Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pittsburgh 20 Iowa 24

Well, that didn't go well.  After it looked like Pitt had things in hand, they let it get away. Some thoughts:

1. The biggest thought I have is that, like I said in my season preview, Pitt has the talent of a 7-5 team. And the weaknesses that make them just a barely above average team is the reason why they lost the game. Those weaknesses are the ability for Chad Voytik to win a game when needed, no playmakers on defense, no pass rush, and a poor secondary. Pitt may very well do better than 7-5, and I predicted 8-4, but that's mostly because of a schedule devoid of excellent teams. The truth is, quarterback and defense is a weakness, and I don't see it getting better anytime soon.

2.  James Conner was great again, but Iowa is good enough that when they knew Pitt was going to run him in the second half, they could slow him up some. He did run for 155 yards on 29 carries, and a TD. But only 55 yards of that came in the second half. And only on 12 carries.

3.  Statistically, Voytik did a letter better than usual but when your best game is 19-29, 250 yards, no TDs, and an interception, it's a problem.  He may get better but if he doesn't he's going to lose his job to Adam Bertke next season.

4.  Somehow Tyler Boyd with 10 catches for 153 yards.  I say somehow because he's pretty much the only player Voytik throws to, so it's amazing he can even get open.

5. Once again the tight ends aren't involved at all, and despite his nice fourth quarter grab, Manasseh Garner has proven to me that he's pretty mediocre.

6.  Iowa came in with the reputation of having one great offensive tackle but a struggling line as a whole.  But when it came down to it, they stopped Pitt's pass rush cold and ran down their throats when the game was on the line. They had such little regard for Pitt that they continually went for it on fourth and one.

7.  The secondary is below average. Lafayette Pitts gets most of the heat, but none of them are above average.

8.  At least Pitt has a good kicker and punter.

9.  Total yards: Pitt 435, Iowa 311.  But when it came down to crunch time Iowa crunched the Panthers.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pittsburgh 42 Florida International 25

And you thought a 17-point win couldn't be embarrassing. Wrong!!! Some thoughts of this ugliness.

1. At least it's a win, FIU is maybe the worst major college program in the country so I wouldn't be too happy about this. And I don't agree with people that say Pitt would have lost games like this in the past. This FIU team lost to Bethune-Cookman, a FCS school, and they are at that level. This may be the worst program Pitt has played in decades. There was a reason there were about a thousand fans there.

2.  I was hoping James Conner could get a rest in this game but Pitt's awful start (and middle, and end) prevented that. He chugged out a harder than expected 177 yards on 30 carries. He also had 3 touchdowns. He also had two fumbles, tough, and that continues to be a problem for him.

3.  Chad Voytik still isn't lighting up the airways as he went 9-17 for 84 yards, and a TD. He also had an interception. He's going to have to get much better in his passing if Pitt is going to beat real times. They are not going to be able to run over everybody. Voytik did run over everybody though as he ran for 113 yards on 12 carries. He also ran for a touchdown.

4.  Tyler Boyd had just 4 catches for 50 yards, including a nice TD grab.

5.  The defense was not good, giving up way too much to such an awful team. Nobody really stood out for the good, and the cornerbacks again looked suspect. They did have four sacks but for most of the game there wasn't much pressure.

6.  Paul Chryst replaced Voytik with Trey Anderson early in the 4th quarter with Pitt up by just 7 points. This is what's known in the business as stupid.  Anderson fumbled the snap on second down then got sacked form behind on 3rd down. I have no idea why he did that. If Voytik had to come out for some reasonable reason than I will take it back, but they didn't work on him and he came back on the next drive.

7.  The pass protection is still not good.

8.  Pitt had more yards, 418-300. The Panthers ran for 320 yards, but passed for just 98.  FIU had 62 yards rushing, on 1.9 yards a carry, but had 238 yards passing. Giving that much up to most teams would be good, but this is FIU we're talking about.





Friday, September 5, 2014

Pittsburgh 30 Boston College 20

Two games, two very impressive wins. Some thoughts:

1. James Conner. What more can you say? He had 36 carries for 214 yards and a touchdown. He is looking like a legitimate Heisman candidate after two games. But I am worried that he ran 36 games against Boston College. It's a long season and there will be games where he's needed even more.

2.  Chad Voytik was shaky at first, despite one nice long run in the first quarter. But after two poor passes in a row in the second quarter, including an interception, he was better. Many inexperienced players like him could fold in that situation but he actually was better. He still has along way to go and must get a lot better if Pitt is going to have a truly special season, but as he gets more confidence he could reach higher levels. On the game he was 10-20 for 111, 2 TDs, and an interception. He also ran for 47 yards on 6 carries.

3.  Tyler Boyd is going to be hampered somewhat this season because of Voytik but he still makes it count when he gets the ball. He came down with 5 catches for 72 yards, and 2 TDs.  He also had 2 rushes for 23 yards.

4.  The offensive line was a bit shaky at first, and still isn't great in pass protection, but in the run game they have been outstanding. Injuries to Artie Rowell and T.J. Clemmings are worrisome, though, because the reserves are inexperienced.

5.  Chris James had 5 carries for 20 yards, and he had one particularly nice 3-yard run on a 3rd and 3.

6.  The defense was excellent for the most part, especially the linebackers.  Matt Galambos, Todd Thomas, and Anthony Gonzalez all played very well, especially Thomas.  The line was also very good both against the run and in the pass rush, though Pitt's best pass rush came on the blitz.  Nicholas Grigsby can really get into the backfield in a hurry.

7.  Three of the defensive backs may be solid in Ray Vinopal, Terrish Webb, and Reggie Mitchell, but Lafayette Pitts continues to struggle. Vinopal and Webb had the two interceptions while the ball rarely went Mitchell's way.

8. Chris Blewitt may be an all-star placekicker. The program hasn't had great kickers over the years, but Blewitt may be one. He was 3-3 on FGs, with all of them over 40 yards.

9. Ryan Winslow also looks like a pretty decent punter thus far, unlike last year when the ball was kicked 70 yards or 20 yards.

10.  Paul Chryst couldn't be happy with the effort at the end of the game. Young teams need to learn to win by closing out a game. They did that, but then got lazy in the last few minutes.

11.  The Panthers ran for 303 yards and they may just be the top rushing team in the country at the end of the weekend.

12.  Pitt had 414 yards to Boston College's 276, but to be honest a lot of the Eagles' yards came after the game was over. And a lot more of it came on a long run early in the game. Other than that Pitt's defense was stifling. It helped that Tyler Murphy is a terrible passing quarterback.

Top 10 PA Players in the 2016 Class

It's no longer too early to talk about underclassmen since so many now commit early. With recruiting more aggressive than ever, schools around the country now try to wrap up kids before their junior season is over. And I wouldn't be surprised if half this list commits in that timeframe.

1. Miles Sanders, Woodland Hills HS (Pittsburgh) RB- There haven't been a lot of big time running backs coming out of the WPIAL over the past decade or so, but Sanders is the real deal. A solid 5'10" and 195 pounds with great vision, speed, quickness, and pass catching ability. In other words, he's the complete package. Already committed to PENN STATE over a group of offers that included Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Virginia Tech. If he didn't already commit before his junior season started, he would have had a lot more major offers.

2. Michal Menet, Exeter Township HS (Reading) OT- First of all, his first name is not a typo, that's how he spells it.  Secondly, what a good young lineman. It's rare for a sophomore in high school to get major offers because they generally take a lot longer to develop, but Menet is a special player. He's only 6'5" 250 now so obviously he'll need to put on about 50 pounds over the next two years. But everything else is there from the strong frame and quick feet, to the toughness and technique. He's from Penn State country so you have to assume they're the leader, but other early offers have come from Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida State, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

3. Naseir Upshur, Imhotep Institute Charter HS (Philadelphia) TE- A few months ago I thought I found a sleeper.  Now he's one of the most offered sophomores in the country. He's a solidly built 6'3" and 235 pounds already, and he has all the tools to be a top tight end, especially his vicious blocking skills, a rarity for such a young tight end. As an added bonus, if he doesn't work out at tight end, he could be an excellent defensive end. Many major offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech.

4. Brandon McIlwain, Council Rock North HS (Newtown) QB- You know it's a loaded year when this kid is No. 4 in the state. Not big at 6'0" 205, and he has to work on his passing skills, but he's an off the charts athlete with a cannon for an arm and blazing speed. His many offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Florida, Auburn, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Miami, Tennessee, North Carolina, and UCLA.

5. Aaron Matthews, Clairton Area HS (Clairton) WR- Kids from this Class A powerhouse get under recruited and those that missed the boat on former teammate Tyler Boyd may miss this boat on this special player, too. At 6'5" and 190 pounds, he's already a great target. The fact that he will only get bigger and has great speed, athleticism, jumping ability, and hands makes him even more exciting. His two big offers right now are Pittsburgh and West Virginia with the rest of the country asleep at the wheel.

6. Damar Hamlin, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) CB/S- Great length if he sticks at corner at 6'1" and 180 pounds. Has good speed and cover ability but may be better off at safety over time. Either way he has the ability to be a big time player. Early offers so far include Pittsburgh, Penn State, and Ohio State.

7. Cary Angeline, Downingtown East HS (Exeter) TE- Basically a tall (very tall) wide receiver right now at 6'7" and 235 pounds. He has no inline blocking skills to speak of so that's something he will need to develop, but as a pass catcher he looks enormous with his long wingspan. He also is a good athlete that runs well, and has excellent hands. Pitt curiously hasn't offered him, but many others have including Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa, Miami, Northwestern Virginia, and North Carolina.

8. Kaezon Pugh, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) RB/LB- Maybe the most intriguing player in the class because is he a running back, a linebacker, or could he end up on the defensive line eventually? Right now he's 6'2" and 205 pounds, but his physique looks like he could get bigger. Already a bull and a superb athlete, he's pure raw talent right now. Will he explode into greatness? That's the question. Many Quips do. Right now Pittsburgh and West Virginia are his offers.

9. Khaleke Hudson, McKeesport Area HS (McKeesport) S/LB- Part safety, part linebacker, all football player. A solid 6'0" 205 pounds now, and how big he gets will likely determine where he plays. Either way he is one of the hardest hitters in the state and he has very good athleticism as well. Bottom line, he's a really good player and one of my favorites.  Biggest early offers thus far are Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

10. Anthony Long, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) DT- Big 6'3" 295 pound defensive lineman that can move like this kid are highly coveted. That's why his early offer list includes Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia Tech.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Panthers pick up another behemoth offensive lineman

In a bit of a surprise, the Panthers landed 6'6" 300 pound offensive lineman Rob Dowdy tonight. Dowdy plays for Westerville South HS in Westerville, OH. He is in the 2015 class. As recently as a few weeks ago, Dowdy did not have the Panthers in his top four. Dowdy can play either on the outside or inside, but if I had to guess I would think that he will end up at guard. Other offers included Miami, Michigan State, Louisville, and West Virginia.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pittsburgh 62 Delaware 0

Well, that was nice to see.  Yes, it's Delaware, but Pitt has struggled with these teams in the past. Not only did Pitt crush them but they played a perfect game. And a perfect game against anybody is a good sign for the future. Some highlights:

1. I've loved James Conner since I've first seem him and I sometimes felt like I'm the only one that thought he could be a superstar. Yes, it's inferior competition but he was still sick with 145 yards on just 13 carries.  He also ran for 4 touchdowns. He looked quick, tough, and good.

2. Tyler Boyd was great on punt returns averaging 11.5 yards a return. He also caught 3 passes for 20 yards, and a touchdown, and ran for 17 yards on 2 carries.  of course the downside is that he dislocated his finger on a punt return and didn't return to the game. It's unknown as of now if it will cost him any time. On a related note, I don't understand why Boyd was returning punts in a 28-0 game over a team that clearly wasn't coming back. Kevin Weatherspoon fumbled a punt previously, but I'd rather him fumble again, or put in Ronald Jones, then to risk Boyd's injury in a meaningless situation.

3. Chad Voytik wasn't called on to do much but he was poised and productive when called upon. The redshirt sophomore ended up going 12-15 for 92 yards, 2 TDs, and no interceptions. he also ran twice for 10 yards.

4. The offensive line looked excellent and Jaryd Jones-Smith saw time at LT throughout the game. That may be something to keep an eye on as the games started getting more serious.

5. Chris James is very impressive. He's very short, which is good for a running back, and he's so quick darting through the hole that he seems to teleport from one spot on the field to the next. For the game he had 14 carries for 78 yards, and 2 TDs.

6.  Rachid Ibrahim was his usual slippery self and contributed 92 yards on 14 carries.

7.  I didn't agree with Paul Chryst putting in backup QB Trey Anderson in at his own 1-yard line with the game still 21-0.  A fumbled snap or bad handful there and all of a sudden it's 21-7. So what happens? Pitt went on a 99-yard drive without throwing a pass.

8.  The defense was excellent.  Delaware has a couple of NFL prospects so they're not exactly duds, but the Panthers gave them no room to breathe at all.

9. The Panthers defense held the Blue Hens to 40 yards rushing on 32 carries, and 71 total yards.

10. The Panthers rushed for 407 yards and had 506 total yards.

11. Pitt's defense was notably more aggressive and had 3 interceptions (Thomas, Webb, Galambos)

12. This was Pitt's first shutout since 2005.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pitt Football Preseason Coaching Grade, Season Prediction, and State of the Program

Coaching: Two seasons and a 13-13 overall record shows that Paul Chryst still hasn't gotten over the hump but that's not a surprise considering how messed up the program was when he arrived. His game coaching is still hit or miss, but that may be because he's still learning on the job. At least unlike past Pitt head coaches he doesn't make a lot of egregious errors.

Chryst has also gotten better at hiring a staff. He has a nice mix of veterans now in Joe Rudolph, Jim Hueber, John Palermo, John Settle, and Troy Douglas, and younger go getters like Greg Lewis and Inoke Breckterfield. There are still some questionable choices Matt House as defensive coordinator, and Chris Haering, but at least the program is trending up.

As far as recruiting, Chryst and his staff are not very aggressive with the big time players, but their evaluation of under recruited players may prove to be outstanding.

Last Season's Preseason Grade: C
Last Season's Final Grade: B-
This Season's Preseason Grade: B-


Prediction:

The truth is, this Pitt team has the look of a 7-5 team. They have good coaching and just enough star caliber players to be better than average. But they are also the youngest team in major college football and have little depth at most positions.

The deciding factor is that the schedule for the Panthers is very much in their favor this year. There is no Florida State or Clemson on the schedule and Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech, and Iowa are at home. The only two difficult road games all season are at North Carolina and Miami and even those games are winnable.

But while fans see probable, or at least very possible, wins against Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Boston College, Virginia, and Boston College, those schools see the same against Pitt.

The two biggest factors for the Panthers this season is the health and progress of quarterback Chad Voytik, and the general health of the team, especially James Conner, Tyler Boyd, and the offensive line.

I have enough faith in Chryst's ability to assume that Voytik will just be fine, and I can't predict injuries. The offensive line should be solid for the first time, and while the defense lacks star power the Panthers defense usually plays hard enough as a unit to be at least solid. And it helps that they won't be facing a lot of excellent offenses.

With that in mind I am going to bite the bullet and predict an 8-4 regular season record for the Panthers. With the right matchup in a bowl the Panthers could have a program changing Top 25 9-4 record. However, if Voytik is hurt or fails, or if there is a rash of injuries to the star players, the Panthers will not come close to that record, and may in fact have a losing record. That's the life of a building program that doesn't have a lot of all-star caliber players yet.


State of the Program:  All of a sudden it's year three for Paul Chryst and so far there is no definite proof that things are any better. Todd Graham was 6-7 in his one season and Chryst followed with a 13-13 overall record in his first two years. In the college football world Pitt is still just there- not great, not poor, just mediocre. But there is a chance that underneath the cursory glance that shows mediocrity, Chryst just may be building something more.

A lot of the future of Pitt depends on this season. After the disaster of the Dave Wannstedt firing, the Michael Haywood hiring and firing nearly simultaneously, and the Graham fiasco, Chryst had a lot of work to right the ship. My preference was to go for a sure thing. I wanted Pitt to pay a known successful head coach a lot of money and give him more money for his staff and the program as a whole. The program was reeling and had reached embarrassing levels (if you consider mediocrity embarrassing). Something drastic needed to happen or Pitt football was never going to be a national player again.

But instead the Pitt administration eschewed the big name and took the safe choice in Chryst. He wasn't dynamic, was never a head coach, and wasn't considered somebody that could recruit. My biggest worry about his hiring is that he would have to learn on the job, something I felt that Pitt had no time for. To make matters worse, Chryst hired a staff that was just as inexperienced and questionable, especially after Bob Bostad decided to flee immediately, and Dave Huxtable was replaced after one season.

Right hand man Joe Rudolph is a quality coach, and wide receiver coach Bobby Engram was a gem. Others were more questionable. But things are better with that staff now. Veterans like Douglas and Settle are nice additions. I never agreed with the hiring of Breckterfield, not because I didn't think he was good, but because I didn't see the point of hiring somebody with west coast ties when an equal coach could have been hired with east coast ties. I still don't agree with it, but he's far from a disaster. He's proven to be a solid coach and he's now starting to get some east coast ties at least.

The hiring of House as defensive coordinator is still a head scratcher. With Chryst and Rudolph being offensive minds it would make sense to have a veteran defensive coordinator. Instead House was inexperienced and nothing in his first year as coordinator showed that he was without a doubt the right choice. He may prove to be the right choice, and he can do that this year with a defense that lacks stars, but until he does it's still going to be a major question about Chryst's decision making in this case.

As far as recruiting, it is frustrating that the Panthers are not considered a major player with the most elite local recruits. While some of the players in question clearly seem like prima donnas, you can only win so many games with boy scouts. I know this is controversial and I'm not saying that Pitt should take a lot of egotistical kids who are dazzled by the flash of the James Franklins, Urban Meyers, and Dana Holgersons of the world, but the cold, hard facts are that many of the best players are like that. The great Pitt teams of the 70s and 80s were filled with such players. Of course Pitt may have decided that they would rather be a top 25 team every once in a while with all good kids, instead of being a top 10 team once in a while with some prima donnas, and if so that's their prerogative.  And, by the way, it definitely does seem that is what they've decided to do.

Too many kids that Pitt has recruited have gone too long without hearing from the staff, and amazingly a few didn't even know they had Pitt offers. That is inexcusable, and more than a little surprising considering that support staff like Bob Junko and Chris LaSala are veterans who are great at their jobs. Somehow between them and this staff there has been a disconnect because this is not something that has happened in the past. This appears to be a direct result of Chryst's laid back approach, which can be both his best and worst trait.

I've also been unimpressed with Chryst's ability to land a topnotch quarterback, especially given his reputation. This is the man who made Russell Wilson a star, not to mention coached Scott Tolzien to the Johnny Unitas Award as the best quarterback in the country.  Scott Tolzien!

Adam Bertke and Alex Hornibrook may both prove to be excellent and they are good developmental quarterbacks, but I'm surprised that Chryst hasn't landed that elite prospect at quarterback.  Worse yet he hasn't even tried hard to land a nationally recruited quarterback. He slowly and methodically looks for his quarterback and this season he came away with Alex Malzone and Kyle Shurmur first, both very good but neither national prospects, who both went elsewhere. Third in line was Hornibrook who was not highly recruited. Let me say again that Hornibrook and Bertke may both end up to be excellent but you'd think that Chryst would try for more of a sure thing instead of a development guy that will take two or three years. Especially since there is such a need for quarterbacks. Let's remember that Voytik is not a sure thing and if he fails then Chryst will fail.  The season before he again went with quarterbacks who weren't nationally recruited in Andrew Ford and Wade Freebeck.  They may also prove to be excellent but you would think with his reputation and the fact that Pitt is desperate for quarterbacks, they could come up with a nationally recruited gem who could be a major factor in year or two. Look no further than Penn State to see what an elite quarterback can do for a program. Christian Hackenberg started right away and he's the sole reason that the Nittany Lions will probably have a winning record this season. It's that important as we may see if Voytik fails or gets injured.

While I'm not thrilled with the quarterback recruiting or the aggressiveness in recruiting when it comes to nationally recruited players, there is another aspect of recruiting that Pitt is proving very adept at, and that's finding underrated players that have the chance to be very good college players.

Not many schools saw James Conner as a big time player, especially at running back.  Pitt did.  They also saw something in little recruited players like Matt Galambos, Rachid Ibrahim, Jaymar Parrish, Shakir Soto, Pat Amara, Quintin Wirginis, Avonte Maddox, Rori Blair, and Connor Dintino, all of whom should have bright futures. Others like Jaryd Jones-Smith, Justin Moody, Scott Orndoff, Chris James, Adonis Jennings, and Elijah Zeise were considered to be very good recruits that are better than they've  been rated. And the current classes doesn't have a bum in the group. Nick Bowers, Alex Paulina, Kevin Givens, Darrin Hall, Sekai Lindsey, Tony Pilato, Tre Tipton, Quadree Henderson, and Kraig Howe could all be very good players at Pitt. And I haven't even mentioned yet the local offensive line trio of national recruits Dorian Johnson, Alex Bookser, and Mike Grimm. Along with quarterback, this is the most important part of a football team so at least Chryst has been half right.

The Panthers have more underclassmen on their team than anybody in major college football making them the youngest team in the five major conferences. That's both scary and exhilarating. This season can go one of two ways. Injuries and Voytik's failure could mean the program flops again, and three straight seasons of mediocrity will finally start to put pressure on Chryst. On the other hand, if Pitt can go 8-4 or even 9-3 in the regular season, the latter possible if unlikely, then depending on the bowl Pitt can be 9-4 or 10-3 at the end of the season. To do that with the youngest team in major college football would put Pitt on the map again. Once again they will get the attention of the national media and the national prospects (though I wouldn't be surprised of the elite WPIAL kids still fall for the flash of Franklin and Holgerson).

Bottom line, this may be the year that we know if Pitt did the right thing by taking the tortoise over the hare. Chryst just chugs along, doing his thing, like he knows exactly what he's doing and without a care in the world. It may be time we know one way or the other if he's a mad genius or just plain mad.