Saturday, December 28, 2013

Final Season Grades for Pitt Football

Quarterback:  Tom Savage started out having fans thinking he was going to be a star, then struggled some, before finally winning most over with his toughness.  After slumping in the middle of the season Savage rallied and had a significantly better second half of the season.

In the first half, Savage was 4-2 because of an easier schedule overall, but still connected on 88 of 155 passes, a 56.8%, for 11 TDs, 6 interceptions, and 1,383 yards.  He was also sacked 23 times.  In the second half of the season he threw the ball more often and completed 142 of 221 passes, a 64.3%, 10 TDs, 3 interceptions, and 1,451 yards.  He was sacked 18 times in the last six games.

Not only did Savage get better, but he impressed with his leadership and toughness, even winning over the fans along the way.

In the bowl game, Savage made some beautiful throws but left the game at halftime because of an injury.  Redshirt freshman Chad Voytik, who rarely saw the field all season, entered the game and led the Panthers to the victory.

Bottom line- Even though Savage's numbers weren't as good as Tino Sunseri's numbers, he was a better passer and a better leader.  If he had one more season he really could have been special, but now it's Voytik's time.

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

Running Back:  When Rushel Shell unexpectedly transferred at the beginning of the season, many thought the Pitt running game was doomed. While they running back was not great this season at least they weren't doomed either.  Isaac Bennett was the second leading rusher with 797 yards, a 4.7 avg., and 7 touchdowns.  Most of that yardage (240), however, was against Old Dominion, and 101 more came against a bad New Mexico team.  He also ended the season with 141 against Miami, but for the other ten games he averaged just 31.5 yards a game.

True freshman James Conner was a big surprise as he came up with 799 yards, a 5.5 avg., and 8 touchdowns.  At times he looked like a future star, like when he rumbled for 173 yards against Duke or 102 in just 19 carries against North Carolina.  He also ran for 119 yards against New Mexico in just 12 carries.  But it was in the bowl game that Conner showed he may be on the verge of stardom as he rumbled for 229 yards and became the talk of the college football world for a few days.

Rachid Ibrahim only carried 27 times but he had a 5.0 yard avg., and showed he was a nice scatback option to the more between the tackles style of Bennett and Conner.

Ultimately the running attack actually got worse as the season went along with the running backs running for 784 yards in the first six games of the season and 625 yards in the second six games. But Conner's performance in the thirteenth game showed that the future is bright.

Bottom line- While the future may be bright, a poor offensive line and inconsistency from Conner and Bennett, especially early, has Pitt currently with the No. 103 rushing offense in the country. If you take away the sacks from Savage, the Panthers would currently be No.77 so obviously that makes a difference.

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

Wide Receiver:  After Michael Shanahan left to graduation there was worry that the receiving corps may not be as good.  Then came a freshman superstar named Tyler Boyd.  The sensational former Clairton Bear led the Panthers with 85 catches, 1,174 yards, and 7 touchdowns.  Unfortunately, though, after averaging over 20 yards a catch at the beginning of the season he ultimately averaged 13.6 yards a catch.  Needless to say, somebody with his ability should be given the opportunity to have bigger gains.

In the first six games of the season Boyd had 31 catches for 491 yards, a 15.8 avg., and 4 TDs.  In the second six games, he caught 46 balls, but only for 510 yards, an 11.1 avg.  He also added 3 TDs.  Clearly the staff's desire to get the ball out of Savage's hands quicker meant lesser big plays for Boyd. In the bowl game, with Devin Street out, Boyd came up huge with 8 catches for 173 yards.

Injuries cost Street a great season and in the second half of the season his production plummeted in a startling fashion.  He caught 26 passes in the first five games, and 25 passes in the second five games (one game was lost due to injury in each half), but his yardage total dropped from 549 yards to 305 yards, and his average per reception dropped from 21.1 to 12.2.

After Boyd and Street the production dropped off a cliff.  No. 3 receiver Kevin Weatherspoon was hit or miss.  He only had 14 catches for 155 yards, an 11.1 avg., and no touchdowns.  But he did have some big, important catches at times.  The only other receivers who caught a pass were Chris Wuenster and Ed Tinker who each literally caught just one pass.

Bottom line- Despite have a quarterback and two wide receivers with NFL ability, the Panthers are currently No.60 nationally in passing offense. Ultimately, that has to be somewhat disappointing even with Boyd becoming a star.

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

Tight End:  For the first year and a half that Chryst and Joe Rudolph were at Pitt there was big disappointment when it came to this unit since while at Wisconsin their tight ends were such a big part of the offense. But finally in the second half of this season the tight ends started to get the ball more.  A lot of that was because the staff finally figured out that Savage has to get the ball out much faster.

The starter, J.P. Holtz, was as tough as ever while blocking or running after the catch but unfortunately he still only caught 23 passes for 209 yards, a 9.1 avg., and no touchdowns. But the good news is, Holtz had 19 of his 23 catches in the second half of the season.

Manasseh Garner actually led all tight ends with 33 catches for 391 yards, an 11.8 avg., and 3 touchdowns. Like Holtz he did much better in the second half of the season as he caught 24 of his 33 passes after the midway point.

Big true freshman Scott Orndoff missed the last four games because of an injury, but contributed 6 catches, 2 for touchdowns, and 50 yards.  His future is bright.

Bottom line-  A lot of talent with this trio but they still seem underutilized.

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

Offensive Line:  Pitt's old nemesis strikes yet again.  Eventually, maybe soon, this will be a team strength, but right now it's killing the offense and the team as a whole.

At tackle, redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty had a lot of problems on the left side before his season ended with an injury.  True freshman Dorian Johnson tried to take over but he wasn't ready and it showed.  Eventually the staff moved previously exiled senior Juantez Hollins back into the starting unit and he actually helped stabilized the unit some.  On the other side, redshirt junior T.J. Clemmings moved over from the defensive line and showed some promise.

At guard, Cory King was the starter until he was injured. Then Ryan Schlieper took over. Both are average, at best.

Center continued to be a problem.  Redshirt freshman Gabe Roberts looked to be the starter for much of the preseason but eventually was overtaken by Artie Rowell.  Neither distinguished themselves and Roberts eventually was lost for the season with a back injury.

Bottom line-  Despite having some good skill position players the Panthers are currently No. 97 in total offense and the main reason is a poor offensive line.  It took the coaches half the year to help the line by changing the offense but when they did it did help.

Last Season's Final Grade: D
Preseason Grade: C+
Midseason Grade: D
This Season's Final Grade: D+

Defensive Line:  Without Aaron Donald it was a below average line but Donald was arguably the best defensive player the Panthers have had in over 30 years.  I won't go into how great he was because if you are interested in Pitt enough to have read this far you already know how great he was.

Outside of Donald, things were very different.  Senior tackle Tyrone Ezell played very well in the bowl game but otherwise didn't do much.  What made that especially troubling was that Donald was double and triple teamed all year.  For the season Ezell had 34 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks.  The top reserve, sophomore Daryl Render, showed some flashes and came away with 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a half of a sack, and 3 pass breakups.

The ends were equally disappointing. Bryan Murphy missed three games due to injury but even in 10 games he still managed just 15 tackles. Amazingly, though, 6.5 were tackles for loss and 4 were for sacks, but almost all of his production came in the first half of the season.  When he was out, true freshman Shakir Soto came in and showed a lot of promise. In 12 games he had 20 tackles, including 4 tackles for loss and a sack.  At the other end, new starter, junior David Durham was virtually non-existent with 21 tackles, no sacks, and just a half of a tackle for loss. Ejuan Price only played seven games, starting four, before his season was lost to injury. He played well when he was in there, though, with 23 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, a sack, and a pass breakup.

Bottom line- Due to injuries and lack of quality play, this unit would probably have a D grade if it wasn't for Donald. He was that good.

Last Season's Final Grade: B-
Preseason Grade: B-
Midseason Grade: B
This Season's Final Grade: B

Linebackers:  This is another unit that has been a thorn in the program's side for years but they actually got some decent play out of some players, especially Anthony Gonzalez.  The junior was the Panthers No. 3 tackler with 79.  He also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and an interception returned for a touchdown.  He wasn't great but he definitely got better and is now a plus player at the position.  Todd Thomas didn't begin as a starter but ended up playing in all 13 games and started 10. He responded with another good season. He was the No. 4 tackler with 72, including 6 for loss.  However, he still should be better because he has a lot of talent.  In the middle Shane Gordon started 9 games and came up with 56 tackles, 3.5 tackles, a pass breakup, and an interception. The senior never really got over the hump to be anything more than just an okay player.

In reserve, true freshman Matt Galombos hit everything that move.  He started 2 games and came up with 38 tackles. Not bad for such a young player.  Reserve outside linebacker Nicholas Grigsby also showed some flashes as the redshirt sophomore started twice and came up with 23 tackles, including 4 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks.

Bottom line-  Still not great but at least none of the five players who played the most were horrible and that has to be seen as progress.

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

Defensive Backs:  This was by far the most disappointing unit of the season.  The safeties, senior Jason Hendricks and junior Ray Vinopal, played well, which is amazing to say considering the latter was a train wreck during the first half of the season.  But he did end up with 83 tackles, second only to Hendricks, including 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 6 pass breakups, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. The fact that he came back and played so well was a miracle and he deserves praise.  Hendricks ended up with 85 tackles, including 4 for loss, 6 pass breakups, a sack, and a forced fumble.

The cornerback spot was a different story, though.  Both Lafayette Pitts and K'Waun Williams entered the season with a lot of buzz but both played poorly.  Pitts, who looked like a possible future All-American someday even lost his starting job once.  Williams played much better in the second of the season and came up with 36 tackles, including 4 for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. Pitts did start 12 of the 13 games and came away with 44 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, just 4 pass breakups, and no interceptions.

In reserve, it was pretty much all Clairton underclassmen.  True freshman Titus Howard played a lot, which was a huge surprise. He started two games and totaled 21 tackles and 2 pass breakups.  Also at corner was redshirt freshman Trent Coles who came up with 9 tackles in 13 games.  At safety yet another Clairton freshman, Terrish Webb, played in all 13 games, starting one, and came away with 18 tackles.

Overall, the pass defense is No. 40 nationally, but they were also No. 50 in 3rd down efficiency, No. 97 in interceptions, and No. 81 in pass efficiency defense.

Bottom line-  With Williams, and especially Pitts, flopping, and so many young players playing, this could have been a total disaster.  However, Hendricks and Vinopal played well enough in the second half of the season to salvage some of the unit's reputation.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C
This Season's Final Grade: C

Special Teams:  This was a mixed bag all season.  True freshman kicker Chris Blewitt was mostly good making 14 of 18 field goals.  Senior Matt Yoklic was No. 29 nationally with a 43.0 yard average but he was inconsistent all season, and sometimes awful.

As a unit, the punt return offense was No. 35 nationally thanks by a big return each by Weatherspoon and Boyd, but if Boyd was returning punts all season the unit, and the team, would have been much better off.  The kick return offense was led by Pitts and Boyd, and the two did all they could do to make Pitt No. 57 nationally because the blocking was mediocre at best.

Return defense is another matter all together.  The kickoff return defense is No. 67 while the punt return defense was an abysmal 117th out of 123 teams.

Bottom line- Simply put some of the special teams were good and some were bad.  That's how you get a mediocre grade.

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

Coaching:  Paul Chryst still makes some curious decisions.  His staff is a mishmash, especially on defense, but it's the offense that he runs that's been worse than the defense.  Special teams was a disaster at times and there's no coach on the staff that concentrates on that unit.  The recruiting is also still suspect. Chryst is proving that he can find some diamonds in the rough but his style is not working with the elite prospects.  He lost almost every top WPIAL prospect and for a month the top local prospect, Dravon Henry, wasn't even sure if Pitt was still recruiting him.  The most frustrating part of Chryst's weaknesses is that they are all correctable, but one wonders if he even has the desire to do that or if he's going to stubbornly stay the course.

On the other hand, he seems to be slowly building an offensive line to go with some potentially excellent skill position players and despite not getting elite recruits on defense he has found some promising players, and developed others.  And at the end of the day he went 7-6 with a team that has a big gap between some talented seniors and an awful lot of freshman and sophomores.

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

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27

Yeah, Pitt was a touchdown underdog over a MAC team, and yeah, Pitt is only 7-6, but somehow this seems like a big win.  Thoughts:

1. Devin Street, Matt Rotheram, Kevin Weatherspoon, and Bryan Murphy did not play, the latter two for undisclosed personal reasons but it didn't matter because...

2.  Pitt has some very good young players.  Leading the way is James Conner and Tyler Boyd.  Both broke Pitt bowl records today that lasted for 35 years.  Conner I've said all season that I loved and hopefully for once and all people will stop with those silly "move Conner to defense" statements.  He proved today that he was good enough to play defense but he proved he was a star running back today.  Boyd merely reminded us all that he's been a star all season.

3.  Conner ran for 229 yards on 26 carries, an 8.8 avg., and a touchdown.  To put it mildly, he was a beast.

4.  Boyd had 8 catches for 173 yards and a 54-yard punt return for a TD.

5.  Speaking of which, it's inexcusable that Boyd hasn't been the punt returner all season.

6.  Tom Savage made some beautiful throws and completed 8 of 13 passes for 124 yards in the first half.  But an injury forced him from the game at halftime.  Next year's starting quarterback, Chad Voytik, was clearly nervous at first, and wasn't sharp, but once he got confidence he showed he can play.  For the half he was 5 for 9 for 109 yards. He threw no interceptions.  He also ran twice for 24 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown.

7.  Aaron Donald again stood out on defense, as did Jason Hendricks, Ray Vinopal, and Tyrone Ezell.

8.  Pitt had 487 total yards while Bowling Green had 289 yards.

9.  The Panthers ended the season at 7-6 overall and will go into the offseason on a high.  An even bigger high is knowing that Voytik, Conner, and Boyd will be around for at least two more seasons.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The WPIAL talent since 2007 is not as bad as many believe


Rob Gronkowski, Arizona- Obviously he's a superstar. Only in WPIAL for one year, but still.

Chris Jacobson, Pittsburgh- Started three seasons.

Toney Clemons, Colorado- Transferred from Michigan and started for two seasons.

Nick Sukay, Penn State- Three year starter. All-Big 10.

Gino Gradkowsi, Delaware- Transferred from WVU and became a two year starter. Currently a starter for the Baltimore Ravens.

Myles Caragein, Pittsburgh- Four year letterman and three year starter.

Chris Drager, Virginia Tech- Lettered every year and started at defensive end as a junior and tight end as a senior.

Don Barclay, West Virginia- Three year starter, two time all-Big East, All-American recognition, and now starts for the Green Bay Packers.

Max Suter, Syracuse- Four year letterman, two year starter, All-Big East. Excellent kick returner.

Derek Moye, Penn State- Three year started and left as the school's third most prolific pass catcher in their history.

Dom DeCicco, Pittsburgh- Four year letterman, three year starter, All-Big East.

Tom Keiser, Stanford- Three year letterman and two year starter that left after junior season to enter NFL draft. Had 19.5 sacks in his three seasons.


Mike Hull, Penn State- 58 tackles as a junior, 73 tackles in last 8 games of senior season after recovering from injury. Included in that was a 13 tackle game and two 10 tackle games.

Miles Dieffenbach, Penn State- Will be a three year starter next season.

Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State- Finished 2nd for Big 10 MVP as a junior and would have been one of the Heisman favorites for senior season if he had not been suspended.

Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh- Averaged roughly 55 catches and 900 yards in his two starting seasons then left early to be first round draft pick.

Lucas Nix, Pittsburgh- Three year starter and current starting OG for the Oakland Raiders.

Andrew Sweat, Ohio State- Two years as a special teams ace then started two years at linebacker. Four year letterman. Second team All-Big 10 as senior.

Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh- Yes, I went there. He threw for over 2,500 yards three times and has 49 TDs to 23 interceptions in his career.

Kaleb Ramsey, Boston College- Two year starter whose promising career was hurt by injuries. In fact, his injuries were so bad that he was given six years.

Quentin Williams, Northwestern- High school tight end that moved to defensive end where he lettered all four years and started two years.

Tyler Urban, West Virginia- Was a starter as a sophomore but a severe knee injury and Dana Holgerson's offense prevented him from huge numbers.  Ended with 37 career catches.

Antwuan Reed, Pittsburgh- Four year letterman and two year starter. Second team All-Big East as a senior.

Mike Shanahan, Pittsburgh- Four year letterman and three year starter. 159 career catches for over 2,200 yards. Second team All-Big East as a senior.

Mike Farrell, Penn State- Four year letterman. Started as senior and was named Honorable Mention All-Big 10.

Ryan Turnley, Pittsburgh- Four year starter and two year starter. Second team All-Big East as a senior.

Rontez Miles, California (PA)- One of my top prospects this year but grades kept him out of major college football.  Went on to be a small school All-American and is now playing for the NY Jets.

Jermaine Robinson, Toledo- Four year starter and two time All-Mac.


Dorian Bell, Duquesne- Two year letterman at Ohio State before getting tossed. Ended up being a small school All-American.

Corey Brown, Ohio State- Four year letterman and started his senior season at safety.

C.J. Brown, Maryland- Will be the starting quarterback for 2 and a half years after next season, assuming he stays healthy. Threw for over 2,000 yards this year while running for over 500 more yards.

Dan Mason, Pittsburgh- A sure star if it wasn't for a devastating leg injury. Miraculously came back but then off the field issues cost him the rest of his career.

Jordan Hall, Jeannette- Played in all five of his seasons and contributed with running, receiving, and in the return game. Has over 3,000 all purpose yards in his career.

Tyrone Ezell, Pittsburgh- Three year letterman and two year starter.

Pat Eger, West Virginia- Three year starter.

Will Clarke, West Virginia- Three year starter and two time all-conference in Big 12. Potentially high NFL draft pick.

John Wetzel, Boston College- Four year letterman and two year starter at offensive tackle. Helped Andre Williams run for over 2,000 yards this season.


Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh- probably the second best player Pitt ever had and one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. Enough said.

Ty-Meer Brown, UConn- Three year letterman and two year starter with one more year to go.

Kevin Weatherspoon, Pittsburgh- Two year letterman with one more season of eligibility.

Manasseh Garner, Pittsburgh-  Led Pitt's tight end in catches with 32 catches. Should have an excellent senior season.

Todd Thomas, Pittsburgh-  Hasn't broke out with a big season yet but has had a better than average career thus far. Originally part of the 2009 class.


Delvon Simmons, USC- Two year letterman at Texas Tech before transferring to the Trojans. Has the potential to be a big time star there.

Lafayette Pitts, Pittsburgh- Two year starter with two ore years to go.

Mike Caputo, Wisconsin- Two year letterman and one year starter with two more years to go. Honorable mention All-Big 10 as a sophomore.

Devin Cook, Pittsburgh- Was sometimes a force in reserve as a redshirt freshman, then was injured this season. Remains to be seen how he ends up.

Quinton Jefferson, Maryland- Started as a redshirt sophomore this season so he could be a three year starter.

Tim Cwalina, Maryland- Was expected to letter as a redshirt freshman but a heart condition cost him the rest of his career.

Desimon Green, California (PA)- Originally committed to Pitt, then Texas Tech, but failed to get the grades. Currently the starting tight end as a redshirt freshman and he has the ability to dominate that level.

Ejuan Price, Woodland Hills- Lettered in his only year but injuries cost him his entire second season. Has three years left and has shown flashes.

Nick Kwiatkowski, West Virginia- Lettered as a redshirt freshman this season.

Robert Kugler, Purdue- Two year letterman who started at center this season as a redshirt sophomore.


Rushel Shell, West Virginia- I think we know all about this one. The truth is, he still may be an excellent college player.

Demetrious Cox, Michigan State- Played five games this year as a redshirt freshman but many think he is on the verge of stardom.

Adam Bisnowaty, Pittsburgh- Started as a redshirt freshman. Should have good career.

T.J. Neal, Illinois- Lettered as a redshirt freshman this year and had 38 tackles.

Anthony Nixon, Maryland- Two year letterman already in his first two years and has already started since midway through his freshman year. Very good player.

Perry Hills, Maryland- Started and did well as a true freshman before blowing out his knee. He's been redshirted this season to recover.

Trenton Coles, Pittsburgh- Lettered as a redshirt freshman this year and may be a starter next year as a sophomore.

Reggie Mitchell, Pittsburgh- Has yet to play after redshirting at Wisconsin and sitting out due to transfer, but he was the projected starting safety at Wisconsin and will probably be the same at Pitt.

Dakota Conwell, Arizona- Played in 10 games as a true freshman and had a bright future but multiple concussions ended his career.

J.P. Holtz, Pittsburgh- Has started both years so far.

Jesse James, Penn State- Two year letterman and started this season. Has the NFL salivating.

Ian Park, Northwestern- Started this year as a redshirt freshman.


Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh- Lettered as a true freshman. Has the potential to be a star.

Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh- Already a star as a true freshman.

Robert Foster, Alabama- Redshirted but many in Alabama expect him to make a major impact as soon as next year.

Patrick Kugler, Michigan- Redshirted this season but is expected to compete for the starting center job as a redshirt freshman next year.

Scott Orndoff, Pittsburgh- Lettered as true freshman. It's no secret that I think he can be a star.

Mack Leftwich, UTEP- Has already started as a true freshman and don't be surprised if he ends up a star there.

Jaymar Parrish, Pittsburgh- Has lettered as a true freshman.

Terrish Webb, Pittsburgh- Has lettered as a true freshman.

Some thoughts:

1. There are some real stars in Donald, Boyd, Pryor, Baldwin, and Gronkowski, as well some very good college players like Barclay, Moye, Keiser, Nix, DeCicco, Shanahan, and Clarke.

2.  If grades, discipline problems, and injuries didn't effect some of the better talent, there would be much less consternation about the WPIAL.  Pryor could have won the Heisman and Bell, Miles, Conwell, and Mason had the potential to be stars.  Green may still be a star but he will do it at California (PA) so nobody will know about it, just like Bell.

3.  Some younger guys have the potential to be stars, or at least very productive. Those include Garner, Simmons, Caputo, Jefferson, Shell, Cox, Bisnowaty, Neal, Nixon, Coles, Mitchell, Holtz, James, Park, Johnson, Foster, Ordnoff, Leftwich, Webb, Price, and both Kuglers.  All have proven already that they will not be flops.

4. The 2010 recruiting cycle was the only one that was loaded with flops. Some of the more well known ones are Cullen Christian (Michigan, Pittsburgh), Ken Wilkins (Michigan), Luke Graham (Penn State), Tom Ricketts (Penn State), Jordan Paskorz (Michigan), Brandon Felder (North Carolina, Pittsburgh), Andrew Carswell (Pittsburgh), Chad Hagan (Ohio State), and Brandon Ifill (Pittsburgh).

Friday, December 20, 2013

Shai McKenzie to Virginia Tech

Pitt lost another local prospect today, making it 8 of the top 10 if you look at Rivals ratings, as Washington, PA RB Shai McKenzie chose Virginia Tech over Pitt.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Montae Nicholson to Michigan State

Bad news again for Pitt as Gateway S/WR Montae Nicholson chose the Spartans.  Nicholson has good size at 6'2" and 200 pounds. He also has very good speed and athleticism. His highly impressive offer list included Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan, Oregon, Virginia Tech, Miami, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Stanford.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alex Bookser to Pitt

Well this takes some sting away from the Panthers losing Dravon Henry to West Virginia.  Alex Bookser, a 6'6" 300 pound offensive tackle from Mt. Lebanon HS, has committed to the Panthers.  Bookser can move very well for his size and because of his quick size he may project at left tackle.  Other offers came from the likes of Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State, USC, Michigan State, Georgia, and Nebraska.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Aaron Donald wins Lombardi Award

Pitt senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald won his second major award of the week winning the Lombardi Award given to the best defensive lineman or linebacker in the country. Previously he won the Bronco Nagurski Trophy given to the best defensive player in the nation. Hugh Green, in 1980, was the only other Panther to win the award.  Only Tony Dorsett and Hugh Green, each with three, have more major awards for the program, but Donald could surpass that since he is a finalist for the Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Aaron Donald wins Bronco Nagurski Trophy

The great Aaron Donald won his first of maybe a few major awards tonight as the senior defensive tackle won the Bronco Nagurski Trophy. The award is given by the Football Writers Association of America, and the trophy goes to the best defensive player in the country.

Dravon Henry to West Virginia

Not only did Pitt fail to land the top player in the state to a reeling program, and from a pipeline school, but it was clear from listening to Henry's mother that she was not impressed with Matt House's recruiting or his defense.  In fact, she said she talked to some Pitt defensive players and they didn't like how the defense was set up.  I didn't like the hiring of House as the defensive coordinator from the beginning, but more and more it's looking like a bad hire.  If Pitt decides to keep him in the position one has to wonder if they have any idea what they're doing.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pitt vs. Bowling Green in Little Caesars Bowl

According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN Pitt barely squeaked in and got a bowl game, and they will play MAC champion Bowling Green in Detroit on December 26th.  The Falcons are 10-3 on the season and recently beat previously undefeated Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game, 47-27.  Their three losses came at Indiana in the first game of the season, 42-20, at Mississippi State 21-20, and at home to Toledo 28-25.  They've won their last five games.

The Falcons are led by former Bishop McDevitt quarterback Matt Johnson, who has already gone to twitter seeking revenge for Pitt not taking him because of his height. Johnson threw for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns against then No. 14 Northern Illinois.  On the season he has thrown for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns.  Running back Travis Greene ran for 133 yards against Northern Illinois to give him 1,555 yards on the season.

Bowling Green is also No. 23 in total offense, No.1 in time of possession, No. 8 in total defense, No. 5 in scoring defense, No. 2 in red zone defense, No.4 in pass defense, and No. 9 in punt returns.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My official All-American and awards voting

I get to vote for All-American as well as the Outland Trophy, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and the Eddie Robinson Award. Here is how I voted if anybody is interested.

QB- Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M- I was torn between Manziel and Jameis Winston but I went for Manziel because he is also a great running threat.

RB- Andre Williams, Boston College- No brainer. Leads the country in rushing with over 2,000 yards.

RB- Bishop Sankey, Washington- I was between Sankey and Ka'Deem Cary of Arizona, and I went with Sankey. The vote came before Carey went off on Oregon but even so both had remarkably similar stats.

WR- Brandin Cooks, Oregon State- Have to vote for the guy that leads in pretty much every receiving category. Currently has 110 catches, 1,560 yards, and 15 TDs.

WR- Sammy Watkins, Clemson- This could have gone to Mike Evans from Texas A&M or Allen Robinson of Penn State, but to me Watkins is the most talented receiver in the country and if it was in the Clemson game plan his excellent stats would be even better.

TE- Jace Amaro, Texas Tech- The no brainer of all and amazingly he's not a finalist for the Mackey Award despite a dominating season of 92 catches for 1,157 yards.

OL- Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

OL- Cyril Richardson, Baylor

OL- David Yankey, Stanford

OL- Cameron Erving, Florida State

C- Hroniss Grasu, Oregon

DL- Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh- 51 tackles, 10 sacks, nationally leading 26 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, 2 pass breakups, and a blocked extra point.

DL- Vic Beasley, Clemson- 31 tackles, 10 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles

DL- Michael Sam, Missouri- 37 tackles, 10 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups, and a forced fumble that he returned for a touchdown.

DL- Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest- 70 tackles, 9 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles.

LB-  Anthony Barr, UCLA- 50 tackles, 7 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles.

LB- CJ Mosley, Alabama- 86 tackles and the undisputed leader of the Crimson Tide defense.

LB- Khalil Mack, Buffalo- 82 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, 3 interceptions including 2 returned for touchdowns, and 5 forced fumbles.

DB- Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State- 47 tackles, 7 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, and a forced fumble.

DB- LaMarcus Joyner, Florida State- 55 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, an interception, and 3 forced fumbles.

DB- Calvin Pryor, Louisville- 57 tackles, 4 pass breakups, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles.

DB- Deon Bucannon, Washington State- 102 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles.

PK-  Roberto Aguayo, Florida State-  15 for 16 on FGs. 125 points the most of any kicker in the country by 15 points.

P- Austin Rehkow, Idaho- Leads the nation in punting with a 47.8 average.

Return Specialist, Odell Beckham, Jr., LSU- Of the few players who do both he had the second most yards at 936.  And instead of giving the nod to just a great kick or punt returner, I chose to go with somebody who proved that he can do both.

Eddie Robinson Award (coach of the year)- David Cutcliffe, Duke

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)- Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

Outland Trophy (best interior lineman)- Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh 88 Stanford 67

So much for the test.  Stanford is a possible NCAA tournament team but Pitt clearly were not impressed.  Instead, they are looking more and more like a future top 20 team- at least.

1.  Lamar Patterson is playing with the aggressiveness that he's never shown before and had 24 points one night after having 23 points. Both were career highs at the time.  If that wasn't enough Patterson also led the Panthers with 6 assists.  He also had 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block. He made 3-6 threes and 9-11 from the FT line.

2.  Talib Zanna and Durand Johnson added 14 points each.  Zanna was 5-10 from the field and 4-4 from the FT line. He also had 4 rebounds.  Johnson was 2-5 from three and was also 4-4 from the FT line.

3.  Cameron Wright had another good all around game and it looks like it's not a fluke.  He ended up with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

4.  James Robinson was only 1-6 and he even missed easy back to back runners, but he ended up making 7-8 FTs.  Other than the shooting form the field he had a nice game with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and just one turnover.

5.  Mike Young had a quiet 6 points and 4 rebounds, but his FT shooting continues to be excellent as he made 4-5.

6.  Jamel Artis had a quick 5 points and 3 rebounds, but played little after that.

7.  The Panthers continue to shoot great making 8-17 from three and 30-34 from the FT line.

8. The Panthers had 9 steals, just 5 turnovers, and out rebounded the Cardinal, a big and good rebounding team, 33-26.

9. Maybe the only downside of the win is that Stanford shot 52.2% from the field, but instead of ratcheting up the defense like in past years, this time the Panthers simply put their opponent to death with offense. And Stanford still only scored 67 points.

Next up is Duquense on Saturday.  No reason to think this team won't keep winning this season. They are deep and good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pittsburgh 76 Texas Tech 53

The Red Raiders probably aren't very good but anytime that you beat a Tubby Smith team by 23 points you're doing something right.  It was the toughest competition of the season thus far for the Panthers and they responded with their best performance. Before anybody downplays this performance too much, the Panthers were an 11-point favorite.

1.  This team may have more talented players than any team Jamie Dixon has ever had.  I'm not saying they're the best team he's ever had because he's had other teams that had excellent players.  But there isn't a bad player on this team.

2.  Lamar Patterson has always been a good player but there was something in all of us that thought he should probably be even better.  Maybe tonight was the start of that as he had a career high 23 points on 8-13 shooting.  That included 4-7 from three and 3-3 from the line.  He also chipped in 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, and a block.

3.  Talib Zanna was 1-4 from the line and Derrick Randall was 0-2, but Patterson, James Robinson, Cameron Wright, and Mike Young combined to go 15-15 from the line.  Young is 11-13 on the season while Patterson is 15-18, Robinson is 15-16 and Chris Jones is 7-7.

4.  Robinson had 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers. Not only is he shooting 93.4% from the line he also has 20 assists to 6 turnovers.

5.  Zanna was in foul trouble throughout, something he just can't do, and had 3 points and 3 assists.

6.  Wright chipped in with 12 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and a block.  He's quietly having a nice season averaging 9.4 ppg and 2.4 spg. He also has 12 assists and only 4 turnovers.

7.  Young only had 6 points and 4 rebounds but you can tell that he's going to be a very good player very soon.

8.  Durand Johnson continues to be instant offense with 6 points on two 3-pointers. He also had 3 rebounds.

9.  Randall was 0-3 from the floor and 0-2 from the line, plus he had 3 fouls, but he did get 5 rebounds and that's really why he's there anyway.

10.  The other three young guys, Josh Newkirk, Jamel Artis, and Jones, all had flashes of very good talent.  Newkirk was expected, and he did have 5 points, but Artis and Jones have been pleasant surprises.  Artis contributed 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.  Jones had 8 points, including 2-3 from three.

11.  Pitt had only 8 turnovers in the game and out rebounded Texas Tech 33-30.  They shot extremely well going 48.1% from the floor, 43.5% from three, and 76.2% from the line. They also had 9 steals and 3 blocks.  The Red Raiders shot 38% from the field.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pittsburgh 17 Syracuse 16

It was an ugly game between two struggling teams but the Panthers got the victory and are now bowl eligible at 6-5.  They have one more home game, at home against Miami.  Some thoughts:

1.  Syracuse has a good run defense and Pitt didn't even try to run today.  The running backs ran just 19 times for 56 yards. James Conner led all Panthers but got just 11 carries for 28 yards.  Isaac bennett had 7 carries for 26 yards.

2.  Once again Tom Savage was under pressure all day, and this was even though Pitt's offense consisted mostly of short, quick passes. On the day he completed 28 of 41 passes but for only 218 yards. He also had a TD pass and an interception and was sacked three times.  Savage once again showed good leadership and great toughness, though.

3.  Devin Street caught the first two passes of the game but then sat out because of an injury he had prior to the game. Manasseh Garner with 7 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown, JP Holtz with 4 catches for 39 yards, and Jaymar Parrish with 3 catches for 19 yards picked up the slack.  Tyler Boyd led the Panthers with 10 catches for 82 yards.

4.  Defensively Aaron Donald was his normal freak self and had 9 tackles. His blocked extra point on Syracuse's first touchdown also proved to be the difference in the game. Anthony Gonzalez led all Panthers will 11 tackles while Ray Vinopal had 8 tackles and a sack.

5. Syracuse had 279 total yards to Pitt's 243 yards.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Panthers land European center

Panthers assistant coach Barry Rohrssen has a strong connection with the Canarias Basketball Academy in Spain and that's a good thing since the academy has produced over 50 Division 1 players in the last six years.  Rohrssen was interested in a handful of prospects including one I mentioned earlier, 16-year old center Menno Dijkstra. But first Rohrseen pulled the gun on a 19-year old, Shaquille Doorson, who like Dijkstra is a center from the Netherlands. The 6'11" 265 pound Doorson obviously has great size, but he also runs extremely well.

However, Doorson has also only played basketball for a little over two years and was a complete unknown until found by Canarias. For that reason, Doorson, who will be at Pitt next season, is very raw and may not be ready to make a major impact for a few years yet.  But his upside is high and acquiring a 6'11" center with a high upside is always a good thing.  Jamie Dixon has yet to see Doorson in person but he will get his chance tonight as Doorson will be playing in New Haven, CT.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Exploding Six Myths of the Pitt Football Program

1. James Conner could move to defensive end-  When Rushel Shell transferred from Pitt, fans and media acted like Jim Brown left the program, yet even though Conner is proving to be better as a freshman people either expect him to move to defense or that he will be immediately passed up by Chris James.  First of all, Conner is not moving anywhere.  Secondly, James is very good and may even have the talent to move past Conner on the depth chart next season. But make no mistake about it, Conner has the talent to be a big time back.  In his freshman season, Shell ended his freshman season with 641 yards, a 4.5 average, and 4 touchdowns. If Conner plays in 12 of Pitt's 13 games (if the Panthers make a bowl), like Shell did last year, he projects to 696 yards, a 4.8 average, and 9 touchdowns.

2.  Pitt doesn't have the same talent as their opponents this season- "They don't have the talent this season to do better than what they've done!" is a common stance taken by many Pitt fans but it just isn't true.  Florida State is the only team on the schedule that has a lot more talent than the Panthers this season. And you have to say that despite a ton of injuries, that Notre Dame has more talent also.  Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are two teams that some may think have a lot more talent than Pitt but that's just not true.  The Hokies just lost to Duke, Boston College, and Maryland in the last month, and have the No. 101 offense in the country.  Georgia Tech is 6-4 with games against Alabama A&M and Georgia looming, which could make them 7-5 this season. Good, but not exactly excellent. And anybody that saw how bad Pitt was in that game, and still almost won, could tell you that Georgia Tech isn't an excellent team. Duke is having a Cinderella season but let's be honest, they don't have the talent that Pitt has, or at the very least the talent is equal. North Carolina has equal talent, while New Mexico, Virginia, Old Dominion, and Navy have less. Bottom line, against better talent the Panthers are 1-1, against lesser talent they are 3-1, and against teams that have roughly equal talent the Panthers are  1-3.  None of those records are really surprising. Notre Dame and Duke (since it was on the road) were good wins, and road losses at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech weren't bad losses because they were on the road. Only North Carolina at home and Navy on the road could be considered unnecessary losses. If Pitt won those two very winnable games the Panthers 7-3 this year and the fans are excited about the future.

3.  The Panthers are too young-  Not so fast, my friend.  Of Pitt's 22 starters, 19 are either upperclassmen or were starters last year.  The three exceptions are Tyler Boyd, Artie Rowell, and Adam Bisnowaty. In fact, the team will be even younger next season with eight starters leaving, including Devin Street, Tom Savage, Aaron Donald, K'Waun Williams, and Jason Hendricks. That's a lot of experienced talent leaving meaning the Panthers may be worse before they get better. By the way, by comparison North Carolina had eight underclassmen in their victory over the Panthers, including six on offense. Georgia Tech had seven underclassmen starting. Pitt has five. Bottom line, the players who actually play for Pitt aren't any younger than anybody else.

4. Chad Voytik may not be the starter for long next season- This is a strange one because at the moment there is nobody even close to starting over Voytik next season.  I've heard fans say that Wade Freebeck will be Pitt's future quarterback, maybe even next season. Thankfully Adam Bertke is injured because if he had a big season I'm sure people would have him as a starter next season too. The truth is, Voytik was a better prospect than either coming out of high school, and he's light years ahead with two years of college practice experience under his belt. Both Freebeck and Bertke are at least two years away from having a legit shot at supplanting Voytik because both have a ways to go in their development. In fact, both are considered projects. I'm not saying that either Freebeck or Bertke, or both, couldn't eventually be excellent, and I'm not saying that Voytik will succeed.  But Voytik better succeed because his development, or lack thereof, may determine if Paul Chryst is around for year five.

5.  Pitt is cheap-  I know a lot of Pitt fans believe this one but it's not entirely true.  Do they spend the money that the upper echelon programs spend? No. But they still spend more than most.  Pitt is not a football power because they don't spend the big time money of elite programs like Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, etc. That's the decision that they've made. They've decided to be at the second level of programs and they've spent money at that level. In fact, as far as spending money for the football program, Pitt's expenses are in the top 20 in the country.  All the more reason why not hiring a quality staff under Paul Chryst is perplexing.

6. There is a lack of local talent-  For many decades the WPIAL was considered one of the best hotbeds in the country for college football prospects.  Is it as good now? No.  But it's still pretty good.  Maybe one of the biggest misconceptions of Pitt recruiting is that the Panthers loaded up on WPIAL talent in their glory days. The truth is, they signed roughly eight or so WPIAL prospects a year, the same as now.  The difference is, that Pitt no longer gets the best ones.  If the Panthers got just six this season and got Dravon Henry, Alex Bookser, Shai McKenzie, Montae Nicholson, Chase Winovich, and Malik Hooker, then that's quite a haul. Last year it would have been Robert Foster, Dorian Johnson, Tyler Boyd, Patrick Kugler, and Scott Orndoff. Future WPIAL stars include Sterling Jenkins, Jordan Whitehead, Kareen Gibson, Jeremiah Jones, Miles Sanders, Kaezon Pugh, and Aaron Williams.  The point is, if you get the top half a dozen WPIAL prospects like Pitt did in the past, there's still plenty of talent to be a top 25 team in most years.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

North Carolina 34 Pittsburgh 27

I'm going to make this short because I'm writing this on my phone in North Carolina because I can't get the iPad to work with the hotel wifi.

James Conner. Did I tell you that he's a future star? Pitt finally gave him the ball in the second half and he responded by running for over 100 yards. When Pitt utilized Conner and the tight ends they moved the ball. When they get pass happy to the wide receivers it gets ugly.  I know that Tyler Boyd and Devin Street are excellent but the OL and Tom Savage's quick thinking are not. Use Conner and the tight ends to move the ball and it will help the line, Savage, and even Boyd and Savage because they won't have to do all of the heavy lifting.

The defense was not good in the first half but did much better in the second half. This time it was the horrible special teams that cost Pitt the game. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the players don't have some responsibility in this but in all honesty I don't think the coaching staff is helping them be their best, and therefore they are most responsible. The Panthers have bad special teams and the staff doesn't have somebody that really concentrates on the unit. Isaac Bennett takes too many carries away from Conner. Not enough passes to the backs, tight ends, and receivers crossing over the middle in stride.  Things like these adds up and you lose close games like this.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pittsburgh 28 Notre Dame 21

This wasn't a great Notre Dame team. In fact, the Irish were only favored by 4 points. But this still counts as a big win for the program for many reasons. It helps the confidence of the team, it helps Pitt's reputation nationally, and they won in front of a of big time recruits.  Some other thoughts:

1.  First I have to single out the offensive line. I have been as brutal to them as they've been to the game of football, but tonight they played much better. Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph also helped the offense with more intelligent play calling.

2.  Tom Savage was much more confident since he knew he would not be running for his life all night. He responded by completing 22 of 35 passes for 243 yards. He also threw 2 touchdowns and did not throw an interception.

3.  For some strange reason Isaac Bennett still gets more carries than James Conner even though Conner is clearly the more talented back. Not that Bennett was horrible. He had 58 yards on 17 carries, a 3.4 average. He also caught 2 passes for 17 yards. Conner had 10 carries for 35 yards, a 3.5 average. He also had two bullish touchdown runs and 2 catches for 20 yards.  Despite a similar average, his runs were more impressive. If he carried 25 times I could see him wearing down Notre Dame's defense, but that wasn't going to happen on this night because he didn't get that carries.

4.  Tyler Boyd again had a very good game with 8 catches and 85 yards through the air, plus an 8-yard run.  Devin Street had 4 catches for 76 yards, but two went for touchdowns, including an impressive 63-yarder where he can ran most of the way. The tight ends and fullbacks also chipped in with 6 catches as Manasseh Garner and Scott Orndoff had 2, and J.P. Holtz and Jaymar Parrish added one each.

5. The special teams were very hit and miss.  On returns Notre Dame either got around midfield or didn't get to the 20-yard line. Trenton Coles was especially impressive on kickoff coverage. Matt Yoklic was once again awful in the punting department.

6.  Defensively, with Aaron Donald double and triple teamed you would think another lineman or a linebacker would have a big game but they didn't.  The only player who did have a big game was the usually suspect safety Ray Vinopal, who despite one awful pass interference penalty, had two huge interceptions. Anthony Gonzalez only had his name called once but it was a big pass breakup to put the game away.

7.  Notre Dame had 451 total yards to Pitt's 356.

Bottom line, this won't mean much if Pitt loses the rest of the games, and that's not out of the question. On the other hand, it could be a springboard to a nice close to the season, and maybe even a strong end to this recruiting class and a strong start to future classes.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Big recruiting weekend for Pitt football

Since people have been asking me for a list, here one it is. It's not every prospect. I didn't bother with the already committed prospects or the lesser recruited ones, but here are some of the highlights.


Montae Nicholson, Gateway HS (Monroeville, PA)- He's been to Pitt many times and the Panthers may be the leader now. He could play at safety or wide receiver, and since I consider him the No.2 prospect in PA this year he would be an excellent addition.

Anthony Davis, Gateway HS (Monroeville, PA)- Nicholson's teammate is a very good prospect in his own right. A talented cornerback that committed to Temple months ago, but may end up switching to the Panthers.

Alex Bookser, Mt. Lebanon HS (Mt. Lebanon, PA)- The Panthers obviously needs offensive linemen desperately and even though the 6'6" 300 pound Bookser has not developed as well as was hoped for over the past year he would be a great pickup because of his raw potential. The Panthers will have to hold off Ohio State and Penn State.

Jamil Kamara, Bishop Sullivan HS (Virginia Beach, VA)- I never expected the Panthers to land this elite receiver, but at least they will have a chance now that he's visiting on a night that's loaded with pro-Pitt kids.

Marquese Dudley-Gordon, Cypress Bay HS (Fort Lauderdale, FL)- The brother of Pitt linebacker Shane Gordon, the Panthers have led for the safety for many months as he tries to get his grades in order. Potential high impact safety.


Sterling Jenkins, Baldwin HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Maybe the top in-state prospect for the 2015 class, the 6'8" 305 pound offensive tackle is oozing with potential. All of the biggies will be after him, and despite what you hear Pitt is in the mix as much as anybody.

Andre Robinson, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg, PA)- Short, little 5'10" spark plug running back who the Panthers like a lot. Other than Pitt he also has offers from schools like Penn State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Northwestern.

Kareem Gibson, Johnstown Area HS (Johnstown, PA)- Very athletic and fast cover corner that should be one of the best cornerback prospects in the east.

Jay Stocker, Coatesville Area HS (Coatesville, PA)- A big time safety that's going to get a lot of major offers. Already has one from Pitt as well as Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Wisconsin.

Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.- Canisius HS (Buffalo, NY)- Visiting with teammate Qadree Ollison, the running back who already committed to Pitt for the 2014 class. Yes, he's the son of the former Michigan star running back, and even though Pitt and many others offered it would be extremely surprising if he didn't end up as a Wolverine.

Tre Tipton, Apollo-Ridge HS (Spring Church, PA)- Sleeper wide receiver with a lot of potential. No major offers yet but I'd be surprised if one didn't come from Pitt eventually.

Tyriq Thompson, Martin Luther King HS (Detroit, MI)- Excellent linebacker that is visiting with 2014 cornerback commit Avonte Maddox.  It will be tough to get him out of the Big 10 and he already has offers from Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Kraig Howe, Archbishop Alter HS (Kettering, OH)- Smaller 6'3" 255 pound defensive tackle but he should get bigger.  Good prospect.

Kevin Givens, Altoona Area HS (Altoona, PA)- Solid defensive end prospect at 6'3" and 230 pounds. Doesn't have a Pitt offer yet.

Shareef Miller, Frankford HS (Philadelphia, PA)- Undersized but talented defensive end at 6'4" and 200 pounds. Pitt has offered as have Rutgers, Arizona, and a few other smaller schools. Should get more offers once he fills out over the summer.

Jonathan Holland, Bullis School (Potomac, MD)- Strong bodied defensive end that has early offers from Pitt and Illinois. Could get a good bit more, but he's already been to a Pitt game and liked it.

Alex Paulina, Canon McMillan HS (Canonsburg, PA)- One of my personal favorites. An interior lineman who won't get a lot of offers because he's only 6'4" and 280, but I think he could be an excellent college center.


Elijah Deveaux, Charlotte Christian HS (Charlotte, NC)- The son of former Pitt running back Glenn Deveaux, he has the ability to be an elite nationally recruited running back prospect.

Michal Menet, Exeter HS (Reading, PA)- Elite offensive lineman is only 6'5" 250 now but he will get bigger over the next few years. Already has a Penn State offer and many would be surprised if he went anywhere other than there.

Jarrett Guarantano, Bergen Catholic HS (Oradell, NJ)- Pitt loves this young 6'3" quarterback but they aren't the only ones. Rutgers has already offered and the big time talent will get many more.

Aaron Matthews, Clairton Area HS (Clairton, PA)- The next great Clairton player, he's a quarterback now but look for him to be a 6'5" or 6'6" fast wide receiver at the college level.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jamie Dixon lands 2015 PG

Pitt lands their point guard of the future as 6'4" Damon Wilson has committed to the Panthers.  Wilson, a native of Georgia, plays at Our Savior New American in Centereach, NY.  Wilson is a lefty who is has a high basketball IQ, is a good passer with good shooting skills.  Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech are among his early offers.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Georgia Tech 21 Pittsburgh 10

The Panthers fall to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the ACC by falling to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Some thoughts:

1.  Aaron Donald is the best Pitt player since Larry Fitzgerald and he will be Pitt's first consensus first team All-American since Fitzgerald. He had a game for the ages tonight and if he was on a better team people would be talking about him for decades.  Unfortunately for him he's on this team.

2.  The offensive line was again atrocious. Dorian Johnson started for the injured Adam Bisnowaty and got beat like a drum.  The truth is, the skill positions and the defense are good enough to win at against most teams but the line is so bad that the rest of the team can not pick up the slack enough.

3.  Tom Savage was okay, especially the few times he had time and could get into any semblance of a rhythm.  For the game he completed 25 of 37 passes for 233 yards. He also threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd in which he displayed perfect touch. He also threw an interception late, after the game was decided, when he and Kevin Weatherspoon were not on the same page.

4.  Boyd led all receivers with 11 catches for 118 yards.  Devin Street was mostly quiet and added 5 catches for 45 yards.  The tight ends combined for 7 catches with J.P. Holtz and Manasseh Garner each catching three, and Scott Orndoff catching one. Orndoff's went for 15 yards and he showed how quick he is for his size. He's somebody that they have to find more often.

5. The running game was awful because the offensive line did nothing. Isaac Bennett had 16 yards on 6 carries and James Conner had 8 carries for 3 yards.  Because of the sacks, Pitt managed to run for -5 yards on 21 carries.

6. Other than Donald, Todd Thomas also played well, and the defense was at least not horrible. Like they did against Navy they faltered in the last drive again which ended any chance of the Panthers pulling it out in the end.

Bottom line, Georgia Tech is just an okay team but Pitt acted like they were playing a National Championship contender. it was like pulling teeth to sometimes accomplish even the simplest plays.  This team isn't good but with three home games left, and some winnable games in the bunch, they amazingly may find themselves in a minor bowl again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jamie Dixon's career Big East record

I notice the anti-Jamie Dixon bunch often throws in the fact that Dixon is not as successful as his stats indicate because he pads the winning column with a weak schedule. True, his out of conference schedule could be stronger, to say the least, but in his decade as the head coach he's been in the toughest basketball conference in the country and has done very well against them.  In fact, amazingly well.  

Syracuse 117-55 .680  ---
Louisville  95-45  .678   1 games back
Pittsburgh  115-57  .669  2
Marquette  92-49  .652  9.5
UConn   107-65  .622  10
Notre Dame 105-67 .610 12
Georgetown  103-69  .599  14
Villanova  99-73 .576  18
West Virginia  95-77  .552  22
Cincinnati 66-74 .471
Seton Hall  68-105 .393
Providence  65-108  .376
St. John's 59-113 .343
South Florida 38-102  .271
Rutgers 45-127 .262
DePaul  27-113  .193

Final Four reality...Learn to love it

In the ten years that Jamie Dixon has been the head coach at Pitt, only 24 schools have gone to the Final Four, and that's out of 351. That includes UConn, North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, and UCLA three times, and Duke, Florida, Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky, and Butler twice. North Carolina, Louisville, Michigan State, UCLA, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky have been legendary programs for many decades. UConn became a power nearly twenty years before Dixon started coaching at Pitt. Billy Donovan at Florida, and Thad Matta at Ohio State, are at universities where their budgets are virtually unlimited, and where they have recruiting advantages over Pitt.  Brad Stevens did such an amazing job at Butler that he became the head coach of the Boston Celtics at the age of 36!!!

Among the rest, Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State, John Calipari of Memphis, and Bob Huggins of West Virginia, are also future Hall of Famers. Bruce Weber led Illinois with Bill Self's players.  Once those players left, Weber had a losing record in the Big 10 and was eventually let go. Self is building a Hall of Fame career at Kansas. Villanova of course got in with a last second shot against Pitt. Michigan got in last year with John Beilein (after his 21st year as a Division 1 coach). John Thompson III got in with a big year in 2007, but he hasn't made the Sweet 16 for the past six seasons. 

The rest are all sleepers.  Georgia Tech got in with Paul Hewitt in a year that he went 9-7 in the ACC.  He was eventually fired. In his ninth season at LSU, John Brady made it, but then was fired one and a half seasons later. The other three- George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, and Wichita State are as about as sleeper as you can get. 

Bottom line, your chances of getting into the Final Four are extremely low. If you need the cold, hard facts (and it's amazing that some of you still do), 1 in 14.625 schools made it to the Final Four in the last decade. That means only 6.8% of D-1 schools made the Final Four in the last decade. And if you can manage it more than once you are considered a legendary Hall of Fame coach. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Where Pitt basketball ranks over the last 10 years

National Championship-  20 points
Final Four- 15
Elite 8- 10
Top 5 ranking- 10
6-10 ranking- 5
Sweet 16- 5
Major conference champion- 5
Small conference champion- 2
11-25 ranking- 2
NCAA tournament- 2

1. Kansas  189 points
2. North Carolina  183
3. Duke  156
4. Louisville 131
5. Ohio State  124
6. UConn  117
7. Kentucky  115
8. Florida  111
9. Michigan State  109
10. Memphis  106
11. UCLA  97
12. Syracuse  88
13. Gonzaga  78
14. Pittsburgh   77
15. Villanova  73
16. Xavier   69
17. Wisconsin  67
18. Georgetown  66
18. Texas  66
18. Butler  66
21. Arizona  59
22. Illinois  54
23. Marquette  52
24. West Virginia  50
25. Oklahoma State  48
26. Indiana  34
27. Notre Dame  33
27. Michigan 33
27. VCU  33
30. Kansas State 32
31. Baylor  29
32. Miami   22
33. NC State  18
33. Florida State  18
35. Maryland  17

There are currently 351 schools playing at the highest level. Pitt being the 14th most successful school in the ten years that Jamie Dixon has been the coach puts them in the 96 percentile.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pitt basketball is on the right track

For some strange reason there are an alarming number of Pitt fans who are pessimistic when it comes to the Pitt basketball program.  I don't know if this is because these people are irritated with the Pitt football program and they're taking out on the basketball program, or if it's because Pittsburgh isn't a basketball city, but whatever the reason, these fans are off base.  In fact, a case can be made that things are about to get even better for Jamie Dixon.

Let's look first at Pitt's recent past.  There has been some upheaval in the last two seasons because  the results have not been as good on the court, and a significant number of players left early. While this has made some fans apoplectic, the truth is, this is not uncommon at all.

Jim Calhoun had many down years after he turned UConn into a power. In the 2009-10 season, UConn went 18-16. That was between a 31-5 Final Four season and a 32-9 National Championship season. He's had other seasons with records of 15-13, 18-15, and 17-14. Jim Boeheim has been in four NITs in the last seventeen years.  A year after going to the Final Four, Rick Pitino led Louisville to the NIT, and just four years ago he was 20-13.  Also four seasons ago, Roy Williams led North Carolina to the NIT a year after leading the Tar Heels to the National Championship. Even Mike Krzyzewski led Duke to an 8-8 ACC record in the 2006-07 season.

Nobody questioned the excellence of these coaches at the time because people knew there was extenuating circumstances. When these great coaches had the players they would win a lot. In the few instances when the players weren't there even their greatness could only take the team so far. Injuries, graduations, transfers, and even bad luck all combine to form a perfect storm of mediocrity. It even happens to Hall of Fame coaches.

The only subpar year that Dixon had was the 2011-2012 season in which Pitt won the CBI Championship and went 22-17.  This was just one year after winning the Big East with a 15-3 record, and going 28-6 to finish No. 4 in the country.  That was just three years ago!  Last year, despite starting two true freshmen and with a leading scorer who averaged just 11.5 ppg and shot 37% from the field, Dixon still led the Panthers to a fourth place finish in the Big East, 24 wins, and a No. 20 ranking.

The program has been a success for over a decade and now there isn't a high school player in the country that doesn't see Pitt basketball as a high level program.  Do they see them as Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, or Syracuse? No. Those programs have been greater longer and they just happen to be led by four of the small handful of coaches who've been more successful than Dixon. Until Pitt wins big in the postseason they will not beat those schools out for an elite player.  But that doesn't mean that there still aren't excellent players out there to be had. And being in the ACC will help Pitt immensely. Even though the Big East was always a marquee conference, there was competition for the best conference with the ACC.  Now the ACC is the conference to be in if you want to be playing with the best.

Dixon is clearly adapting to the ACC, both in style and quality of talent. Incoming and future forwards like Mike Young, Sheldon Jeter, and Ryan Luther are signs of the adapting. All three are versatile power forwards who can run, pass, and shoot. Gone are the plodding bruisers that Pitt terrorized teams with in the Big East. And guards like Josh Newkirk and Detrick Mostella are fast and explosive, another facet that the Panthers usually lacked in their Big East days.  Mostella being eligible would be a real coup for the Panthers as he can not only fly but he can also shoot the lights out. Mostella, who has had grade issues and has not been ruled eligible, joins highly talented center Joseph Uchebo, who will play little or not at all this season because of a leg injury, as players who can make Pitt excellent as soon as next year. Both are question marks, but both also have NBA talent.  They are also both examples of Dixon using his savvy to find big time talent that fell through the cracks. Every program takes gambles on players and these two players are the best gambles you can take.

But Pitt is not so desperate that they have to rely just on those two for future success. The recruiting by the staff has never been more aggressive. The rehiring of former ace recruiter and top assistant Barry Rohrssen is a huge bonus. Not only does this now allow the staff to have an extra recruiter on the road (it was a mistake not to have this before), but Rohrssen is the strong right hand man that Dixon has lacked since Tom Herrion left. And because of Rohrssen, and Dixon's new aggressive approach, I can see the Panthers' recruiting take off.

This season there has been some good local additions in Jeter and Luther, and 7'0" center Satchel Pierce may be added, too. And if not Pierce, Dixon is currently looking at other off the map center prospects that are intriguing. But it takes a few years to be involved with the truly elite prospects. And that's what the Panthers have done.

Let's start with Maverick Rowan, another local, who could end up being a top 50 player.  He's the real deal, a player that at 6'6" is a highly skilled shooting guard, something Pitt has never had in the past. He has already verbally committed to the Panthers, and even though he's currently listed as a 2016 prospect, 2015 is not out of the realm of possibility.  Does a potential backcourt of James Robinson, Newkirk, Mostella, and Rowan sound like a program that's reeling? No, that's a program that's thriving like never before. Throw in highly athletic forwards like Jeter, Luther, and Young, and you can see how Pitt has the potential to be more athletic and explosive than ever.

Then there are the national elite prospects that the Panthers are recruiting well in advance, something they failed to do in the past.  Previously Dixon did not aim high, and I even had somebody on the staff tell me that they target people they "think we have a chance with."  I found this alarming and too conservative. Dixon rarely went for the best recruits because he didn't think he could land them, or didn't want to do what it took to land them (kiss the butts of handlers and power hungry relatives). Dixon would methodically follow under the radar types for many months before finally making his move.

But no more. No doubt that the combination of Rohrssen rejoining the staff, Dixon's new contract bringing him stability, the desire to right his recent wrongs, and the move to the ACC has energized Dixon like never before. He and his staff have already targeted, and begun to recruit heavily, some of the best prospects in the country in the 2015 and 2016 classes.

At "Morning Madness" this season, Pitt put on a show like they've never done before, and had superstar prospects there to see it.  Cheick Diallo, a 6'9" forward/center from Long Island is a top 10 prospect that is as elite as they come in the 2015 class. He was there.  So was his 6'7" teammate Kassoum Yakwe, a top 25 prospect in the 2016 class. The last of the big time prospects was 6'8" 275 pound Fort Wayne, IN center Caleb Swanigan, a top 20 2016 prospect.  The chances of the Panthers getting any of three are not great simply because of the competition, but the fact that they got them on the campus so far in advance is something the program didn't, and maybe couldn't, get done before. To get these types of talents it takes years of courting and Pitt has begun to do that.

It doesn't stop with those three, though. If Mostella does not make into the program, Dixon is prepared with some 2015 possibilities. Top 20 New Jersey point guard Isaiah Briscoe has been offered, as has 6'5" top 20 shooting guard Malachi Richardson, also from New Jersey, and fast rising 6'4" Delaware guard Donte Divincenzo.

The Panthers staff may end up with none of these players, but there chances are much greater now than they ever were because more than ever the program is on track to do what it takes to land more of the better players.  They only need one special player to move to a higher level. The closest Dixon ever came to the Final Four was the only time he had two special players, in DeJuan Blair and Sam Young.  Rowan may be that player. Newkirk may be that player. Mostella may be that player. Maybe will be Yakwe or Swanigan.  Or maybe even Uchebo.  This is not the type of talent that a struggling program is involved with.

Bottom line, don't sleep on Dixon and this program. They had a two year hiccup, and if that's the worst it gets then that's pretty special.  There's many reasons why the program may be on the verge of finally reaching an even better level.  And if they don't, the program is still better than 95% of the programs in the country and that's pretty special in itself.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Navy 24 Pittsburgh 21

1.  So much for the fans who aid that at least Paul Chryst can beat the teams he's supposed to beat.

2.  Pretty terrible coaching all the way around.  Chryst seemed to have little idea what he was doing, down to keeping two of his timeouts.  The offensive and defensive play calling were just as horrid.

3.  Tom Savage was mediocre again and now the coaches don't even have him throwing deep down the field, the only thing he can really do effectively.  Savage completed 20 of 27 passes for 203 yards, and two touchdowns. He also didn't throw an interception. But, like I said, he was mostly mediocre, and didn't make plays when he had to. In other words, he was Tino Sunseri.

4. Devin Street caught 9 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Boyd caught just three passes, and two of them came late. The three catches amounted to only 35 yards with one of them going for a touchdown.

5.  Pitt started off running the ball down Navy's throat but that changed quickly. For the game the Panthers ran for 135 yards.  Navy was going up nearly 200 yards a game rushing coming into the game. Isaac Bennett led with 77 yards on 22 carries. James Conner added 28 yards on 7 carries, but he also fumbled in Navy territory.

6.  Matt Yoklic continues to do a bad job of punting and his shank late in the game was a killer.

7.  Aaron Donald was all over the field but there's only so much one guy can do.  The rest of the defense started well, but the Midshipmen then slowly and methodically drove the ball down Pitt's throat  in the second half.

8.  Pitt is now 4-3 and will be an underdog next week at Georgia Tech.  As of now, they may be looking at another 6-6 regular season record, at best, and to reiterate what I've said all season, I still see no progress yet in Chryst's regime.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jamie Dixon lands a local star

The Panthers 2014 class grew by one tonight as Hampton HS (Allison Park, PA) forward Ryan Luther verbally committed to Pitt.  The 6'8" Luther projects as a combo forward, but is currently best suited for power forward where he can cause matchup problems. A good, but not great athlete, Luther could also play some small forward but his athleticism, passing, and shooting is more of an asset at the four.

Luther was also offered by Iowa, Dayton, Duquesne, George Washington, and Virginia Tech, among others.

Midseason Grades for Pitt Football- Defense, Special Teams, and Coaching

Defensive Line:  Obviously with Aaron Donald alone this is a successful unit.  The senior currently leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss, and is on pace to be the first consensus All-American for Pitt since Larry Fitzgerald in 2003.  Enough said.

Beside Donald at tackle, fellow senior Tyrone Ezell has 21 tackles and has been his usual solid, but unspectacular self. End Bryan Murphy has been pretty good at times in just four games at giving pressure off the edge. He has just 9 tackles, but 3 of them were sacks and 4.5 were for a loss. The other starting end, David Durham, has been virtually non-existent with 8 tackles in 6 games.

True freshman Shakir Soto has 8 tackles, including 2 tackles for loss, in reserve at end, while Darryl Render has 8 tackles at tackle. Undersized Ejuan Price was having a solid season with 23 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, and a sack, but he is now injured and will be out for the remainder of the season.

For the season, the Panthers defense is No. 34 in rushing defense and No. 19 in tackles for loss. Even with Donald, however, the team is only No. 41 in sacks.

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

Linebackers:  It's been a long time since Pitt has had excellent linebackers, and at it this point the best one can hope for is for the unit to be respectable. That's the case this year. There is no individual who is an all-star, and as a unit they are not great, but at the same time they aren't killing the team either. They are the epitome of average.

 The best player on the unit, by far, is Todd Thomas, but the staff doesn't see it that way all the time.  Still, Thomas has 32 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss. Anthony Gonzalez has improved some as the season has progressed, and he has 41 tackles, 3 pass breakups and an interception, but he has struggled mightily at times.  Middle linebacker Shane Gordon never turned into what some expected of him, and in five games he has 26 tackles, 1 pass breakup, and an interception. Bam Bradley has just 7 tackles in four games, but at least 2.5 of them were for a loss. Matt Galambos has played well in reserve as a true freshman with 18 tackles in 6 games, while Nicholas Grigsby chipped in with 11 tackles.

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

Defensive Backs:  This was supposed to be one of the best, if not the best, unit on the team entering the season, but they have been a major disappointment.

Statistically, the defense is No. 75 in pass yardage, No. 76 in pass efficiency defense, No. 48 in 3rd down defense, and No. 85 in interceptions. And this was against some pretty awful offenses on the schedule.

The biggest disappointments are veteran cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts. While both have improved some recently, they both haven't been as good as last season. Williams has 17 tackles, including 3 for loss, plus an interception.  Amazingly, though, he has zero pass breakups. Pitts has 22 tackles, including one for a loss, but he has had no interceptions, and just 2 pass breakups.

At safety, Jason Hendricks starred last season, but like the others he hasn't been as good this year. On the season, he has 40 tackles, including 2 for loss, plus an interception, a forced fumble, and 2 pass breakups. Certainly not bad, but down from last season.

Ray Vinopal was a lightning rod for criticism at the beginning of the season, and rightfully so, but he has improved somewhat as the season has gone on. He does have 38 tackles, but that's deceiving since he's mostly tackled players who just beat him. He also has 3 pass breakups and an interception.

In reserve, Titus Howard has 13 tackles, Terrish Webb has 6 tackles, and Trenton Coles and Ryan Lewis has 5.  Of all of the reserves none have an interception or even a pass breakup.

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

Special Teams:  This is yet another unit that has been mediocre for awhile now, and continues to remain mediocre. Punter Matt Yoklic is No. 17 nationally with a 43.9 average, but this is where stats can be misleading since anybody who has watched the Panthers this season will say that he has not been good for the most part.  In fact, if there was an official statistic to measure how much a punter gets rolls, Yoklic may lead the country. The Panthers are No. 80 in net punting which shows, among other things, Yoklic's lack of hang time.

True freshman Chris Blewitt may eventually be good, but he's been just 4 for 6 this season, and is No. 98 nationally in field goals per game. He's also been poor kicking off.

Tyler Boyd is No. 75 nationally in kick returns, and Lafayette Pitts is No. 82. The fact that two explosive returners like these two aren't getting good returns is all you need to know about the ineffectiveness of the unit. As a team the Panthers are No. 87 nationally. Thanks to Kevin Weatherspoon's long return against Old Dominion, the punt return unit for the Panthers rank No. 41, but for the most part it has also not been good this season.

The kickoff unit has been better of late after starting poorly, and nationally they are ranked No. 47. The punt return defense, however, is No. 111 nationally.

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

Coaching:  The always controversial coaching analysis deserves an article all it's own. It's natural for many sports fans to look at what they want to happen rather than what's actually happening, and that is the case with many Pitt fans, too.  Paul Chryst may be a success, and is the case many times if it does happen it will probably happen immediately.  But if you take away wishful thinking, there is nothing that shows that the Chryst regime will be a success.  That does not mean it won't happen, just that there's no real sign of that happening yet.

The best thing that can be said of Chryst this season is that he at least beat the four bad teams on the schedule. But there are still many questionable facets of Chryst and his staff. The promotion of Matt House to defensive coordinator was highly questionable, and it remains questionable. The defense has too many veterans, including an All-American and a few other all-star caliber players, to struggle as much as they have. The secondary has regressed, and not playing Todd Thomas at linebacker over clearly inferior players is a head scratcher.

Offense has been an even bigger disappointment, and this is the most troublesome of all since it's the domain of Chryst and right hand man Joe Rudolph.  Street, Boyd, Savage, Orndoff, and Conner are four players with NFL potential yet the offense is inexplicably No. 92 in total offense. There are more offensive numbers that are just as awful but if you haven't questioned the offensive coaching by now then all the stats in the world aren't going to convince you.

The fact that Savage is regressing is inexcusable. As is the fact that the offensive line still has made zero progress in two years of coaching. The most egregious error of all, however, may be that the excellent tight end corps is still not being utilized, despite having a poor offensive line, a subpar running game, and a quarterback that doesn't get rid of the ball fast enough.

Any impartial observer can see disturbing coaching gaffes in every game. Just in the ODU game, there was a play in which everybody in the stadium, including the announcers, thought Pitt forced a fumble. The officials said that forward progress was stopped, which was a bad call, but when Chryst questioned it the officials told him that it was not something that can be reviewed. Instead of voicing his displeasure, Chryst meekly agreed and that was that. I can't think of any top coach that would have done that. Even though it was a losing battle you have to not only fight for the next call but you have to show your team that you will fight for them at all times.

In the same game, ODU hit a Heinz record 54-yard field goal. If you watch the play you will see that the Pitt defenders did not even try to block the field goal on the play. I'm guessing they assumed that he would never make it so they didn't even try, never mind that those kinds of kicks are the easiest to block. Maybe this is what happens when you don't have a special teams coach.

I know this is the part when people scream that they are 4-2 and may even be 5-2 soon.  The record is all that matters some will say.  The truth is, at the end of the season the record is all that matters. But halfway through the season, the record may be acceptable but you have to look at the future, too. Being 4-2 and winning over four bad teams is not necessarily great. It just means you beat four bad teams that you should beat. The good news for Pitt is that Navy, North Carolina, and Syracuse aren't good either so the Panthers can be 7-5 this season (which I predicted in the preseason), and still not be good.  Because make no mistake about it, right now they are not very good.  At best they are mediocre overall, and in that mediocrity there is a lot of bad. The offensive line has been bad, the running game has been bad when playing against any semblance of a real defense, the special teams hasn't been good, the coaching decisions have been suspect, and more.

Of course there are definitely good things, too.  Donald is exceptional, as are Boyd and Street.  But most of the team, individually or by unit, hovers around mediocre. Could that change in the future? Of course.  But right now there are a lot of Cs for a reason.

Last Season's Postseason Grade: C+
Preseason Grade: C
Midseason Grade: C

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Midseason Grades for Pitt Football- Offense

Quarterback:  The long Tino Sunseri nightmare is over but unfortunately it sometimes looks like he's still around.  Despite NFL talent physically, Tom Savage has not performed as well as he should be performing this season, and worse yet he seems to have regressed as the season has progressed.

On the season Savage is No. 38 nationally and No. 6 in the ACC in passing efficiency.  He's completed  56.8% of his passes, which is not a great number these days.  In fact it's No. 85 nationally. Most quarterbacks throw for a higher percentage because of new offenses that feature high percentage throws. However, Savage throws almost entirely to receivers, and it's usually long throws. That leads to bigger completions, but also to more interceptions and incompletions.

Savage has thrown for 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, while amassing 1,343 yards. He is also 7th nationally in yards per completion, which again is because of his feast or famine throws.  On the downside, he has been unable to get rid of the ball fast enough, not a good trait to have when in front of a poor offensive line.  On the season the Panthers are No. 119 in sacks allowed.

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

Running Back:  Going into this season there were questions, but after true freshman James Conner started quickly it looked like this major weakness may become a slight strength. But that hasn't been the case. Thanks to 240 yards against Old Dominion, Isaac Bennett now leads the team with 450 yards on 5.8 yards a carry. He's also run for 5 touchdowns, 3 against the horrible Old Dominion defense. Against ODU and New Mexico, the two worst teams on the schedule, Bennett ran for 341 yards. In the  other four games he ran for a total of 109 yards.

Likewise, Conner ran for 119 yards against New Mexico and 173 yards against Duke. Against Florida State, he ran for 34 yards and against Virginia he ran for 27 yards. Because of a lingering injury he ran for 1 yard total in the last two games. For the season he has 354 yards on an impressive 5.3 yards a carry. He also ran for 4 touchdowns.

Rachid Ibrahaim has chipped in with 80 yards, but only has a 3.8 yard average.

Nationally, the Panthers are No. 91 nationally in rushing offense and No.11 in the 14 team ACC.

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

Wide Receivers:  Finally a rare bright spot. The starters, senior Devin Street, and true freshman Tyler Boyd, have lived up to their lofty expectations. Street was among the national leaders in many categories until sitting out the ODU gain with an injury. In the five games he played, he has 26 catches for 549 yards, a 21.1 yard average.  He also grabbed 3 touchdowns.

On the other side, Boyd has 31 catches through 6 games, for 491 yards, a 15.8 yard average. He also had 4 touchdown receptions.  He also ran 9 times for 106 yards, an 11.8 yard average. He also had one rushing touchdown, and it was impressive.

After the two stars, there's not much production. Kevin Weatherspoon added 8 catches for 113 yards, a 14.1 average. Ed Tinker has 1 catch for 9 yards.

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

Tight End:  This has been a very disappointing unit but it appears that's more of the fault of Savage and the Pitt offensive coaches. Manasseh Garner leads all tight ends with 9 catches for 96 yards, a 10.7 average. Included in those numbers are 2 touchdowns. Starter J.P. Holtz has just 4 catches for 38 yards,  a 9.5 average. Scott Orndoff has just 2 catches for 21 yards, and both went for touchdowns.  Bottom line, it's really unfathomable that the staff can't figure out how to get this excellent trio the ball more.

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

Offensive Line:  The more things change, the more things stay the same. Eventually one would have to assume that this unit will eventually be good, but it's not looking like it will be this year.  Redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty, who many had high hopes for this year, has been brutalized at times. And the rest of the unit has not been much better.  The center position, which looked like a big weakness entering the season, is as bad as expected, as has have the guards. The saddest part is that none of the promising prospects, including Dorian Johnson, appear to be ready to overtake the linemen who are playing.

I had high hopes for this unit, if only because some of these guys have been around the program for years.  You would think there would be progress, but you would think wrong.

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

Overall Offense:  This is a major problem, and quite frankly I didn't think it would be. I get accused of not being a Paul Chryst fan, but the truth is, I think he is a great offensive mastermind. You couldn't tell that this season, though.  The offensive line has not progressed, Savage has actually regressed, and the play calling doesn't always make sense. Savage keeps getting sacked, so why keep throwing more bombs? You have excellent tight ends so why not throw to them? And Chryst and the staff still can't develop the offensive line into mere competence?

Sometimes statistics lie, but not in this case.  The numbers show just how brutal the offense has been this season.  Despite playing three horrible defenses in Duke, New Mexico, and Old Dominion, the Panthers are No. 92 in total offense, No. 91 in rushing offense, and No. 69 in passing offense. It gets worse. They are also No. 93 in 3rd down efficiency, No. 74 in red zone offense, and No. 64 in scoring offense (and that's with scoring 58 against Duke and 49 against New Mexico).

Against the three quality defenses Pitt played (Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Florida State), the Panthers averaged 12.0 ppg, 42.3 yards rushing, 193.0 yards passing, and 235.3 yards total. Against the average Duke defense, and the atrocious defenses of New Mexico and Old Dominion, the Panthers averaged 47.3 ppg, 241.0 yards rushing, 257.3 yards passing, and 498.3 yards total.