Not to sound negative, but Pitt's 20-3 win over Louisville was almost completely unremarkable.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Pitt was all over Louisville early and the Cardinals just couldn't hang. Although it was 6-3 at halftime, you just had the feeling that Pitt was going to be able to extend the lead and then do what they do best - sit on it. The offense wasn't particularly great compared to the past two games, but they were good enough to prevent mass panic among the Panther faithful. One area that deserves special recognition is the offensive line, which has only allowed one sack per game on average since the Miami game. Of course, part of that is the competition, but a big part is the line finally gelling and playing like a competent unit.
The defense on the other hand was exceptional, highlighted by a Myles Caragein fumble recovery and return to inside the 10 yard line. The defensive line has been playing at a very high level as a whole and they've really been the catalyst for big defensive plays in the secondary. Zeise agrees:
And on defense, if there is a better player in the Big East right now than Jabaal Sheard, I’d like to see him because Sheard is playing lights out and has been all season. There is no question he is the Panthers best player and today he came up with a huge play at the right time. But beyond Sheard, Dom DeCicco has really become a very good football player now in his new role as the nickleback, Aaron Donald keeps getting better and the unsung hero of this team has been Brandon Lindsey, who was excellent today against both the pass and the run. Also, I thought Jason Hendricks had a good game again, as did Jarred Holley and Greg Williams played perhaps his best game of the season as well.
And it hasn't just been the big plays and turnovers - Louisville had been averaging over 200 yards rushing per game. On Saturday, they got 103. Knocking their star running back out in the third "helps," but it's not like he was lighting it up before then (64 yards to that point).
So now Pitt is 3-0 in the conference, with a game and a half lead over Syracuse (!) and two games over WVU. The defense is playing well, the offense is doing enough, and hell, even the punting is incredible. They don't have the look of an elite team, but they're steadily improving and taking care of business. And right now they have the look of the team we expected hoped to see in the non-conference.no comments
12:00 p.m. EST
Weather.com Kickoff Forecast: Mostly Sunny, 51°
TV: ABC Regional, ESPN3.com
Radio: 93.7 The Fan
Game Day Stories (Good Guys):
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pitt defense needs to step up
- Pittsburgh Tribune Review: Plenty on Louisville guard Byrom's plate
Game Day Stories (Bad Guys):
- Louisville Courier-Journal: 'Pounding the rock' is Louisville's game plan at Pittsburgh
Opposition Blog: The Collision Course
Hail to Pitt.no comments
Meant to throw something up about this yesterday, but I got lazy busy. Pitt is number 5 in the AP Poll. Pitt trails Duke, Michigan State, Kansas State and Ohio State. Can't really argue much since, you know, no one's actually played a game of basketball yet, but I'd have probably put Pitt over Ohio State. Still a great position to be in and Pitt should be within striking distance of being #1 early on if they can beat Maryland, Texas/Illinois and Tennessee.
The other Big East teams to make the cut are Villanova at 6, Syracuse at 10 and Georgetown at 20.
Other teams of interest to Pitt are Illinois at 13 and Tennessee at 23. Texas, WVU and UConn all received votes.no comments
Today was the day to write about Louisville’s Bilal Powell. Both the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review went with articles on fifth-year running back, and with good reason. Powell is on pace for over 1,700 yards this season and has gone over 150 yards four times this season (twice for 200+). He’s a power runner, but he’s got some speed to him:
Powell, who has already surpassed 1,000 yards this season, will be featured Saturday at noon when Louisville (4-3, 1-1) visits Pitt (4-3, 2-0) at Heinz Field. The 6-foot, 204-pound Powell is the No. 4 rusher in the nation at 143 yards per game and possesses a rare combination of speed and strength.
"He's definitely the best back that we've played so far," defensive tackle Myles Caragein said.
Powell, a Lake Gibson, Fla., product, is coming into his own after averaging only 31 rushing yards per game in his first three years. Powell had an 80-yard touchdown run against Kentucky in the season opener, a 74-yard TD against Memphis on Oct. 9 and an 85-yard tackle-breaking touchdown run against Cincinnati on Oct. 15. He is the only FBS running back with three runs of 70 yards or longer.
He’s a great runner and he should test Pitt's defense early and often. Pitt has been struggling with getting their own star in the backfield going, although we know what he can do:
Lewis' emergence has coincided with a dramatic improvement in Pitt's passing game. First-year quarterback Tino Sunseri is coming into his own, passing for 307 and 266 yards in the past two games. Pitt's ability to make plays in the passing game has opened up new running lanes for the backs.
The Panthers rushed for 206 yards against Rutgers, with Ray Graham rushing for an additional 56.
"The past two weeks, Tino has had pretty good games," Lewis said. "That's helping the running game. It's keeping defenses honest. They're not loading up to stop the run all the time. Most teams come in wanting to stop the run, and, once you open up the pass, they kind of [step] back. And that's when we're able to find some running room."
Yes, the emergence of Tino Sunseri has done wonders for Pitt's running game. He's been able to spread the ball around to different weapons and involve roleplayers. Add in several Jon Baldwin sightings against Rutgers and this offense is beginning to look as explosive as what everyone thought it could. Every time Pitt has me feeling confident, they go down in flames, but I will say this: There's no reason to think Pitt can't put up another 40 point performance on Saturday.
Pitt's defense has also been solid, and should be able to handle Louisville, a team still recovering from Hurricane Kraigthorpe. Pitt will again be without Greg Romeus, but Brandon Lindsey has been outstanding in his absence, leading the team in sacks. The return of K'Wuan Williams should help the secondary in nickle and substitution packages. The linebackers have played solid, all things considered (but not well enough for Phil Bennett apparently).
Lots of reasons to be optimistic, but every game is a must win for national respect and to keep Pitt controlling its own destiny in the conference.no comments
According to a report Philly.com (which is affiliated with the Philadelphia Inquirer), Villanova head football coach Andy Talley had this to say regarding making the move to FBS:
As far as what's been going on behind the scenes, it's been very quiet. I think Villanova is doing their due diligence, which is to spend time within the administrative level discussing pros and cons. And any discussion that's been going between Big East officials and Villanova, I haven't been privy to.
So I know a decision is going to be made some time in December, we hope, and at that point in time, it's really going to be whatever is in the best interest of Villanova University.
So there's that.
As has been discussed ad nauseum, Villanova has huge questions that need to be answered before it would be permitted by the NCAA to make the move. First of which is "where are they going to play?" Next is "who is going to come watch?" Next is "why invest all this money into a conference that may or not exist on the whim of the Big 10?" Next, "where is said money going to from, oh small/private school?" And so forth and so forth...
Prediction? Villanova declines at this time, based upon having zero answers to the above questions. The fact that they need all of this cajoling while other programs are begging for a seat at the BCS table speaks volumes to their commitment to football. Let a new wave of Big East jokes fly.
(Recommended homework: On The Banks' post on this topic from September).no comments
A little more than a week after the Tribune Review headlined an article "Pitt suffers drop at tight end," Mike Cruz put together a performance that was enough to earn him the John Mackey Tight End of the Week.
I pretty much chalked Cruz up for dead after being benched against Syracuse in favor of Brock DeCicco, who found the endzone for touchdown. On Saturday, Cruz raised the bar to two catches for two touchdowns.
As my collegue Anson over at Cardiac Hill deadpanned, it must have been a slow week for tight ends. But much like the Big East, sometimes beating bad competition is enough.
Joking aside, congratulations to Mike.no comments
First, it was Gilbert Brown's hamstring. Now, it's Nasir Robinson. According to Pitt, Robinson underwent knee surgery yesterday after tearing his meniscus during Monday's practice. Unlike Brown, whose injury shouldn't keep him from missing any games, Nasir is expected to miss 3-6 weeks, which would have him back by the NYC trip (Nov. 18-19) at the earliest. Either way, the timeframe given indicates that he'll be back in plenty of time for the Big East schedule.
While not an elite scorer at this point in his development, Robinson is one of Pitt's best defensive player and his toughness will be missed early on. If anything, this gives freshman Talib Zanna an opportunity to shine at the Peterson as opposed to the Greentree Sports Complex. Talib had a great summer and really looks to be a contributor this season. It would be nice to have the luxury to work him in gradually, but it looks like Zanna will have to debut by playing major minutes. Not ideal, but workable.
A hearty "get well soon" to Nasir from the Pitt Script Blog.no comments
After a rough start to the season - captured on national television for all to see - Pitt seems to be hitting their stride:
Since losing to Miami, 31-3, a month ago, the Panthers have enjoyed the second-best day by a running back in Pitt history, posted the program's first-ever consecutive 40-point Big East games, gained 500 total yards in a Big East game for the first time in a decade and got a 300-yard passing game from a sophomore quarterback with seven career starts.
"I think we are just starting to jell now as an offense in all areas," said fullback Henry Hynoski, who had seven receptions for 51 yards, both career highs, against Rutgers. "Everyone is just playing better."
The offense is clicking on all cylinders with a revitalized running game and a quarterback who is showing signs of growth every week. The defense is playing at a very high-level, even without stars Greg Romeus and (projected) star Dan Mason. A lot of which can be attributed to role-players stepping up. Brandon Lindsey is leading the teams in sacks in replacement of Romeus. Jordan Gibbs has filled in above adequately at right tackle, while Lucas Nix has adjusted to the move inside.
The players and coaches are feeling good moving forward. Of course, at this point, the damage has already been done to Pitt's national perception. Despite dominating wins, Pitt received no votes in either the AP or Coaches' Poll (by comparison, Syracuse received at least some votes). They don't really deserve it. Add in that voters might be feeling just a bit scorned after giving Pitt all those accolades just a few months ago. For God's sake, someone actually ranked this team #4 in the country preseason!
Yes, the hype was great. Good for the program and good for the fanbase. But in the end, it only matters how you finish and if Pitt keeps getting better, they have a good chance of finally winning the conference outright for the first time.no comments
Yes, Rutgers isn't very good - but Pitt couldn't do what it did today to either New Hampshire or Florida International and the Scarlet Knights are better than both teams. The Panthers have a long way to go to get to where they want to be and a lot of room for improvement, but it is clear they are now on the right track and if they continue to improve like this each week, the Big East title is indeed within their reach.
I think those two sentences probably sum it up best. For the second half against Rutgers - and really for the second time in two weeks - Pitt looked like the team we expected to see when they were ranked in the top 15. Like the Syracuse game, everything clicked. The defensive line generated pressure against Rutgers sub-par O-line (Sheard had 2 sacks, Lindsey had 3, Donald is just a plain beast). The offense was able to move the efficiently both on the ground and through the air to the tune of 200 rushing yards and 300 passing yards. Tino Sunseri made his reads and threw to the open receiver with accuracy and touch, including a 45 yard touchdown to Jon Baldwin, who had 139.
Pitt finally looking like the team we thought they could be. And don't look now, but with Syracuse's win over WVU, Pitt is in the driver's seat of the Big East. Yes, this team suffered embarrassing loses in the non-conference matches, but winning the Big East, even a bad Big East, is another step forward:
There is no reason, save for a rash of key injuries, that Pitt shouldn't take a perfect league record into its final two games, against West Virginia and Cincinnati.
Credit coach Dave Wannstedt for having his team primed for its first two conference games after a monumentally disappointing non-league finish of 2-3. Wannstedt's recent lineup changes woke up some people and made Pitt a better team. Nowhere is that more evident than along the offensive line, where Jordan Gibbs has settled in at right tackle and Lucas Nix at right guard.
This team has made strides and are fighting under Wannstedt. As maddening as he can be sometimes, he's made adjustments - however slowly - and this team is in position to win the conference. In other words, for all intents and purposes, this team is getting to right where we thought they would be.no comments
Aside from Jamie Dixon's late night good deeds (which I imagine will eventually become more epic than the rescue scene from Crash after a few hundreds retellings), there were some Pitt basketball notes this weekend:
- The Blue-Gold game was Friday, with Talib Zanna introducing himself to Pitt fans with a 15 and 9 night. Take what you will from scrimmages - Chase Adams shot the lights out last year - but Zanna's performance jived with what was seen from him this summer at Greentree. He should hopefully earn some significant minutes at PF this year.
- Other stats from the game (courtesy of Pantherlair): Gibbs - 22 pts., Wannamaker - 19 pts., Patterson - 11 pts., McGhee - 10 pts. & 9 rbs.
- Lots of praise for Jamie Dixon by Ray Fittipaldo, who writes a very glowing piece on Pitt's commitment to former players earning their degrees and creating a family atmosphere in the program. Good stuff.
- Ditto by Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis, who believes that Pitt is poised to seize the Big East:
But the coach who I believe will finally begin to be recognized as a top-tier talent is Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon,who is 44. Did you realize that last year Dixon tied the NCAA coaching record for most wins in his first seven years? That his .696 career win percentage is the highest in Big East history? Last year, his Panthers were supposed to take a step back after losing four starters from the team that came within a Scottie Reynolds layup of making the Final Four. All Dixon did was lead them to 25 wins and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Now, with four starters back, Pittsburgh will make a strong run at a Big East title and a No. 1 seed. If that happens, I expect more casual fans to recognize that Dixon is among the best in the business.
- Finally, the Trib looks at the uncertainty of the conference through the prism of basketball, which has been forgotten about at times during expansion-mania. A highly recommended read - including some interesting comments by Bob Huggins.