Thursday, October 24, 2013

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


25 comments:

  1. Do not know I agree with some of your coaching opinions. I would like to believe Chryst is still in the learning and growing phase of his head coaching career. If we get through the year beating everyone who we were favored to beat that would be a major accomplishment for this program. As for House he is definitely is in the learning phase of his defensive coordinator career. Last week's non-use of Todd Thomas seems to have been some sort of mad experiment on his part. Completely agree that next year we need a special teams coordinator be it one of the position coaches or an additional responsibility of one of the two coordinators.

    Now to your grading for the coaching a C seems to be OK but I would raise it to a C+ due to the fact that they are right where everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the season. They have no bad losses and the win last week over ODU had to be put in the context that they were without their leading rusher, best clutch receiver, and one of the offensive linemen.

    Overall I continue to believe Chryst is going to be a better head coach than Wannstedt in that he will field a more consistent team. The only question in my mind is if he can get us to an elite status where we will be playing in the ACC championship games or will be in the group of teams who at best finish a season 10-2 or 9-3.

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    1. "The only question in my mind is if he can get us to an elite status where we will be playing in the ACC championship games or will be in the group of teams who at best finish a season 10-2 or 9-3."

      You realize there has only been one 10 win Pitt team in the last 30 years right? So I'm not sure what group of teams you're referring to? If you're referring to the group of teams that finish every season with 10 wins... those are the "elite" programs...?

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    2. To clarify elite teams refers to all teams in the country not at Pitt. I do not believe in the ACC that a 10-2 will necessarily get to the ACC championship every time. The group of teams that finish 10-2 or 9-3 also refers to all college football teams in the country not at Pitt. In my mind Pitt has not been an elite team since Majors and Sherrill or for that matter in the group of teams that finish 10-2 and 9-3. Therefore if Chryst gets us to teams that finish consistently 10-2 or 9-3 I will be satisfied that we have found our long term coach.

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    3. If Chryst did that they should hold a parade for him because Pitt would be a top 10 program. And that's not going to happen.

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  2. Nice write up. Now, if we all agreed on everything, there wouldn't be a market for blogs. I just have a few comments. First, Gonzalez is not improving in my opinion. He may be getting more tackles because the opposition may be targeting him as the weakness in the linebacking corp and heading his direction, more than not.

    You hit Vinopal correctly. He leads the team in tackles because he is a step slow to intercept or break up the pass and runs into the receivers ankles, post catch and gets credit for a tackle. Again, these are generalities so there may be times he makes nice plays.

    Blewitt may or may not be fine. There is not a large enough sample on him yet if we were to be fair.

    Coaching is a bit difficult to grade. Agree that we have won the games we should have, an improvement. Perhaps we are getting to a place of consistency. Savage regressing isn't really a fair statement. Again, sample size. My sense is that he is injured. Secondly, he apparently remains the best option to win games. We have to trust the coach on this one because after all, it is the coaches job on the line if you keep trotting out the player's you like versus the ones that are the best qualified. Which brings us to Todd Thomas. Thomas needs to play. I don't buy the "wrong fit" approach as to why he wasn't on the field last week. The coaches are teaching him a lesson and it is a critical one for next year if TT stays. They are forcing him to mature. If he matures correctly, he will get a chance at the next level. If he pouts, his chances of sniffing an nfl roster are slim. There are only so many "Burfects" out there and the bengals took a flier on him.

    Rushing a 54 yard field goal when a precedent at the stadium suggests the kick shouldn't be made is a bit of a stretch. Even the professionals couldn't hit past 52 yards and there is nary a rush at the highest level for the most part in those situations (except for new england).

    From a pure defensive standpoint, in college and pro games, pressuring the qb is so important and Pitt hasn't figured it out yet offensively or defensively. That is why Tino always struggled and why Savage struggles. 8 in the box with a run blitz package will continually beat Pitt as it has over the last 5 years. Think back to games where we held leads (Cincy, ND, etc.). They brought pressure to stuff the run and if we weren't running, pressure the qb into quick decisions. Our qb's haven't shown they can make the right decisions and then execute when they do. Creates 3 and outs. That is where tight ends are so critical to the games. And that is why we struggle so much against pressure. Pressure is coming from ND on out schedule wise, because those teams know, pressure causes turnovers. Our DC needs to crank it up. Major flaw in scheme right now.

    John, I would take a consistent 9-3 year every year for the next 15 years if possible. Administratively, Pitt does not support the program to be better. Flaw on AD. He should go. He is getting too old to change his legacy if he doesn't act soon. He is protecting his bankbook, not creating a legacy, and that is a shame.

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  3. I'm not sure what your point is on the FG attempt. My point is, a 54-yard FG attempt is easy to block because the trajectory has to be low. So it's bad football to not try to block it. It's little things like that that when there are a lot of them they combine to cost you games. Pitt doesn't have the talent to just show up and win. They need every advantage. That's what good coaches do.

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  4. Funny how opinions differ. While watching the game as they were getting ready to attempt the field goal, I actually said out loud "this is going to be a fake". And it looked like Pitt lined up assuming it might be one. Given the fact that a FG had NEVER been made of that distance during a game at Heinz before, playing for the fake seemed like the best bet. If they go all out to block that field goal and ODU pulls off the fake and gets a first down or even TD, everyone on here is screaming their heads off about the pathetic special teams and on and on and on. The decision to play it safe made the most sense to me in that particular situation.

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  5. In other words, instead of rushing a 50+ yd FG from the perimiter, have your athletes like Todd Thomas in the middle and jumping up trying to block it, hopefully after the line in front him has made some penetration .... but whatever you do, make sure your LBs are pushing the linemen from behind

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  6. Agreed .... I like to see every play challenged, especially low-probability FGs .. also, right on with coaching comments ... I don't see enough in-game adjustments. I always say that the coach who makes the right adjustments at halftime, is the one that wins the game.

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  7. Pitt could be the 5th best ACC team (behind FSU, VT, Miami, Clemson) or somewhere around 10th. I honestly have no clue. The only thing we know is that they are clearly a notch or two below Top 25 teams but are better than the bottom of the ACC and poor non-BCS schools.
    I think Pitt can go 8-4 with only losses to FSU, VT, Miami, ND without being very good at all. A road win vs. GT would be their best win on the season and not sure that says much about the state of the program. I live in ATL and see enough of GT to know they drip mediocrity.

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  8. Based on linebacker performance and lack of recruiting, how much more time could Haering possibly have? When players you previously coached don't want to play for you, obviously there is a problem. We need someone who can at least coach well or recruit well, although being able to do both would be great.

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  9. Chris,
    If Pitt is fortunate enough to add Henry and Nicholson to the defense next season. Will both be immediate starters? How much will that help the defense? Besides Soto, do we have any young DE's that might be able to step up? Will they look at Bookser or Grimm at DT to help the defensive line?
    Does Briggs the initial RB recruited play defense? I don't understand not recruiting another good LB after missing on Winovich.

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    1. Recruiting... lol
      Some WR from VA just got an offer from Pitt because he was tall.
      His other 2 offers were from sub-division schools!!!
      Pitt is scraping the bottom of the barrel for players. I don't see Pitt ever getting more than 7 wins in the regular season so long as Chryst and crew are coaching.

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  10. Overall I feel it's a pretty good summary but a couple things jump out to me:

    - Why no positive mention of PC not being afraid to use his young players. While those young players will make their share of plays and mistakes, to me that's on important building block item.

    - I wouldn't necessarily say the QB is regressing. I see the offense game planning and the OL having as much, if not more, to do than Savage on his own.

    - Highlighting a point where PC should have yelled at an official seems to be a weak point to raise regarding his game management style. Maybe a more relevant example would have been the ongoing passing in the 4th quarter against ODU. That's one I don't get, 1st and 2nd down should have been runs and 3rd a run/pass based on distance. Also, I question why they keep a small running back in on obvious passing downs vs. either an extra TE or OL to help with blocking.

    - Pitt seems to be a team that's doing enough to beat enough teams. No, they're not a top 25 team. Did anyone believe they were coming into the season? So expecting their "stats" to be some of the best in the nation is a little strange. Isn't the question, are they playing to their potential? I feel not fully as they should have won against VT, but for the most part they are.

    - Also, I feel they have a legitimate chance at winning every remaining game on the schedule, including Miami. Will they? I say no, but teams get hot and cold at funny times, injuries happen, and college football is such a crap shoot most weeks. But it should be fun to watch.

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    1. There's a difference between their stats being among the best and being 80th, 90th, and 100th in a lot of categories.

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    2. About a month ago, O was ranked 40th, now 92. D went from 102 to 45. So those rankings aren't a reliable item to use when predicting future performance of the team.

      But for conversation, let's do that. On average statistically, Pitt could easily go 4-2 to end with a 8-4 record. I only see Miami and GT as being significantly better, on average. So if that happens, do you consider Pitt to be a failure?

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    3. Kool-aide Kent.....OH YEAH!

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    4. You see 8-4 now Kent.....or maybe a much more realistic 4-8?

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  11. Yoklic's line-drive punts is what is going to cost this team a game or 2 down the stretch. He has regressed to the point of where using the freshman may be an option. Soon.

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    1. Nice prophetic call....

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  12. Would now like to see Chris grade the teams Pitt has played against. Because if Pitt actually grades out like this, its opponents must be full of D's and F's for Pitt to have any wins...

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    1. Those teams would have bad grades. They were bad teams. Why do some of you people refuse to acknowledge that Pitt is mediocre this year and they are 4-2 because they played four bad teams?

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    2. When Pitt has better players than OD, Duke, and NM they should dominate. They haven't. OD wasn't even D-1 last year. Why can't Pitt fans figure that out. I can really tell how easy it used to be to get into Pitt.

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  13. "The fact that Savage is regressing is inexcusable."

    I don't see it that way. Looks more to me like other teams have seen enough tape to know how to exploits this offense's weaknesses, including the limitations of the QB. He is who he is.

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