Monday, October 20, 2014

Pitt Basketball Preseason Outlook and Prediction

GUARDS

Cameron Wright- The 6'5" fifth year senior had his best season last year with 10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, and 1.8 spg.  Not bad numbers on the surface but when you look further, you can see that Wright's shooting, especially at shooting guard, leaves a lot to be desired.  Wright shot 45.6% from the field, which is good for a guard, but that was mostly because most of his baskets came in close or in transition. From three point range, Wright shot an anemic 23.3%, which is awful for a starting shooting guard. His 67.0% from the FT line was also below average.

Wright is at his best in transition and when he's not called on to be a big offensive threat. That's not ideal for a starting shooting guard, and there's no denying that in the half court offense Wright has been a mediocre offensive threat at best. If he can suddenly find a more consistent jump shot he would end his career as a good all around player. If not, he will continue to be a solid player and nothing more.

A broken foot in the preseason will probably prevent Wright from playing in the first six or eight games, including the important Maui tournament, but if he has no setbacks he will likely be back in the starting position by mid-December.


James Robinson- The 6'3" junior came into Pitt with high expectations, and many are losing hope that he'll ever reach those lofty expectations. Those people may want to be a little more patient. As a sophomore, Robinson improved in every category, but for the most part fans still were looking for better offense. That could come this year. Jamie Dixon wants Robinson to look for his offense more, and this could finally be the year that he becomes more than just solid.

As a sophomore, he averaged 7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.1 apg, and 1.5 spg. His free throw shooting was a solid 79.4% and a barely respectable 34.3% from three, but he shot just 40.1% from the floor. The numbers are (here's that description again) solid, and that's petty much how Robinson can be described in his Pitt career this far. He doesn't shoot often and when he does it's not good enough to be a plus. His defense is solid in most cases, but not good enough to compensate for his lack of offense. His assists stats are good, but for somebody who concentrates mostly on quarterbacking the team, they should be significantly better. His turnover ratio is one of the best in the country, but it's mostly because he rarely attacks. I think you get the point. Robinson has some good points, just no great points.

On the bright side, however, he's now a junior and will start for the third season. He's lost weight to get quicker and as I stated before there's more expected from him this season. If he's ever going to make a significant jump into an elite player, the time is now.


Josh Newkirk- This is where things get interesting. The 6'1" sophomore has more natural skills than both Robinson and Wright, and now that he's no longer a freshman he has a chance to take major minutes away from the veteran duo. With Wright injured, Newkirk should get the start at shooting guard, and if he lives up to his potential, Wright will have trouble getting minutes back.

As a freshman, Wright averaged just 4.6 ppg, but in the last seven games Wright got more minutes and averaged 8.0 ppg over that span. His only major weakness is his free throw shooting where he shot 44.7%. That's a number that obviously has to change if he wants to be on the floor at the end of the game. The rest of his game shows great promise, however. Newkirk shot a great 46.3% from the field and 43.4% from three. If he can continue his excellent shooting to pair with his blazing speed, it will be hard to keep him off the floor, especially if Robinson and Wright continues to struggle offensively.


Chris Jones- The redshirt sophomore has an impressive, athletic build at 6'6", and a sweet stroke. Now that he's in his third season with the program it's time to see if he is capable of capitalizing on those traits and turning himself into a bigger contributor. Last season he got just 7.4 minutes a game and if he doesn't improve significantly he's still going to be behind Robinson, Wright, and Newkirk. He did shoot 80% from the line last season so he has that going for him.

Jones will get his shot to impress in the first half dozen games or so. With Wright out, Jones will be the third guard, and he will have to produce against some good teams. If he excels he will battle for more minutes, but more than likely he will go from the third guard to the tenth player on the team once Wright comes back.


FORWARDS



Durand Johnson- This 6'6" redshirt junior is my pick for the most important player on this team. A knee injury cost him the second half of last season but in 16 games he showed his skills by averaging 8.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, and 1.4 apg. He also shot a fantastic 85.3% from the line. His reputation is that of an excellent three point specialist, but his 33.8% from beyond the arc was not at an elite level. But there were games when Johnson lit it up from deep. Against Savannah State (3-6), Lehigh (5-8), and Maryland (3-4), he showed that he's capable of being a dominating force in that regard.

Johnson is more than a three point specialist, however. He can drive and dunk, pass, and rebound a little. If he spent more time driving and using his excellent free throw shooting he has the potential to average well into double figures. That will also give him more space when he unleashes from three point range. But all of that is depends on his rehabbed knee. If he's healthy and lives up to his potential he should start at small forward and could reach 13-14 ppg this season.


Michael Young- The starting power forward started as a true freshman last year, too, but there's no doubt that he mostly struggled in his first year. He averaged just 6.0 ppg and 4.1 rpg, and shot 41.3% from the field, thanks mostly to not being aggressive or confident in the paint. But I expect a better season from him this year.

Young has a very impressive skill set on a 6'9" 235 pound frame. He has excellent range for a big power forward and shot 35.7% from the three point range. His very good range for the position is why he's better off at the four than the five. An occasional three pointer from Young will clear the paint for his teammates.

But make no mistake about it, Young needs to spend most of his team near the basket. His strong body is a major asset if he uses it as a weapon instead of being unaggressive. That should come this season with more experience and confidence. With that confidence he could easily be a 12 ppg and 8 rpg player this season.

Early word is that Young has a completely different attitude brought about by a year of going through the ACC wars, and he's approaching the season with renewed confidence. If he can stay primarily at the four and keeps his confidence, he should make a big jump in production.


Jamal Artis- Another true freshman last year and even though he didn't start he actually had more good moments than Young. On the season he averaged 4.9 ppg and 2.9 rpg in just 15 minutes a game,  and he also shot a very good 46% from the field. He also added 70.8% from the line. He shot just 29.6% from three but with more minutes that number should rise.

The bulky 6'7" sophomore has a high ceiling because he has the potential to be good at every facet of the game. His size helps him in the paint, but he also has good range and is an exceptional passer.

Artis played a lot as a backup to Young at the four last season, but it's more likely that he'll be more at the three this season. Ideally he will back up Johnson, but if Johnson's knee is not healthy he could find himself starting for awhile, and at the very least he should get more minutes.


Sheldon Jeter- The 6'8" Vanderbilt transfer has come back home to play for the Panthers, and his vast array of skills will help the team a lot. The redshirt sophomore showed a lot of promise as a true freshman in the SEC with 5.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and an impressive 47.1% from the field and 39.1% from three. He also had six double digit scoring games including five in SEC play.

After transferring he worked on his game so that he can be more versatile and play some three, something Dixon prefers in his players. His game is still mostly as a stretch four where he can rebound like a four, but shoot like a three.

He's long and an explosive athlete but putting the ball on the floor is still something he needs to work on. Even so, he can rebound, shoot, and pass. If he expands his game with defense and ball handling he will reach a higher level in his career. For now he will probably back up Young.


Cameron Johnson- The 6'7" true freshman was a bit of a surprise over the summer, and he has a lot going for him. He's not a great athlete but he is long, can shoot, he's an exceptional passer, and he even scraps for rebounds. He could be a very good contributor in his career, but barring injuries of those in front of him, he may be due for a redshirt this season. Not that he can't play some this year, but rather because he has so many more experienced players in front of him.


Ryan Luther- The local true freshman is listed at 6'9" officially which means he's probably 6'8". The good news is, he could legitimately end up 6'9" or 6'10" which changes his upside significantly.  A 6'10" forward that can shoot, rebound, and pass has a nice future. Right now, however, he is slated for a redshirt.


CENTERS


Derrick Randall- The 6'9" 240 pound senior has been a bit player thus far in his career, but this is his last chance to make a major contribution. Being a senior he may get the start at the beginning of the season, but it's doubtful that he will get a ton of minutes. One of the main reasons is because he's a fouling machine. He does play all out, which helps him defensively and in rebounding, but he's not a great athlete and subtlety is not his forte.

As a junior, Randall played just 8.6 mpg, and averaged 2.1 ppg and 2.4 rpg. He's expected to be one of at least three centers that get minutes, and Young may be a fourth. For that reason his stats again probably won't be significant. But if he plays well in 10 minutes a game and controls his fouling then he will help out in his last go around.


Joseph Uchebo- This may prove to be the biggest story of the season. The 6'10" 245 pound junior was all but written off by fans and everybody else because of a badly injured knee before he even came to Pitt, but to his credit he has battled back to the point that he may help the Panthers significantly this season.

Uchebo's limp is not as noticeable as it was last season, and even though he says he's in pain it isn't slowing him down.  Rebounding is his best skill. He is long, large, and he attacks the ball like it owns him money. He can't jump as well because of his knee, but his long arms, hustle, and width make up for that. His defense is also solid and he even has developed a nice drop step in the paint.

It wasn't long ago that people thought about who would replace him after he asked to leave the team. Now he may be a legitimately good center and will likely get the most minutes at center.


Tyrone Haughton- A junior college transfer, the 6'9" junior is thin, but he's athletic with very long arms. His offense is virtually non-existent but he's a good rebounder and a superb shot blocker. Because he wasn't with the program when they went to the Bahamas, he's a little behind the others, but he could eventually get some minutes this season due to his rebounding and defense.


Outlook: I like this team and I think they are going to be even better in the next two years. The core is very good, and young, but not too young. Players 1-5 may not a top 25 teams, but players 1-10 are. And that's the main storyline of this team. Many fans worry about who will be the main offensive options, but they shouldn't worry. The offense went through Lamar Patterson first last year, then Talib Zanna. They are gone, but others will pick up the slack. Young, Robinson, Wright or Newkirk, and Johnson are all capable of being double figure scorers this season. None may be a 15 ppg scorer but if Young gets 12 or 14 , Robinson gets 10 or 12, Wright or Newkirk gets 10 or 12, and Johnson gets 10-12 then they'll score enough. And then players like Artis, Jeter, and even Uchebo could add another 6 or 8. Does that mean again that Pitt won't have a go to scorer now with Patterson gone? Maybe. But good scoring, excellent defense, and outstanding rebounding will win Pitt a lot of games. Look for this to be the first of at least three excellent seasons in a row.

Prediction: 28-10

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pitt 21 Virginia Tech 16

Another ugly performance at times for Pitt, but luckily for them Virginia Tech was flat out atrocious on offense.

1. I'm not sure if this really proves anything in the wrong run.  Pitt won but the same questions are still there. Chad Voytik still is not passing well and the defense still hasn't proven anything because they play one bad offense after another.

2. On the other hand, Pitt wisely tailored the offensive game plan to Voytik's strengths, which basically means they had him run instead of pass. And run he did. I will say this much about Voytik. The man can run extremely well for a quarterback. He led the Panthers in rushing in the game with 118 yards rushing on 19 carries.  But like I said, his passing is still below average. On the night he completed 10 of 17 passes for 92 yards. He also had a TD and an interception. Oh, and he even caught a pass from Tyler Boyd for a 29-yard gain.

3.  For some strange reason, James Conner was not asked to run much and in fact he ran only 6 times in the second half. For the game, Conner had 85 yards on 16 carries (5.2 avg.), and 2 touchdowns.  He also continued the habit of running like a man possessed when he smells the end zone.

4.  Boyd continued his excellent play with 6 catches for 86 yards, including a beautiful 53-yrd touchdown.  But he had no catches in the second half.

5.  Defensively, the Panthers were led by Ray Vinopal, Anthony Gonzalez, and David Durham. The defense played well for the most part but the Hokies' offense is so putrid that it's hard to say how well the Panthers defense really did.

6.  Truthfully, the game shouldn't have been as close ass it was.  A lot of dumb penalties and turnovers hurt Pitt. They simply aren't good enough to make too many mistakes and win most of the time. They were very lucky that Virginia Tech was so awful.

7.  Pitt ran for 210 yards.  Virginia Tech ran for 26 yards.

8.  At the end of the day, what does it all mean? Pitt didn't play that well but they won. The coaches made some strange decisions and questionable play calls. But with a struggling team, this is at least a win. And there were many top recruits visiting so it's better to win an ugly game in front of a half-packed house than to lose an ugly game on front of a half-packed house.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pitt Football Midseason Grades- Defense, Special Teams, Coaching

Defensive line: There was no doubt that this unit would not be a good without superstar Aaron Donald, but dropping this far was the worst case scenario.

Starting defensive tackle Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render have been mostly average and opposing offenses have not been having much trouble running right up the middle of the Panthers defense. Rather pedestrian backs like Akron's Conor Hundley and Virginia's Kevin Parks ran all over the defense in the last two games. Render has 21 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 pass breakups.  Mosley-Smith has just 11 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 0 sacks. Mosley-Smith plays the nose tackle position and he won't get a lot of tackles, but the fact that many backs are gashing the defense proves that he's not holding the point of attack either.

The starting defensive ends have not been much better. The big hope at end was that Shakir Soto would make a big leap in production but that hasn't been the case. On the season he has just 16 tackles, with 0 tackles for loss, and 0 sacks. Needless to say that's pathetic. Even the other starting end, David Durham, who isn't very good, looks better by comparison. He has 12 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks.

The reserves are younger, but they appear to be more promising in the long run. Massive tackle Tyrique Jarrett is almost as productive as Mosley-Smith, while in reserve, with 7 tackles. Justin Moody has 6 tackles playing behind Render, and also has a sack.

At end, maybe the most promising player of the entire unit, Rori Blair, flashes every time he's on the field. So far he has 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks, the latter tying for the team lead. He also has two pass breakups. And he's not even played much yet. Another young end with promise, Luke Maclean, has 6 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a half of a sack. Devin Cook is also still hanging around and he has 3 tackles and a half of a sack.

The pass rush has been just as poor as the run defense. The Panthers are No. 65 in sacks with 12 in 6 games, but the line only has 8.

Bottom line: A few weeks ago the run defense was in the top 10, thanks mostly to playing poor offenses. Now that they're playing average offenses they dropped down to No. 40. And as the offenses get better one has to assume they will have an even harder time being productive.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: C
Midseason Grade: D+


Linebackers: There were hopes that this veteran unit would be strong, but with the defensive line below average the linebackers have been exposed as mostly mediocre.

Not surprisingly, Anthonly Gonzalez leads the team with 36 tackles to go along with 2 tackles for loss, and a sack, but he also has no interceptions or pass breakups. That's pretty pedestrian production for someone who was expected to be the most productive player on the team.

Todd Thomas is not going to be the star that was often predicted for him. We now know that for sure. He has turned into a good run defender for the most part, but as a senior he still gets out of position too often. On the season he has 31 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, and no sacks.

Middle linebacker Matt Galambos has also been a disappointment. On one of the great Pitt defenses of the past he would be more productive, but he's not good enough to compensate for the poor defensive line in front of him. He has just 23 tackles, a really low total for a starting 4-3 middle linebacker. He also has no sacks or no tackles for loss. He does have an interception and a pass breakup.

Bam Bradley may be a better option in the middle and he actually took over for Galambos against Virginia. He has 12 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack, and a pass breakup in a reserve role.

Nicholas Grigsby had a special position created for him so that he can utilitize his speed to make plays, and while he does have flashes with his excellent speed, he's another player hampered by a below average line.  He has 16 tackles and 2 tackles for loss, but he only has one sack despite blitzing often.

Bottom line: Solid, if unspectacular bunch. To have a truly great defense you need playmakers at linebacker and Pitt just doesn't have that.

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



Defensive backs: This was expected to be a below average unit and they've lived down to their expectations. Don't be confused by the fact that the pass defense is ranked No. 8 in the country because the best passing offense the Panthers have played so far has been Akron which is ranked No. 32. The other opponents are ranked 65, 79, 105, and 119.  Needless to say, if they play a good passing offense it could get ugly.

Cornerbacks Lafayette Pitts and Reggie Mitchell have not been beat on a consistent basis, but again that's because they haven't played a good passing team yet. Pitts still isn't sure how to play the position and almost never turns around to play the ball. He has 14 tackles, including a tackle for loss. He also has 4 pass breakups and one interception. Mitchell is new to the position, and while he's no better than average, he appears to be better than Pitts. On the season he has 18 tackles, while also having 5 pass breakups. He is not picked on nearly as much as Pitts is.

At safety, Ray Vinopal actually stands out more than anybody on defense, which says something about the rest of the defense. He has 28 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 4 pass breakups. The other safety, Terrish Webb, isn't noticed often, but he has quietly had a decent season with 29 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 2 pass breakups.

True freshmen Pat Amara and Avonte Maddox are showing promise. Amara has 4 tackles and an interception. Maddox has 8 tackles but no pass breakups. Both should make some progress in the second half of the season.

Ryan Lewis was forced into action, and has 7 tackles, but it appears like Amara has passed him up.

Bottom line: The weaknesses of this unit is saved by playing poor passing offenses so when they play somebody like North Carolina or Miami they may get exposed.  But at the end of the day, at least it's not a dumpster fire, and there was a real fear that could happen.

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



Special Teams: Kicker Chris Blewitt is already a star and could be a future All-American. He hasn't missed a field goal yet this year, going 9 for 9, including 3 for 3 from 40-49 yards. But after that the unit is more hit or miss.

Ryan Winslow is No. 92 in punting and the team's net punting is No. 75 thanks to Pitt being No. 16 nationally in punt return defense.

The kick return defense is No. 71, punt returns are No. 75, and kickoff returns is No. 94.

Bottom line: The return teams are a major disappointment, and Winslow has been mediocre at best, but Blewitt and the punt return defense saves some of the grade.

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



Coaching: Where the Paul Chryst era is headed deserves, and will get, it's own article, but right now he's 3-3 this season and 16-16 for his career. If that's not mediocre then I don't know what it is.

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




Monday, October 6, 2014

How long it takes to get to 9 wins after taking over a team without a winning record

Since the late 1990s, 55 times a coach took over a .500 team, or worse, and eventually went on to win at least 9 games. Here is how long it took each.


Took over team with 0-2 games under .500 with how many years it took to get to 9+ wins, and what the record was the year before they took over as head coach.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma 2 years (5-6)
Bronco Mendenhall, BYU 2 (5-6)
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame 3 (6-6)
Todd Graham, Arizona State 2 (6-7)
Urban Meyer, Utah 1 (5-6)
Urban Meyer, Florida 1 (6-6)
Urban Meyer, Ohio State 1 (6-7)
Nick Saban, Alabama 2 (6-6)
Al Groh, Virginia 2 (6-6)
Ralph Friedgen, Maryland 1 (5-6)
Charlie Weis, Notre Dame 1 (6-6)
Dirk Koetter, Arizona State 4 (6-6)
Dennis Ericson, Oregon State 2 (5-6)
Art Briles, Houston 4 (5-7)
Bo Pelini, Nebraska 1 (5-7)
Jim Mora, Jr., UCLA 1 (6-8)
Pete Carroll, USC 2 (5-7)
Bill Snyder, Kansas State (2nd time) 3 (5-7)

Average: 1.9 years



Took team 3-5 games under .500

Houston Nutt, Arkansas 1 (4-7)
Walt Harris, Pittsburgh 6 (4-7)
Pat Hill, Fresno State 5 (4-7)
Charlie Strong, Louisville 3 (4-8)
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State 2 (4-8)
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State 2 (4-8)
Troy Calhoun, Air Force 1 (4-8)
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa 4 (3-8)
Greg Schiano, Rutgers 6 (3-8)
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State 1 (4-9)
Tommy Tuberville, Auburn 2 (3-8)
Tommy Bowden, Clemson 2 (3-8)
Mark Mangino, Kansas 6 (3-8)
Ron Zook, Illinois 3 (3-8)
Joe Tiller, Purdue 1 (3-8)
Nick Saban, LSU 2 (3-8)
Gary Pinkel, Missouri 7 (3-8)

Average: 3.2 years



Took over team 6+ games under .500

Art Briles, Baylor 4 (3-9)
Gus Malzahn, Auburn 1 (3-9)
Houston Nutt, Mississippi 1 (3-9)
George O'Leary, Georgia Tech 4 (3-9)
Chuck Amato, NC State 3 (3-9)
Tom O'Brien, NC State 4 (3-9)
Gary Anderson, Utah State 4 (3-9)
Tommy Bowden, Tulane 2 (2-9)
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest 6 (2-9)
Skip Holtz, East Carolina 4 (2-9)
James Franklin, Vanderbilt 2 (2-10)
Lou Holtz, South Carolina 3 (1-10)
Jeff Tedford, California 3 (1-10)
Paul Johnson, Navy 2 (0-10)
David Cutcliffe, Duke 6 (1-11)
Jim Harbaugh, Stanford 4 (1-11)
Al Golden, Temple 4 (0-11)
Nick Saban, Michigan State 5 (0-11)
June Jones, Hawaii 1 (0-12)
Steve Sarkisian, Washington 4  (0-12)

Average: 3.4 years


Average of all 55 examples: 2.8 years


Notes:

Only 19 of the 55 (34.5%) took longer than three years and 11 of those 19 took over a team that lost 6+ games in the previous season. 

Only 8 of 35 (22.9%) that took over for a team that had lost 0-5 games the previous year took longer than three years. 

Pitt Football Midseason Grades- Offense

Quarterback: In my preseason report I said that Pitt will go only as far as Chad Voytik takes them. Well, the Panthers are 3-3 and on a three game losing streak, so obviously it hasn't gone well.  Voytik is No. 79 nationally in passing efficiency and the Panthers are No. 111 in passing offense.

Every once in awhile he makes a nice throw and his running ability and mobility in the pocket are assets, but his decision making and erratic arm is hurting the team. The fact that there's no viable options to give the offense a different look is something that's best explored in another article, but having basically a half of a competent quarterback on the entire roster will obviously cause a bad grade.

Bottom line: Voytik threw more often in the last three games, with mixed results, but hopefully he can still develop. I don't think he's been quite as bad as many think, but when your quarterback is not excelling at a high degree it becomes glaring. Like I wrote previously, this grade is mostly because there's only one real option on the team, and he's still learning. I expect this grade to be better at the end of the season.

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

Running back: It's been no secret that I loved James Conner's abilities a long time ago, so it's nice to see that he's lived up to his massive ability. Unfortunately, some cracks are showing up in the running game now that defenses realize that if they stop him, they stop Pitt. In his first four games Conner averaged 175 yards, 6.2 yards, and had 9 TDs. In his last two games, he's averaged 88 yards, 3.8 yards, and no TDs.

Conner is also in danger of being run into the ground with 156 carries on the season. His primary backup, true freshman Chris James, has run just 28 times and 14 of those came in the opener to Delaware.  In the last 4 games James has had only 9 rushes for 41 yards. Senior Isaac Bennett has 17 carries for 101 yards, a 6.2 avg. and 8 catches. Like James, Bennett should probably be used a little more so that Conner won't wear out. The same goes with Rachid Ibrahim who has 16 carries for 106 yards, a 6.6 average, and 5 catches. All three backups have done very well in limited roles.

Bottom line: Even though the running game has taken a step back in the last two games, it's hard to criticize the No. 19 rush offense in the country, especially when one is a potential All-American and the other three are solid, too.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: A


Wide Receiver:  This unit has been a disappointment, beyond just the quarterback struggles. Tyler Boyd is obviously still great so I won't spend much time on him. His stats are way down but that's not his fault. It's beyond him where the unit drops quickly.

Senior Manasseh Garner looks like the former tight end that he is. His blocking is hit or miss, and his hands and separation skills are average. He only has 14 catches on the season and is averaging just 11.7 yards a reception. He's never had more than 3 catches in a game. The passing game is struggling but Pitt rarely throws to the tight ends and Boyd is always double covered so you would think Garner could take advantage of the opportunities.  That hasn't been the case unfortunately.

The production drops again with Ronald Jones adding just 6 catches and a 9.8 average, and Kevin Weatherspoon with 5 catches and a 12.4 average. Adonis Jennings has 2 catches, Chris Wuenster has one, and Jester Weah, Zach Challingsworth, and Dontez Ford has no catches.

Bottom line: This unit was vastly overrated by many in the preseason. I knew it was but even I expected a bit more. The key is Jennings who is the only receiver, other than Boyd, who has elite potential. He's had a single catch in the last two games, the first two he's played, and his development in the second half of the season is essential. As of now, the unit gets a mediocre grade only because of Boyd.

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


Tight ends: The pathetic underutilization of this talented unit continues. Both JP Holtz and Scott Orndoff, plus H-Back Jaymar Parrish, are doing a great job of blocking, but they have just 14 catches between them. There's really not much more to say other than it's frustrating that they aren't a bigger part of the passing offense.

Bottom line: Even though they don't get thrown to often, their blocking as well as the fact that their lack of protection is not their fault, still leads me to give them a good grade.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: A-
Midseason Grade: B


Offensive lineman: This unit still isn't at a high level but they've come a long way from where they were in the past few seasons. Two things that stand out glaringly with this unit is that, one, they are very good run blockers that aren't quite good enough to run at will when defenses are geared for the run, and, two, their pass blocking is not as good as their run blocking.

The seniors, guard Matt Rotheram and tackle TJ Clemmings, entered the season on NFL radars. Both have been mostly good, but neither have reached the highest level. Clemmings, especially, at times has looked like he may reach that level this season, but against Virginia he showed that he still could be a disaster at times.

Center Artie Rowell was lost for the season early with an injury and has been replaced by both Alex Officer and Gabe Roberts.  Roberts was mostly a disaster so it looks like it now should be Officer for the rest of the season, and maybe for the rest of his career since he's more talented than Rowell. That's if the Pitt staff doesn't rotate him with Roberts again, which was a ludicrously bad idea.

The other three linemen that gets most of the playing time are sophomore Dorian Johnson, redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty, and redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith. Bisnowaty is still a bit of a disappointment, especially after getting suspended for the Virginia game. He's not a good left tackle and his skill set will probably always make it that way so in the future he will probably move inside where he could do much better. Johnson was a disaster last year when he was thrown in too fast. He still isn't displaying star potential but he's definitely made an improvement. Jones-Smith is probably the starting left tackle next season but he's playing for the first time this season so he's still hit or miss.

Bottom line: Better than the past few years and not as good as it will be someday. It may take another two years to reach an elite level but it's at least heading that way.

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

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Virginia 24 Pittsburgh 19

Another week, another bad loss. The loss itself was not unexpected, but the play was sometimes pretty bad and the team does not seem to be progressing at all. Other thoughts:

1. Chad Voytik is no worse at his position than most of the starters but when he's your quarterback he's going to really hurt your team. He's not awful, but despite Pitt's other many flaws, I think Pitt is 6-0 with an all-star caliber quarterback. It would be a weak 6-0 team, but 6-0 nonetheless.

2.  James Conner started strong, but with no consistent downfield threat he got bottled up as the game progressed.

3.  I feel bad for Tyler Boyd.  He's an amazing talent but he doesn't get to show it much anymore. He did have an excellent catch and an even better punt return, but the ineffectiveness from the rest of the team is hiring his production.

4.  Finally the tight ends got some throws and not surprisingly both JP Holtz and Scott Orndoff did well.

5.  The offensive line, like much of the team, seems to be regressing, and TJ Clemmings was a horror show.  Alex Officer cost Pitt one TD because he couldn't even snap the ball properly.

6.  The defensive line gets blown off the line continually and contributes no pass rush at all. Middle linebacker Matt Galambos has also done nothing and was actually replaced by Bam Bradley. Hopefully Bradley remains the starter.

7.  Ray Vinopal was the only player on defense that stood out at all, but there's only so much a safety on a bad defense can do.

Bottom line, this team will be lucky to be 6-6 this season.  You can only use the excuse of being young so much. Most of the players that play are not freshmen so it's not like there are a ton of freshman actually playing.  This team is mediocre at best if they were coached well, and I'm not seeing them being coached well. In the second half it was almost as if some of the players took it upon themselves to play well, despite the coaching.  I can honestly say I'm not excited for the future of the Paul Chryst era. But, hey, I've been surprised before and Chryst isn't going anywhere soon, so I suggest you suck it up and hope for the best.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Jordan Whitehead to Pitt

Needless to say this is huge for the program. Pitt is in desperate need for elite talent, especially at cornerback. Expect Whitehead to start at cornerback as a true freshman, return kicks and punts, and maybe even play some offense.