ROAD WARRIORS 

The good, the bad & the ugly  11/ 28/21

Last night in Syracuse, the Pitt football team remained unbeaten on the road for 2021. The next two games will be away from Heinz Field, on the road, setting the stage for a possible 12-2 season. But first, we must review what was good, bad and ugly about yesterday’s game day.

Good:

Another November win giving Pitt 10 in the regular season for the first time since Dan Marino played for the Panthers. Kenny Pickett’s four TD passes to tie Dan Marino’s career total of 79.  Our defense held the ‘Cuse RB Sean Tucker (#5 nationally in total yards) to 29 yards on 13 carries. If you remove his longest run of 10 yards, he had 19 yards on 12 carries. That’s not just good, that is outstanding.

Jordan “Air” Addison with 11 catches and two TD’s and an electrifying punt return. Kicker Sam Scarton was quietly perfect last night – one FG and four extra point kicks.  Five sacks by the defense – HC Pat Narduzzi has only lost once at Pitt when the D recorded five or more sacks in a game.

The TE’s with 11 catches and one TD. More, more, more…  Four of our LB’s leading the team in tackles vs ‘Cuse, lead by my favorite Cam Bright. Pittsburgh local DE Hayes with two sacks and two and a half TFL. Walk-on DE Maloney with half a sack and he looked like he belonged on the field. There (now) is no possible way Pitt can lose five games this season – state penn lost their fifth game of the regular season yesterday.

Bad:

Another slow start by our players and coaches. Can’t happen next week.  A game-interrupting trip to the hospital for an older family member. I’m writing this on fumes… Not running the ball on 2nd or 3rd downs when we only needed one or two yards. The run game was and has been working in the second half of this season. Pickett’s INT – I was calling for a run as it was working and we were moving methodically down the field, killing the clock. I believe we won’t like any INT’s by our QB next week.

Ugly:

The safety position without Hill in the game because of his fitst half targeting sentencing. The men’s basketball loss and the overall condition of that program. Questionable ACC refereeing, TV coverage and camera angles.

From the Trib: “The victory marked the first time in 40 years that Pitt won 10 games before a bowl. It also was Pat Narduzzi’s 52nd in seven seasons, tying him with Walt Harris for the second-most victories by a Pitt coach in the past 56 years.”

Pitt cured Polio and invented CPR, among other things – now it is time to cure cancer AND COVID, at the same time that we win an ACC championship.

H2P!

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Pitt vs SYR Game Thread & “On Thunder Road”

Here is a nice take on our football team’s season. It was written by Troy (UlteriorMotifs) and we welcome a new writer here on the POV ‘community blog’ !! Thanks Troy –

I’m writing this the night before Pitt’s final regular season game. Hopefully by the time you read this, Pitt will have crushed the Orange and ran their record to 10-2 on the season. (Editor’s Note – This is a SYR gameday thread also) If by some chance, Syracuse upsets the Panthers, that will certainly be fodder for the Same Ole Pitt crowd. But regardless of the outcome against the ’Cuse, this campaign will go down as the most enjoyable Pitt football season of my lifetime.  

That is, at once, both a testament to this season and an indictment of the 40 that came before it. I started attending Pitt games in the Dan Marino era around the age of four. I wore the number 13 in youth sports for years afterward and I will be able to hear the crowd at Pitt Stadium chanting ‘”Huuugh—Greeeen!!!” for as long as I live. But I was too young – six-years old in Marino’s final season — to truly appreciate those teams, and I was definitely too young not to take them for granted. That was back when a 9-3 record, #10 national ranking, and a narrow bowl game loss qualified as a disappointment. Now, after a few decades in the wilderness, that very same result would seem like a gift from the heavens.

Maybe it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations, but 10-2 feels pretty darn good considering Pitt’s only hit the 10-win mark once since Marino took his act to South Florida and hasn’t done it in the regular season since Danny’s junior year. A non-comprehensive list of programs that have won 10 regular season games more than once in that same timeframe: Washington State, Oregon State, Kansas, Kansas State, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Illinois, Northwestern, Boston College, Syracuse, and Cincinnati.

It was against that backdrop that I picked Pitt to go 7-5 this year. Three extra wins is some pretty fine gravy, but what really made this season special was not just the record, but the fact that Pitt was actually entertaining, something they’ve rarely been since Walt Harris left town. The transformation of a ho-hum offense into a dominant force that sits near the top of the national rankings is only surpassed by the quantum leap Kenny Pickett made from a QB with a 13-9 TD to INT ratio all the way to fringe Heisman candidate and possible first round draft pick. Of course Pickett is joined by Jordan Addison as one of the best in the nation at his position, but that development, while impressive, is considerably less surprising.

It’s been a while since Pitt has had multiple skill position players that are top five nationally at their positions and that star power has made all the difference. I expected Addison to be an all-conference player-type player and maybe even an honorable mention All-American candidate, but he’s gone far beyond that both statistically and with his clutch play. Stealing that would-be interception and then taking it to the house against Virginia is one of my all-time plays by a Panther. Where quarterback is concerned, you can attribute Pitt’s lack of 10-win seasons to structural reasons and self-inflicted wounds at the administrative level, but the easiest single explanation is that Pitt hasn’t had a QB worthy of high draft consideration since Marino left. That changed this year and so have Pitt’s fortunes.

That’s not to say Pickett and Addison are solely responsible for this team’s success. One example: the line while not great in all aspects has exceeded very modest expectations and played a key role in facilitating Pitt’s offensive juggernaut. But if you pick it apart, this team is not fundamentally different than about 6-8 other Pitt squads over the years, except at QB and WR1. Running backs are very good, but not Shady, Dion, Graham good (yet). The defensive line has dropped off a bit from recent years, same with the secondary. The linebackers are better. Mostly, it’s a wash outside of Pickett and Addison except in one important respect – you can tell this team expects to win and see it’s much more resilient. There’s no “here we go again” with them, although I was definitely thinking that way after the disastrous start against Tennessee.

This season just has a different feel and it built as the year went on. I think it was after the win against Georgia Tech (maybe it was Virginia Tech?) when I posted half-jokingly that it would be just like Pitt to beat Tennessee out-of-conference, catch Clemson in a down year, run the table in the ACC, and then miss out on the CFB playoff because of a loss at home to Western Michigan. The annual defeat to Miami took care of that scenario, but it wasn’t too far off.

The loss to Western Michigan will always sting because a 12-1 Pitt with its lone loss to a solid Miami team would have been in the conversation for the playoff until the announcement, which is publicity and recruiting value you just can’t buy. As a fan, it would have been great to extend that sense of relevance just a little but further. On the other hand, a one-loss team from this year’s ACC wouldn’t have jumped undefeated Cincinnati or a one-loss Notre Dame or Oklahoma State. And even if they did, getting the 4-seed and a beatdown from Georgia would trigger PTSD from the last time Pitt won the conference and went to a major bowl against Utah.   

I’d be content with a Peach Bowl matchup against Notre Dame (I think Pitt would beat them) and a lot more nervous if they drew Ole Miss. But I know they would acquit themselves well in either case. More than anything, it’s nice to be in the game, nice to have national caliber stars at skill positions other than running back, and nice to have an exciting, effective offense that puts pressure on the opponent. Along with 10-win seasons, these qualities have been in rare supply.

Blueblood programs and conference critics may turn up their noses at Pitt’s season, but as someone who came of age during the decline of the 80s and the debacle of the 90s, this season has been a great ride and the most enjoyable of my lifetime.

As Bruce Springsteen said in Thunder Road:

Don’t run back inside

Darling, you know just what I’m here for

So you’re scared, and you’re thinking

That maybe we ain’t that young anymore

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night

You ain’t a beauty, but, hey, you’re alright

Oh, and that’s alright with me

#H2P

P/S: BTW – I saw Springsteen three times in person – once when I was working backstage at the Syria Mosque…

2021 Season – Syracuse Orange

In what seems months ago (because it was), I had predicted  that Pitt would be 8 – 4 in regular season play. At that time, I expected Pitt to lose to Clemson, Miami, and North Carolina. I also expected to lose one to either Tennessee or Virginia Tech. Totally happy to be wrong.

As we all know, Pitt clinched the ACC Coastal Division with a 48 – 38 Senior Day home win over the Virginia Cavaliers. Pitt is now 9 – 2 ( 6 – 1 conference). Three games to go. Play them one game at a time.

Next up is Pitt’s regular season finale against the Syracuse Orange. Syracuse is coming off a 17 – 41 loss to NC State. After the first nine weeks of the season, Syracuse stood at 5 – 4 ( 2 – 3 conference). Bowl eligibility was in sight. A significant improvement over their 1 – 10  2020 campaign. Head Coach Dino Babers hot seat was rapidly cooling.

Midway through the week 3 game (Albany), Babers replaced off injured but long starting QB Danny Tommy DeVito with transfer QB Garrett Shrader. Through the next six games Syracuse went 3 – 3 with all three losses by 3 points each. For a Syracuse football fan, life was looking good and the future looked bright.

Then came the bye week and the last two game where Syracuse was outscored 20 – 82. Fans are unhappy again. Babers is back on the hot seat. But can Syracuse afford the buyout. To add insult to injury, nine players have already entered the Transfer Portal (TP) since the start of fall practice. They include ex-starting QB Danny Tommy DeVito and one of the backup scholarship QB’s on the roster. (I believe the Orange now have only two scholarship QB’s plus walk-ons.) also gone are 2019 All ACC receiver Taj Harris and a 2021 TE recruit who did not want to block. In dramatic irony, he is listed as the 15’th best TP entry in the first 24/7 top ranking of 2022 entries. (Another Syracuse player is ranked #14. Taj Harris is #3)

College Football Transfer Portal: Initial Top 25 rankings for the 2022 cycle (247sports.com)

According to the above article, over 400 players have entered the TP since 8/1/2021.

On to the stats review. ACC standings and Syracuse and Pitt’s year to date schedules.

Nine teams now bowl eligible. Three more can make bowl eligibility with season ending wins (including Syracuse). Once again the ACC bowl tie-ins.  2021 ACC Bowl Affiliations – Atlantic Coast Conference (theacc.com)

Common opponents are Clemson and Virginia Tech.

Here are the NCAA stats for team and individual comparison. Those highlighted in yellow are what I consider are Syracuse advantages. I will be highlighting TP pick-ups in green and those who have entered the portal in light orange. A light blue/gray are injured players.

Syracuse rests their hat on a strong rushing attack and a stout defense. JaCobian Morgan (leader in passing efficiency) is the Orange backup QB.

On to the individual stats. Of course, starting with the QB’s.

If you believed Kenny Pickett was a bad or average QB in the 2018-2020 time frame, meet Garrett Shrader. He is ranked #104 out of 108 NCAA eligible QB’s. I do not blame Taj Harris for entering the TP. He wants to go pro and Syracuse offense does not give him an opportunity to showcase his skills.

On to the running back and wide receivers.

Shrader makes up for his current lack of passing skills by being a perfect companion to Sean Tucker in running the ball. I wonder if Shrader could become Syracuse’s version of Virginia’s “Football Player” Keytaon Thompson. Both have something in common. They were both recruited by Mississippi State (Thompson 2017, Shrader 2019) as QB’s.

Games played and started for offensive linemen.

How are they protecting the QB and opening holes for the running backs?

Warning!!! Warning!!! Warning!!!  New Chart Alert

Currently the NCAA considers “sacks” as a separate statistic. Sacks are also a component of the “Tackles for Loss” statistic. Both stats are ranked on a per game.

This new chart is not my own idea but is built off a statement a color commentator made in one of the games I watched last weekend. The announcer made a comment on the number of sacks a team had allowed. The color man said something like “it’s not as bad as you think considering how much they pass”. I checked into and these are the results.

Louisville has allowed the fewest sacks in the ACC. Per Chart A, Louisville and Syracuse are dominantly rushing teams. Pitt and Virginia are more pass happy. Virginia is more than pass happy, their engaged to be married.

Since the NCAA includes “sacks allowed” as a “run” attempt, I added sacks as a separate line item and subtracted sacks from the run column. This is shown in Chart  B.

Chart C brings it all together on which OLine better protects their QB. Louisville, of this group, is still #1 but Pitt is a very strong second. Virginia looks better than expected and Syracuse is just bad at almost 10% of adjusted total pass attempts resulting in sacks.

Pitt’s Oline is definitely better in pass protection. Now I need to refine Tackles for Loss (TFL) to show only the run portion of TFL.

Sorry about the long winded explanation. I like to show my work to get to a conclusion. And I like having fun with numbers.

Some defensive individual stats. From ESPN team stats and compared to NCAA statistics for accuracy.

I used the top 17 in tackles for both Pitt and Syracuse.

In total, Syracuse has 39 total team members who made a defensive stat. Nine of them were offensive players.  Pitt numbers are 46 total with six offensive players. Which team is getting more actual game snap players involved?

I expect Syracuse’s LB Mikel Jones and DE Roscoe Cody to be All ACC team selections.

Last but not least, turnover margins.

In South Carolina high school football action, Davis BeVille’s Greenville High School and Nate Temple’s Abbeville High School continue their march to state championships.

This year. marks the first time since the 1920’s that Greenville High has made it past the second round of the state playoffs.

This game will be a matchup of the stout Syracuse defense against the potent Pitt high powered offense. Syracuse offense is run oriented (#7 – 231 YPG). Pitt’s run defense is ranked #9 in rushing yards allowed per game. Syracuse pass offense is anemic gaining less yardage than Pitt’s rushing attack.                                                Pitt wins 38 – 13