Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why Pitt football is better off now than a year ago

Obviously the Pitt program is far from where they and the fans would want it to be, and obviously there are things that need work, but the fan base is mostly down at this time because the season didn't end well.  With that in mind, here's some reasons why you shouldn't be so down.

1.  Paul Chryst and his staff now has one year under their belt.  It's no secret that Chryst wasn't my ideal choice to be the head coach but that's not because I didn't think he could eventually be a good coach.  In fact, I said that I felt that he could eventually be at the same level as Walt Harris and Dave Wannstedt.  After that, who knows?  The problem I had was that the program was desperate for an experienced head coach that could give the program an instant influx of talent and buzz.  Chryst was not experienced, and it showed, but at least that first year is out of the way, and you have to expect that his newfound experience will only help him to improve. The same goes with his staff, where coaches like Bobby Engram, Brooks Bollinger, and Matt House showed that they are at the same level as well regarded veterans like Joe Rudolph, Jim Hueber, and Desmond Robinson.

2.  The recruiting should only get better.  The staff did not start quickly in recruiting but they clearly improved as the recruiting year went on.  Most importantly, the staff was able to keep elite local talent like Dorian Johnson, Tyler Boyd, and Scott Orndoff at home.  There is a lot of talent in the WPIAL and the state in the 2014, and 2015 has some potential superstars, and Chryst and his staff did not have to wait until January like the past class to start making their moves.  The longer they have to make a connection with recruits, the better their chances, especially for WPIAL kids who will be around Pitt a long time before it's time to make a commitment.

3.  There will be a change at quarterback.  I don't want to dump on Tino Sunseri, but to say he was divisive is an understatement.  He also had limited physical ability and even more limited ability to win a game when called upon.  Tom Savage will likely be the new starter and he has a lot more physical skills.  He's a mature fifth year senior who has waited a long time for this chance.  He also has been tutored under Chryst for a year so he's not going to come in totally out of the blue. Lastly, he has NFL skills from a physical standpoint so he has a possible NFL career to play for.  Worst case scenario, Savage flops and Pitt doesn't win a lot of games, but at least Chad Voytik and/or Tra'von Chapman can start to learn the position for the future.  But I don't think it will come to that, because...

4.  Chryst knows offense.  Pitt ended up 92nd in rushing, 46th in passing, and 72nd in total offense.  That doesn't sound much but then again this is an offense that had Sunseri at quarterback, one receiver with any speed at all, a running back recovering from a major knee injury, an untalented offensive line, and a tight end corps that included a perpetually injured senior, a true freshman, and a guy with concentration problems.  But every unit on offense has an influx of young talent and Chryst has proven that if you give him any offensive talent at all then he can put up a lot of production.

5.  More speed in the passing game.  Mike Shanahan had a big senior season which proves what Chryst can do with a passing game, but he wasn't the quickest player out there.  Neither was Cam Saddler who lost any quickness he had after blowing his knee out the previous season.  But enter Boyd, Orndoff, a recharged Ed Tinker, and possibly Demitrious Davis.  They will combine with the returning Devin Street to give the program some much improved speed at the position.

6.  Excellent tight end play.  On a lot of teams, saying that improvement from the tight end position will make a big difference is a bit of a stretch, but not with Chryst who utilizes tight ends greatly in the passing game.  True freshman J.P. Holtz showed that he was the real deal and will likely make big strides in his sophomore season.  Orndoff has already enrolled at the university so he will be in spring practices.  He has a tantalizing size and speed combination, and he should pair with Holtz to give the Panthers an excellent unit that Chryst will utilize a lot.

7.  Rushel Shell?  Okay, this one we don't know for sure yet.  Ray Graham is gone and in his last three years he always had around 900 yards.  That's excellent, but because of injuries he never had the huge year.  Shell is determined to have a huge sophomore year and let's be honest, would anybody be surprised if he ended up with 1,500 yards rushing in the upcoming season?  I'm not saying he will.  He needs to work on his quickness in the offseason and he runs so hard that injuries are always a concern, but at least the realistic potential of a huge season is there.  And he did he did have 641 rushing yards and a 4.5 avg. as a true freshman so clearly the college level is not going to be much of a problem for him.

8.  The offensive line will be better.  I mean, it has to be right?  Chryst, Rudolph, and Hueber are too good at developing linemen to not show improvement in year two.  Only Chris Jacobson and Ryan Turnley are gone, and both were mediocre talents.  Redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty is a genuine talent who has been drawing raves in practice, and incoming freshman Dorian Johnson may be good enough to start immediately.  At the very least I expect him to play.  The suspended Juantez Hollins will presumably also return, and even though he's not great, at least he provides depth.  Then there's T.J. Clemmings, who may finally find his calling at tackle. The best part of those four being in the mix is that the slow tackles from this season can move inside to guard and center.

9.  The defensive line will be better.  Only Shayne Hale is gone.  Everybody else is a year older and Darryl Render and Devin Cook should be making more of an impact. Incoming freshmen Shakir Soto and Tyrique Jarrett are both physically ready and will be available for spring practice. I can see both being heavily in the mix.  This may not be an excellent unit but the numbers are better and that means there's a better chance that one or two players break out.

10.  The linebackers will all be there and be healthy?  I have to ask that rather than declare it because it's never happened yet.  Miracle man Dan Mason came back and for two games was playing at an all-star level.  It was a fluke injury, not his surgically repaired knee, that cost him the rest of the season, so if his knee continues to hold up he could be a major addition.  Todd Thomas was injured for the first third of the season but then did play at an all-star level the rest of the season.  He may finally break though with an excellent season.  Then there is Ejuan Price, who showed flashes of great potential as a pass rusher as a true freshman before missing all of last season with an injury.  He seems to have trouble playing the linebacker position, but he is a natural pass rusher, exactly what the program needs, so they need to find a way to utilize that talent.  Throw in returnees Nicholas Grigsby, Shane Gordon, and Eric Williams, plus talented redshirt freshmen Bam Bradley, Deaysean Rippy, Devon Porchia, and Mike Caprara, and you have to think that the staff can find at least five that can play well.

11.  The secondary could be amongst the best in the nation.  Ballhawk Jason Hendricks somehow was not named all-conference despite leading the team in tackles and the conference in interceptions.  He even came up with 17 tackles and an interception in the bowl game.  Cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts didn't give up much in most games.  In fact, the Panthers were No. 20 in passing yards defense and No.21 in pass efficiency defense.  They gave up 15 touchdowns through the air and had 15 interceptions.  And with three starters returning, there's no reason why they can't be even better.

12.  The special teams should be better.  Kevin Harper will be gone and that can't be a bad thing.  He missed seven field goals on the season, and many of them were big misses.  Redshirt freshman walk on Brad Lukasak and incoming freshman Chris Blewitt both have strong legs.  The best thing about kickers is that it doesn't seem to matter much if they are a freshman.  Punter Matt Yoklic is back for a third season.  Lafayette Pitts started off strongly as a kick returner but then leveled off.  Worse case scenario, he's returning kicks again, which he proved he can do at a high level.  The other scenario is that Boyd will return kicks.  I would be surprised if he doesn't return punts, taking over for the mediocre Saddler.  Needless to say, that would be a huge upgrade.


Obviously not all of these best case scenarios will actually happen.  That's just the law of averages.  But none of these things are long shots.  In fact, most are probable.

Todd Graham left the program because he knew that the roster had to be torn down before it could be built back up, and he didn't want to put in the work.  Chryst proves he is willing to do it, as you can tell by the huge amount of players who are moving on.  I always thought Dave Wannstedt was a good hire because I thought he had the potential to be a great recruiter.  I still think Wannstedt was a good hire, but I said at the time, and it's been proven, that his recruiting was top heavy.  He brought in a handful of   top prospects, but there were way too many prospects with low ceilings.  Too many players didn't amount to much, then they were combined with two coaching change classes that were obviously less than stellar under the circumstances.

Fans are upset that the record is the same as last season, and that both included a bowl blowout.  But this is all part of building a program for Chryst.  With a lot of dead weight on the roster, and the coaching changes, the program was a runaway train to mediocrity.  But just like a train needs to be stopped before reversing course, so does a football program.  Chryst spent this season applying the brakes.  He is established recruiting areas, showed the current players how to run his system, set a tone both on and off the field, and eliminated the dead weight. Entering year two, any potential recruits have been in contact with Pitt for two years instead of one, all players on the current roster now have the system down, all players know what is expected and demanded from them on and off the field, and the dead weight is being purged.  The current class will be large in numbers, which will help build the depth back up, and even the lesser rated players have potential.  As an example, Wannstedt brought in Saddler to be a receiver, a 5'8" kid who doesn't have great speed.  There was only so good he could be.  By comparison, Chryst is bringing in Zach Challingsworth and Reggie Green, who may or may not end up being good players, but both are 6'2" and fast so at least there's potentially to develop into something more than mediocrity.

Bottom line, I have no idea if Chryst will succeed.  Personally, I would prefer he was a bit more aggressive in recruiting and his game decisions need to improve, but this season proved to me that he was not a total flop.  A strong offense needs coaching and talent.  Chryst has proven that he has a great offensive mind as normally mediocre talents like Sunseri and Shanahan put up big numbers against all odds.  You have to wonder what he can do with one of these other quarterbacks, along with Shell, Boyd, Holtz, Orndoff, Bisnowaty, Johnson, etc.  Throw in another class or two and I would be very surprised if Pitt didn't have one of the better offenses in the country in the next two years.

Defense is coaching and aggressiveness.  The Panthers finished No. 17 in total defense this season so coaching and aggressiveness doesn't seem to be a problem.  The Panthers have hard nosed, tough players on the roster so the result isn't really a surprise.  The defensive recruiting doesn't have the same highly rated players coming in, but they are smart and tough which tells me the defense has a chance to keep shining (though they will need to step it up with better physical talent eventually).  A talented offense with a great offensive mind, and a defense loaded with tough kids is a recipe for success.  It may take a year or two for us to know if the train has reversed direction yet, but in my opinion the train has at least stopped.  That's all that can be expected for the first season and it's the first time that a Pitt coach actually applied the brakes as hard as was needed.

67 comments:

  1. Next season, I expect 6-7 wins in regular season. The ACC is tougher than the Big East.

    Chryst is definitely enamoured with "Size" or "Height" more specifically and that is a good thing.
    He needs more "Speed" for the skilled positions.
    You can recruit speed... (ask Kelly of Oregon) just like you can recruit height.

    The comment you made about Shell is the same observation Tony Dorsett said after one of Shell's HS games regarding the type of runner he is. Earl Campbell is who he reminds me of.

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  2. Spot on assessment of a team that truly needs gutted and rebuilt & chryst seems to see that clearly but what alarms me is an athletic director who doesnt give a rats ass about returning pitt to it's winning tradition and for the love of the fans please return to our marino era script & colors. Chryst needs to be aggresive at recruiting these are kids who need to be guided and not left to make there own choice ala robert foster, alabama doesnt need foster but saban showed chryst & staff that he swings a bigger stick in his own backyard. Last chryst needs to get a top level dc and a proven recruiter that can bring in top 4 star talents. No more hiring your buddies, that's the ssht that can get ya fired

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    Replies
    1. How does changing the uniforms make our team any faster or stronger or more talented? I get the pull of tradition, but it's time to let go. If Minnesota went back to the 1930s unis, it wouldn't make them a national champion again.

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  3. Chris love your comment on the wide receiver part. Recruiting kids with size and speed. I think challingsworth will be a hell of a player. I just wish he had enrolled early.

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  4. Chris,

    Thanks for the in depth analysis for next year. Hopefully the new defensive coordinator will be announced in the next day or so. Looking forward to going to several away game (Va Tech, etc.) as well as my annual trip back to the 'Burg.

    If we do not have Clemson or Florida State on the schedule next year we should have a half decent record (above .500).

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  5. Chris,

    How did Dorian Johnson perform at his all-star game? I think he was the UA game. The defensive guys usually have their way with the OL but did Johnson hold his own?

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    Replies
    1. apparently Johnson did quite well. he held his own against the best DL there, supposedly.

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    2. He played very well all week. No need to worry about him. He's the real deal.

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  6. I will take an Earl Campbell. We may need a time possession offense to keep some of those quicker ACC opponents offenses of the field.

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  7. Doke,

    Do you expect Pitt to switch to a 3-4 next year? It seems to better serve our current roster and I don't see us landing enough top flight DE's to make a 4-3 work long term.

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    Replies
    1. A head coach rarely changes his defense so I assume he won't, but you never know.

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    2. Not enough linebackers...

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    3. thomas, williams, gordon, price, grigsby, mason, rippy, caprara, porchia, galambos.

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    4. gonzalez looked decent in the bowl game too

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  8. Great post, Chris. Certainly brings some middle ground to the "all or nothing" approach many fans took to this last season. I look forward to some good football next season. We won't be going to the national championship, but I think we will definitely be more competitive...even with the speed of the ACC. Pitt showed some bright spots this year and that brings hope for a better season next year. Can't wait till spring practice starts!

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  9. By the way, today ESPN ranked the 14 ACC teams for next year and Pitt was No. 6.

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    1. That's a surprise.
      They must be betting on Savage being a difference maker. I don't see 6th next year.. Too many "ifs"
      At best, Pitt can hope for 5th..
      behind FSU, Clemson, Miami, VTech who should consistently be in Top 4.

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  10. I saw rumors that Justin Moody was committing today anyone hear anything to that nature or have I been getting bad info again? After all can't trust everything that is written on that internet.

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  11. I went to the bowl game, a lot of Ole Miss fans and they were great and there were a lot of SEC fans in general (Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State), one curious thing, a lot of questions about Foster, the majority of everyone I talked with thought he was a soft verbal, seemed he could switch back to Pitt.

    Wishful thinking or ???

    Has anyone heard anything?

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    Replies
    1. Wishful thinking...
      but after watching last nights game... and the true frosh WR...
      ya never know with Foster.

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    2. Because of your post...
      I looked up Foster twitter..
      he didn't tweet at all regarding the game last night..
      not even a... Roll Tide....
      so, ya never know.

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  12. Never Mind Pitt just landed the big man. H2P

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    Replies
    1. Moody A good get for PC and the panthers.

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  13. Moody a good get! H2P

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  14. I'm wondering when you found time to write this post with all the tweets last night (still chuckling).

    Enjoyed reading the assessment - which gives one reason for a brighter future.

    In addition to what you have noted:

    - We will have a much better overall schedule than any in recent years
    - The home schedule should be attractive, if only from a newness perspective.
    - I'm guessing the noon starting times will either disappear or be significantly reduced.

    Better conference slate + ND + better starting times + brighter prospects = more people in the stands...as long as Pitt packages it in the right way. In other words, they should avoid messing up with a ticket price hike and should really market the move and schedule. Mini-season packs, breaks for families, etc.



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  15. longsufferingpittfanJanuary 8, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    Chris,

    One name that seems to be missing from alot of those looking forward to next year is Tom Ricketts. Assuming that he is fully recovered from his injury, won't he surely be in the mix for the O line?

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    Replies
    1. Is that a new development? Any reason why he left?

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  16. Chris-thanks again for your fine work in keeping all of us abreast on our Pitt Panthers!!! Living in the eastern part of PA it is always nice to see your reports since Eastern PA is still State Penn territory as far as the news media is concerned.

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  17. Chris,

    Great article. I really like how 2015 has the potential to be big year around here. I saw the Pilato kid from Hempfield play basketball last week. You listed him among the 2015 offensive line prospects. I really like what I saw. He has massive size and quickness for a sophomore. Really would like to see Pitt land him. They will have competition. What are your thoughts?

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  18. Great post Chris. Thanks for the in-depth article, and what I think is spot on analysis.

    My greatest concern about Chryst was his willingness and ability to recruit. He and his staff seem to be "getting it" now, and if they can continue the recruiting momentum, I think the future is bright.

    Finally, welcome to Pitt Justin Moody!

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  19. Fantastic Post, Doke. I think the biggest key to next year being a good one is the ability of the offense line to improve. Hopefully, as you mentioned, Chryst and staff can continue to mold the o-line like they did at Whisky.

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    Replies
    1. I think Pitt will end up with Grimm and Brookser. At the least, they are the favorites. And they will be a godsend for the program. The OL will be dominating in the future with those two added.

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  20. Chris - what do you know about Isaac Bennett? Why didn't he get any runs in the bowl game? He was in uniform and I think he played special teams.

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  21. Chris you forget to offset your article points by a tougher league. I think when you do that, the program is further off than you think.

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    1. All the power is on the other side. The other top teams in Pitt's division are Virginia Tech, Georgua Tech, and North Carolina. That's pretty much the same level as Pitt.

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  22. Long run VT isn't "pretty much the same level" despite recent games and you damn well know that.

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    Replies
    1. I don't know that at all. VT is on the decline and even when they weren't Pitt usually beat them.

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    2. Even at Va Tech's height we could roll with them. It was, is, and will be a even series.

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    3. The Beamer era is waning at VT. They are close to demoting their OC and can't lock up the state the way they used to. Mike London at UVA has made inroads, particularly in Tidewater and Northern Va.

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  23. Lets see a Pitt basketball review.
    I can't see the game... but my preview of stats..
    Georgetown is playing a 7man rotation...
    and if Pitt doesn't blow the doors off... run'em in 2nd half.. come out pressing and use their 10man rotation..
    well, lets just watch.

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  24. Chris, great review. Looks like there is cause for cautious optimism. Any chance that Tim Lewis might be in the mix for DC? He is defensive backs coach for Atlanta. Don't know if he has any connection with PC. Isn't it unusual to go this long without a coordinator? Can't help recruiting ?

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    Replies
    1. No, Lewis won't be back. It is a little unusual but Chryst takes his time doing everything. He's at the coaches convention and that's where a lot of discussions take place.

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    2. Chryst is analysis.. paralysis...
      He is what you want in an coordinator... but it appears he has a tough time delegating... meaning being a Head Coach.
      Takes him toooo long to make decisions on anything and everything...
      Anal retentive... perfectionist are adjectives that come to mind to describe him.

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    3. Taking this long simply reduces your availability of a quality candidate especially when Pitt has a history of keeping its purse closed......

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    4. That's the fundamental point...Pitt's purse is being a pussy and we finally have a lumberjack to get the wood to build the village (fire)...

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  25. I think Chryst did pretty well in his first season. Granted some of his game day calls were confusing at best, but unlike Wanny he never seems to panic or at least show panic on the sidelines, unlike Wanny who appeared to need a valium at the end of each quarter.
    Then again there isn't a coach in the country (and that includes IUP) that could have succeeded with Santino Sunseri at QB. The kid tried but was in way over his head, so the real chore is for Chryst to find at least a capable or serviceable QB to lead his offense.
    The only criticism I can see with Chryst is that his teams often appear to come in flat and play down to the competition in games they should be favored to win in and win big. In those instances he lacked the ability to yank those players and demand accountability, which would set the tone for other players who would even think about coming in to a game with a lazy carefree attitude.
    Bottom line Chris: PITT needs a QB and a quality kicker who can win a game or two for them in tight spots (don't hold out much hope for walk on kickers that no other program wants.)

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    1. There are a ton of walk on kickers succeeding in college. Not a lot of kickers get scholarships.

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    2. Chris,

      True there are a lot of walk on kickers that do well but there are also many who fail miserably (Fick may be a good example,) in any event PITT was one field goal chip shot away from changing the scope of who would play for the National Championship and failed miserably. So for many teams a walk on may be the answer but at PITT I think a highly touted elite kicker should be offered a scholarship. Let's take the guess work out at this position and move forward.

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    3. They do have a highly touted elite kicker coming in- Chris Blewitt.

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  26. Is it me or does James Robinson have a funny looking shot???

    Adams obviously is still learning the game. He's got the frame and the athleticism!! Adams also needs to work on his jump shot! I can't see him leaving this soon!

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    Replies
    1. I think the scouts were drooling and there were dozens there. He was impressive.

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  27. Fire Dixon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  28. That was an odd game. As good as Pitt looked Georgetown looked equally horrible.

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  29. Chris, I did not get a chance to see the game and just checked the box score and was surprised to see the starting lineup they way it was with zeigler getting the start. What is up with that? Obviously they won big. Do you think Dixon will go with that lineup? Surprised to see Adams not in there

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  30. Really, of all Wanny's players Cam Saddler is your example of a bust? He was an extremely fast 4* player who was a great recruiter and positive player for Pitt. No one could have predicted his knee injury. If you want to talk misses, talk about wasted scholarships on questionable poor character players like Jeff Knox, which was the end of Wannestadt.

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  31. Pilatos dad played at pitt for one year and is a fan should have real shot with him

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  32. Made the trip from Oakland to DC today for game and now nust got back o the hotell. Yes Adams looks good. Gettin better every game. If he does leave this year and he probably should (exhibit one see that kid from Leigh) I think pitt will be decimated next year. But tonight is a night for celebration. They looked great. If I saw Jamie Dixon on the street I would tell him that I am sorry that I ever doubted his judgment on cam wright. Te guy gets better every game. Zeigler needs to quit pressing so much. He had a great 1x1 break down move at the end of the game but then he made two bonehead fouls. The talent is there he just need to relax and quit trying to do o much

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  33. One more thing I cannot understand why these team play "home games in these big off campus facilities. The verizon arena is huge and cavernous (like the consol) and I swear there wear close to as many pitt fans there as Georgetown fans. I know these teams do it for the money but the home team derives very little, if any, home court advantage from playing there. Very close to being a game on a neutral court.

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  34. Great post, Doke!

    You were more polite than I usually am about our QB play, I've been screaming for ABT for three years. Just that change alone should be good for 2-3 more wins a year.

    In fact, starting in August, I'm gonna call Pitt's athletic dept, asking for a roster with TIno the Great on it. And then smile and do Snoopy's happy dance when they say he's no longer with the team.

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  35. This seen at the G'town game last night:

    https://twitter.com/semorrow/status/288831285940592641/photo/1/large

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  36. Great article Chris and here's a couple of thoughts...

    Savage is a career 52% passer - that has to be better if he starts next season or we are behind the 8-ball right away.

    Chris Wuestner will see PT at WR next season and he's a good one. Completely under the radar because he missed his whole JR in HS due to injury.

    I think Jarrett with his year in a prep school, Render and especially Devon Cook will really open eyes next season. KK Smith better be watching over his shoulder.

    Chris - any word on where the staff wants the beefed up LaQuentin Smith next season?

    Finally - we will miss the yardage production we got out of the QB position this season... statistically that is. We have to make up for that in better and quicker decision making and avoiding panic.

    3300+ yards, 65% compilation rate and 21 TDs to 3 INTs will be very hard to match for Savage and especially for a rookie QB if either of the FR play.



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  37. Great article Chris and here's a couple of thoughts...

    Savage is a career 52% passer - that has to be better if he starts next season or we are behind the 8-ball right away.

    Chris Wuestner will see PT at WR next season and he's a good one. Completely under the radar because he missed his whole JR in HS due to injury.

    I think Jarrett with his year in a prep school, Render and especially Devon Cook will really open eyes next season. KK Smith better be watching over his shoulder.

    Chris - any word on where the staff wants the beefed up LaQuentin Smith next season?

    Finally - we will miss the yardage production we got out of the QB position this season... statistically that is. We have to make up for that in better and quicker decision making and avoiding panic.

    3300+ yards, 65% compilation rate and 21 TDs to 3 INTs will be very hard to match for Savage and especially for a rookie QB if either of the FR play.

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    Replies
    1. That 52% is mostly as a true freshman. Being a 5th year senior is obviously much different.

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  38. That's why I said career - it encompassed both his FR & SO years. It has to get better or we are in trouble - if he starts that is.

    That said his career yards per attempt average is outstanding at 14.2. Truly top numbers there. If he can keep that average up and complete more passes then he's progressed.

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