the potential offer to Villanova to join the Big East in football, some fans became angry, some fans became excited, but hopefully most fans were like me and just didn't all.

Let's just be blunt about it. The Big East Conference sucks. In fact most college conferences suck (unless your name is the SEC). Adding Villanova is no better or worse than adding a school like Memphis, ECU, or UCF. Nova is a small catholic school with a small following. Having 7,000 as your enrollment isn't exactly the most exciting number to supporting big time athletics, but hey, more has been done with less in the past.

The supporters are saying this will allow the Big East to corner the Philadelphia market. HA! People in Philly may care about specific schools for Big East basketball, but as a whole, they don't have a market for 1 specific team. Temple, Nova, and Delaware could all make cases to being "Philly's school" if marketed there correctly, but Temple hasn't done it and Nova/Delaware will never do it. You might not like to read this, but most of Philly's college fan base is going to end up going to Penn State.

Another argument in support of this is that we will see the establishment of a Big East TV network. Well, unless the network is going to show 24/7 Big East basketball, then no one cares. Will we show Big East football but exclude Notre Dame? Will we show Notre Dame basketball but ignore their football program? I like to think our gutless Big East leaders would include Notre Dame on the Big East TV deal pot so that they can keep getting extra money from different sources.

Against the Nova Wildcats is the fact they play in a small stadium, lack a true/rich history, and don't have the (to quote Kirky H.) "sexy factor" when being considered as an expansion school. For all of those reasons......well I agree with all of them.

The group that we haven't talked about yet is the conspiracy theorists. I'm shocked that I haven't read too much of the "now that Nova is a football school we can break away from the Catholic B-Ball schools" type postings. So let me give you a little fodder here conspiracy theorists. What if (even though this will NEVER happen), we take Nova for football, scoop up 3 of the Army, Navy, ECU, Memphis, UCF, or Temple group so that we can have our own network, a Big East Championship (HA!) game, and retain dominance in football. Sure we we won't be able to play extra games against St. Johns in the Garden, but who wouldn't love a trip to Philly in early February to see the Panthers square off against the Owls in what surely would be a terrible dominating basketball game.

Really, no matter if this does or does not happen, it doesn't make any difference. The only thing that will change is that we will basically have 2 FCS level teams on our schedule (well 3 if you would have counted FIU) instead of just the 1.

This move means nothing to me, and it should mean nothing to you.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On to New Hampshire

Well one of the things more disappointing than losing a close game on the road is realizing your next game puts your car in the friendly confines of Blue 10 instead of Red 5 (thanks Steelers/Pitt).

This week we have our home opener at 1 p.m. vs FCS team New Hampshire. The Wildcats are coming off of a big win which saw their running back pile up Dion level numbers. This is a team that holds wins over FBS teams in each of the last 5 years and they are looking to make Pitt #6.

While Pitt should win this game easily, it will provide some much needed help for the Panthers. The Wilcats will be running their version of the spread and will be looking to replicate the success of Utah vs. our defense. This will give Pitt a chance to see the type of offense they will be facing for the majority of the 2010 season as most teams are now looking to this type of modern offense and know that Pitt has difficulty covering it as our slow linebackers are forced to line up against slot receivers.

The defensive line needs to have a monster game this week. There is no reason our All-American's shouldn't be able to throw around these division 2 offensive linemen while stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. The play of the front 4 is essential to preventing our back 7 from having to make plays, which is a good thing.

We will get to see how our offensive line plays after a terrible start to the season. Yes we will see 9 guys in the box and yes we will see Dion being forced to run up the middle on several straight plays. If the line can create some holes, Dion should be able to rack up at least 150 yards with a couple of touchdowns to get the train back on the tracks.

If there was a game to let Tino loose and see what he can do, this is it. You don't have to worry about hiding him, or worrying if he does make a mistake because we should be up by a large enough margin to overcome what negative plays occur.

This week, I predict my tailgate party will hear me complain over and over again about the parking situation (screw you blue 10) and Pitt will win the game by a score of 35 to 10.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Post-Utah - The Defense

Overall, one way to describe the entire unit is Terrible.

Our great defensive line decided not to show up for this game. Maybe Sheard/Romeus aren't as great as advertised, maybe the Utah air slowed us down, or maybe we just really missed Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas. Regardless of the excuse the D-Line needs to make more plays. From a unit that lead the country in sacks last season, we were unable to get one this entire game. Pressure on the quarterback was not consistent and filling holes led to runs which should have been stopped sooner. This group needs to get their heads on straight if we expect to have any success this season because they are the anchors of the group.

The linebackers should immediately have Wanny on the phone with every recruit in the country to see if they want to play here. Max Gruder for some reason has his spot locked up despite not being able to shed tackles, not having any tackles for no gain/loss, and looking lost in pass coverage. The only positive thing you can say is that his pass coverage skills are slightly better than Dan Mason's. I really had high expectations for Mason this year after flashes of brilliance last year. Mason will be a fine run stopper, but his pass coverage ability for a linebacker needs to improve fast if he hopes to succeed at Pitt and make it to the next level. The last spot belonging to Williams/Roberts is a huge hole as well. After 5 years of recruiting here, you would think we would have an above average trio of linebackers, but that is not the case. The one redemption for this group is that everyone realizes we are putting them in no-win situations all of the time. We can not expect our outside linebackers to cover slot receivers all game and be successful. The other move that we aren't adjusting to is when a team puts their #1 receiver in the slot, we are not adjusting. That would be like if we lined Baldwin in the slot and had Max Gruder line up for coverage.

In the secondary, Antuan Reed, and Ricky Gary actually didn't play too bad. Don't get me wrong, they weren't great, but they could have been much worse than they were. I think these guys will steadily improve throughout the season and leave us with less complaints through each game. The same can be said for Jarred Holley. The guy is an absolute play maker. He had the best game of any player on the defensive unit and certainly won't draw any complaints from me. If every player had done their job as well as Holley, we would have won this game. The biggest gripe about this unit is the use of Dom DeCicco. Who thought it would be a good idea for him to continually add more muscle to the point where he can't run as a safety should anymore. The guy is now a linebacker playing in the secondary. He continually is out of position and has poor tackling skills. He hurt his shoulder on a play that he typically goes for. Instead of wrapping up properly, he leads with the shoulder trying to knock the player down with the big hit instead of taking him down securely. With his status unknown for the New Hampshire game we will get to see Jason Hendricks get some extra playing time here. Hopefully the return of Andrew Taglianetti gives this group some relief as he has looked like our best option there so far.

There is much to complain about from this group and the coaching should be included as well. Not breaking from the base defense all game, stating we had too much inexperience, and not having accountability is what killed this team. We can not have the same tired excuses game after game, year after year if we want to become and remain a dominant defense. At some point, the words have to translate into actions and plays have to be made. Either that, or someone has to take the fall for the poor execution whether it is a player or coach.

Post-Utah - The Offense

I had a feeling Pitt would lose a close game against Utah, which is why I predicted a 3 point defeat for the Panthers. I just didn't think that while expecting to lose a close game, I could come out of it with such a negative reaction.

I guess I felt that even if we did lose a close game, our 3 hyped studs (Lewis, Baldwin, and Romeus) would all have great games. What we saw was the staff limit the success of the offensive guys, and the defensive line disappear.

On offense, Tino looks like he can be the real deal. He isn't the best quarterback in the country, but he does have the skill set and tools to be a successful college quarterback. His biggest drawback is the handcuffs that the staff has placed on him, and probably won't ever take off given Wannstedt's usage/trust of quarterbacks.

Dion Lewis and Henry Hynoski did as much as they could in their positions. They made the plays that they were given room to make. The staff did a terrible job using them though as they were forced to run against 8 and 9 man fronts who knew exactly what we were going to do. If we continue to play this way for the rest of the season we won't have to worry about Dion's chase for the Heisman because he will be injured and won't have a shot to pile up stats. He was getting crushed out there.

The offensive line was terrible. If your name is not Nix or Pinkston, you should be worried about losing your job. The interior of the line could not have looked worse. They didn't get any push for the run game, didn't provide Tino time to pass, and looked exactly how a group of linemen should not. Greg Gaskins might be the worst lineman to ever suit up during the Harris/Wannstedt era. I never thought I'd wish to see Dom Williams return to play guard, but he would be starting on this team if he were here. Ryan Turnley and Jack Lippert need to be given serious looks this week in practice because if this line does not turn around quickly, we will be hard pressed to win 8 games.

The wide receivers were the bright spot of the offense. When they were given a chance to make plays, they did. The nice surprise was Cam Saddler showing some good ability as a slot receiver. His speed will compliment nicely to Shanahan and Baldwin. Speaking of those two, how can we not be using them more, especially in the red zone? As Paul Zeise pointed out, of 17 red zone passes, only 1 was to the end zone. Even if you aren't planning on throwing to Baldwin, having him on the field in those situations immediately draws the attention of 2 defenders away from him giving your offense more room. There were even situations where he was in single coverage and we refused to utilize him, instead opting for the runs against a 9 man front.

Mike Cruz showed again that he is a pretty good player. He has very nice hands, but shouldn't be counted on to block too much. For that, we were using Brock DiCicco who right now looks just as bad on offense as his brother does on defense. His false start penalties and poor blocking prevented us from sustaining drives that could have been a difference maker in the game. The big question I have from this group is, Where was Greg Cross? If he truly was to replace Dorin's role from last year, this is one game and one time we could have used it. I guess we're hiding it for the big 3rd place showdown against WVU in November.

Overall my biggest complaints are with the coaching and the offensive line. We saw Wanny's achillies heel back in full force Thursday night. I don't care if it was his or Cignetti's game plan, but it was awful. An audible, play action, or mis-direction play might not be in the 1990 Chicago Bears playbook, but it should be in the 2010 Pitt Panther's playbook.

Given our redzone opportunities and expansive set of skill players, we should have put up much more than 24 points. This is what we need to realistically expect from this type of team the rest of the season and the rest of our lives as long as we are playing this type of football. Regardless of what the defense does, we will run our standard offense and try to force our will over theirs, even if we are losing all game long.

Acquired Apathy

For the past 10 years, as a Pitt football fan, I could really never understand why we never had more of a rabid/passionate fan base. We have had many reasons to see great crowds with tremendous enthusiasm, but we never found them.

After the past few seasons I can finally understand why this attitude exists. It always seems that when a Pitt football team is ready to take the next step forward, we end up stumbling.

In 2004 with a top 10 team and the most legitimate heisman contender we have had in 30 years, we lost at Toledo in a game where we were up by a couple of scores in the 2nd half.

With the introduction of Dave Wannstedt, the return of Matt Cavanaugh, and keeping defensive guru Paul Rhoads, the Panther faithful were excited to see what this coach could do with a team coming off of a BCS berth. What we had was a slaughter at Heinz Field at the hands of Notre Dame. While this could have been overlooked due to the introduction of then hot coaching prospect Charlie Weis introducing his offensive dominance, we then saw the Panthers fall in overtime to Ohio University.

In 2008, the Panthers were starting the season after preventing our hated rivals from West Virginia from playing in the National Championship. We were introducing a monster recruiting class and had things lined up to make a play for the Big East title with the last coaching wizard, Rich Rodriguez, leaving for Michigan. What we had was an opening day loss to Bowling Green, giving us our 3rd loss to a MAC team in our entire history. Things did not get better as it took a late 4th quarter comeback to defeat the Buffalo Bulls at home. The season ended with a truly embarrassing 3-0 loss at the Sun Bowl where the Pitt offense hit rock bottom.

In 2009, Pitt had a chance to earn more respect than ever by going undefeated in the Big East and earning its first BCS bid in 5 years. On a cold November night, Pitt lost to a lowly WVU team in a game that fans claimed "Didn't mean anything". That game was followed up by one of the biggest collapses in Pitt football history as a huge 1st half lead was squandered away against Cincy. That allowed the Bearcats to finish undefeated and pushed Pitt back to 3rd place in the Big East.

This season with Brian Kelly gone, a top 20 ranking, 2 great offensive weapons, a vaunted defensive line, and a quarterback fans have been screaming for the past 2 seasons, Pitt was in a position to take that long awaited step forward. You will hear excuses that losing a close game to Utah is not that big of a deal. Those people making that excuse do have a point. The bigger issue is that Pitt had a chance to win the game, but passed instead taking the safe move to play for the tie. When we did take a chance, our first play in over time resulted in an interception leading to a loss.

Now those are just the issues since I've been a Pitt fan starting in 2000. I can see how fans who have been around much longer than myself can lose hope and simply go to root for the team, but not expect too much. Honestly that is the point where Jones and I are right now. We will be at every game as we always have been, we will be cheering our hearts out for the Panthers, but we won't be expecting championship after championship as it won't happen with this program.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pitt vs Utah Preview

Well today is the day. Our Pitt Panthers will kick off the 2010 season in Salt Lake City. This is one of the premiere non-conference games and will be a huge starting point for the victor in this game.

No longer can Utah be looked at as a non-BCS underdog ever since their undefeated season a few years ago with Urban Meyer at the helm. Since that point, Utah has been a force in college football. They have played well enough and garnered enough support to earn them a spot in the PAC-12 meaning, they are now a BCS school.

Leading into the game you have heard all about the superstars for Pitt and the great home field advantage for Utah. We also are waiting to see how new comers such as Tino Sunseri and the back 7 for Utah fare in their first action as starters.

For Pitt to win this game, they need to have a balanced, successful, offensive attack. Utah has a very good defensive line which could cause many problems. The weakness of this Utes team will be in the secondary. We finally get to see the true trust level of this team as Tino is the first quarterback that Wanny has recruited long term for himself. If they let Tino throw as much as Bill Stull towards the end of the season, Pitt should be in good shape tonight. If they hold him back, Pitt is in trouble. Utah knows that we are going to run the ball all day long. A 1 dimensional offense will allow Utah to hide their secondary playing directly into their strength. A few successful passes will push them back a bit allowing more room for the running game. Without the respect for the pass, we will see the Panthers struggling in the run game. Due to this, Pitt should not expect to run the ball all game and expect to win.

On Defense, I expect Pitt to play very well. Pitt has done well against most versions of the spread. This shouldn't be like the Fiesta bowl where all of the misdirections and lack of defensive adjustments leads to a dejected Panther fan base. What we should expect to see is the defensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, stopping the run, and putting pressure on the quarterback. Our main weakness will come from the outside linebacker position and cornerbacks. Dan Mason should be in store for a great season, but if we do not see improvement from Max Gruder and the Williams/Roberts tandem, we are in trouble. We also need Ricky Gary and Antuan Reed to provide consistent, adequate play. We saw our corners struggle ever since the departure of Revis. I don't think any fan is ever expecting to have a cornerback like him year in and year out, but consistency at the position will go a long way in helping the team reach their goal of a Big East Championship.

For this game I don't see Wanny opening anything up offensively since we are opening in a hostile environment with a sophomore quarterback starting his first collegiate game. This over-reliance on the run will pose problems for the offense as our new interior linemen will most like struggle with Utah's front four.

On defense Pitt will hang and play well keeping us in the game. The defensive line will be as good as advertised and be a menace all season long. The linebackers and secondary will have their mistakes, but they will provide enough for Pitt to play solid defensively and remain one of the top units not just in the conference, but in the country.

My prediction:

Pitt 27, Utah 30.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The 2010 Season is here

We are inching ever so close to the kickoff of the season. In a little over 2 days, the most anticipated season of Pitt football in the last 25 years will take place.

Amazingly, this is one of the few years in recent memory where we are favored to be the best of the "local 3". With the pressure mounting, the team and the fans are getting anxious to start the season.

We have returning sensations Jon Baldwin, Greg Romeus, and Dion Lewis. All three should have great seasons, being able to expand on what they were able to accomplish previously. My only hope is that people do not have unrealistic expectations of what each can accomplish.

Greg Romeus will be seeing more double teams than ever given the hype as well as the departure of Mick Williams. That does not mean he can not be a force this season. I am hoping that he can earn double digit sacks and continue to be a menace of a pass rusher.

Dion Lewis will have the chance to continue his great Pitt start as he will be the anchor of the offense. Lucas Nix and Jason Pinkston provide great consistency and have the skill to seal the edge giving Dion room to run. There is some concern replacing the entire interior line, but the staff seems confident in Karabin to replace Robb Houser. The Cat Basket has always been a fan of Chris Jacobsen since his KO days and feel he will be able to step in right away. Greg Gaskins and that right guard spot continue to be a huge question mark for Pitt. If the interior line is able to provide adequate run blocking, Dion should be able to at least reach last years totals.

Jon Baldwin is a major part of the offense and is one of the biggest weapons we have. He will be counted on to help Tino Sunseri make the transition from backup QB to starter. His numbers should increase as he will be the primary target for most passing plays as well as with the departure of other receivers who were big targets last year. A new quarterback often locks into the first target during the early portion of his starting career, so don't be surprised when you continually hear Sunseri to Baldwin.

If those three players have big years, Pitt should be able to make a run for a Big East title. This is the year where a 9-3 team can win the Big East. Losses to Miami and Utah won't be devastating, but a split is needed if we are hoping to gain some respect as a major program returning to glory.

Personally I see the Panthers finishing 9-3 with 1 Big East loss and 2 non-conference losses. Hopefully a 6-1 Big East record is enough to push us forward to a BCS game against a beatable ACC team.