Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pitt and UConn thoughts (Pitt 35 UConn 20)

First thought is, at least as long as Lou Holtz is around to share his inane, snarky babbling, there was no way that the game itself was going to be the worse part of the night.

I have no word yet what the injury to Ray Graham is, but it sure didn't look good.  There's no silver lining for Graham, and I'd have preferred to see him stay healthy this season, even if it meant that he eventually went to the NFL.  But at least for the program, it means that Graham and Rushel Shell could possibly form one of the best tandems in the country next year.

Tino Sunseri played hard and well, throwing for a career high  yards.  How does 29 for 42, 419 yards (tied for fourth best in school history), and two TDs, plus ran for 40 yards and another TD sound?  Good for him.  Hopefully this will give him confidence to play well for the rest of the season.  The lack of the long ball is still a problem that will hurt them again in the future, but for tonight Sunseri usually made good decisions, he was accurate in the short game, and the receivers ran hard and well after the catch.

Sunseri is still not a good fit for the offense for many reasons and he still threw for over 400 yards, and before sacks he ran for over 60 more.  If that doesn't convince you that this offense can be great with the right personnel then I don't know what will.  For the offense to be as bad as it was in the previous two games, it is almost unfathomable because it's hard not to get a lot of yards if you run the offense just halfway decent.

UConn was No. 38 in total defense, giving up 351 yards/game.  The Panthers had 529.

Pitt's offense entered this week No. 94 in total offense.  The defending champion Auburn Tigers, led by the offensive genius Gus Malzahn, is No. 93.

The RBs had 9 catches (all by Zach Brown) and the WRs had 13.  But the most interesting was the TEs with 8 catches.  I wonder if Brock DeCicco now believes Graham when he told him the tight end had a place in his offense.

I'm sure a lot of fans are going to be upset by Pitt throwing on two consecutive 3rd and 2 situations, but on the last one at least, Todd Graham was clearly upset at Sunseri for not handing the ball off.

I hate to be a downer, but I can't agree with those who thinks the Pitt defense has been good this season. There are still bad angles and missed assignments all over the place.  The unit has looked better because of the horrible offenses they've been playing.  UConn is the No. 104 total offense in the country while Utah is No. 108, Rutgers is No. 99, and Buffalo is No. 83.  The good news is that future games are coming against No. 99 Syracuse and No. 100 Louisville.  I fear that No. 33 Cincinnati and No. 13 WVU may have a field day against the Panthers.

The receivers, especially Michael Shanahan played hard.  Cameron Saddler also had an excellent run after the catch.  Devin Street dropped the first pass thrown to him.  It was tipped, but catchable.  But he rallied and caught five passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.  Tight end Brendan Carozzoni, just a redshirt freshman, got some time and made three catches.  He looked athletic and smooth.  He is somebody to watch for in the future.

Just like in the USF game, you can see at times what the Panthers offense can be when done right.  Sometimes a play will work beautifully and it's pretty much unstoppable.  As long as the offensive players continue to have discipline and desire, two things that have been in short supply thus far, there's no reason why they can't continue to get better.

K'waun Williams made a beautiful play at the goal line in the first half.  More proof to me that the sophomore is going to be a very good player in his career.

Were the names of Brandon Lindsey and Myles Caregein called all night?

Zach Brown, as always, ran hard.  Imagine what he's thinking now.  He probably thought he would never be a feature back when he was fourth string at Wisconsin, but he will now be the main man for the rest of his senior season.

Aaron Donald now has six sacks on the season.  He could have a huge junior season next year if he stays disciplined.

As usual, the amount of empty seats at Heinz Field was disheartening, but the look back at a lot of the great Panthers of the past was awesome to see.

I know the fans won't like this, but with the mismatched personnel and injuries this season, I would actually be okay if the Panthers ended up 6-6 this season.  That would mean 2-2 the rest of the way against Cincinnati, Louisville, Syracuse, and West Virginia.  Anything better than that has to be considered a great thing.  Trust me, 7-5 with injuries and an entirely new system would be a major success.


  1. You are spot on this morning.

    I was wondering if we'll more Ronald Jones at QB if Tino falters. I know he's small, but he looked like the model of the QB needed for this system.

  2. I think Auburn has had a little tougher road than Pitt. Iowa, Utah, USF and Rutgers are hardly going to be confused as defensive juggernauts. Notre Dame's defense would be on par with about a 2nd rate SEC school (typical Auburn opponent) that would be one to have a fair comparison. Let's give the guy some time, but let's stop with the "look what this can be" crap. Until he figures out how to consistently win and beat teams -- and play with discipline and passion-- this team will find ways to lose 3-5 games every year. Where's this coaching for consistency? Pro Style or Triple Option-- same old Pitt. Beef O' we come!

  3. Have to agree on Caragein & Lindsey. Miles has been a non-factor this year. I still don't see how Smith or Gordon cannot beat out Gruder or Roberts for playing time. These are two guys that are really going to have to up their game for us next year to move our program forward. Just cannot have linebackers who are incapable of making plays any longer.
    Hail to Pitt- the guys showed some guts last night!

  4. basketball, basketball, basketball

  5. Pitt site just announced Rotheram, Saddler and Graham done for the season.

    I think this takes a lot of pressure off of this team to succeed, and it'll be interesting how they respond. Ideally, they could rally and put on a heroic effort that would be a catalyst for something better next year. 6-6 and a bowl game has become the new goal.

  6. For the first anonymous, I wasn't suggesting that Pitt's offense is the equal to the Auburn offense this season. My point was, that even great offensive coordinators can have weak offenses if the personnel isn't there. Having a great QB makes a difference. Last year, Auburn and Malzahn had one. This year they didn't. You can see the result.

  7. It's in the middle of an important football season and basketball really hasn't started yet. I'll get to it. In the meantime, here's a prediction. They'll win a lot of games and lose in the second round. I'm going out on a limb there.

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  9. Chris, You hit on a number of good points.

    One thing I disagree with you on is Lou Holtz. Unlike you, I rather enjoyed his commentating. I think his humor and insight added quite a bit to what otherwise could have been a dull night of color commentating. No offense to Mark May but I think Lou helps soften his stiffness, and makes Mark's moments of self-righteousness a little more palatable.

    Great point about Caregein and Lindsey. Neither has lived up to expectations this year. Caregein always seems several steps behind Alecxih getting through the O-line. He even took his frustrations out on the QB the previous week, resulting in a penalty. Lindsey is supposed to be the best DE in the Big East, yet the past few weeks it almost looks like he's running at half speed- just fast enough to look like he's trying but not aggressive enough to show he's determined to finish strong each play (the way Chas Alecxih and Aaron Donald do). Like I've said before–Donald is a beast and is key to Pitt success on Defense next year. Everyone on Pitt's defense needs to play with the same determination as Alecxih, Donald, K'waun Williams, and Taglianetti.

    I can't figure Greg Williams out. Last week he played like an All-American. Wednesday night he missed several routine tackles.

    I agree that the defense isn't spectacular- especially against the run. The linebackers need to be in better position to fill the holes RBs are squirting through.

    Aside from the one busted play for a TD, The DBs looked pretty good. The play you pointed out where K'waun Williams perfectly timed the incoming pass and batted it away, shows the difference between a typical starting DB who can hang with his man and a special player who can break up passes even when the ball is perfectly thrown.

    On offense, it was encouraging to see the coordinators calling better plays that created more open receivers. Either that or the receivers just ran crisper routes.

    While Devin Street probably should have caught that first deflected pass, what's more important is to see what he did afterwards. He became more determined to make big catches throughout the game. To that point (and you touched on this Chris), it seemed like all of the receivers were more determined in this last game than in weeks past to make the most out of their opportunities. Shanahan turned a little pass over the middle into a touchdown simply because he wanted it badly enough. Cam Saddler turned what could have been a short reception into a huge play (almost getting in the end zone). It's that new found sense of determination from these receivers that can really help turn this team around. For the first time since the USF game, this team looked like they want it more than the other team.

    And Tino (who looked lethargic and confused in the last two games) came out with poise and zip and determination and simply made smarter (veteran-like) decisions. Pump-faking a pass to get a defender off his feet so he can jet by him for a touchdown... Where did this new Tino come from? The fact that they're once again running more play-action and Tino is taking off every time there's a little room is helping tremendously. Tino still isn't on target with the long ball, but at least he's getting closer and not under-throwing it like he was (which was resulting in interceptions). Dare I say that if Tino plays as well as he did Wednesday night, Pitt could win the Big East. Did I just say that? Okay, the real test will come next week against a much better Cincinnati team- at least according to their record (and the offensive ranking you've shared with us Chris).

    It's was real bummer to see Ray Graham get injured (especially since he's officially out for the season). But to your point, it would be nice to have the one-two punch of Graham and Shell next year. I do think Corry Davis has the ability to be pretty special if given the opportunity this year, just not necessarily Ray Graham "special."

  10. Two other things that were encouraging to see during the UConn game:

    Chris, I stated before that coach Graham should get Jones and Gonzalez more involved in the QB equation. It's nice to see he's at least using one of them. Ronald Jones showed he can be a legit option at QB. While he's not extremely accurate yet (Street really had to jump to get to his pass), Jones's presence sure keeps the defense thinking about the run which seems to create more open space for receivers.

    Second, I believe you can learn a lot about a coach by the way he handles halftime interviews. Wannstedt always came across like a deer in headlights–never really knowing what to say and never able to give specific insight as to what his team was doing well or not doing well. His response was always some like, "Well... the thing is... you know...we need to figure something out... (pause for 5 seconds as he struggles to come up with words) you know... we just need to do... you know... we need to just do SOMETHING."

    After one of this interviews, I always remember thinking, "Gosh, I sure wouldn't want to be lead into battle by that kind of general. Conversely, when Graham handled the halftime interview Wednesday, he stated exactly what he thought was working or not working and what he thought they needed to be executing better. Just from Wednesday's interview, I can see a coach who- if nothing else- shows he actually has a grasp of what's transpiring on the field. It seals my belief (not that their ever really was one) that this Pitt Football team is in much better hands with coach Graham (even without either of his previous two lauded offensive coordinators).

  11. I like how Graham talks, too. I hope he does well as a coach because I think he would be a good representative for the university. He's learning both on and off the field because he has more scrutiny and more pressure here, but he's getting better.

  12. Chris -

    Another really good post.

    I fully understood your point about Malzahn and you are spot on.

    Perhaps one solution to the long ball is to not ask Tino to do that and bring Ronald Jones in for those occasions...his throw to Street at the end was bit high, but it had quite a bit of zip on it.