Thursday, October 13, 2011

First Half Grades

The season is halfway over and the grades thus far are obviously not going to be pretty.  The Panthers are 3-3 overall, but just 1-3 against BCS league teams.  Included in those three losses are a collapse against Iowa, a missed opportunity against Notre Dame, and a shameful shellacking at the hands of Rutgers.  The good news, however, is that there are still six games left, and maybe even seven.  A great second half of the season will not only save a lot of this season, it will give a lot of hope for next season, too.

Quarterback:  Tino Sunseri was an average to slightly above average quarterback last season.  In this offense, he has mostly been just bad.  He has not shown many physical or mental capabilities at all and seems completely lost in Todd Graham's spread offense.  Sadly, he appears to be the best option.  Backup Trey Anderson is an undersized freshman walk-on, and he appears to be even more over his head.  Mark Myers is such a bad fit for the offense that despite the huge inadequacies of the two players in front of him, he still can't see the field.  A fourth quarterback, Anthony Gonzalez, isn't even at the position anymore.  Bottom line, this is the most important position in this offense, and the poor play from this unit is killing the team.  Grade  D

Running Back:  Not only is Ray Graham the best player on the team, he has proven to be one of the best players in the nation.  With LaMichael James and Trent Richardson having great seasons, Graham won't be a first team All-American, but if he keeps going at this pace, he should be at least an honorable mention All-American, and maybe even second team.  And what pace is that?  How about 1,798 yards, 18 TDs, and 54 receptions?  If he does reach those lofty numbers, it would be the best single season a Pitt running back not named Tony Dorsett has ever had for the school.  His backup, Zach Brown, has only had 29 carries and 7 catches on the season, but he has shown to be a tough, hard nosed runner, and a great compliment to the shifty Graham.  Grade A+

Wide Receivers:  One of the biggest disappointments of the first half of the season has been this unit.  It looked like former coach Dave Wannstedt was recruiting a lot of WR depth during his stint, but this season throws that argument into question.  Mike Shanahan looks like he's on pace to have pretty much the exact same season as last year, but that's not a good thing.  He's now the No.1 receiver and was being looked at to have a breakout season.  Instead, he's failed to have a single excellent game, let alone a great first half of the season. And he seems to be regressing after a four catch, multiple drop game against USF, and a Rutgers game that saw him make one catch for four yards.  Devin Street was also looked at to have a breakout season, but like Shanahan he has been painfully mediocre. Also like Shanahan his production (5 catches for 57 yards in his last two games) has dropped, while his drops have risen.  Shanahan doesn't have the speed to separate.  Street does have that speed, but lately he doesn't seem to have the interest.  Third starter Cam Saddler is averaging only 8.8 yards a catch, and is also not showing any burst.  The backup receivers have amazingly accumulated 7 catches over the first six games.  Grade  D

Tight End:  Prized recruit Brock DeCicco left the program in the offseason because he didn't feel that there was a place in Graham's offense for a tight end to shine.  That move meant that Pitt's own transfer, ex-Illinois tight end Hubie Graham, got the starting nod instead.  He showed that a tight end could indeed make a contribution in this offense with 16 catches and 2 TDs on the season.  No, the numbers aren't gaudy, but when you consider the troubles of the Pitt passing game and the fact that the tight ends aren't big targets in this offense, the numbers are a nice little surprise.  Backups Anthony Gonzalez and Drew Carswell each have 5 catches in reserve.  Grade  B-

Offensive Line:  This is one the more intriguing units on the team because while it sometimes plays horribly, it also sometimes shows signs that they could get better.  Veterans Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix were supposed to be the leaders of this ragtag bunch, but Jacobson is out for the season with an injury.  Still, he was only mediocre before his injury.  Nix also has been mediocre, and even leads the team with four false starts.  He has been one of the bigger disappointments on the team thus far.  What's depressing is that even though Nix hasn't lived up to expectations, he's still light years ahead of the rest of the line.  Juantez Hollins may have lost his job to Matt Rotheram, Ryan Turnley is playing out of position at center, Cory King is very green, and Jordan Gibbs is a career journeyman.  The result is, the Panthers have given up the most sacks in the country- by far.  But they also have the second leading rusher in the country so they must be doing at least a little something right.  Grade  D

Defensive Line:  The next unit in line to be a huge disappointment.  With Brandon Lindsey, Chas Alecxih, and Myles Caragein starting, and Aaron Donald and Tyrone Ezell among the reserves, this unit looked like it was a slam dunk to dominate this season.  Instead the unit gets run on, sometimes at will and often at the most inopportune time, and Alecxih, Caragein, Donald, and Ezell have all had personal fouls.  Lindsey, while on pace for 8 sacks, is nowhere near as dominant as he was last year. Against the two most talented opponents, Notre Dame and South Florida, the defense gave up 182 and 202 yards rushing, respectively.  Grade C-

Linebackers:  Only young future stars stars Todd Thomas and Juan Price prevents this group from being the worst unit on the team.  Max Gruder leads the Big East in tackles, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how useless that stat can be.  Gruder is a liability in pass defense, misses tackles often, and continually takes the wrong angle.  The only thing that prevents him from being the worst linebacker on the team is that Tristan Roberts has the same faults, but worse.  Greg Williams is not as bad at the other two veterans, but he's still a liability.  Only the two freshman prevents this unit from having an even worse grade.  Grade D+

Defensive Backs:  It took awhile to get back to some good news, and who ever thought it would be this unit?  Thought to be a weakness before the season started, the unit has actually performed well.  K'wuan Williams had a bad game against USF, but he has been good the rest of the year.  He is a possible all-conference type player in the future.  The other corner, Antwuan Reed was a disaster last season, but has rarely had his name called this year.  In this defense, that's a good thing.  Free safety Jason Hendricks has been hit or miss, which is exactly how he tackles- sometimes he hits and sometimes he misses.  Apparently he has watched the veteran linebackers in front of him too much because he also has a bad habit of taking the wrong angle.  And his tackling is lacking.  While he has his moments, he still has to be considered the weak link in the secondary.  At strong safety, Jarred Holley had a great game against USF but has been mostly quiet in the other games. The biggest downside has been the lack of interceptions with only Holley and Hendricks coming up with an interception each, and that's what lowers the grade.  Grade  C

Special Teams:  This is a mixed bag if there ever was one.  The kickoff and punt return defense coverage has been excellent.  That's the good news.  Placekicker Kevin Harper is feast or famine.  He started horribly, then rallied, then got inconsistent again.  Punter Matt Yoklic has not been good, and neither has the return teams.  Grade C-

Coaching:  Todd Graham has caught a lot of heat thus far, and a lot of it was because he talked up his high octane offense.  Personally, I'm all for a coach coming in and talking big.  What's the alternative?  Do you really want a coach coming in and being timid?  Plus, Graham has had instant success at both of his other stops, so he clearly assumed he would do the same.  I want a coach who is confident.  This time, though, he has clearly struggled.  A lot of it is having players that don't fit his system, but there's still no excuse for some of the pathetic play that has befallen the team.  The lack of discipline, brains, and heart has really hurt what Graham is trying to accomplish, and that starts at the top.  Grade D+


  1. Chris,

    I would have to agree with you that the defensive line has been hugely disappointing. Do you credit that to the new defense relying more heavily on the linebackers or a regression by individual players? I was really disappointed by the receiving corps as well. This was a position where I thought we had some depth(Williams, Tinker etc.) Do you expect to see the roster to have a significant turnover during the spring?

  2. Can't really argue with any of these grades. I think the line play on both sides of the ball has really affected the production of the other positions. Ability to protect the QB and rush the other team's QB can make up for a lot of other shortcomings. The question is, can the team improve the rest of the way? Maybe what's most disturbing is the observation of a lack of discipline, brains and heart. That stuff has nothing to do with physical ability and it's painful to see it having an effect. Can we expect to see some other players worked into the line up? I guess if they were good enough they would already be playing.

  3. I don't know how many more players are capable of getting playing time this year, and I have to assume there's not many. But next year we should see a lot more players involved. Not only Voytik and Shell, but maybe the freshman WRs Jones and the Davis twins, and maybe even Bisnowaty, on offense. On defense, there are some good transfers coming in for the secondary, and the LB corps is going to be filled with good young players if Dan Mason and Bryan Murphy come back.

  4. Lots of personnel issues — which indicates that Wanny's recruits weren't as good as advertised. Yes, this is a new system, but blocking and tackling is blocking and tackling.