Monday, December 3, 2012

Final Grades for Pitt Football- Offense and Special Teams

Quarterbacks:  The Tino Sunseri era is only one game away from being over for good, and for many Panthers fans it can't come soon enough.  To say that Sunseri is a polarizing figure may be the biggest understatement ever.  But to his credit, he reached his maximum talent.  That his maximum talent may not be what a lot of fans wanted is something that he can't control.

For the season, Sunseri finished No.19 nationally in passing efficiency with a QB rating of 154.95. He also completed 66.5% of his passes for 3,103 yards, 19 touchdowns, and incredibly just 2 interceptions.   His interception percentage is by far the best in the nation.  Thanks to being a three year starter at this time in history, he's also near the top of many school career passing lists.

But as anybody who actually watched Sunseri play could see, the senior never really made big, game changing plays.  At the end of the day, he had his stats, he made some bad decisions that don't show up in the box score, and he never moved the team to the higher level that top quarterbacks must do.  He was just kind of there, an instrument of Paul Chryst's offensive mind, a vessel designed to make the average, safe play, but without the talent to go beyond that.

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

Running Backs:  With Ray Graham, Rushel Shell, and Isaac Bennett, there were great hopes for this unit.  A poor offensive line and Graham working himself back into top form prevented the running game from reaching the heights expected when looking at the individual talent involved, but the backs were still very good despite their obstacles.

Graham finally got his 1,000 yard season on his last try and now has 1,042 yards, with a 4.7 avg., and 11 touchdowns.  Graham also got better in the second half of the season and had three of his four 100 yard games in the last five games.  Graham once again showed his great pass receiving skills with 36 catches, 340 yards, a 9.4 avg., and 2 more touchdowns.

Rushel Shell showed that he is ready for big things and even though he only got more than 20 carries in a game just once (in which he ran for 157 yards on 23 carries against Virginia Tech), he still ended up with 562 yards, a 4.8 avg., and 4 touchdowns.  He also showed nice hands when called upon, with 9 catches, including 5 against Louisville.

Isaac Bennett was the odd man out, which is too bad because he's a good player.  He played well on special teams, however, and had 29 carries for 141 yards, a 4.9 avg., and 3 rushing touchdowns.  Unfortunately for him, he had just three carries in the second half of the season.

Statistically, the Panthers are No.89 nationally in rushing offense but that's because in college football sacks are counted as rushing yards and the Panthers are No.101 in sacks allowed.

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

Wide Receivers:  At midseason, both Mike Shanahan and Devin Street were on pace for 1,000 yards in the regular season, and while they didn't quite get there, they have been consistently effective all season.

Shanahan has 58 catches, 926 yards, a 16.0 avg., and 5 touchdowns on the season and had his only three 100+ games of his career. He also only had one bad game, against Buffalo, when the entire offense was terrible.  Street was just as good with 66 catches, for 892 yards, a 13.5 avg., and 4 touchdowns.  He also had three 100+ games.

After that, the pickings were slim.  Cam Saddler was the No.3 receiver but he only had 16 catches for 229 yards, a 14.3 avg., and a single touchdown.

When all was said and done, this unit was solid and productive, but they weren't really game changers. However they were clearly much more suited to Chryst's offense, and came up big as veterans.

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

Tight Ends:  This was one of the most disappointing units on the team.  Senior Hubie Graham was somebody I named as having a breakout season, but an injury plagued season cost him any chance of that. He missed just three games but his injuries prevented him from becoming a factor in the passing game. He only had 7 catches on the season, and just one came in the last seven games. He did provide some solid blocking however.

Drew Carswell got the call when Graham went down and ended up with 13 catches, including 5 against UConn late in the season. He also had two touchdowns.  But he had some awful drops during the season and is not a blocker.

True freshman J.P. Holtz was called on as the season progressed and already is the best tight end  on the roster.  He ended the season with 12 catches, and 9 came in the last four games.  He also had 3 touchdowns, all in the last half of the season.

The future is bright for this position, but there's no denying that it was a disappointment this season.  The final grade was salvaged by the emergence of Holtz, who is a future star.

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

Offensive Line:  Along with the quarterback position, this unit has been the most discussed, analyzed, and argued over.  As I see it, no newcomers saw time, so it's basically the same unit that underperformed last season.  It's a veteran unit, especially with center Ryan Turnley and sixth year guard Chris Jacobson, yet the unit still struggled mightily.  The Panthers finished No. 76 nationally in tackles for loss allowed and No.101 in sacks allowed.  Yes, Sunseri's slow reactions have led to that, but anybody who watched Pitt this year could also see many times where Sunseri had little chance. Against the more talented teams, the line's lack of talent was even more apparent.  Cincinnati had 6 sacks, while Louisville, Syracuse, and Notre Dame all had 5 sacks. The line also committed a lot of procedure and holding penalties this season, and the team finished No. 90 in penalty yards.

There was an occasional bright spot, like Arthur Doakes playing surprisingly well at the end of the season, but for the most part this unit just isn't very good despite some people trying to convince themselves that it is.  If it wasn't for Chryst's offensive mind and the talents of Graham and Shell, the line's lack of ability would be even more apparent.

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

Special Teams:  This has been a mixed bag all season, with some of the units performing well and some performing horribly.  Punter Matt Yoklic had an average 41.1 yards a punt, but he was much more consistent this season and did a much better job of kicking inside the 20-yard line.  Kicker Kevin Harper was sometimes disastrous but in the second half of the season he went 13-15 after making 6-11 in the first half of the season.  However, he showed little as a pressure kicker and his miss against Notre Dame will go down in infamy.

In the return game, Cam Saddler had a mediocre 7.4 avg., but as a team the Panthers ended No.23 nationally.  The Panthers also ended up No.29 nationally as a team in kick returns, and Lafayette Pitts also finished No. 29 nationally with a 25.8 avg.

The kick return defense ended up No. 38 nationally but the punt return defense was an atrocious No.119 nationally, second worst in the country.

The unit clearly needs some help, and it's inexcusable not to place a bigger coaching emphasis on something that is 1/3 of the team.

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


  1. Chris - I love your posts but, I cannot believe you gave Sunseri a D grade.

    He had an excellent year not unlike previously polarizing QB Bill Stull did in his final season at Pitt.

    He deserved an A- to B+ for this season no question.

    Apparently his previous 3 years which WERE terrible stuck in your mind and you just didn't want to 'see' him this season.

    Look at his stats particularly his TD to interception rate.

    Yes, he's no Andrew Luck and makes some bad decisions on occasion like every other QB does but to give him a D - for THIS season???

    That's completely off base and hurts your credibility quite frankly.

    1. I just have to say this; nothing personal: you are incredibly off base. For all his historic stats, he will go down as one of the worst at his position. In fact it might be fun to do a survey on who each of us would rate as the worst QB in Pitt history.

  2. Sry - re-read - you gave him a C - he deserves at least a B+ imo.

  3. An A-? I wish I had you for a teacher in high school!!!

  4. He actually gave him a C. Read it.

    For a guy how has 19 TD's and 2 INT a C seems harsch but when it came to clock management and making a play he was brutal. Stats can be decieving. I'm not sure if there's a stat for bone headed plays but he would lead the NCAA. Its hard to throw an INT when 90% of your throws dont travel more than 10 yards.

  5. Nice review...
    Of all the seniors... I only see Shanny getting drafted... and as a TE.

    Carswell... was a WR in HS that was moved to TE... round peg in square hole... albeit he was highly rated with offers from all over... he played A ball in wpial.. Sto-Rox... A-ball makes any decent athlete better than he really is!!! That is why level of competition matters in the evaluation of talent... in my opinion.

    Next year at TE... Holtz will be starter... Orndoff will be #2 TE. I hope they don't RS Orndoff as I hate seeing Carswell "no hands" on the field.

  6. Looks like a "C" average overall.... which is about right for a 6-6 team.

  7. Tino was a B at best

  8. After Tino's "field goal pass" against Cincinnati, I'd be hard pressed to give him anything other than an F. But seriously a C is as high a grade as you could possibly go. Stats aren't everything. What's the saying, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."

  9. I'd give Tino a B- and give him the benefit of the doubt with the bad O-Line. I guess a C is not that far off.

  10. I will give the Pitt Administration an F for putting the players through this the last couple of years. All in all not a bad season considering the hill they had to climb because of the coaching changes. Stability and sound judgment is the key in the next several years. Just model what the steelers are doing.

  11. Coach D - Ray Graham will get drafted before Shannahan. I believe he was leading rusher (at least top 3) in Div-1 when he got hurt last season. While I never thought he looked like he was at 100% this year, he had a nice comeback season. I expect his to at least be as effective in the pros as Stephens-Howling and will be a third day draftee.

    Moving Shannahan to TE will be a project for any NFL team. If he runs a 5sec 40 during pro workouts, he will most likely go undrafted and be a FA signing.


    1. RB's are a dime a dozen...
      Graham is not back to his pre-injury form and many will shy away from drafting Graham...
      Shanny will be drafted as TE... he doesn't have NFL WR speed meaning at least 4.5 in 40... but he has the size and build for TE.
      1. I don't think Graham will be drafted...
      2. I believe Shanny will go in 4th/5th round...

    2. I agree with Joe D for once. Graham, still isn't the back he was. Shanny will make it 3-4 years in the league. And this is way out on a limb, but I think Tino may get a little bit of interest as an undrafted free agent until he ends up in the arena league somewhere.

  12. longsufferingpittfanDecember 3, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    Shanny is going to be a TE in the mold of Heath Miller. He's going to have to add some weight, but with his hands he has the potential to be a good one.

  13. Couldn't you at least give Tino a B- for the Beating he has taken over the past 2 years both off and primarily on the field. He getting blind sided by an unblocked LB the other night was a sight we saw too often .... especially last year.


  14. Lots of hate here for the O-line.

    Let's see, Graham runs for 1,000 yards and Suneri passes for over 3,000 and O-line sucks?

    Does anybody here understand football?

    1. Do you understand No.76 in tackles for loss, No.69 in rushing, and No.101 in sacks allowed? Apparently there are people here who understand football, but you aren't one of them.

  15. Thinking Graham won't get drafted but a project like shanny will go in 4th round...only the genius of Joe D

  16. You guys suggesting Tino the Magician deserves a grade of B, or even A are amazing: didn't you see that sack on Saturday night, when dude lost 29 yards (with the game still very much in doubt) by essentially running in the wrong direction, with no earthly idea what he was gonna do?? That one bone-head play alone certainly eliminates an A.

    And if that was a one-time deal, okay. But it was a season-long and career-long trait.

    And then there's the 4th Quarter meltdown at Notre Dame.

    And don't even try telling me about Tino the Great's QB rating. You can look it up: both Neil O'Donnell and Jeff George have higher career ratings than John Elway, but they couldn't carry his jockstrap between them....

    1. Im 40, you remember the 29 yd sack ... but never seem to remember the double-digit penalties on the Oline (holding and false starts,) the drop by Jones in the 2nd qtr on the 2 yard line which likely would have been a TD, and the blitzing LB coming in totally unchecked and sacking Tino before he had time to set up (an all too common occurrence - especially last year.)

  17. Chris,

    How do you grade the coaching staff? Both during & prep for game-days as well as for recruiting?

    Do you think all the assistants will return for 2013?

  18. Does Holley get drafted late? How about Hubie Graham? I know his stats were non-existent (due to a number of factors, including injury)but he has size and athletic ability.

  19. CBS has Graham as a 3rd or 4th round pick. They have Holley in the 6th round and Shanahan not getting drafted. Graham still has 3 months to get back to full speed. If he trains for the combine like everyone does these days I'm sure he'll get a decent 40 time.