16 September 2011
With kick off in Iowa less than 30 hours away, some last minutes notes on the team.
Through two games, Pitt hasn't played up the "High Octane" hype. That's not really something debatable. Yeah, the offense played well the second half versus Buffalo, but by that point the defense was completely out of gas and let Buffalo get in the end-zone twice. While there are experienced players on both sides of the ball, what Graham wants to do seems so completely different that experience is actually hurting upperclassman. Enter the freshman:
Coach Todd Graham said he counted eight freshmen who may not redshirt this season in an attempt by coaches to get more speed on the field. "There are some guys we would like to redshirt, but the bottom line is if we have to play them to win, that's what we will do," he said. Seven freshmen played against Maine, including kick returner Corey Davis, punt returner Ronald Jones, wide receiver Darius Patton, quarterback Trey Anderson, linebackers Ejuan Price and LaQuentin Smith and nose tackle K.K. Mosley-Smith. Graham also said of linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, "I doubt he will redshirt."
It's clear that what Graham is looking for is something that a lot of the returning players lack: top-end speed. One player in particular who will be getting a lot of playing time is one-time Buckeye, EJuan Price:
"It didn't play out that way," Price said. "Things happen. I feel like I ended up in the right place. I feel like this is the perfect position for me. I really like it a lot. I feel like God blessed me to play here. I'm just trying to take advantage of it."
Price wavered throughout the recruiting process and spoke with Pitt coach Todd Graham and Tressel on national signing day before faxing in his letter of intent to the Buckeyes. The third school among Price's final three was Iowa, which is coached by Upper St. Clair graduate Kirk Ferentz.
Graham is now hoping Price can help fix a defense which struggled in its first two games. Pitt's rookie coach had to juggle his lineup to get Price onto the field more. He moved Brandon Lindsey from starting outside linebacker to starting defensive end and starting defensive end Aaron Donald to backup nose tackle.
"When you can have him and Lindsey [on the field], I like that lineup," Graham said. "And it allows us to put Donald at his natural position, where he is very disruptive. It's what we do on third downs. We're trying to get more speed on the field."
I question this move a bit, not because I don't think getting Price on the field should be a priority, but rather because I hate seeing Aaron Donald off it. With Lindsey now at end, Donald will likely see decreased snaps at his new position, nose tackle. Time will tell if this is the best combination of talent, but after last season, I'm against anything that takes Donald off the field.
Offensively, Ray Graham is the engine. Pitt is designed to be a bit more of a running spread than what Brian Kelly had at Cincinnati, but that doesn't mean Pitt can afford the play of Tino Sunseri lately. Despite a nice couple of drives by freshman Trey Anderson, Tino is the starter. But that doesn't mean anyone is satisfied, including Todd Graham:
"Has he played well? No, he hasn't played well. He has made some good plays, but he has to play better and execute our system.
"I have a lot of confidence in him. I have seen him do it in practice. I have seen him do it in games. In this system, there is no question I think he can be successful."
But Graham said his offense depends on precision and a disciplined approach.
"We have to run our system exactly how we teach it," he said "We, obviously, have not gotten it taught yet, but we are going to get it taught.
As for Iowa, they're almost the mirror image of Pitt up front - a rebuilding defensive line and a solid o-line that has only allowed one sack of new QB James Vendenberg.
Head coach Kirk Ferentez is an Upper St. Clair native, so expect that to be played up a lot on Saturday's telecast. It really hasn't helped his recruiting in the Keystone State though:
"We're almost oh-fer recruiting in Pittsburgh," he said. "I guess it just shows you the clout I've got. I don't think we've gotten a guy."
In his 13th year with the Hawkeyes, Ferentz seldom lands local high school talent despite Iowa being a finalist for numerous high-ranked recruits over the years.
"We're good at coming in second," the Upper St. Clair native said.
"Being from Pittsburgh, I understand," he said. "Kids want to stay home and play in their home state. That's made it tough for us. It's one of our biggest obstacles. We recruit a lot outside of our state. We have to, because of our population. It's tough when you are in somebody's backyard."
If you're really looking for another human interest angle, Todd Dodge once played against Iowa as the QB for Texas. So there's that.
But can the Panthers win on the road? Brian Bennett, the former ESPN Big East blogger who now covers the Big 10 for the website, sums up his experiences with Pitt nicely:
Brian Bennett: I covered Pitt closely the past three seasons and have no confidence in the Panthers to win a tough road game, especially the way quarterback Tino Sunseri has played. Iowa's defense rebounds after a rough day in Ames and grounds the High Octane. ... Iowa 28, Pitt 19
Et tu, Bennett? In all fairness, ESPN's current Big East blogger picked Iowa as well, if that sort of thing matters to you.
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