The only bad thing about going away to games is that I end up neglecting the blog for a few days. However, between travel, errands and the inevitable housework, I at least got some time to reflect on the loss.
I'm not sure if the Miami game has completely destroyed my expectations of this team, but I wasn't devestated by this loss. Just a few observations since everything has pretty much been hashed out by this point:
WTF Dave?: I've defended Wannstedt on numerous occations - I like the guy. I freely admit my bias. I want him to succeed at Pitt. His haters from his NFL days - particularly Dan Le Batard and Skip Bayless - drive me crazy. I would love nothing more than to see Dave prove them all wrong and build Pitt into perenial BCS player. But, what happened at the end of the Notre Dame was inexcusible. When Pitt gets the ball back down by six with under five minutes left, you're in four down territory. Punting is not an option anymore. Punting gives Notre Dame the ball at midfield against a defense that is looking more and more mediocre. Add in that Pitt was in a fourth and managable and there was no excuse not to go for it. The best case scenerio when you punt there you get the ball back in pretty much the exact same spot except there's about a minute and half left. This offense is not built to move the ball 85 yards in a 85 seconds. And then there was the timeout. In his post-game press conference, Wannstedt said that they didn't have a play ready. REALLY? You didn't expect to get in a fourth and four - six situation? Simply inexcusable. Luckily for Wanny, it didn't cost the game, but it sure as hell could have.
- The defense: That this coaching staff is so utterly clueless/stubborn/arrogent against the spread is perhaps the most damning charge against them. After four years of this, you would think they'd have more of a handle of what a Brian Kelly offense is going to do. I've railed against this defense several times before, so I'll spare the rant, but again, this staff keeps doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
The cleats. The first half was just a comedy of errors, the highlight of which has to be that no one could properly cut because their cleats weren't correct. Can't say I played college football, so I'm not sure who to blame, but blame deserves to be cast. This is not stuff that should happen in a BCS program. On the Sunseri incerception Shanahan just fell down. Reed fell down covering Michael Floyd. Just incredible.
The red-zone offense. In each of the teams' first three trips to the red-zone, Notre Dame came away with 17 points and Pitt came up with three. That's the game right there. Which leads me to the next topic...
Time for a new holder: Janocko fumbling the snap for a second time in seven games is inexcusible. After the Cincy game, he deserved a pass - mistakes happen and there were plenty of other reasons that Pitt lost that game. But again? It's time for Bostick to hold. If Janocko's primary job is to hold kicks and he can't do that well, what exactly is his use? I hate to single out someone to pile up on, but it's time to find someone else to handle the holding.
Also time for a new kick returner. Cam Saddler is not getting it done on kick returns. At least Aaron Smith caught the ball and ran it out of bounds. Saddler just lets the ball bounce and hopes for it to go in the endzone.
Tino Sunseri finally had an impressive game. 27/39 272 yards, 2 TDs (1 rush) and an INT. Fairly pedestrian, but the interception was not his fault and he actually threw the ball down field. He went through his progressions and actually threw it to someone other than a running back. Case in point: Baldwin had a career high nine receptions for 111 yards. In particulat, he touchdown to Baldwin showed a lot of what could be the Sunseri Era: he ran out of the pocket as it collapsed, created time for Baldwin to get open and found him with a downfield pass. The ball was a little under-thrown, but the corner had already come up to play the run so it really didn't matter. Great play.
I've been a bad blogger this week. No excuses, just reasons. I'm packing up the Griswold family station wagon and heading to South Bend - which of course requires getting done everything that needs done between the hours of 6:00 - 10:00. each evening So here's the game day post a day early. I'm hoping that bringing home a victory will earn your forgiveness.
South Bend, IN
3:30 p.m. EST
Weather.com Kickoff Forecast: Sunny, 77
Radio: 93.7 The Fan
Game Day Stories, (Good Guys):
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Don't forget about Pitt's Lewis
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pitt familiar with Notre Dame's offense
- Pittsburgh Tribune Review: Pitt gets another shot at coaching nemisis
- Pittsburgh Tribune Review: Notre Dame's Walls motivated
Game Day Stories (Bad Guys):
- Chicago Tribune: Cave snaps into better rhythm for Notre Dame
- Chicago Tribune: Wenger out, Rausch in, Te'o ill for Notre Dame
Hail to Pitt.no comments
No one quite knows what to make of this team yet. If someone told me that they'd be 2-2 at this point in the season, I think most of us would be ok with that. But that it's the way they've put together this record. Being blown out by Miami. Not taking care of FIU. The injuries. The lack of a passing game. Sure, the record is about what most of us thought, but it feels much, much worse.
Of course, a win in South Bend would go a long way to cure these ills, even against an equally struggling Notre Dame team. Even though the Irish sit at 2-3, and as much as I hate to admit it, they're still Notre Dame:
"They haven't been Notre Dame like when I grew up," said senior safety/linebacker Dom DeCicco, who started the 2008 game. "But just going there, once you see the Touchdown Jesus, it clicks. There are some extra butterflies. You get a little extra nerves walking on the field. But as soon as that first play and that first hit, you are playing football and that's all behind you."
Six current Panthers started in the 2008 game at Notre Dame — tackle Jason Pinkston, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, linebacker Greg Williams, cornerback Ricky Gary, DeCicco and backup quarterback Pat Bostick.
They're certainly not the teams of the 80s and early 90s. Despite both Dave Wannstedt coming to their respective schools at the same time, both with NFL resumes, it was Wannstedt who outlasted Weis. It seems Notre Dame's AD took the exact opposite approach this time - instead of getting the NFL guy, he went out and got a man who just a few years ago was leading the mighty Chipewas into battle. He's currently leading Notre Dame's offense to 17th in the nation in passing and their defense is 69th in points scored against. With no further introduction needed, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Brian Kelly:
There undoubtedly are more familiar rivalries for the Notre Dame faithful, but there's no team on the schedule that Brian Kelly has a more intimate knowledge of than the Pittsburgh Panthers, who visit the Irish on Saturday.
Kelly coached against Dave Wannstedt's crew for three years at Cincinnati, winning twice -- including the 45-44 thriller to decide the Big East championship last year.
"Whatever that was, it was a lot of points," Kelly said Tuesday.
The vast knowledge, though, cuts both ways. So it may be no advantage at all.
"They know what we're going to do offensively, and we kind of know what they're going to do defensively, so I think that's a wash," Kelly said. "I still think this comes down to who's better prepared and who executes better on Saturday, because we know each other so well. They're like a conference opponent more than anything else. It's like going into a conference game."
All kidding aside, Brian Kelly has certainly earned the respect of Pitt fans by his systematic ripping out of our hearts two seasons in a row. The man knows how to put points on the board. With much better athletes at Notre Dame than he had at Cincinnati, even if some don't fit his system quite yet, I'm quite sure he'll do good things at Notre Dame. Although, I was quite sure about Weis too, so take that for what it's worth.
While Kelly has traded in his red and black for blue and gold, Pitt knows what to expect:
"Both coordinators are with him, so schematically there is a lot of carryover," Wannstedt said. "They’re not quite as far along in their passing game today at Notre Dame like they were last year at the end of the year with Cincinnati, having those kids around him a couple of years."
While Kelly might have had Wannstedt's number recently in the Big East, it's the opposite story for Pitt and Notre Dame.
The Panthers have beaten the Irish (2-3) each of the last two seasons, including an overtime win in South Bend in 2008 and last year's 27-22 victory in Heinz Field. The gold helmets won't intimidate them.
“We’ve played these guys the last couple of years so our players are somewhat familiar with the environment, their players and the scheme," Wannstedt said. "We need to go up there and play well. We still haven’t played close to what we’re capable of playing."
Yes, it's been a sloppy mess at several different positions so far this season. The focus this week, it appears, has been on penalties; six in the first half against FIU. Of course, having a new offensive line configuration counts for a lot the whistles and that should decrease week by week. But there were also two on Brandon Lindsey - one which nullified and fumble and touchdown - as well as dumb stuff like an unsportsmanlike on Tino for taking his helmet off after a Graham TD. Pitt can't do these things and expect to win, especially coming off a year in which they were one of the least penalized team. Compare: last year, Pitt ranked 21st in total penalties among the 120 D-1 schools. This season, they're 119, behind only Troy. Ugh. Going into a hostile environment is going to be quite a test.
Of course, if you as a fan need some motivation for this game, try this quote from Kelly's press conference:
"Clearly we have a great deal of respect for Jonathan Baldwin, and Darrin Walls is a pretty good football player. I think you've probably got -- whether it's (Randy) Moss versus (Darrelle) Revis, I don't know if they've put it in that degree, but you've got two really good players out there that want to win. Again, I think within our scheme, he's going to have to defend him one-on-one sometimes, and we feel good about that match-up, as well."
As Chad Ochocinco would say, "Child please." Respect the Quips. Darrin Wall is no Darelle Revis. My evidence?
In no particular order:
Rutgers lost to Tuane and the national media types are wetting themselves over how bad the Big East is. Because, you know, Rutgers was going to win the conference....
Beating up on Florida International was just what the doctor ordered after a humilitating primetime loss.
Next week's Syracuse game will be the Big East Game of the Week, meaning that it will be on WTAE and likely in HD. Win.
Ashton Gibbs is on the regional cover of USA Today's College Basketball preview magazine with an article on his free-throw shooting.
He's also on the 50-man watchlist for the Wooden Award. Congratulations, Ashton.
Cardiac Hill scoops us all with a post on how Jermain Dixon is doing in Bosnia (hint: pretty well).
With the Khem Birch commitment, Pitt's future is getting a lot of attention. Fox Sports' Jeff Goodman, NBE Basketball Report's Ray Mernagh, and ESPN's Eamonn Brennan all have recent articles on Jamie Dixon. And with the future looking even brighter than this season's Final Four possibility, who could blame them?
Ok, so maybe the title is a bit dramatic. But in case you weren't glued to your 15 inch laptop watching ESPN3.com, Ray Graham was nothing short of sensational against FIU, running to the tune of 277 yards, the highest total in Division I so far this season. He was incredible in the 44-17 win, simply willing the team to blow out their Sun Belt Conference competition.
Dave Wannstedt will not even entertain the notion of starting Graham. He is strongly standing behind Lewis, who missed the game with a shoulder injury. Instead riding the hot horse, Wannstedt is opting for past performance:
Nothing against Lewis, who is talented, but he has not been himself this season. Part of it might be health-related, but there have been other issues. Before the Miami game, for example, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said Lewis had been missing open running lanes.
Lewis was averaging a measly three yards per carry before yesterday, while Graham was averaging 9.3. Graham had 72 more yards on 24 fewer carries. Graham also had more yards receiving on fewer catches. And that was before a performance that included 78 kick-return yards and 19 receiving yards, for a grand total of 374 all-purpose yards. It tied Dorsett's total from the '75 opener and is believed to be the Pitt record.
I'm in favor of giving Graham the bulk of the carries until Lewis can show why he should get them instead. A very convincing case could be made as to why Lewis should remain the starter: experience, power running style, newly shuffled offensive line - but what drives me crazy is that it seems that there can never be any competition within the team. The last two summers there's been a pretend QB competition, but it was clear that Stull was going to be the '09 starter and Sunseri the '10 starter well before the first day of camp. Hell, on Februray 27th Wannstedt essentially named Tino the starter. And just like this decision, it's not yet clear whether these choices were right or wrong, but why not have an open competition? Right now, Ray Graham is clearly the best runner on the roster. Why not give him a shot to carry the workload?
As for the rest of the team, I was impressed with the new-look offensive line, which played considerably better than I expected. I haven't re-watched the game yet, but I thought Nix looked athletic enough to play the guard position and Jordan Gibbs was above average in his first start.
Penalties, both offensively and defensively, were a problem. From being overly aggressive to silly unsportsmanlike conducts, it was a fairly sloppy effort that included having a defensive touchdown called back.
In what might have been the second best news of the day. Dom DeCicco seems to be the newest member of the linebacking corp and looked pretty good in his debut. DeCicco recorded six tackles and looked much better in coverage than a traditional linebacker. His presence - and that of Jason Hendricks in the secondary - is a welcome addition. With the linebackers struggling even before the Mason injury, his presence is a welcomed addition. With a Brian Kelly coached team on the horizon, speed and coverage-ability is a must-have for the linebackers. DeCicco should continue to improve as he learns the position.
Tino Sunseri started off the game in an utterly dreadful manner - overthrowing Baldwin and the Cruz to kill the first punt - and the natives at the Ketchup Palace began to look restless to say the least. Tino settled down and was able to get better as the game went on and the safeties crept up to try and contain Graham.
The receivers also played well - particularly Street and Shanahan, but the coaching staff is looking to get Jon Baldwin more involved. As we saw the last time that Pitt played Notre Dame, being covered isn't necessarily a barrier to making plays.
Solid effort. Time to get ready for the Irish.no comments
3:30 p.m. EST
Weather.com Kickoff Forecast: Partly Cloudy, 59°
Radio: 93.7 The Fan
Associated Press Game Day: Struggling Pitt plays another team from Miami
Game Day Stories (Good Guys):
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Pitt's Bennett has confidence in defense
- Pittsburgh Tribune Review: Pitt just wants a win against FIU
- Johnstown Tribune-Democrat: FIU should give Pitt a 'good test'
Game Day Stories (Bad Guys):
- Miami Herald: Weary FIU Golden Panthers try to show resolve in Steel City
- Miami New Times: Can FIU beat Pitt, too?
AccuScore Simulation: N/A
Hail to Pitt.no comments
Lots of distractions this week. For the team, there was a pseudo-quarterback controvery, changes in personel and season ending surgery for a defensive leader. For the fans, there was some big basketball news and, of course, wallowing in the Miami debacle. But, yes, there will be football this Saturday against a very good 0-3 team (I'm serious).
It's gut check time for this team. They still have all the talent necessary to win the Big East, and possibly win a BCS game. But things have to start clicking very soon. With what I'd expect to be a hungry Notre Dame team next Saturday, and every game being a must-win after that, the Panthers have to get things rolling this week.
FIU runs a spread, so it will interesting to see Pitt's response defensively, especially with Andrew Taglianetti expected to be back in lineup. The secondary has been playing pretty well, Ricky Gary's Miami game aside, so I'm interested to see what changes and adjustments will be made against a spread.
Zeise weighed in on FIU in today's Redshirt Diaries:
That being said, I think it is entirely accurate to point out that this game is going to be tougher than your run-of-the-mill "rent-a-win" opponent because the Golden Panthers do in fact have some speed and some athleticism. And they run a spread offense so they can neutralize some of their disadvantages along the line. Carroll is an accurate thrower and they aren't afraid to throw it around - he had 58 attempts last week against Maryland - but he also will throw it to the other team a few times (he threw two picks last week and has five on the year) and that is where the Panthers need to take advantage of opportunities. Pitt's defensive backs and linebackers need to hang on when they get their hands on the football because that is one way they'll stop the Golden Panthers offense. Like I just wrote - Florida International indeed could win this game but if the Golden Panthers do, my goodness it is going to be a long, long week until the Notre Dame game.
Of course, there needs to be consistently solid offensive line play to help Tino find his grove. Those of us who thought Tino was going be able to use his mobility to counter the poor offensive line look foolish right now. This big news this week was about the offensive line changes, but I'm not optimistic that basically replacing Gaskings with Gibbs is going to a silver bullet. But, hell, I've been wrong before. However, this might just be the game to test run a new line:
On average, the Golden Panthers' defensive tackles give up roughly 20 pounds to Pittsburgh's counterparts on the offensive line.
Then there's the two-headed monster of Ray Graham and Dion Lewis, who together average more than 5 yards per carry.
``That's their main game, running the ball,'' Pound said. ``We as a defense have to swarm to the ball and wrap up.
``We should come together as a defense, and hopefully in the next few years, we should be a Sun Belt Conference championship team.''
Although 0-3, FIU put up pretty good numbers against Rutgers, Texas A&M and Maryland. They have talent, starting with their wide recievers:
Maryland had no answer for Ellingson (right, 6 catches, 93 yards and a TD) and Hilton (7 catches, 72 yards). Both made easy work of a struggling Maryland defense. TE Jonathan Faucher also got into the mix with 3 catches for 28 yards and a score. Early in the game, Fauch took a vicious shot over the middle of the field, but was able to bounce back and returned to the game. Wayne Times had 5 catches for 44 yards. The Panthers receiver core for the most, part played solid.
No matter how well the secondary plays, Pitt's going to have to generate pressure; a task that's much tougher without Greg Romeus. It's always a Catch-22: If the secondary plays well enough, Pitt can blitz with the linebackers to take pressure off the seondary. And despite the personel changes along the defensive line and in the linebacking corp, I'm most excited to see how this secondary plays. They've been much better than expected, I'd expect them to really be successful if Dom DeCicco and Taglianetti can be used effectively in sub-packages.
One thing Pitt will have going for it will be the Artic temperture of 59° at kickoff:
The weather has been a factor for FIU this week, after dealing with tropical storm Nicole. The Panthers were able to practice on Tuesday at FIU Stadium but had to move Wednesday's practice to the gym. The weather might also play come game time. The temperature in Pittsburgh on Saturday is expect to be the 40's or 50's.
"This might be a hand warmer game for some of the kids," Cristobal said. Cristobal also said that his coaching staff has been hard at work trying to keep the players from buying into the weather distraction. "If you start thinking about the weather and making it an issue than it will be an issue," he said.
Wow. Just wow.no comments
Khem Birch, ranked as one of the top players in the class of 2012, committed to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The story comes curtousy of Fox's Jeff Goodman. ESPN rates Birch as the #2 player in the class while the biased Rivals ranks him #4. Those rankings aren't positional - that's in the world. He has a profile on NBADraft.net, which has to give you a good feeling when you're a junior in high school.
Khem is the second player from the 2012 behind New Zealand big man Steve Adams. He is the second Rivals top 50 player (Steve Adams is 46).
I'll have more on this later, but for now, work gets in the way. As the old SNL "Coffee Talk" lady would say, "talk amongst yourselves..."
Welcome aboard Khem!no comments
Well it's better than talking about the conference's on the field performances. The powers that be in Providence might be interested in one of the non-BCS flavors of the week:
Two sources said the TCU discussion developed recently. The school’s tradition, academics and recent success have lifted the university’s profile. TCU (4-0) is ranked fifth in the polls and many believe it is currently the best team in Texas.
One source stressed that there have been no meetings among Big East presidents or ADs to discuss membership. But that source also said expansion has altered the way conferences think. The fact that TCU hardly matches the Big East footprint is a tertiary concern.
“It’s a good program in a good market,’’ said the source. “That’s what you look for."
On one side, at least the Big East claims to finally get the whole markets-based argument for expansion. On the other side, of course, is how completely and utterly preposterous this whole idea is. First off, TCU is currently in a conference that by all accounts will be a BCS conference come the 2012 realignment. Is the Big East, with its perilous financials, poor on the field play and notoriously poor leadership really that big of an upgrade? Especially if it would mean ending many of the school's traditional geographic rivals? As Sean Keeley of TNIAM notes, TCU is over 750 miles from the nearest Big East school - and that's the one in Kentucky. Geography can be dealt with, but can you imagine the Friars sending their women's field hockey a bizillion miles (literal distance) on a Wednesday just so the football schools can have even scheduling? Of course, the whole things gets a little easier if TCU is one of several schools to be added - if the conferences adds other southern schools like UCF Memphis and East Carolina, then things get a bit easier if they ever decided to go for major expansion and form a southern division (possible names included The Confederacy and MAC South).
But at the end of the day, this isn't going to happen. First, TCU currently has 7,600 undergrad (and only 1,200 grad, which should tell you something about research/graduate end of the things), which would make it by far the smallest football school in the conference (unless Nova enters the equation). Yeah, the Big East can't be too choosy, but does TCU really have the fan support to replace their historic rivalries with UConn and Syracuse? For the Big East, this seems to be all about lighting a fire under Villanova. "Commit or don't, but we need an answer so we can move forward."
Yes, I understand that Villanova will likely be horrible in football while TCU would come in and be MUCH better right away. But there is no way the conference is going to 17. DePaul cannot be kicked out or Notre Dame will cry and what is the Big East if not a soulless slave that appeases a partial member at all costs? Then there's the chance that the Big 12 or maybe (but not likely) the SEC. come calling They'd be gone instantly. Hell, I wouldn't be shocked if they'd rather wait for the MWC to gain an auto-bid.
Right now, we're not the prettiest girl at the ball. It should't be suprising if some of the boys would rather sit than dance.no comments
And so it begins. Yesterday it was reported that the beseized offensive line was shaken up by benching guard Greg Gaskins, moving tackle Lucas Nix to guard and starting redshirt junior Jordan Gibbs (6'7", 305 lbs) to take over at right tackle. Chris Jacobson and Alex Karabin held on to their spots while interior linemen Jack Lippert and Ryan Turnley seem to be the top reserves.
"When you get beat like we did on Thursday, as a coach, you have a tendency to look at everything under the microscope a lot closer after a loss than after a win."
On other possible changes on offensive line
"We would like to get (back-up center) Jack Lippert some playing time. Center is not a position you can rotate guys in and out because of the rhythm with the quarterback and the snap count, you would be hurting your team more than helping. But Jack is a guy that we would like to get more work."
I've really hated being so negative lately, but the line has really struggled thus far and a change was sorely needed. I would even be ok with a temporary benching of Jacobson - mostly because Pitt should roll FIU - in the hopes of lighting a fire under him. There's no reason for a player with his amount of ability and experience in the system to not perform at a high level.
Wannstedt takes a lot of heat for being stubborn, often rightfully so, but he did the right thing here by adjusting to what was not working. The original configuration of the line had it's chance, it didn't work, and now it's time to adjust.
Not only did this team lose Houser, Thomas and Malecki, it also lost a superior tight end in Nate Byham:
Last season, the Panthers had Nate Byham, one of the best blocking tight ends in the country. His strength and athleticism made him virtually another tackle, who could take on defensive linemen by himself and often manhandle them.
Wannstedt also said the tight ends' inability to run block could force some changes in the playbook.
"Tight end is probably a position that is taken for granted when you're running your power game, and you're running your toss sweeps and your stretch game. The point man there is really your tight end," Wannstedt said. "That happened when we had the third down and 3 on the goal line. We have a wing (blocker), we run a power (play), and their defensive end gets penetration up the field, up and under our tight end. Was it a mistake mentally? No. It was a physical thing."
Fair enough. Redshirt sophomore Mike Cruz is just not a physical player yet in his career. I'd also watch for transfer Andrew Devlin and/or redshirt freshman Brock DeCicco (brother of Dom) to get some looks next week against FIU.no comments