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.