Pittsburgh Sports Now has a ‘five story lines going into camp‘ piece up and they make good points. But since this is what I do I’ll take a friendly shot, for fun, at the article and place a rebuttal of my own.
Mike Vukovcan (I’ll call him Mike V. because his name is hard to pronounce even in my head) is clearly drinking the Narduzzi Kool-Aid when he says this:
“On paper, Pat Narduzzi looks to have a 8-9 win team and if things break right, Pitt could be looking at 10 wins. While that might now seem like much, consider that since 1981, Pitt has only had 1 ten win season (2009, 10-3).”
We may have a different idea of what “on paper” means here. When I hear the words ‘on paper’ it means stats and historical facts. One formal definition is:
“…on paper definition, meaning, what is on paper: judging something by how it has been planned rather than how it really works in practice.”
So using that as a basis I’m more pessimistic than he is for the upcoming season.
Since the 2016 schedule is also written on paper then I’d say that in theory Pitt looks to have a 7-8 win team at best. I look at the published schedule and see some games where we could easily come out of there with an “L” vice a “W”. Again – just looking at it with the same eyes as, let’s say, a West Coast sports writer who is only looking at the team info and knows nothing abound the quality of the staff, the players or the real background of the team’s makeup.
When I look at the factual particulars of the seven main units that comprise the team out on the field (three offense, three defense and special teams) I see only two that I’m content will get their jobs done well and that is the Offensive Line and the Running Backs. OK – The special teams look pretty good also.
To me everything else is a tossup.
Let’s look at the team as if we knew nothing about them but what is published…(a two-deep graphic is at the end of the article).
At QB I can’t be sure Peterman is going to be in his good mid-2015 form because to be brutally honest he sucked hind tit in the last two games. The momentum at that position was markedly downward and helped end the year with two losses. Let’s not even talk about the QB2 situation because Stocker has no resume’ to speak of at QB. I see that info and am not impressed.
As to our receivers… although I do feel that WR Dontez Ford will have a big year and that we’ll do better in the passing game department – that is really just my gut feeling. On paper our WRs are mostly inexperienced and have been non-productive in the past. Aside from Ford (26 catches) hardly anyone has caught more than a few passes; Challingsworth had 12 catches last year, Henderson had 2 and Weah had zero. That is a total of 14 passes by three of the four two-deep receivers.
Adding to the nervous making we see from the stats pages that the Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada is banking on Jester Weah to play opposite Ford as the WR2. Weah hasn’t been able to catch a ball thrown his way in two years of eligibility.
That unit is not something that looks good on paper at all.
We have one experienced TE in Orndoff and then no one at that position who looks capable of filling Holtz’s blocking TE role… at least not as well as he did it. Yes we have guys who have switched position over to TE, most notably Jaymar Parrish but he has one catch as a TE.
On defense… well, our interior Defensive Line is scary and not in the way you want it to be scary. It is scaring us instead of the other guys. It is filled with dime-a dozen talents and that’s not good. We are filling out that part of the DL two-deep with players who haven’t produced a measurable lick so far in their careers at Pitt.
Of these names which one makes you feel good about stopping the inside running game and putting pressure on the QB? Soto, Jarrett, Taleni and Moody. That’s not a Murders Row there is it? Take a look at last season’s defensive statistics and see if you can even find some of those names in the upper half of the listing…
At DE, and on paper, Hendrix has about three minutes of playing time in college ball and no production to speak of. DE Ejuan Price, while great on paper, went through some pretty poor dry periods in getting pressure on the QB. Price is a good one but again, on the other side is a kid we hope will finally produce but has not done anything yet in Rori Blair.
Behind them at LB are some gamers and kids who have done pretty well so far but just like the DL we are populating that two-deep with guys who didn’t get any PT last season like Zeise and Brightwell. So on paper that is a real concern.
That unit, in tandem with the DL, was ranked 40th against the run giving up 149 yards per game and 18 TDs. Not the worst showing but not that good either. Among 2016’s prospective front seven we have no influx of proven talent… not even just a little bit as the second string LBs have nothing to show in the way of production because there was none.
Wirginis had some PT but again there isn’t one player other than SR Matt Galambos that you can point to and say he’s one of the better ones in the business… and that’s a stretch but he does have good numbers as seen here… and if we are looking at pure facts then his progression shows he’ll be a good one in 2016 also:
The defensive secondary has to get better because, as much as we like those kids, they were pretty bad against the pass last season. Ranked 66th nationally they allowed our opponents 2791 yards in the air for another 18 TDs.
We got torched with big passing plays on a regular basis. While we have a bona fide star in Safety Jordan Whitehead the other DBs are not world beaters. Here is who we have planned as of today for that unit. Sorry, but other than Whitehead I don’t see any players there that would lead an impartial observer to jump up and down. The chart below shows what we did in our pass defense work last year.
You can see that our opponent’s average per catch is very good… meaning we were bad at it. 214.7 passing yards given up per game is bad also. That means opponents were able to get big chunks of yardage on a regular basis. Plus only 10 INTs (78th nationally) for just 135 INT return yards and one TD. That is pretty poor all around actually.
|PASSING YARDAGE||Pitt 2478||Opponent 2791|
|Average Per Pass||7.2||7.2|
|Average Per Catch||11.7||13.0|
|Average Per Game||190.6||214.7|
But how do I really feel about the team going into this upcoming season?
I always save my public predictions until the fall camp is at least two weeks in and the opener’s two-deep is set. One of the reasons for that is that is the point when the staff has gotten their eyes on the last year’s recruiting class who are coming off a redshirt year and are ready to contribute.
Along with the redshirts the staff also gets to put the new recruits, the class of 2016 in this case, in uniform and out into practices to see which ones of those kids can contribute right away. So the dynamics change a ton from the end of spring drills to the end of fall camp because we basically have about 35 or so new players to consider playing during the season.
But in the spirit of fun that this article is intended I’ll jump forward a bit and throw out some of my gut feelings now.
First – forget about what the “on paper” actually says – it tells only half the story when it come to college football. We have so many new players coming and going through the roster in any given year that the cast of characters changes yearly and even weekly in some cases.
With that I have great hopes that our offense under Matt Canada will blossom – to a very big extent actually. We are going to have a good running game with Conner, Ollison, Hall and Ibrahim running behind that talented and experienced OL.
I like Peterman and while we can’t say those last two games were a fluke, we can look at the rest of his body of work and feel confident he’ll grow as a 2nd year starter – especially since we’ll see more of a deep passing game this year.
Our WRs have talent even though they haven’t had a chance to show it yet – Ford will have a breakout year being out of Tyler Boyd’s shadow. Challingsworth is a good ball player as is Henderson I believe. They just didn’t have a chance at more receptions with Boyd there. Weah is the wildcard and I don’t think anyone who knows football can look at him and predict success.
On defense we are in Year Two of Conklin’s defensive schemes and that should settle things down a bit. Now he knows who can do what and can tailor his approach to fit.
I think our DL is, sorry to say, just what I wrote above – I don’t see any immediate help there even with the rookies 3* Keyshon Camp and 4* Amir Watts because I have no idea how they will do. Stars really don’t mean much to me and they mean absolutely nothing to the staff coaches.
I think if we are going to get better in the interior of the DL it has to come from better play of the listed two-deep players. Keep our fingers crossed on that. Transfer rsSO Dewayne Hendricks will beat out Blair and have a very good year for us opposite Price at DE though and I like Folston at DE also – he’s fast and growing.
We are in pretty much same the same scenario with the starting LBs. Caprara, Galambos and this new kid Idowu (think Bradley in that last starters spot maybe) will have to carry the load and do it better than we did with Grigsby in 2015. Wirginis is the wildcard here – I have always been high on him but truthfully, I expected him to show up earlier than this season. He may end up a career back-up.
Brightwell is being talked about at LB also… but the unit is pretty much the same actors as we had on stage last season.
Now – we may get a jolt in the defensive arm with the inclusion of true FR Damar Hamlin at DB. JR Avonte Maddox is probably set at one corner but the other two-deep CBs can be sat down. rsFR Henderson is untested and both SR Ryan Lewis and SO Phillip Motley can be beaten out.
Boy – won’t it be great if Hamlin can replicate Whitehead’s true freshman success? We’ll see, could happen I guess.
Now, those positive spins I have on the intangibles (at this point) doesn’t mean I see 9 or 10 wins coming our way. I don’t. I think we’ll see a 7 or possibly an 8 win season again because of the schedule we face.
Unless something drastic happens of course. If out of nowhere Weah plays like Larry Fitzgerald, Galambos channels Scott McKillop and Watts is as quick off the snap and is as tenacious as Aaron Donald… I’ll stick with 7-8 wins.