If you hear someone at Yankee Stadium screaming “No Ka oi!!” after we beat Northwestern in the bowl game it’s a safe bet it’s either our punishing rsJR Nose Tackle Jeremiah Taleni or one of his extended family members who flew in from the Islands for the festivities.
It means “We’re the best!!” in the Hawaiian language, which is where Taleni hails from. The Island of Oahu and Kailua town to be precise.
But what is more likely though is that he’ll be fiercely whispering “I goin bust your face haole” to the white Northwestern Offensive Lineman guys across the line of scrimmage from him.
Haole is not a term of endearment by an means especially when it is said directly to you by a 6’2″ and 290 lb maddened Hawaiian/Samoan who wants to vivisect you in as quickly a way as possible.
BTW – that is a Maori in the photo at left but I took license to show how fast us normal sized guys would crap our pants when lined up three feet away from Taleni. Our guy doesn’t have any facial tattoos…yet.
But he’s not just scary – he’s been very effective as the on-deck nose tackle this season filling in after starters Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto were injured back before the Miami game. Taleni had played only spot duty in his Pitt career to that point which honestly surprised me.
I used to go to Hawaii HS football games at every opportunity when I was stationed there back in the early 1980s. They play truly excellent football over there… much like WPA football was played back in the 50s and 60s – hard beat downs to the opponent and the last team standing wins the ball game.
Over there the HC will dress a play down for a mistake but the real lesson is learned when their Mothers start slapping them around as they walk off the practice field.
When I heard that Paul Chryst’s DL coach Inoke Breckterfield, who is also an Hawaiian, recruited Taleni I jumped for joy. We were still in the Aaron Donald era at Pitt so I knew Taleni wouldn’t play right away but I kept looking forward to when he could get in and show his stuff.
I though it would be sooner than this though as Taleni hadn’t gotten any real playing time until the second half of this season. He redshirted back in 2013 as a FR and saw only spot duty since.
But now he’s on the radar screen and in a big way. In his 2nd start as a Panther (he started the bowl game against Bowling Green in 2014) he had eight tackles against Miami with including a Tackle For Loss (TFL). That was good for 2nd most productive that day and his TFLs have become somewhat of a trademark for him in his past four games as he has an average of one per game since Miami.
Here are his and our other main defenders’ season stats to date:
Boy, Price’s TFLs really jump out at you don’t they? Considering that two of Taleni’s six games played were mop-up duty and you can see that had he been a starter from jump street he’d be up in the leader board with his backfield work.
You can’t really second guess our DC, Josh Conklin, for going with Soto and Jarrett (Allderdice) as the interior DL starters this season. The only real bright spot of our defense this year has been stopping the run game.
Up until the injuries mentioned above and prior to Miami we shut down our opponents running game in an excellent fashion to the tune of being 6th in the nation and giving up only 103 ypg and holding enemy rushers to a 3.20 ypc average. Surprisingly though, given the numbers just shown, we were very poor at stopping rushing TDs having allowed 16 at that 8th week mark which is an average of two a game.
That was part of the reason, along with our bad pass defense, we were dead last (128th!) in Red Zone defense and the very best at inviting other teams to cross the goal line from inside our 20 yard line. They did that to a tune of 97% of the time. 97%… Ugh.
Here is an interesting twist to that – in allowing those score we gave up 13 rushing TDs versus only seven passing TDs. You’d think that would have been reversed, huh?
Now however, and with Taleni playing full-time, we have moved up to 120th and bettered that average a bit. But here is what Taleni’s play has really impacted; in the four games he’s been a starter the opponents have only scored an additional four red zone rushing TDs total. That’s only one per game vice the two per game we had been giving up when he’s been on the bench.
To drill down even further, in our most important win in ages when we bested Clemson Taleni had 1.5 sacks, both coming when Clemson was driving in Pitt territory. His first one was with Clemson up by 21-20 and that play led to an INT by Maddox right afterward.
His second sack was at 42-34 Clemson ahead and that play forced a Clemson punt. In a game that went down to a last second field goal those plays meant a great deal. But perhaps what we’ll remember more was his being in on those 3rd and 4th down and 1 plays where he helped to completely stopped the runs up the middle.
Here are the highlights from that game;Taleni’s cruical 4th down TFL is shown at the 2:28 mark. (Never gets old watching this video).
Sometimes great players don’t get a chance to shine until late in their careers. This is the case with Jeremiah Taleni. But boy when he got his chance he grabbed it and went to town. We’ll see even more good play from him in the Pinstripe bowl in a few weeks I’m sure.
But next season is going to be a real joy to watch as he pulls an Aaron Donald and takes Jarrett and/or Soto’s spot in the starting lineup.He plays much like Donald did also; quick off the snap and drives forward.
Both of those guys, Soto and Jarrett, are true SRs this season so it will be the Traveling Taleni Show in the trenches next year. No one will make us forget Aaron Donald but I’ll say right now that Taleni’s going to be on the national scene quickly and often and will be the anchor of another good interior defensive line.
Note: Taleni isn’t just a good football player whose job it is to stop other players, of equal size or bigger, dead in their tracks. He’s also a buddy with the real-deal Dali Lama. “Really, I no screw aroun wid you brah.”