Monday, October 17, 2011

Bringing Rationality Back to the Season

There is no doubt that the first seven games of Todd Graham's reign as Pitt's head coach has been mostly disastrous.  But how bad it is really?  A lot of the fan base, and some of the local media, are already saying that Graham is doomed after just seven games.  I keep hearing that Graham and Steve Pederson should be fired, that Graham is over his head, and that the Panthers will lose recruits because of this season.  I've also heard that Dave Wannstedt left the cupboard bare and the players he did leave behind are a bad match for Graham's offense, with Graham getting major criticism for not adapting to the players that he was given.   Let's look at the issues one by one to see, realistically, which are true and which are mere knee jerk, emotional reactions.  We'll start with some of the no brainer issues, then work towards the more complex ones.

Steve Pederson should be fired.  It's not going to happen so any fans pining for his dismissal will just have to come to terms with that.  The university pays him a big contract which shows just how much they think of him.  I haven't agreed with everything he's done, but for the most part he has been considered a big success.

Recruits will run from this mess.   I don't see this one happening either.  Prospects look at the bigger picture and do not look at things emotionally like the average fan does.  For offensive players, all Graham has to say is that his offenses broke NCAA records in the past and once he gets the right players, he will have more great offenses.  The reasoning will work because it's common sense, and the players will see that.

Dave Wannstedt left the cupboard bare.   The talent level Wannstedt left behind was not great, though I have no doubt that he would have a better record with them this season, if for no other reason than they fit what he wants to do more than what Graham is trying to do.

But assuming that Wannstedt was still the coach this season, his offense was not going to be good enough to win a lot of games.  Jon Baldwin was a malcontent, but his absence shows just how mediocre the rest of the WRs are.  The OL, after years of poor recruiting at the position, was going to be just as bad for Wannstedt, especially with Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix injured.  And Tino Sunseri is never going to be a QB that is good enough to take a team on his back.  Under Wannstedt, Pitt's offense looked like it was not going to be as good as last season, and this was a unit that finished 72nd in total yards, which included 73rd in passing yards (with a 1st round draft pick at WR), and 45th in rushing yards (with Dion Lewis and Ray Graham).

On defense, Pitt was No.8 in total defense last year, and probably would have stayed at a high level, even without Jabaal Sheard and Dom DeCicco.  But even though Wannstedt had some good defenses in his tenure, they were a far cry from where Pitt would have to be to reach an elite level.  Just how are you going to win a big game when you are starting linebackers like Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts?  They would, and have, got steamrolled against teams with elite talent.

They never should have fired Wannstedt.  Firing Wannstedt was the right choice, and to me there was never a doubt.  Any school that is in a BCS conference, has a great tradition, a nice recruiting area, and spends a lot of money on the program should be aspiring to be an elite program.  If not, then what's the point?  Quite frankly, it annoys the hell out of me when I hear any local media member or Panthers fan say Pitt will never reach a higher level because they haven't been at a higher level in decades.  What a defeatist, ignorant stance.  Tell that to programs like Oklahoma State, Clemson, and Stanford, who are all having great seasons this year and have no more going for their programs than Pitt has.

Wannstedt was maxed out and was never going to reach the elite status.  He simply couldn't land the great quarterback, offensive linemen, or linebackers that you need to be an elite program and his continued failures in crucial games began to eat away the last shreds of optimism.

Sadly, the way he left, indignant and defiant, and surrounded by some of his players, showed his total lack of leadership qualities.  If Wannstedt, and those players surrounding him, showed more effort in big games, they wouldn't have to be part of that scene that blackened the program's eye even more.  If he truly loved the university he would have kept that behind closed doors.  The fact that he let his players literally stand by him publicly as he took shots at the university is all you need to know about the lack of character he had.  Not surprising for a man who quit in midseason as the coach of the Miami Dolphins.

Graham is in over his head.  This particular comment has been played to death already, and it simply isn't true.  I hate to break it to Pitt fans but Pitt and the Big East is not that much different than Tulsa and Conference USA.  It's common sense that if Graham can lead record setting offenses at Tulsa, then he can lead great offenses at Pitt.  Even if you throw the Conference USA opponents out, you will see that Graham's offenses have succeeded.

In 2010, Tulsa had 428 yards against Oklahoma State and 399 yards in a win at Notre Dame.  In 2008, Tulsa nearly won at Arkansas, and put up 528 yards of total offense.  In 2007, Graham's offense put up 398 against Oklahoma.  All of this is proof that Graham's offense could still work against some of the better programs in the country, and this was with highly inferior talent.

Graham's offenses were due to his great coordinators.  There's no doubt that Graham has had two of the better offensive coordinators in recent years in Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris.  Both were former high school coaches and Morris actually learned the offense from Malzahn.  The obvious thing that immediately comes to mind is that without the two masters of this offense, Graham's offense is not nearly as good.  In fact, the one bad year Graham had at Tulsa was when he had neither.

In 2009, without Malzahn or Morris, Tulsa was 5-7.  But even then, in their one "bad" offensive season, Tulsa was 35th in total yards.  By comparison, Pitt was 52nd in total yards, with their 10-3 record due mostly to the No. 19 scoring defense in the country.

Graham is still running the same Malzahn offense for the most part, though it's been simplified this season for obvious reasons.  Mike Norvell, who was the Receiving Coordinator at Tulsa last season coached the Tulsa receivers for four seasons.  In that time, Norvell had five receivers with 1,000 yard seasons.  He also knows the system inside and out by now.  Creating the offense, like Malzahn did, is something worthy of high praise.  And somebody that creative and ingenious will always be the best at running it.  But it's not like it's brain surgery.  Graham and Norvell has coached this offense for years now and know how to run it.  It's not like they were in the bathroom while Malzahn and Morris were coaching it.  In fact, it's been reported that when he was at Tulsa, his entire offensive staff had to know every bit of the offense.

Then you have to throw Calvin Magee into the mix.  This is an offensive coordinator who's led offenses that's ranked 5th, 8th, and 15th in prior seasons.   Magee, like Graham and Norvell, does not just forget how to coach offense.  Sorry, but that's not common sense.  All three of these coaches have been parts of big time offenses, and there's absolutely no reason why they can't do the same at Pitt.

The players don't fit the system.  Here is your biggest reason for the mess.  It's been the reason most rational observers have said often, but now I'm going to prove it.  By doing that we will have to once again go back to West Virginia and Michigan, more specifically, former Pitt nemesis Rich Rodriguez.

In Rodriguez's last season at West Virginia, the Mountaineers finished No.15 in total offense and nearly made the national championship game.  In the same season, Michigan was No. 68 in total offense.

Rodriguez then took his explosive and fast spread offense to the Big House.  The Michigan team that met Rodriguez was very much like the team that Graham is facing now- not in talent level, but in style.  Historically, Michigan is one of the few programs in the country that can just line up in a pro-set offense and beat you with size and strength.  It's the same style of player than Wannstedt acquired- physically tough, big, and strong.  But both were also the total antithesis of the fast, spread offense that both Graham and Rodriguez run, though their styles are different versions of the spread.

In Rodriguez's first season at Michigan, the Wolverines finished 119th.  Let me repeat that.  Rich Rodriguez, one of the brightest offensive minds in the country, took over a pro-set team, turned it into a spread offense, and the Wolverines finished 119th in the country in total offense.

The quarterback for Michigan that season was Steven Threet, who finished with 1,105 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions.  His quarterback rating was 105.3.  This season, Tino Sunseri has a quarterback rating of 114.0 and has already thrown for 1,204 yards.

In Rodriguez's second season, Michigan's offense improved to No. 59.  The new quarterback was Tate Forcier, who threw for 2,050 yards and had a quarterback rating of 128.1.

In the third and final season for Rodriguez, the Wolverines jumped all the way to No. 8 in total offense, thanks to talented sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson, who amazingly threw for over 2,500 yards and ran for over 1,700 yards.

Rodriguez was fired after that season, but it clearly wasn't because of his offense.  It had more to do with Rodriguez himself, who was never accepted by the Michigan faithful.  His awful defenses and bad record made it easier to get rid of him.

It's obvious what I'm trying to get at here.  Graham's offense is currently No. 90 in the country.  That's clearly awful, but when you look at recent history, you can see how hard it is to switch between two completely different offensive styles.  It's like trying to run a car race with a tank.  What makes matters even worse for Graham is that the offensive players he was left aren't very good.  Even with a first round  receiver and a running back combo of Lewis and Graham, Pitt was No. 72 last season.  In 2009, they were No. 52, and and in 2008 (with LeSean McCoy finishing 10th in the nation in rushing) they were No. 77.  In 2007, Pitt (with McCoy's excellent freshman year) was No. 108.  You get the point.  Even with a few star players in Wannstedt's regimes, the offenses were not good at all.  So how is Graham going to take these same players, who weren't even good at the system they brought in for, to be adept at a much faster, more complex offense?

Of course, the argument is made that Graham should not run his offensive style when he doesn't have the players.  But doesn't that just delay the inevitable?  The change has to be made and if it takes a year or two of transition, then that's what has to be done.  That doesn't excuse Ray Graham getting 12 carries against Rutgers, which clearly was a mistake, but it does mean that Todd Graham has no choice but to keep going with his offense.

That sounds depressing for fans, but just remember Michigan's offense from seasons one to three.  Tino Sunseri is Pitt's Steve Threet.  Chad Voytik could very well be Pitt's Denard Robinson.  I'm not saying he will break records like Robinson, or be an All-American either, but he should be much better than Sunseri in this offense.

Every time that I see Sunseri hold on to the ball and lumber for six yards, I imagine the 15 yard gain that Voytik will get in that same spot.  When I see Ronald Jones taking the ball and running for 8 or 10 yards, I imagine a slew of even faster and better wide receivers running all over the field.

Summary:  This offense needs speed and athleticism, it needs a quarterback who makes the right decisions and who can run and pass equally, and it needs receivers who can take a handoff or a pass and go the distance.  The offense is defective because it has none of the parts it needs.

Graham has not angered people, beyond the results, and has thus far handled himself well.  And his defense, which many people feared would be poor, is currently 55th in total defense.  That's not great, but the defense is slow and has some major holes at linebacker.  Like on offense, the players do not match what Graham wants to do.  He wants fast players flying around the field, blitzing all the time and taking chances.  Wannstedt preached the opposite, and recruited players to match that.

None of this is to suggest that Graham will definitely succeed at Pitt.  I'm not a prophet and I can't predict the future.  But I do know enough about the past to know that it shows that the present is not going to be the future.

Very important late note:  I forgot to mention that the great Malzahn has led Auburn to the No. 86 total offense this season, including the No. 106 passing offense.  Things are much different without that great quarterback, even for a supposed genius like Malzahn.

30 comments:

  1. I'll buy what you are selling with one exception. If Coach Graham wants to implement his system, why did he convert Gonzalez to H Back. Of the four quarterbacks on the roster Gonzalez seems the best of the quarterbacks to run a spread. Granted it would be a run oriented spread with two backs but Magee was part of such a spread offense in Pat White's early years. In this type of spread, Gonzalez's passing ability would not be such a great liability. Such a spread based on the run also is based on zone blocking which would also help mask our offensive line problems.

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  2. That offense, while both spreads, are too different and would only delay the transition to the offense that Graham desires. Sometimes you just have to take a step back to get to where you want.

    Clearly, Graham himself underestimated how hard the transition would be, and that more than anything seems to be getting the fans and local media upset. If he came in and said that this season was going to be tough, but that it's necessary, then people would not be as irate. But being a head coach with a gung ho attitude, he was way too optimistic. He probably felt that he did at Rice and Tulsa quickly, but what he didn't realize is that the players he inherited at both places were more in line with what he needed for his offense. At Pitt, however, they were the polar opposite.

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  3. I wish every Pitt fan would read this.

    John, because he missed all of training camp due to suspension. He hasn't practiced this offense since the spring and wouldn't get the reps necessary in practice to make up the difference.

    I hope they throw Voytik into the fire next season.

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  4. Why do you think the O line is so bad? Is it the lack of talent or the system? It seems to me that an O line with decent talent will adapt much faster than the QB/RB/WRs. If so, that is the clearest indictment of Wanny.

    And ....

    Who should start at QB? Considering that Sunseri simply won't run the offense and that his favorite activity seems to be eating the football, I can't believe that Graham is going to ride that horse.

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  5. Great post! Love everything youve done so far, keep up the good work!

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  6. I don't think the OL talent is very good, to be honest. On an excellent team, would any of these guys start, or even see the field? I don't think so. Except for Nix, of course, but I'm talking about the players who saw action in the last two games. But, you have to think they can at least get somewhat better as they get more experience. But I don't see a future all-star in the bunch. That's why I would love to see them land Tavon Rooks. With Rooks, Ricketts, and maybe even Adam Bisnowaty and Brandyn Cook getting some action, the OL could be better next year.

    As for QB, I don't know how you can't keep playing Sunseri at this point. What real choice do you have? Now, next year I would hope and pray that Voytik can take over. At least he can run and has a future.

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  7. The OL just lacks talent. Slow feet and no great god given OL blocking abilities. You can teach technique so much.

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  8. Pitt is not Michigan. While Rodriguez toyed around with players and lost games in his first season, the fans continued to show up. Pitt can't afford a season like this one because 1) We are again embarrassed on national TV; We look more chaotic than any Pitt team since JMII; All the empty seats at Heinz disgrace the program; Todd Graham was untruthful when he got here, untruthful after spring practice, and he now looks totally confused, frightened, and completely out of his league. I hear you, Chris, but you've got sunglasses on I'm afraid.

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  9. Like I said, Tony, there's way too much evidence from the pasts of Graham and Magee to think this inept offense will continue. You just can't run this offense with the wrong kids of players or it will look like this. Graham's real fault was in thinking too highly in his ability. But there will be a QB and WRs that fit this system perfectly and it's completely against logic to think that Pitt will have the 90th offense in the country when that happens. It should be light and day.

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  10. Chris: I was a major-metro newspaper journalist for 17 years, and started out in sports (though I've done it all). I've read you for a couple of years now. You offer the best analysis of Pitt sports, by far. You write clearly, directly and succinctly — a rare combo. No throat clearing and personal preening to waste my time. That is something many sportswriters just don't get — and don't have the chops and confidence to regularly produce. Kudos ... and I'm available for references. :)

    Now, forgive my own throat clearing above (and the length of this reply). I am heartened to read your take on Coach Graham, because it's what I've been trying to get across to fellow Pitt grads and friends.

    Yes. It may turn out that Graham ends up listed among a long string of failed coaches at Pitt since Jackie Sherrill. But I, like you, don't think that will be the case. As you note, Graham's track record suggests better things ahead. Graham is definitely not in over his head, as Foge Fazio was when he took over for Sherrill.

    The Big East is not all that different in football talent than Conference USA. Utah certainly is not, and neither is a second-tier Big Ten team like Iowa. The idea that the Big East is a legitimate BCS conference — in depth of teams and overall talent — with the likes of the Big 12 or the SEC or even the ACC is a joke. It has always been a weak sister allowed to sit at the table with the cool kids because of geography.

    Indeed, the biggest frustration with Wanny was that he couldn't push Pitt over the top to win the BCS bowl slot in a conference that had several old C-USA teams in the mix (Cincy, Louisville, USF), recent I-AA team (UConn, and, again, USF), along with perennial/recent doormats (Rutgers and Syracuse). Pitt's only real competition in the Big East should have always been just one team: West Virginia. The Hoopies had some great teams with more overall talent. But the Panthers can, and did (13-9!) beat them just out of familiarity and passion/hatred. Wanny's failure to capitalize on this open field before him is what got him fired, and it was the right decision.

    Graham will get this turned around. In three years: Highest upside? We build up to being on offense like a Florida or an Auburn or a Texas Tech (Mike Leach version) or a TCU or a Boise State. Mid-upside? We have a year like Clemson is having in the ACC this season. Low side? We are like South Carolina — which for the last 5 years has been a lot more fun to watch (and relevant) than Pitt.

    It will take some time, but I believe good times are ahead for Pitt football. Let's remember how low the basketball program was at the end of the Ralph Willard era in 1999. That well-credentialed disciple of Rick Pitino departed and some guy from a mid-major conference named Ben Howland stepped in. No one — and I mean NO ONE — thought a coach from Northern Arizona could lay the foundation for one of college basketball's best programs.

    Howland, too, instituted a whole new program ... and it took some time to take hold. First season at Pitt: 13-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East. Second year: 19-14, 7-9. It's been nothing but domination in the Big East ever since. And let's remember: Howland had only five-to-eight guys to coach up on the arena of play. Graham has 11 on offense, and 22 on both sides of the ball.

    Buck up, Pitt fans — and have more faith than seven games reveals.

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  11. Good comments but you got carried away with the Steve Pederson talk. He's not well liked by anyone and its even dumber to think he'll be around for a long time. Nordenberg will retire in the not too distant future and Pederson (hated by many) will be first fodder for the new Prez. Pederson did squat in his 2nd tenure with sagging attendance at Heinz, flat donations, horrible coaching hires - there's really nothing he can take credit for to date in his 2nd term at Pitt.

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  12. I have to agree with the above comment. Pederson did in fact do some really good things for Pitt BUT just it is time to move on from him. Im still apalled that after everything that happend at Nebraska he was welcomed back with open arms by Nordy. He got the basketball program on track but lets credit Dixon and Howland for that more than Pederson. Getting rid of Pitt Script, the Haywood debacle, donors holding out on donations, and being the most hated man at Pitt should be enough for his exit.

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  13. Chris - that was a brilliant piece of writing. Kinda easy to get swept up in all the negativity and your post got me down off the ledge.

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  14. All the bashers of Pitt football [alumni and fans]should re-read Jim Lakely's well written post. He is spot on and Pitt is headed to bigger and better days ahead.

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  15. Chris... nice blog... While you were making your point above about how Magee and Rodriguez struggled the first two years at Michigan with two QB that didn't fit the system... and how even the great Malzahn is struggling now because of his QB... I couldn't help but think the same thing about their situation as I've been thinking about Pitt's situation... "Why suffer through a whole season or two with someone who you know isn't going to make things any better... Why not at least keep trying new options- options that might actually be on the current roster and that might actually FIT your system."

    I find this repeated statement made by sports writers and even Graham that "Tino gives us the best chance to win" utterly ridiculous... especially after watching the last two games... especially when he continues to takes sack after sack... especially when he can't toss an accurate pass down the field. How can anyone make that statement (including Graham) when several other QBs on the roster haven't even gotten a chance on game day. Is Myers too slow footed to get a pass off with this O-line? possibly... but then he's not the only other option...

    Here's the thing... I am just at a loss as to why Graham made the decision to switch Gonzalez to H-Back. Someone who he was giving such high praise to as QB just before the season began. Then Graham moved Gonzalez to H-back and said he is such a good athlete that he needs to be on the field... I couldn't agree more... accept that I was thinking more as the starting QB. Let's think about it for a minute: He's got a solid arm, he's elusive, and he can run like the wind (which is exactly what Pitt needs).

    Please everyone (including Graham) do me a favor and watch his HS reel again... this is a 4star(****)QB after all...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASQXmG1fcCI&feature=related

    Coach Graham... If you're listening... IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO SWITCH GONZALEZ BACK to QB. He must have learned the plays over the summer and Pitt has an extra week to prepare for the next game. Plus, let's not forget Ronald Jones is on the roster– He was a QB in high school and has proven already in one game this season he can toss the rock. Jones and Gonzalez both have the elusiveness Graham's system desperately needs and both their arms have to be an improvement over Tino's. The duo of Gonzalez and Jones would make for a really interesting tandem threat at QB. FAST. ELUSIVE. ABLE TO TOSS THE BALL DOWN FIELD... Tino just isn't getting better in this system... Graham Needs To Stop Trying To Fit a Square Peg in a Round Hole... if he bothered to turn his head, he might actually see he has a few round pegs available that just might fit in nicely on game day.

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  16. When they hired Graham, the first QB I thought of was Gonzalez. The only thing I can think of is that Graham thinks he's not a good enough passer and that he doesn't know the system enough to play the position.

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  17. Chris... I thought Gonzalez was the perfect fit too.

    Do you really think Gonzalez could be any worse at passing than Tino? As for not knowing the system enough... the team now has an extra week for Gonzalez to get to know the playbook better.

    It's bad enough when a coach discovers his starting QB is just not working in his system. The only thing worse is when that coach gives up on looking for better options.

    If he goes with Gonzalez (or Myers or even Jones) and they continue to struggle it will at least show to the Panther faithful that he is trying to find a fit and giving them some hope... but if he stays with Tino and Tino continues to struggle, the fans will lose all confidence in Graham... and that stadium will start looking mighty yellow on game day (much more than it already does).

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  18. It would be different if Gonzalez was learning the offense at the QB position before, but he hasn't been learning it all season. Graham thought Sunseri would be the guy, so he moved Gonzalez. Plus, Gonzalez was suspended. Now Gonzalez doesn't know it, and to be honest, there's no way he can learn it that fast. The same with Ronald Jones. If Pitt just snapped the ball with a QB that doesn't know the system, it may be even worse, believe it or not, because basically Gonzalez or Jones would just have a basic running play on every down. They need a passing threat, and though it sounds crazy to say after seeing the last few games, Sunseri is their best option when passing. BUT, the QB needs depth and more options next season, so if Graham doesn't return Gonzalez back to QB than he's making a big mistake, in my opinion.

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  19. Great insights and comments Chris!

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  20. Obviously those of you screaming for Gonzalez did not show up to the Spring Game (no surprise there)... He was a 4* athlete, and was recruited by the majority of big time programs (FSU, PSU) as such.. He chose Pitt b/c he was told he had an opportunity to compete for the QB position..

    Chris, your point is well taken with Rich-Rod.. But that begs the question, is it really a good thing to point to R-Rod as the measuring stick for Todd Graham? I mean, he lasted 3 years and had an absolute disastrous tenure in Ann Arbor..

    I am one of those Pitt fans who have 100% confidence in our offensive system and offensive coaches... But why does there have to be two years of struggle to implement the system? Why can't a coach implement the system, but tweak it in a way that maximizes the talent that he currently has?

    What does implementing the "high octane" system with Tino as QB have to do with the offense when Voytik gets on campus? He's going to have to learn it, too! Why not game plan to the strengths of your team, and, once you get the players you need, you can fully update your system... Even if there will be growing pains once Voytik and Shell get on campus, at least there will be flashes of potential... Instead, we are stuck with 1 TD in 8 quarters against two 7 point underdogs, and it is quite clear that we do not have the personnel to drastically alter that number... And, again, when TG finally gets "his players", do you think they won't need to learn this system? Nothing, and I mean nothing, is being accomplished with implementing the system with these players.. They will not be around when Graham gets a few recruiting classes..

    Do you think if Rich-Rod wasn't so hell bent on implementing his system, coached to the abilities of his two QBs, and waited for a player like Robinson to fully implement his system, he would be working for CBS?

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  21. I was just comparing Rodriguez's offensive progression at Michigan. Like I pointed out, Rodriguez had bad defenses and was a bad match off the field for Michigan. But right now Graham doesn't have the same problems. If he does in the future, then that will have to be addressed then. But Rodriguez lost his job for things others than his offense. At the time he was fired, he had the No. 8 offense in the country and had a Heisman Trophy caliber QB.

    As for why it takes two years to learn the system, I don't think it does. Quite frankly, it should be learned by now. At Michigan, Rodriguez simply didn't have the players to run it, especially at QB. Once his quarterback play improved, and a few more of the right style of players on offense were added, his offense took off.

    And the same is happening right now at Pitt. Graham doesn't have the right kinds of players. I know a lot of Graham's detractors don't like to hear that, but there's a big difference between a Tino Sunseri and a Denard Robinson, and it's more than just level of talent. It also has to do with the kind of talent. Troy Aikman was a future Hall of Fame QB but he left Oklahoma because he couldn't thrive in that system.

    Of course, many will point to how fast Dana Holgerson did well at WVU, but WVU ran a spread offense before he got there and the type of players he needed to run his offense were the same kind that were already there, including a potential NFL quarterback. Pitt had big, slow footed but strong linemen, big framed receivers, and a pocket passer at QB. It just doesn't fit.

    On the second part of your questions, like I said before, I don't think it's as easy as you make it sound. Not just the QB, but everybody on the offense has to get adept at the new offense. They either do it now or do it later. May as well learn on the job so that next season hopefully the offense has a better understanding of it, and will at least be better at it. Delaying the inevitable may make it even harder. Graham is going to have to live or die with this offensive system. Right now he's dying. Next season may be different. He better hope so.

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  22. I agree with the above. Eventhough TG says he's dialed it back much, as a good coach your objective is to win now, and that entails coaching to your strengths. Look at the Raven's superbowl. They were a defensive team with a simple offense lead by an offensive guru head coach (allegedly)

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  23. Chris...

    I agree with you about returning Gonzalez back to QB, but I can't help but believe in the notion that there is no time like the present. Pitt is in Terrible shape now at QB. If nothing else... Gonzalez should at least be working on learning the playbook now. If he isn't ready to go in two weeks... fine. At least he'll be getting in some reps during practice and getting closer.

    Why wait until next year to switch Gonzalez? How does that help the QB situation or the team this year? As bad as Pitt's offense looks, there is still a (slight) shot they could win (at least a share of) the Big East. Should we really just live or die with a QB that continues to get worse? I'll say it again. It just doesn't make sense. I'm a Central Catholic grad and I wish Tino could be the answer...honestly... but I just don't see it. And I especially don't understand not being open to other possible option.

    I think you do a really nice job with your blog, and I respect what you write.... but I guess in this one case (unlike you) I'd just have to see Gonzalez (or Myers or Jones) throw worse and get sacked a few times on game day with my own eyes for me to believe Tino IS their best options.

    One thought to leave you with Chris...

    If you were the coach... Would you stick with a QB that knows the playbook inside and out but can't execute it or would you try and give a new QB who fits your system better and may be able to execute a simplified version of the playbook?

    I know what I'd do.

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  24. I would love to see Gonzalez in there because I want to see a QB who can run and has some athleticism. I just don't know if it's realistic. I just don't think you can learn this system, even a dumbed down version, without many repetitions. The QB has to read what to do on every play, and there are many options. Sunseri has been awful at it and you would think Gonzalez couldn't possibly be worse, but guess what? Anderson proved to be even worse, so it is possible. But, like I said, I hope I'm wrong and Graham is in his offices right now thinking about it, because if I have to watch Sunseri run this offense any longer, I'm afraid I may take a fork to my eyes.

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  25. Too funny Chris...

    As painful as that sounds... somehow I think it might be less painful than watching the Panthers the rest of this season.

    True, Anderson so far has proven to be worse than Tino. Then again we're talking about a QB who had no Division 1 offers and who stands about 5'4 (okay maybe a bit taller). Anderson cannot see over or for that matter throw over the defense. I think it would be a little different for Gonzalez.

    Now, I'm not suggesting Gonzalez is going to step in and sling the ball like Tom Brady, but his ability to take off on any down would mean defenses couldn't just sitting back in coverage... which would result in more open receivers.

    Just saying.

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  26. I really enjoyed this piece Chris. Too much koolaid however was consumed prior to the drafting of this article. Using RickRods years as an example supports the theory about RR's problem with talent vs system. Brady Hoke ran a pro-type style offense, but after evaluating his talent, is keeping the partial spread and is successful, so far. He adapted his system to his talent. It is not too much for TGraham to do the same. That stated, TG should have said that Pitt was going to go through a transition which may not equate to wins right away. Had he truly committed to his system, we would not be seeing Tino Sunseri under center because TG's system takes three years to learn. Tino had two years of eligibility. Do the math.

    Tino should have been benched because he didn't fit the system and he can't learn the system before he loses eligibility. Nothing against him, it is just reality. TG is shorting himself, Sunseri and Pitt by operating in this fashion. It would be better to try out the three freshnan QB's and get a jump start on next year. The problem with that scenario would be that if there was any success with one of the three, Voytik might get cold feet due to potential playing time issues. That said, he is sacrificing Pitt and using Tino as his out for this year and next, which is sad.

    Look, to effectively run the spread, you need to spread the defense. Unfortunately, 1,2,3, release with the stable of receivers we have, only gets the wr's about 9 yards from scrimmage. Therefore, we run the anti-spread or the bunch. As in, there are a bunch of defenders within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. TG needs to be true to his system, beliefs, the players and the university. I cannot believe anyone who watches the inconsistancies and player personnel choices believes he is being true. Pitt's best 11 aren't able to run his system and won't learn it before they go, so let's call it that and move forward.Let's not hoodwink the public. Statistics and examples can support the arguments on all your points either way and that's what makes this so compelling and causes people to write.

    The defense is another matter. We are playing really well, but lack speed in the linebacking area with Roberts and Gruder. TG is rolling in some of the yoounger talent so that is good. It is my belief that the defense is soft as in no fear from opponents about getting hit hard. That said however, they are playing inspired ball, so good job "D". Is it me or do opponents pick up a lot of third down and long conversions?

    Anyway, I enjoy your writing and analysis. I do think the future of Pitt football is fantastic but would prefer a coach and administration that is truthful. Would rather be told the truth than to be misled.

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  27. It seems to me that a "spread-type QB" has a better chance of running a pro-set offense then the other way around. Ohio State has run a pro-set offense, but Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor were more like spread QBs. Running a spread takes a special kind of QB because he has to be very exact in his talents. He needs to think fast, be able to pass from many different places both inside and outside of the pocket, and has to be able to run. Nobody Pitt has can do those things right now. On the other hand, if you put Denard Robinson in a pro-set offense, he can get by. And ultimately the reason why Hoke can make it work is because Robinson is good. Talent is talent. Michigan has it at QB and Pitt doesn't right now.

    As for being drinking the kool-aid, I've heard this a few times now, and just let me say that I am not certain Graham will ever succeed at Pitt. What I'm saying is that his offense will get better as he goes along, and there have been examples, as well as his past, for why I think that. Whether it will be enough improvement, time will tell.

    I'm mostly saying that fans declaring that Graham is a complete failure because what he's done in seven games just isn't rational. If the same thing is happening over the first half of next year then I will be in line to say that he's failing badly. But he just has too much going against him right now.

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  28. What happened to the Tuesday column you talked about the comments a few days ago? We love your insight!

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  29. Putting It In PerspectiveOctober 19, 2011 at 5:59 PM

    Doke, you referenced Auburn and Malzhan at the end of your (Excellent) post. Your perspective is right-on.

    I live an Atlanta and I was talking to my boss (an Auburn grad) about Pitt's recent football woes. Apparently Auburn too, went from a pro-set to a spread...way back under Tommy Tuberville. The transition was so successful that it got him fired. A few years later, Auburn, running the spread (with a stud quarterback), won the National Championship.

    I'm not saying that Pitt is going to win any national championships (but that would be sooo sweet...) but I am saying we gotta give Graham a few years.

    For the record my conversation with my boss went like this (It was a Tuesday)

    Boss: There's some crappy football on tonight
    Me: (I mistakenly though the uConn game was this week): There's going to be some crappy football on tomorrow night too.
    Boss: Pitt playing?
    Me: Yup. You want to know how many yards of offense we had last week?
    Boss: How many?
    Me: 120
    Boss: Wow.
    Me: Yea...we're implementing the spread
    Boss: They used to run the pro set didn't they...
    Me: Yea.
    Boss: You don't have the people.
    Me: No, no we don't.
    Boss: Yea, Auburn did that...
    Me: But they still run the spread. And they won a national championship.
    Boss: Well it got Tuberville fired. Trust me, it's going to take a while...
    Me: Like how long?
    Boss: Two, maybe three years. You have to get the right quarterback.
    Me: Cam
    Boss: (Smiling) Cam. But yea, it will take a few years. Have fun with that.
    Me: Yea

    So as disheartening as this is for the near term, it at least validates what Chris and a few other intelligent, rational Pitt fans have been saying.

    That's all I got. Hail to Pitt

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  30. I am not saying TG needs to go either. He is the one who said his offense takes three years to master. When Tino leaves after next year, the game/system learning curve starts anew. Personally I would rather see Meyers, Gonzalez or Anderson (nit necessarily in that order). The point is that the competition is between those three plus Voytik (simply based on the time it takes to learn the system). Why is TG trying to sell Tino so hard when he is not the answer in year three...according to TG's own timeline?

    I sip the koolaid now and again Chris, but I am also a realist. TG needs to stop selling so hard, make a football/management plan, commit to it and execute it. If he is setting the expectation that Tino will start for a prolonged period into next year, his time in the burgh will be limited. Tino may have great games 25% of the time, but consistency brings consistent wins and fannies in the seats.

    Pederson on the other hand needs to go. Several years ago I advised him to hire a bench/gameday coach to navigate Wanny through the gameday experience. Yes, it is outside the box thinking, but....

    Keep up the good work here Chris and thanks for providing the forum.

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