Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Midseason Grades for the Pitt Football Team-Offense

Quarterback:  Everybody's favorite whipping boy, Tino Sunseri, has quarterback guru Paul Chryst mentoring him this season and the result will do nothing to change the opinions people have of both men.  Chryst has proven that he can turn anybody into a decent quarterback and Sunseri has proven that decent is all that one can expect from him.

Sunseri's passing stats looks pretty good, to say the least.  He's completed an excellent 70.4% of his passes with 1,750 yards, 10 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions.  He's also No.8 in the nation in pass efficiency. Projected over the season Sunseri will throw for 3,500 yards with 20 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.  Excellent numbers for anybody let alone somebody that pretty much everybody wrote off long ago.

So why is Sunseri still a whipping boy for many?  Well, for one thing, a lot of people are idiots.  But then again some others do have a point.  Chryst can't ever teach Sunseri to know the nuances of the game and to have the natural instincts that top quarterbacks have.  Stats can tell a lot about a player's performance but in the case of Sunseri's aforementioned stats, it doesn't tell you when those stats were accumulated.  Just like a player can be a lot better than his stats show, a player can be a lot less of a player than his stats show.  And that's the case with Sunseri.  Wrong decisions, not being clutch, and the inability to rise above the others on the field.  That's what it takes to be an elite quarterback and it's apparent that Sunseri will never have that.

But to Sunseri's credit he played as well as he can under extreme physical and mental duress. Not only did many people felt that they just knew he would fail this season, they almost willed it out of spite.  But Sunseri didn't fold and he's playing up to his ability.  Unfortunately for him, his ability is never going to be good enough to be any better than decent, no matter what the stats say.

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

Running Back:  Big things were expected at this position this year, but the sad fact is, Pitt is No.83 in rushing offense this season.  A lot of the problem is that senior Ray Graham is not 100% recovered from his serious knee injury. It usually takes a full year to get back to your previous level so it's not Graham's fault that he's not the same back.  He clearly tries but his style is built around his quick feet, but now though the feet are willing, they can't answer the bell, and the result is that he doesn't make nearly as many people miss and long, exciting runs just aren't happening like before the injury.

On the season Graham has run for 439 yards and 4 touchdowns, with a 4.6 avg.  He also has 18 catches. He's also had some good games- 103 against Cincinnati and 94 against both Gardner-Webb and Virginia Tech. But he's only had 95 carries on the season compared to 150 carries at the same time last year.  Even more telling is that in the first half of last season he ran for 925 yards and a 6.2 avg. compared to the 439 yards and 4.6 avg. this season.

Issac Bennett was a pleasant surprise when Graham went down last season, and after a strong spring showing much was expected of him.  However, the sophomore has only rushed 26 times on the season and 10 of those was in the opener against Youngstown State.  On the season he has run for 127 yards and 3 TDs.  His 4.9 avg. shows he's been solid when he gets the chance but with only a 4 carry a game average there's not much he can do.

That leaves the wildcard, freshman sensation Rushel Shell.  Shell did not play in the opener and was only given the majority of carries in two games, but in those two games he exploded for 253 carries on 41 carries, a 6.2 average.  And that was against Virginia Tech and Louisville, not exactly horrible teams.  It will be interesting if Chryst gives him a chance to take over as the workhorse.

With Graham not at his best, Bennett not getting much action, and Shell playing sporadically, the Panthers rushing offense has regressed form last season.  Of course a poor offensive line doesn't help, but it's still apparent that the Panthers running game has not found itself yet.  There is hope for this unit, though. Shell should only get better as he becomes more comfortable and Graham's knee should only get stronger.

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

Wide Receivers:  Chryst can probably expect Christmas cards from Michael Shanahan and Devin Street for the rest of his life because he took two disgruntled and lost receivers and turned them into one of the most productive duos in the country.  How productive?  Well, Pitt has only had seven players accumulate over 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and no teammates have ever done it.  Shanahan is on pace for 1,050 yards and Street is on pace for 1,028 yards.  This comes after Shanahan had 493 yards last season and Street had 754 yards.  The most surprising fact about the duo is that Shanahan, long considered the possession receiver, has an 18.1 avg, while Street, the supposed deep threat, is only at 13.2 yards a reception. Both receivers have 3 touchdowns.

After those two, however, the pickings are slim.  Cameron Saddler was never a speed demon to begin with, and after his knee injury in the past, he's lost even more of his quickness, not a good thing for somebody only 5'7" tall.  He made a nice touchdown catch against Louisville, and he's the undisputed emotional leader of the team, but his production of 12 catches and 178 yards is a big drop.  And beyond him, the next in line is Ronald Jones with just 5 catches.

A lot of the success of Shanahan and Street is due to Chryst's system, and neither are game changing talents.  For that reason, their grade can only be so high, but it's a welcome site for the program to see the two rebound so nicely after both having underachieving seasons last year.

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

Tight Ends:  While the wide receivers have been a pleasant surprise this season, the opposite could be said about the tight ends.  Hubie Graham has started in the four games that he's played, but he's been one of the biggest disappointments of the season.  With the success that Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph had with tight ends at Wisconsin, it was expected that this position would be a real strength. Unfortunately, however, the unit was actually better last year under then coach Todd Graham who didn't even focus on the position in the offense.  Graham has 6 catches on the year, and 4 of them came in the opener against Youngstown State.  Injuries have played a part in his problems but even when he's in the game he is not much of a factor.  Drew Carswell added 5 catches in the first 5 games, but sat in game six due to an injury. Carswell has a lot of talent but has been sloppy in his play, to say the least, and that has has been a major problem. True freshman J.P. Holtz has just two catches but showed flashes in his limited playing time.  With Graham and Carswell out, he played nearly every snap against Louisville. Brendan Carozzoni, who showed good potential while playing in 11 games last season, has not even seen the field, even with Graham and Carswell out.  Bottom line, last year the tight ends caught a total of 54 passes.  Graham himself caught 28.  This year the unit is on pace to catch a measly 26 passes for the entire season.

Last Season's Grade: B
Preseason Grade: A
Midseason Grade: D-

Offensive Line:  Remember when Pitt had great offensive lines?  I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't because it's been a long time.  But they have had a lot of good offensive lines in the last twenty years. In the last few years, however, the line has been anything but good.  Last season was a disaster but with another year of experience and Chris Jacobson returning, you would think that the line had no choice but to be better.  But if you did think that, you would be wrong.  The Panthers are No.83 in the country in rushing offense and that is with Graham, Shell, and Bennett.  I'd hate to think where the team would be with even average running backs.  The pass blocking is just as bad.  Sunseri is much quicker to get rid of the ball this season but the Panthers are still ranked No. 103 nationally in sacks allowed.

And this is with center Ryan Turnley, who performed solidly last season, and Jacobson, who even after  six years at Pitt still hasn't reached the level which was expected him.  Tackle Matt Rotheram was also solid last year but this year he also has seemed to regress, especially in pass blocking where he seems to always be running behind a defensive end that's about to flatten Sunseri.  But if you would count how many times he had to do that, even though it seems pretty much all the time, he's still be behind Cory King, who was moved from guard this season.  King has accomplished the offensive tackle trifecta in every game by missing pass blocks, missing run blocks, and picking up penalties.  The other guard, Ryan Schlieper hasn't been much better.

Of course, apologists will say that the offensive line just isn't talented, but that's too easy. Rotheram had offers from the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State, and LSU.  Turnley had offers from Georgia Tech and Wisconsin.  Jacobson was ranked the No.3 guard in the entire country by Scout.com.  These were highly coveted kids.  All five starters are considered the equal, and in many cases superior, to pretty much every offensive linemen that West Virginia, for example, has started in any year, and yet the Mountaineers continually field very good lines.  In fact, it's commonplace in the NCAA for experienced offensive lines in major college football to be solid.  Rotheram has been in the program for 3 years, King and Schlieper for 4, Turnley for 5, and Jacobson for 6.  The fact that five fairly highly recruited linemen with that much experience can be so bad is almost unfathomable. You would have to think that, under those conditions, one would have to go out of their way not to at least be decent.  But here they are, still well below average.  And what's worse is that currently these are by far the five best linemen they have.

Last Season's Grade:  C-
Preseason Grade:  C-
Midseason Grade:  F


  1. wowo.... you didn't pull any punches...
    but the grades and comments were spot on...

  2. I would like to defend the OL. Louisville had no more than 2 sacks in any previous game. Those games were mostly against inferior competition. They had 5 against Pitt. On one, Tino had a clear path to run for a first down and did not. On at least 2 others, I felt he held the ball too long. This is nothing new. Our average per rush is pretty good. It would be better if Graham did not dance so much or Shell played more. A couple of coaching comments: Do we ever run a play that was designed to go outside? Do we even have a quick pitch in the playbook? Do we ever run anything to take advantage of speed rushers always going wide?

    I think most of the problems with the OL have to do with 1) Tino holding the ball too long 2) No help for the tackles on the speed rush (because of formation) and 3) The fact that we almost never run a quick pitch to the outside.

  3. Here are a couple of stats to go with the grades.

    No question, Tino Sunseri is having his best year passing the football. However, with a passing game ranked 22nd nationally, the improvement has not been reflected in the most important stat of them all… SCORING… where Pitt finds itself way down the list at 83rd.

    With interceptions down (2), it seems the big problem for Tino and Pitt is SACKS (18)... an even bigger problem than you would think.

    The fact is Pitt has scored ONLY ONCE on a drive this year in which Tino was sacked. That drive was the Carswell TD against Cincy in the second half.

    And the problem of sacks for Pitt is not just with the offense.

    Pitt’s Defense is ranked 75th in sacks averaging less than two a game both home and away. That’s actually a little worse than Louisville which at 73rd managed to produce FIVE DRIVE-KILLING SACKS against Pitt.

    Bottom Line… the objective of any smart opposing defensive coordinator is simply SACK TINO… at all costs.

    One sack and chances are Pitt is punting.

    The BAD NEWS this week… Buffalo is ranked 33rd in sacks averaging FIVE sacks at HOME.


    1. See o-line grade. Give it a rest dude, he's having a pretty good year.

  4. I think the Offensive Line would look much better with a different QB.

    1. LOL... now that is funny..

    2. what is so funny about? We have a QB with no feel for the pocket. As much as Ben has good feet Tino has horrible feet. Did you see the Louisville game? On one sack, Tino could have easily ran to his right for a first down. It was wide open. On another, he took an inconsistent drop (too short), he had plenty of time to throw but moved forward for no good reason and ran himself into a sack. This happens over and over again.

    3. This offensive line wouldn't look better if Marino where there, actually Marino had a quick release and good pocket presence but he was immobile, he would be a cripple, LMFAO!!!!

    4. To the first anonymous..
      see the 2nd anonymous comment...
      now you know why I think your comment was funny...

    5. Now the third Anonymous would like to ask the second Anonymous, are you saying that Pitt would be 2-4 or worse with Marino at QB. lmmfao!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    6. Every defense plays pitt the same way, load the box and stop the run. Make Sunseri beat you, which he cannot. A better qb would make the o-line better. The qb stats are better this year because all he does is dump the ball short to pad his stats.

  5. Any chance Pederson can get named PSU AD? That would be awesome.

  6. I actually agree with "1st anonymous" up there. Tino has no pocket presence, and throws the ball out of bounds or at the feet of the intended recipient of the screen pass, at the VERY FIRST sign of trouble. No intangibles, no feel for the game...must a robot, mechanical quarterback who is servicable at best.

    1. I think Geno Smith could play nehind our OL and be sacked less than 5 times a game. I could be wrong about that, maybe?

    2. The real issue is Tino is not getting enough time to throw... that is an Olineman issue... Yes, there are times he holds onto the ball too long.. but the pocket collapeses so quickly at times...

      would having a different QB help... maybe... but it is still an Olineman issue.
      Look at the rushing... that is an Olineman issue.

      I never heard..... IF you want to improve the Oline... get a new QB... that is a first for me.

    3. Get a new oline, they are horrible, when Pitt plays their next game watch what happens to Sunseri on passing plays, he has little or no time to set up, when he does have time to set up he is either hurried, hit, knocked down or sacked.

      I am amazed the kid is still in one piece, sure his pocket presence isn't much but you can count on one thing the pocket collapses around him quickly and constantly and he is constantly being pounded into the ground. The kid has his faults but the major problem is the oline.

  7. "So why is Sunseri still a whipping boy for many? Well, for one thing, a lot of people are idiots. But then again some others do have a point."

    Now that's funny. And true. Thanks for the chuckle, Chris. Once again, you've put together a thoughtful and spot on analysis.

    How about a grade for the OC?

  8. I don't really think play calling has been the issue. Some plays are questionable but if they worked he would have been a genius. In general I have had no problem with the play calling and that's PC calling the plays. Its hard to disagree with Chris on this one. That oline is the systemic risk (whatever that is)of our team. If the line played better we could run more, tino wouldn't have to make so many plays, our tightends wouldn't have to block and could make more plays, and then our D wouldn't be on the field so much. I have been a big believer in PC but this should be going better. I expected inconsistencies but not bi-polar. In my mind PC gets 4-5 years like all new hires should unless you are implicated in a domestic abuse case. I'm disappointed but still believe. On another note I don't care how far Todd Graham goes that is jerk but ASU will understand when he bolts for texas when Mack Brown retires/fired.

    1. The Very Old Track CoachOctober 16, 2012 at 9:06 PM

      Texas is not going to hire Graham, even if he is the last coach on earth. You heard it here first.

  9. I'll defend Tino and give him a B. He is playing behind a porous offensive line. The system he is playing is a much better fit for him. His accuracy has improved this year and I hunk for the most part he's used better judgement. Still looks like he holds on to it too long at times. Good completion % and TD to int. ratio.

  10. This may not pertain to this post, but I keep seeing alot of comments comparing Chryst and Todd Graham’s record in the Big East on this and other message boards. (Now, I still think if TG had a couple years to recruit he would have been a winner at Pitt, but I also feel the same way about Chryst.)
    But can we drop the Graham is a better coach argument based on his record in the Big East. The BE is SO MUCH BETTER this year compared to last (same with the perception). We had no current BE teams in the preseason Top 25 last year. WVU was in it solely because of Geno and their past dominance, yet they still only went 5-2 in the BE. Last year Louisville went 7-5, this year they are 6-0. Last year Cincy was coming off a 4-8 season and still was trying to find their identity. This year they have found an identity and are 5-0. Last year, Rutgers finally came out of the shadows and recorded a 9-3 mark with a great defense. This year, they have some offense as well and are also 6-0. Syracuse, despite its record is a better team this year. UCONN and USF have both sucked this year and last. So in comparison:

    RU 2012 > RU 2011
    UofL 2012 > UofL 2011
    Cincy 2012 > Cincy 2011
    UCONN 2012 < UCONN 2011
    USF 2012 Syracuse 2011
    and oh of course…
    WVU 2011 > Temple 2012 (but Temple, surprisingly, is still a solid team)

    Look at Pitt’s 2011 schedule compared to Pitt’s 2012 schedule as well. Through this Point in the season last year, we played Maine, Buffalo, Iowa, Notred Dame, USF, and Rutgers. We beat Maine, Buffalo and an overrated USF team and were 3-3 (1-0 in the BE).

    Thus far in 2012, we beat Gardner Webb and an overrated Va Tech team and are 2-4 (0-3 in the BE), with losses to a ranked U of L team, a ranked Cincy team, an FCS opponent, and a better Syracuse team.

    If Graham had implemented his new defense/offense against this year’s FCS YSU’s team last year, I sure as hell would still have bet against the Panthers, considering we almost lost to a shitty Maine and a shitty Buffalo team in the first two games of the season.

    I think it’s just the way our schedule has been ordered that have changed out perception of claiming last year’s coaching staff was better than this years.

    BTW, not to mention another new scheme and a little less talent overall on the roster.

    I would guarantee you last year that Chryst would have had a similar, if not a better record as Graham through the first six games of the season, with maybe even a couple wins against Iowa (remember Graham’s scheme made the lead crumble?) and ND (it was only 15-12 and if Tino played half as well last year as he has played this year I would guarantee a different result). Rutgers in both years was a loss IMO.

    Just something to think about…

    1. Pitt is 1-1 against 1AA teams, 0-2 against former Conf-USA teams and heading into their 1st MAC attack. God help us all!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Outside of VT who has Cincinnati played that is any good? Delaware State? Fordham ?

      How about Louisville ? Missouri State ? FIU ? Their signature win is against North Carolina ? Southern Miss?

      Who has Buttgers played ? A very watered down and poorly coached Arkansas team ? Howard ? Tulane ?

      The Big East is exremely weak, the non conference schedule of most big east teams is very bad and a lot have tons of cupcakes littered on their schedule.

      I'm not defending Pitt's non con this year, compared to last year it is pretty easy,

      The ranked Big East teams have really not played anyone ranked in the top 25, they will play each other and knock one another out but no one from the Big East has really ventured out and played a schedule that tests them.

    3. Yeah but normally BE teams would lose those FIU, UNC, or Southern Miss games. Even lose against a poorly coached Arkansas. Even VT on a down year would have beat Cincy. You cant deny the BE teams are starting to win they games they should win, something that hasn't been happening the last two years.

    4. Then it sounds like you agree with me the big east is weak FIU has beaten who? Southern Miss has beaten who?

      Big East football is pathetic period

    5. FIU beat Louisville last year, so the big east was really weak two years ago

  11. Tino has done extremely well between the 20's. At red zone time, the field shrinks and pressure gets him and he messes his shorts. The field goal kicker is not consistent, which then forces our OC to call plays to offset our field goal challenged kicker.

    I would be interested to see if our qb could operate out of the shotgun which would give him more time to read routes and get to his drop more quickly. He really struggles on the seven step and five step drops because he doesn't get there quickly enough. When he goes back fast, he isn't reading the defense on the way back. Hell, I am just frustrated. I like Paul Chryst and believe he is the right fit for Pitt. If we could only get rid of the AD.

    My score for Pitt's Administration:

    Last Season's Grade : F
    Pre-season Grade - F
    Mid season Grade - F

    1. With edge rushers having a field day against our OT's, I'd say the safest place for Tino is up in the pocket. Deep drops don't seem to help.

  12. Where's the report card for Chryst & Co.?

  13. The problem with Pitt pure and simple is SCORING... on both sides of the ball.

    On the Offensive side, while Sunseri is having his career year (thanks to Chryst and Co.), the offense is ranked 83rd in scoring.

    On the Defensive side, the team is ranked 56th giving up a total of 151 points.

    A GREAT SCORING offense can get by with a 56th defense. On the other hand, a GREAT score-stopping defense can get by with an 83rd Offense.

    Put them together and you got a losing proposition.

    If you look a little deeper you can see the reasons for Pitt's scoring woes.

    On Offense, it's not just the Offensive Line giving up sacks. It's not just Sunseri taking sacks (see above).

    It's the fact that you have an unathletic, inexperienced line vulnerable to giving up sacks COMBINED with a less-than-mobile quarterback with limited pocket awareness.

    Again a losing proposition.

    Defensively, you have a defensive front, linebackers included... who through six games have not shown the ability to consistently pressure the quarterback let alone sack him

    And as demonstrated against Louisville, being caught off guard after halftime adjustments made by the opposing ocaching staff.

    Hindsight being what it is, it seems the losing propositions on both sides of the ball were baked in before the season even even began.

    Question is, "What can be done about it now?"

    Pitt of Dreams