Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How Pitt's defense looks for the next few years

Defensive Linemen: Ejuan Price, Shakir Soto, and Tyjuan Jarrett are gone, but all is not lost. Pat Narduzzi has begun to add more talent and depth to the unit and though it's not all the way to where he wants it, it's getting there.

At end, redshirt junior Dewayne Hendrix will finally get his chance. The 6'4" 260 pound redshirt junior missed the last two years, one because he transferred from Tennessee, and one for a leg injury.  If he lives up to his massive ability, it would be a huge development for the line, and the defense in general.

At the other end, 6'4" 245 pound senior Rori Blair will be the incumbent, but he will face a lot of competition from 6'4" 245 senior Allen Edwards, 6'3" 245 pound junior James Folston, Jr., 6'5" 250 pound redshirt freshman Patrick Jones, and 6'5" 255 pound redshirt freshman Rashad Weaver. Blair has played a lot in three years but has only totaled 9 sacks in his career, so he will need to improve in his senior year to be an asset. Edwards is a former junior college product that has natural pass rushing skills, but he hasn't had much of a chance on the field yet. Like Blair, next year will be his last chance to make his mark. Folston is former linebacker that played a little more at the end of the season. Weaver and Jones are good developmental players, and both showed promise as a true freshman in the practice. Big 6'6' 240 pound true freshman Carson Van Lynn will most likely redshirt. A wildcard is Zach Gilbert, who missed last season with a heart condition. Though undersized, the 6'0" 240 pound Gilbert has a lot of skill, but there's a good chance that his career is over.

The tackle situation also has some talented younger players, but more are clearly needed. Two new starters will have to come through, and one of those should be 6'3" 280 pound sophomore Amir Watts, an aggressive bull that has a very high ceiling. The other spot could be between 6'2" 290 pound redshirt senior Jeremiah Taleni and 6'4" 275 pound redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp. Taleni was brought in from Hawaii by former head coach Paul Chryst many years ago, but much to his credit he has stuck around and got better each year. He is good enough that he will at least be in the rotation next season. Camp is an elite recruit with a ton of potential. Watts, Taleni, and Camp were all listed at defensive tackle, so if two of the three start one will have to move to nose tackle. Taleni would be the best bet.

Other contenders inside include 6'4" 315 pound redshirt junior Mike Herndon, 6'4" 280 pound redshirt junior Shane Roy, and 6'3" 290 pound redshirt freshman Rashad Wheeler. Roy and Herndon were the backups to Jarrett this year, but it remains to be seen if either could hold down the spot as a starter. Wheeler is too athletic to be wasted at the nose so he will join the tackles. He has very good potential.

Because there are questions in this unit, a true freshman has the ability to play if he's good enough. At end, Tyjuan Garbutt is between Pitt and Virginia Tech, and he has big time potential. If he decides on the Panthers he has a chance to be in the two deep. At tackle, 6'2" 300 pound Jaylen Twyman, 6'5" 300 pound Kyree Campbell, and 6'3" 315 pound Fred Hansard are three of the big time tackles that are still in play, with Twyman the most likely commitment of the three. Any of the three are capable of playing right away.

You never know where else a big time lineman may come from late in the recruiting season, like Watts and Camp last year, but it's very important that at least one more big very talented end and tackle are found.

Beyond 2017: Narduzzi currently has a lot of projects in the mix, and even though one or two projects usually turn into players, more high level talent is needed. But the future still looks better than it does next year at the position since Watts, Camp, Jones, Weaver, and Wheeler are a talented bunch that will only get better and better. Gilbert would be a welcome addition if that happens, but changing the future from good to excellent depends on what the staff adds to finish out this class.


Linebackers: The Panthers linebacker corps has been below average for years, but that should be changing soon. The group will be very young next season, but they will also be much more talented than their predecessors.

In the middle, Matt Galambos will be moving on, and replacing him should be 6'2" 240 pound senior Quintin Wirginis, who (here we go again) should have been starting for the last two years. So that will be an upgrade.

On the outside, longtime lettermen Mike Caprara and Bam Bradley are also gone, and among those vying for their time is returning starter, and former walk on, 6'0" 215 pound redshirt junior Sean Idowu, and 6'2" 225 pound junior Elijah Zeise, who began the season as the starter over Idowu before going down for the year with an injury in the first game. Also returning will be 6'0" 210 pound redshirt sophomore Saleem Brightwell, who is undersized but showed good quickness when he played. He looks like he will be in the mix for the rest of his career because he looks like he could be a playmaker.

The most intriguing part of this unit is the players that haven't seen the field yet. Redshirt sophomore Anthony McKee is also undersized at 6'0" and 210 pounds, and it's a little disappointing that he hasn't made a move yet with such untalented upperclassmen, but he's young and has physical skills so it's obviously too early to give up on him. In the middle, 6'2" 225 pound redshirt freshman Elias Reynolds will try to be the backup to Wirginis.

But the three most promising linebackers are 6'1" 220 pound Kaezon Pugh and 6'3" 230 pound Chase Pine, both redshirt freshmen, and 6'1" 210 pound incoming freshman Cam Bright. Pugh and Pine should definitely be in the mix, if not start, and even though he's a true freshman, Bright has the speed  and explosiveness that makes him a possibility, too.

Incoming freshman Kyle Nunn is not yet big enough at 6'3" and 190 pounds, but he should be a factor in the not too distant future. Floridian Albert Tucker played linebacker on a loaded high school team, but at 6'3" and 205 pounds he will move over to linebacker. Like Nunn, he will probably redshirt. And big time recruit, Nathan Proctor, is still a possibility.

Beyond 2017: This unit is finally starting to look interesting, mostly because Pine, Pugh, Bright, and Brightwell will be around for a long time, and Nunn, Tucker,  and McKee could be good players eventually, too. More are needed, but they are off to a very good start for the future.


Defensive backs: Where do we start? Well, Ryan Lewis and Terrish Webb struggled more than anyone in the secondary this year and both are gone, so that has to be considered a plus. Reggie Mitchell will also be gone, and he's another player that regressed.

Replacing Lewis permanently (starting maybe this season) should be 6'1" 185 pound sophomore Damar Hamlin, who the staff thinks has a very high ceiling. On the other side, 5'9" 175 pound senior Avonte Maddox will probably get the call again. Others joining the mix will be 6'0" 180 pound redshirt sophomore Dane Jackson, 6'0" 190 pound redshirt freshman Therran Coleman, 6'0" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Malik Henderson, and 5'10" 175 pound redshirt junior Philipie Motley.

Only Coleman didn't play this season, and the other three all struggled, but they were also very young and inexperienced. They will obviously get better, the only question is, how much and how quickly?

The obvious huge get is Lamont Wade, who would start immediately, but if I had to guess I don't think he will end up being a Panther. If he does choose elsewhere, the staff will have to either find a hidden gem or hope that another top level back springs open somehow. But with the Panthers adding so many cornerbacks last year it was always going to be add more this year.

At safety, 5'11" 190 pound junior Jordan Whitehead did not have a good year, and he's probably at the wrong position. He needs to have a comeback next year because he has All-American potential. His backup should again be 5'10" 190 pound redshirt junior Dennis Briggs. The replacement for Webb at free safety should be among 6'2" 185 redshirt sophomore Jay Stocker, 6'1" 175 pound redshirt freshman Bricen Garner, and 6'0" 170 pound true freshman Paris Ford. All three have very good potential, especially Ford, an elite prospect that will be impossible to keep off the field as a freshman. I expect Ford will also get some snaps on offense, too, and if it wasn't for Quadree Henderson he would be used in the return game. In other words, Pitt will find a way to get him on the field as much as they can, even in his first year. He's that good.

Two other promising redshirt freshmen are 6'3" 205 pound Henry Miller, and 6'1" 195 pound Phil Campbell. Miller has safety size (if not linebacker size), but may have the ability to play cornerback, which would be a huge development because athletic 6'3" 205 pound corners don't come along very often. Campbell is a safety that has the ability to be good, too.

Beyond 2017: Believe it or not, this should actually be a very good unit in the future, and should be improved next year (can't really get worse). Lewis, Webb, and Mitchell are out, Hamlin, Jackson, Motley, and Henderson will be a year better, and Coleman, Stocker, Garner, Ford, Miller, and Campbell will be added to the mix. And with expected improvement around them from the younger players, Whitehead and Maddox should be able to rebound.




49 comments:

  1. Chris, wasn't Tucker recruited to play the star LB position?

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    1. I accidentally flipped his position. I corrected it.

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  2. I assume you implying Whitehead should be a corner?

    bill

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    1. He should have been a FS or a WR. He doesn't get to make many game changing plays at SS.

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  3. he needs to be playing FS

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  4. Screw all of that. They just need to HIT THEM WITH THE HEINNNNNNNNNNNN

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  5. Totally agree on Jordan, not that he's playing poorly, more that his position limits his defensive touches and involvement. I like HCPN, but seriously, some things appear blatantly obvious. Almost Graham-like in his stubbornness. Great articles btw, just quit waiting months between posts!!! Basketball?!?!

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  6. Agree primarily on your post. I think the main thing that is taking place is that the defense is getting faster....and bigger at the same time. It seems everyone is focused on the record and missing what is right in front of their eyes.

    Study the recruits closer and you will see success right around the corner. With the influx of young talent next year, Pitt should see a great year with wins and losses beginning in 2018. I don't see it next year because we had too many misses at qb recruiting, which drives the successes of a program. Personally, I would have had MacVittie playing this year. Is he ready, no! Look, these kids typically don't stay for RS Sr. years. If we are playing redshirt seniors, typically, that means the talent level is just not there. If they were that good, they would have left for the nfl. Redshirts seniors means recruiting is poor.

    I am disappointed in PN not playing Ffrench and Mathews. Their redshirts are burned, now let's see what they can do. Why wait for next year. Get some film on them this year so that you can improve them and coach them up during the off season. Same with our DB's. Get film on them in real games.

    By playing the kids you have already stripped of redshirts, it lessens their willingness to transfer. I would be angry at a coach that burned my redshirt for 10 minutes of playing time. Play them all against the number 2 ranked team in the states. That will make their year and put them into the offseason with a clear mandate on what they need to do to improve their personal games!

    C'mon coach, figure out the psychology of sport.

    Respectfully, Talent Evalu8r

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  7. I'm troubled by the play of Hamlin. I know he was put out there maybe before he was ready but he looks completely lost. Is he as good as advertised or is he a victim of circumstances?

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  8. 43-42. H2P

    Tommymac

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  9. Hopefully this is the win the turns the program around and jump starts recruiting back to a level like last year.

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    1. Doc

      It has too, that was Narduzzi and staffs signature win, if the can win out and take the bowl game they could win 9 with a possible top 25 ranking. It's looking ahead yes but possible.

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    2. Well, I certainly hope so. However, it seems like Pitt always has bad timing. There signature win could have been a lot better back with psu on sanctions and wvu stinking. Now, they are both in the top 10, so, pitt cannot say they are the only team headed toward prominence.

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  10. Don't agree with maddox being in the picture at all, he is terrible and if thats the best Pitt has, play the younger guys they have to have a better upside. You know what you get with maddox, his wr has a 200 yard game and out jumps him on every catch that is if maddox turns his head around at all

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  11. chris, what is going on. in the past you would have nailed an awesome article by now. Great win...macchiato

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  12. I think they missed the call on the 100 yard return by Whitehead. I just watched the replay of the game. It was never definitive.

    Big Fish

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    1. I was ranting on twitter about it. He was probably in but they couldn't tell since Whitehead blocked the camera. They aren't supposed to guess.

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  13. Chris, 4 days before the Clemson game you wrote this about Brightwell: "He looks like he could be in the mix for the rest of his career because he looks like he could be a playmaker." Maybe you should do these status articles before every game.

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    1. You notice that it took a WR a long way and a desperation lunge to stop him. He's got some wheels.

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  14. Nice article, Chris. Did you notice a lot of the guys you mentioned above had big games against Clemson?

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  15. Shocked the staff isn't prioritizing more defensive tackles. Next season is the time to redshirt the incoming tackles with numbers at the position in 2017. Twyman would be a good start.

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  16. Do these last 2 wins vet us into the top 25? I feel like it should, but, I doubt it.

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    1. Very close. At least it should be. If WVU loses no way in hell should they be above Pitt. But they probably will be because nobody pays attention.

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  17. Currently ranked 33 in the AP and Coaches, they should jump LSU, Washington state, San Diego st, Troy, western kentucky and south florida. I look for them to be 27, 28 in the next polls. Interesting to see if they crack the top 25 for the CFP since they say they stress good wins. In the next top 25, Va tech and UNC should get back in. That means pitt will be 2-1 against top 10 teams, two losses against top 25 teams and then one loss against a Miami team that will probably be top 35.
    If Georgia Tech beats Georgia along with Miami, Pitt, Va Tech, UNC, and FSU all winning next week, I think we will look at the end of the season that the ACC is the best conference in the nation.

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  18. Chris, are you worried that Pitt is losing a lot of veteran players and leaders on both sides of the ball or are you confident that the younger players will be as good as everyone is saying?

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    1. I just wrote an article about this. There's a chance that they could take a step back as they transition more to Narduzzi's younger players.

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  19. These polls are crazy, who can actually get into the playoff.
    1.Alabama...in
    2. Clemson... win and in. But if they lose one of the next two games, they still have wins over FSU, Louisville and Auburn. I know they wont get in, but keep this in mind.
    3.Ohio St... Beat Michigan and in. Have wins over Nebraska, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. A loss to Michigan knocks them out, but should it?
    4. Michigan. Beat Ohio st and Wisconsin and in. But what if they lose to Ohio St. They still have wins over Wisconsin, Colorado and a 49-0 drubbing of PSU. So how do you drop a 2 loss Michigan team below Wisconsin and PSU?
    5. Wisconsin..If Michigan beats OSU and Wisconsin beats Michigan, could that get them in? Probably. If OSU beats Michigan and Wisconsin beats PSU does that get them in? They have a 2 point win over an over rated LSU team and a win over Nebraska. I don't know how you could take them over Michigan or OSU.
    6. Washington...The pac 12 looks worse and worse by the week. The wins they have don't mean as much as they once did, but their loss is to a very good USC team. If they beat Washington st and then win the conf. game, I think they get in. Another loss and I don't think they have a lot to go on.
    7. Oklahoma...Lost to Houston who just beat Louisville and got thumped at home against Ohio St. They haven't had many teams to play to boost their resume until last week when they thumped WVU. Another big win over OKlahoma st this week and they could be given a shot depending on how the rest breaks down. I still don't know how you take a two loss Oklahoma over a two loss Michigan or OSU.
    8. Colorado. What wins do they have? I keep coming back to this, and for good reason. The Pac 12 stinks this year. Most of college football stinks this year. I again don't see how winning out would put them in front of Michigan.
    9.PSU......will lose to MSU and end this crap. They should have no chance to make the playoff.

    In conclusion, if Michigan beats OSU, you have two spots taken and really Clemson has a case if they win the ACC or not. They definitely get in if they win out. If this happens, does 2 loss team have a better resume than Ohio State? And if Ohio State beats Michigan, does any 2 loss team have a better resume than Michigan? If Washington wins out, I think they can get in. If Wisconsin can boost their resume with a win over Michigan, maybe they can get in. Other than that, I think we should be looking at a Alabama vs loser of Michigan OSU and Clemson vs winner of Michigan OSU. I know this wont shake out that way, but please show me the argument for anything else.

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    1. The CFC committee supposedly places emphasis on Conference Championship games over regular season games...must take that into consideration. Thus the Big 12 may be at a disadvantage since they do not play one...food for thought

      H2P
      Tommymac

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    2. Today, I did my own point system that I made up to see who has had the best season this year. The top 4 were Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and Clemson, so the system seems to be pretty accurate. Anyway, Pitt came out to be No. 22. WVU was No. 25. On the downside, PSU was No. 7. But at least it shows that I didn't manipulate it.

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  20. Chris - I enjoy reading your work, but I am a bit baffled by the national rankings for PSU - the combined record of the teams they've beaten this year is 51-48 (40-37 for Big 10 wins). How does that make them a top 10 team? Is it all the OSU win or more the national perception of the Big 10, which I would argue is very top heavy this year?

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    1. It's confusing because you're just looking at PSU. But if you look at everybody behind PSU you'll see that they all have a lot of issues too.

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    2. Good point - outside of Alabama there's a lot of parity - I just get amused at PSU fans who view this year as evidence that they are back, when in reality they've benefited greatly from a soft schedule and a lack of great teams out there.

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  21. @joe

    Look at the big10 in general top heavy with a lot of poor teams and by any chance is Lord Barry Alverz on the CFP committee?

    You have to admit the big10 is well represented in the top 10. Also Pitt has 2 victories of top 10 teams in the rankings more than most of the teams that ranked.

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  22. Pitt belongs in the WAC of old. Again, huge entertainment value on a cold November afternoon. OC is f&@$*ng genius, must stay, or here's hoping he has a young prodigy behind him. Impressive. $ well spent for tickets this year, I haven't felt that way in some time.
    Jodus

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  23. Agree Oh Canada has been a miracle worker. His use of Henderson, a middling WR at best, but a great return specialist has been fantastic.

    He has turned Aston into a phenomenon. Can't give him credit for Weah because it appears the problem there was that no one gave him a chance. Credit for realizing it.

    Chris, from your fingers to God's ears on the defensive talent coming through in the future, because what I saw in person yesterday was a dumpster fire. Had high hopes for Jackson, but so far not shown he's the answer to anything.

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  24. WLAT 910 radio and the big beatNovember 27, 2016 at 5:49 PM

    Jackson was a high school QB correct?

    He's still grasping the position

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  25. I think the coaching grades at the end of the season will be very very high. If you look at the team, the schedule, the results along with all of the injuries.... they did a heck of a job.

    Narduzzi...B. He has done a great job overall. Time will tell if keeping to the system no matter what will pay dividends. The glaring hole was the secondary.... again...I won't put everything on the kids, as they are young or haven't had enough time in the system to adjust to the style of play. The system only works with solid CBs that basically work with no help and have to be very physical. They left them out their on the island despite being overmatched, despite injuries and everything else. Is that the best way to learn for the entire defense? Im sure they could have changed things up for better results this year, but would that effect the rest of the team learning the system in the future? Time will tell.

    Conklin....C. This grade would be worse if he wasn't running narduzzis system and the whole game plan was his alone. Since Narduzzi has had amazing results in the past, we give a bit of a pass on how bad the defense played this year.

    Hill.....C ....He is working with a bunch of young guys and a lot of injuries. They also have played against a lot of talented QB/WR combos. That isn't going to change in the future so hopefully he is making progress with the freshman for the future.

    Harley...B. Linebackers played fast and smart. The talent coming in this group is better than Pitt has seen in a long time. If he has these kids playing fast and smart, he will have a DC job before you know it.

    Simms....B. With all of the injuries and position changes, the Dline stayed strong. They were excellent on rush defense and the only thing that held them back was getting to the QB.

    Canada....A. He not only did an excellent job working with the talent that he had, but he did an outstanding job play calling all year. The offense looked like a well oiled machine and he knew the right play to call for every situation.

    Peterson..A. That Oline looked great. Sure they had talent already there to work with, but he built upon that and coached up guys like Big O who is a converted TE. I have a lot of faith that the oline remains a strength despite the departure of two 2nd/3rd round draft picks.

    Salem...A. just wait until next year.

    Powell...A. Special teams was fantastic and the running backs were amazing all year.

    Sherman....A. "how will they replace boyd". The answer was Jester Weah and a whole lot of different looks and plays to the strength of the WR. Guys who were asked very little of, still came through with catches when they were asked to. Through out the season there weren't a lot of dropped balls that we looked at the wide outs and thought it was a weakness. The most impressive thing was the blocking. The runs by Henderson, ffrench, tipton, aston, were they sprung for big gains were only possible because of the wideouts blocking down field. More impressive than even their catching was the ability to do what was asked of them in the running game. When a kid like Aaron Mathews brags about a block he had down field, it makes it easy to cheer for a team like that. Remember how much fun it was cheering for Hines Ward.

    This coaching staff is building something special. Hopefully we can keep them together for awhile.

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    1. I generally agree with all of that except Harley. I don't think the veteran LBs were very good and other than Brightwell none of the younger LBs were ready to play.

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    2. Agree. IMO Caprara really regressed. Hoping Zeise, among others step up in 17.

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    3. Alright they played fast for their ability. I think they did a great job in run defense being in the right place at the right time. You are right they were a step slow dropping back in coverage a lot of times, but I don't fault Harley for that. It wasn't that they were out of position, they were just overmatched. Many times a smart move by the opposing OC. However a large chunk of pass yards were given up on one to ones on the outside.

      Onto another topic....how on gods green earth is Utah ranked ahead of Pitt.
      Utah vs top 10 0-2
      Pitt vs top 10 2-1
      Top 25 wins Utah 1
      Pitt 2
      Losses for teams with a losing record
      Utah 2
      Pitt 0.

      Both have 4 losses
      Pitt has tough SOS
      Pitt has a better Power index

      Pitt ended the season with 3 wins
      Utah ended the season with 2 losses including one to lowly oregon.

      Please give me one thing that the coaches who chose Utah saw that put them ahead of Pitt.

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    4. So the pass defense ranks 127th out of a possible 128 D1 programs, is more or less agreed to be the worst pass defense anyone remembers seeing, seemed to get worse instead of better as the season went on, and you give the D-coordinator and DB coaches C's? That's understandable if you blame Narduzzi for the pass defense, yet you gave him a B. It has to be SOMEONE's fault. I guess you're giving the ghost of Paul Chryst an F-? haha

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    5. And if it's just because the talent is truly that bad in the secondary, than every Pitt fan on earth owes Matt House a heartfelt apology, haha

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    6. The talent has been neglected for awhile on the defensive side of the ball. Yes House had little talent to work with. He also brought in little talent. He also got gashed in more ways then one and the offense grounded out the ball at such a clip that it exposed the defense less. Keep in mind a couple of things. The rush defense was good. They played some great QB/WR combos. They also had injuries. They also didn't break from their system and were going to sink or swim with what they had. Also it is hard to play strong defense in the secondary when your offense is scoring so much and so fast.

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  26. @anonymous--Sagarin's computer agrees with you on Utah. Pitt #28, Utah #30

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  27. Malik Zaire in a Canada offense....forget about it.

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    1. It would be interesting, to say the least.

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