Musings and ??s on the 2015 Season

Chris Peak and I just had a short conversation regarding his “Six Questions for Narduzzi” podcast he did the other day and that I also based an article around.  I thought that was a novel approach to the subject-dredging that has to be done by anyone covering Pitt football during the off-season.

As I was drinking my coffee this morning I thought about your comments to that post, and the replies Chris had on the Rivals’ message boards, and wonder which questions would I ask Pat Narduzzi regarding last season and how it all shook out.

So – thus sprung another article.  Here goes;  if I was sitting at the bar and Narduzzi walked in and sat next to me what six questions would I ask him to answer as honestly as possible?

Here are mine, you tell us yours in the comments:

1.   What single thing do you think you most positively changed about the Pitt football program in your first year at Pitt and how will you make sure that carries over into 2016?

Narduzzi may not be the best judge of any actual changes as he wasn’t here in 2015.  However you can be sure that people have been slapping him on the back and talking to him about the positive changes everyone else saw happen.

We talk a lot about the new energy and excitement He brought with him but here is what I saw as the biggest difference between the two years… the HC and staff holding players strictly accountable for what they actually did in uniform in the camps and in the games.

Sitting down an incumbent starter at QB isn’t a common move in college football yet Narduzzi did it without hesitation when he saw Voytik was failing in his role as the starter in the first two games.

He did the same with inserting Jordan Whitehead in at safety after a few games – although that was a case of inserting a kid who had superstar written all over him.  Kind of a no-brainer. “Superstar” was not  something that was written over the QB replacement Nate Peterman at all.

He’ll do more of that this season now that his first recruiting class has been at Pitt a full year and he knows what they can and can’t do. Something that happens a lot with HCs is if an upperclassman recruited by someone else and a underclassman recruited by him are of equal value at a position you see that young kid get the nod.  We may see that a bunch as this season progresses, especially if we start losing games early on.

2.  Do you feel that you were able to get the maximum effort out of your players in every game and if not, why not?

To me you have to look at the latter half of the season, from the NC loss through the Navy Bowl loss and feel very concerned.  At that point we stood at 6-1 overall and the season looked like it was going to be magical.  Then reality showed up and with the exception of two games against lesser ACC opponents, we fell flat on our face.

What happened was the late season swoon where we finished off the season with a crap laden 2-4 record including an ass-whooping defeat by Navy in the bowl game. After a  run of play by the new starting QB, Peterman he went into NC and played an average ballgame.  However the next game against ND he played his worse game to that date.

Even though he passed for a decent 223 yards against the Tarheels he also completed only 38% of his passes with just 1 TD and an INT.  His 103 QB rating in that match was a portent of the end of the season’s games against Miami and Navy.  With an exception…

But Peterman bounced back from that ND loss with two of the best consecutive games we have seen a QB play in a long time.  In those two wins he went 35/59 (60%)  for 412 yards, 7 TDs and 0 INTs with those TD points being the winning margins in both games.

Then he did basically nothing in the last two games with his performance in the bowl game being as uninspired I’ve seen a QB play in some while (since Sunseri against WVU a few years back).  Then again the whole team looked like they were sleepwalking through that game, especially in the first half.

I think a big part of the terrible ending to the season was the staff failing to get the team prepared to face two good opponents.

Miami wasn’t world beaters but they had a winning record and had we been able to leave Heinz Field that day with a 7th ACC win and the second best record in the conference.  Instead Miami scored early and often to the tune of 23-3 at halftime, seven of those points were the result of a turnover, and it was too little too late in the 2nd half.

Bottom line: the players were not ready to play in both those late season losses at all. I do also wonder if Peterman didn’t get an inflated head a bit after his two very good games before facing Miami and Navy – it seemed that  early INT against Miami which gave the Hurricanes a quick lead generated some strong self-doubt on his part.

3.  Why did some players who had done well in 2014 seem to disappear?

On defense three players in particular looked to be in good shape to land and keep starting jobs in 2015.  rsJR LB Bam Bradley, SO DE Rori Blair and S Reggie Mitchell all were in the conversation to be starters and possible breakout players in ’15.  But, aside from Mitchell’s injury that shortened his season, those players seemed to get constant playing time early on then were pushed and replaced by others.

I though Bradley would be the solid starter all season and really produce, but OLB Mike Caprara and OLB Nick Grigsby’s good and constant play kept that happening.  Bradley will be a SR this season and it will be interesting to see if he gets any substantial playing time at all with rsFR Saleem Brightwell and rsFR Anthony McKee shedding their redshirts and being ready to go.

(Note: Both McKee and Brightwell used last year to bulk up in the weight room – Brightwell went from 195 lbs to 210 and McKee gained 10 pounds to get to 210 also.)

We saw other 2015 starters get replaced and then just fade away – QB Chad Voytik and S Pat Amara in particular and that resulted in both leaving the team to transfer as soon as the season ended.

Which makes me wonder which ’16 starters we will watch play this season do the same – fade (or be faded) away to become a footnote after this year.

4.  What single aspect of the season displeased you the most?  Was it an on-field game day problem… off the field problem?

Aside from our two players, Tyler Boyd and Rori Blair, who had off the field disciplinary issues, there didn’t seem to be many peripheral issues that would detract from the season itself.  Even the training camp and one game suspensions awarded those two by Narduzzi had small impact on the team’s play when they weren’t out there.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any – it may well be that we fans and the media just weren’t aware of them.  College football fans like to believe everything is always hunky-dory in their school’s locker room and clubhouse but that is rarely the case.

The good staffs make sure whatever problems there are, big or small, don’t grow to become public issues.  Either way it is refreshing to go through almost a whole year (to now) without any other instances of misbehavior or criminal acts.  Good for you Pat!

But again – I would think the late season crash and burn had to be the biggest disappointment for the HC.

5.  On the day after the Navy bowl game what one single most important issue came to mind when thinking about changes had to be made for the 2016 season?

The first thing that comes to mind is the most obvious and that was the change of Offensive Coordinator.  On Dec 12th, two weeks after the drubbing Pitt got at the hands of the Naval Academy Midshipmen, Jim Chaney announced his intention to leave Pitt.

While the offense did reasonably well over all especially considering we lost star RB James Conner in the first game, there really wasn’t any feeling, at least among the fans that I can remember, that our offense was capable of just taking over a game and winning it on a regular basis.

The exception to that was the Louisville game at Heinz Filed where we posted 45 points against a ACC opponent on the strength of Peterman’s four TD passes in a 35 point second quarter.

But we are going to see some changes in the offense – most notably an opening up of the deep routes that Chaney hardly ever called. We’ll see multiple WR sets, the use of the Slot receiver more and an uptick in passing swings out of the backfield to Ibrahim and Conner.

6.  Which are the three most important games for us to win in 2016?

Narduzzi’s answer may differ from us fans’ answers.  We have circled the Sept. 10th Penn State at Heinz Field as the ‘absolutely must win’ game of the season.  I’ve even read some fans state that they wouldn’t care if we went 1-11 as long as we beat PSU… and they weren’t kidding.

As Pitt’s Head Coach Narduzzi has to have his eye on a championship above all else and that means winning as many conference games as possible. I believe, and I’m speculating here, that if we are in the hunt for the Coastal Championship spot Narduzzi would trade a PSU win for an ACC win without hesitation.  I know that I would.

So I look at those two tough ACC away games in North Carolina on Sept 24th and then later in the season the Clemson game on Nov 12th.  Regardless of any other games we win – and we will win other games – if Narduzzi can get W’s in those games we need not worry if he can ‘win the big ones’ going forward.

I get the emotional, sentimental and even the possible recruiting aspects of the PSU game.  Although I’m skeptical that one game against our rivals will determine who gets which recruits in the state of PA.  If we get 9-10 wins on the season and lose that game our recruiting will still be very strong in the immediate future.

6.A.  Here you are making $2,000,000 and change and you can’t buy me a drink?  What’s up with that?

Go screw yourself Kohberger.

 

 

46 thoughts on “Musings and ??s on the 2015 Season

  1. I live in Lancaster so I am inundated daily with the Blue Kool Aid drinking cult and I can say for sure I will count the season a success if Pitt wins September 10. I just want to be able to drive my car adorned with Pitt stickers to work every day for several weeks after with a sh*t eating grin on my face as I pass the multitude of cars adorned with PSU stickers. That being said I think UNC is number 2 in my book after the last few times we have come up short against them in various ways and then probably Miami…maybe just for the national perception that you get beating them. But 2 and 3 are way behind the number one mission in my book.

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  2. Reed, if you could give the coach some truth serum, i.e. massive amounts of alcohol and get him to actually tell the truth, I would ask the following:

    1. Please rank all of your assistant coaches by recruiting ability, position coaching acumen and overall importance to the team.
    2. Outside of the coaches, who is most important to the future success of the program? Gallagher, Barnes or Fans and why?
    3. Inherited players versus staff recruited players – When will the team be yours? Asked differently, when do you project having your recruits playing the majority of snaps, so that you are more accountable?
    4. What does success look like to you for the program overall and where are we on that timeline?
    5. If you have a scale and 5 bowling balls, with 4 of the five weighing the same amount, what is the quickest way to determine accurately, which ball weighs more or less than the others?
    6. Cage match – you vs. Dairy College head coach – who wins and how long does it take to knock him silly?

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  3. Just read a story of ACC network on CBS Sports. It will be available via WatchESPN in the next month or so… while the actual cable network won’t be available until 2019. So if you are able to watch Pitt games via ESPN3 (or whatever), you should be able to access the network shortly.

    This really doesn’t change much for me since all I care about really are live games … whether on TV or via computer when I can’t access them on TV

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  4. What schematic mistakes are you making when coaching the D against the triple option?

    Have you ever talked D and shared ideas with Keith Butler?

    Who is the strongest pound for pound player on the football team? Could they bench Jim Chaney?

    Is Reed the tallest media person ever to ask you a question?

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  5. As far the three most important games of the year I could only think of one:

    Pedo! As in PSU

    I was born and raised and still live roughly 40 miles from Beaver Stadium. I can’t stand that cult and the mindless drones that follow them. Nothing is sweeter then for several weeks if not the entire year (until the next game) flashing the PITT gear proudly after a win. In many chases saying nothing (the looks you get like your that dirty hethen that will corrupt their daughter) is the best choice of action.

    Besides betting PSU I think all the other conf. games are equally important.

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  6. Coach, on offense, how will OC Canada fill the Boyd void?
    On defense, how will DC Conklin’s D stop the triple option?

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  7. Coach how do you get the team up and ready to play a D2 school like Villanova in Game 1 when everyone is pointing towards and talking about Game 2 against the Pedo’s ?

    And given the current lack of experienced depth at the most important position on the field, that being QB, are you second guessing yourself in not giving Voytik a 2nd chance to redeem himself against Miami or Navy. considering the poor QB play in both of those games ?

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  8. Coach: Exactly what did you see that made you think Chaney (who never saw a pass he didn’t like) would be a good hire?? Or was he just a place holder until you could get your long time buddy, Canada?

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  9. a couple of twitter notes from S Werner PG:

    – Adam Bertke has transferred to Univ of Findlay. No, I haven’t heard of it either, but I believe it’s close to his home

    – the reason Pitt has to play PSU and Ok St on back-to-back weeks was set up by our beloved past AD. (The following game at UNC was a gift from the ACC I assume)

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    1. U of Findlay is a church – affiliated university in Findlay, Ohio. https://www.findlay.edu/

      And get this: The school sent a contingent to the RNC Convention in Cleveland… however:

      “UF’s journalism/digital media students don’t plan to attend the Democratic National Convention, to be held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in August, du Fresne said. The trip would be cost prohibitive and time consuming for the students, all of whom have summer jobs that preclude them from taking too much time off, he said. Conversely, three of the four students going to Cleveland are from Northeast Ohio.”

      OK then.

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  10. BTW Chas Rich is still tweeting .. not very often but has tweeted a few things in last few days; yet no mention at all about Pitt Blather

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  11. Great list of questions. Thanks guys! Unlike others, I do not feel that the NC game will be as difficult as last year because of their qb situation. College qb’s are the difference in most games, unless you are a bama, nd, osu.

    As previously mentioned, once Narduzzi builds quality depth, motivating the troops becomes easy. The backups are the motivation!

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  12. It was great seeing the likes of Brad W, Gary M, Levance F and Gil B again … J Dixon had > 20 pts and even Antonio Graves hits some key shots, but Fields took over offensively in crunch time with several key FGs and FTs. The announcers pointed out how Dixon had a 15-6 record vs Boeheim in BE, and you can see that they still were well versed on how to attack their zone.

    They play in the Eastern Final tomorrow on one of the ESPN channels and then ….. they may finally reach the Final 4

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  13. With that OLine and our stable of RBs, I would like to see us start every game with 10 running plays right between the tackles. Make a statement. Dare our opponents to stop us. When they load up the box, go play action and burn em deep

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    1. Agree and I’ll go a step further: if Jones-Smith isn’t in the starting five put him in as a second tight end and really pound the football. Sometimes line JJ-S up at fullback and let him take a few steps and hit somebody.

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  14. Reed

    I have always believed a divisional championship is much more important to Pitt than a PSU win. It isn’t even close. Of course, we want both.

    Imagine the press Pitt would get being in the ACC championship game and the ranking that would come with it.

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  15. Narduzzi walks into a bar……….looks Reed deeply and longingly in the eyes and says in the best, most tender coach speak possible:
    1) The players really bought into the system and the Administration improved the facilities to the level we needed to have to recruit the best student athletes.
    2) Our players realized at the end of the season why off season conditioning is so important and now know how to berrer prepare. We better be better finishing games and the season this year. The year of transition is over.
    3) It was more about some players improving and moving up and others staying in place and being passed by. It is up to those passed by on the depth chart to up their dedication.
    4) That darn back-up QB didn’t take his demotion well – good riddance. I cant believe you want him back sailor.
    5) We need to get faster. We lost a great offensive coordinator but replaced him with OC Canada who we are thrilled to have.
    6) All games are important.
    6A) You winked at me and called me over sailor.

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  16. “I want to feel like when I go there that it’s the program for me and have a good chance at playing early. … That’s like a 10 on my priority sheet of what I’m looking for in a college”. This is a direct quote from Lamont Wade as reported in his interview done with Pittsburgh Sports Now. Well there is no doubt that at Pitt, Wade plays early, probably in the two deep line up as a true freshman, since he expects to enroll early in Jan 2017 and will have Spring ball already under his belt come fall camp.

    Also, his Mom wants to be able to come to all of his games. Can’t get much more convenient than Pitt in that regard, although WVU or penn state are both close enough for day trips as well.

    Narduzzi has a very good chance of bringing Wade in as a signature recruit in the 2017 class, based on these facts above. With Paris Ford also committed in the 2017 class, the resulting defensive backfield that the Panthers would be able to field in just one more season would be dominating.

    Look at this lineup. Whitehead, Hamlin, Coleman, Miller, Hill, Ford & hopefully Wade. The freshman backups would be potentially as good as the starters. What a nice problem to have, figuring out how to give this stable of talented DBs adequate playing time to keep everybody happy.

    Wade to Pitt! & of course Hail to Pitt!

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  17. Ever the optimist Doc. I would tend to put at least Wade or Paris on offense but would like the dilemma. H2P. I am jonesin for camp.

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    1. To play RB or WR? The RB position is stocked for years already with Ollison, Hall, Moss and Hill in this class if needed. Also Pugh would be no slouch at RB in this class either. Nope, our weak link in this team now is DL & DBs, no worries though, Narduzzi knows it and is attending to that issue accordingly.

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  18. The answer to your question #6 is, “there is only one most important game this season, that game being, the next one”.

    That also answers the Chris Peak question of how to keep his players focused on the Villanova home opener. You instill a mindset of preparation in your players. Attention to detail at the task at hand, whether it be Villanova or Clemson that you are preparing to play, champions prepare for every contest with the same focus and energy. That is the difference between champions and the also rans.

    When Narduzzi has accomplished that task of instilling in the minds of his players that this is an essential ingredient in their quest for championships, only then will we see an end to erratic performances by the Panthers and the absence of their nexcusable tendency of playing down to inferior competition.

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    1. Tom – I like my answer better… you can’t ensure upsets don’t happen and no pre-game pep talk will do so.

      They need to teach the kids how to handle in-game adversity against a lower opponent especially if it happens in the first half.

      To me it is more like Narduzzi has toi ensure his Staff coaches know how to do the above. They are the ones who spend most of the time with the kids – they have little Narduzzi-time really.

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  19. A very good question. Somewhat discussed without the actual question never being asked. So many answers, and most of them are right.

    Hyperbole, “I don’t care if we lose all the others, just beat Pedo State”. Again, certainly hyperbole from most of us, but very, very important to many of us. For so many reasons. Rival, the child sex scandal, need a win just to be a win. The pure hatred from us, due in good part, to the pure condescending arrogance of the blue cult. We’re only human.

    @Clemson, UNC, Miami. Can we pick one or dare I say two of these off. Huge task. And the two would be UNC and Miami.

    @Clemson?? Wow. (I’m going, staying at my sisters in Rock Hill, SC, about an hour East of Clemson). I don’t know. How do you pull that off, even if you’ve had a coach here for 10 years and top recruiting and you’re ranked #9? I mean, that’s a tough game for the cream of the crop of the college football world to go into Clemson. Don’t want to be a head downer lest I be given the “if you don’t demand a win, you’re never gonna win” tag. But, the realist in me, says, keep it respectable and give a good showing. Anything can happen though certainly.

    I think some of those middle of the road games could be huge. Virginia and Georgia Tech. As the program progesses, as I know we all hope it does, and most think it is, those games in coming years have to be started to get marked down as wins, not tug of wars till the end.

    In the end for me, I gotta go with the PSU game. For my Dad watching from above, for the fact that I will be tailgaiting with 3 Pitt friends and family, and about 7-8 Penn State family. I gotta have that game.

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    1. Dan – you stay within 10 points of Clemson going into the fourth quarter and blitz your ass off looking for turnovers from the 50:00 minute mark on…. At that point if we get burned on a poor blitz we were 10 points behind anyway but the risk is worth the reward. Get that lead down to 3 points and anything can happen.

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  20. Oklahoma State??? Wouldn’t that be a nifty win for the program on the road and on national tv???
    Maybe the old cliche’ as Doc stated, the biggest one, the next one.

    Still, great question Reed. If you could have a PSU win, or a win againt a conference foe that would get you into the ACC championship game…………………………..

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  21. I thought I good question I would ask the DUZZ.

    Hey Coach, why was Jaymar Parish moved to tight end last year?

    When he was allowed to block as a full back seemed like every time holes open as wide as a truck.

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  22. Ya Reed, wouldn’t that be fun? Can’t believe I’m going. One of the places I always wanted to visit. You know when you’re a kid, teenager, you always kinda have a “second’ favorite, in a lot of sports I think. Maybe not everyone I guess. Anyhow, mine was always Clemson. No, not jumping on the bandwagon while they’re good. Always liked them as a kid for the simplest of reasons!!! The tiger paw on the helmet!!! LOL!! I now always can notice their score, just for the fondness of remembering how I kinda liked them as a kid!

    Funny thing is for the game, I’m going with 4 of the Penn Staters that I’ll be with at the Pitt-PSU game!! LOL

    My sister is a Robert Morris girl, had three kids she sent to PSU. They lived in Indiana, Pa. growing up. She got a job as an asst. superintendent for Rock Hill school district, so I have my “hotel” pretty close. They want to go to the Pitt v Clemson game just for the partying, and they will cheer for me (Pitt), but mostly for the beer!!

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  23. Saw Lamont Wade and a few others this evening in cbus. I think that his best option candidly is on the offensive side of the ball. His height will be used against him in the pro game, so I actually see him as a slot receiver. Call me crazy, but I think his best chance at the next level is on offense. That said, I think he will be a great college corner….if he stays there.

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