Note: Every so often we’ll have guest writers contribute some articles for a different Point of View toward the football program and the team. After all – we are called POV, right? well, this is a good one from Dr. Tom Richards.
Well it finally happened.
Reed has decided to give me some extra rope. By that I mean, he extended me the invitation to contribute an actual article for submission to the Pitt POV. Imagine that? He even gave me the subject he wanted me to expound on, that being last season’s abysmal performance by our defensive secondary.
He also informed me that, just like Jack Webb used to state on the old TV series Dragnet, to give him the FACTS, just the facts, on why I’m expecting last year’s horrendous secondary performance to evaporate come 2017. No optimistic smoke & mirrors, just the hard facts, not even any alternative facts, just the hard ones.
But I know his true intentions, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck ya know. He’s supplied just enough rope so that I can hang myself with it come about mid December, by then when we’re all bitching and moaning once again on why Pitt had such a sad repeat performance by our defensive secondary, keeping us from winning the ACC Coastal Crown yet again.
So let’s look at the facts. Last season Pitt went 8-5. Of the five games that we lost we got torched for over 400 yards through the air by our opposition three times or 60% of those games that we lost. Funny thing is, that in the only game that we were pretty much completely dominated, that being our Miami loss. Their QB, Kaaya went 30 for 47 with no INTS for 356 yards. But the difference maker wasn’t that passing attack, since in all of those three loses mentioned above, we were still in the game till the end. The real difference maker? The Hurricaines also dominated us on the ground.
Narduzzi’s defense is a “stop the run first” mentality. And in that regard we were pretty successful throughout the season, with the exception of the Miami game. So as I see it, stopping the run and forcing the opposition to throw the ball, actually was a fairly valid philosophy that kept Pitt in every game that they played. That is except for the Miami game where we didn’t shut down their running game either, with them rushing for 187 yards with two rushing TDs.
So let’s just assume that Narduzzi remains just as stubborn in 2017 with adhering to this defensive philosophy. What are the factors that make me spout such optimism, as I have, about my expectations that our defense will go through some sort of metamorphosis? Now remember, “just the facts”.
Well the most obvious facts that many seem to interpret as apologies for Pitt’s poor secondary play has to point to a review of the competition. Of those four losses, the three where we got torched for over 400 yards plus the Miami game, we faced really, really good QBs – WR combos in every one of those contests. In fact, a Fox Sports article rates three of those four QBs as high round picks for the NFL this April.
That’s the good news. We won’t have to worry about facing Jarod Evans from VT, Brad Kaaya from Miami or Mitch Trubisky from UNC next season. The bad news? Both Mason Rudolph and his star WR James Washington return for their last year at OK St….gulp!
It wasn’t just the QBs that killed us though, we faced some talented WRs as well. Guys like Isaiah Ford from VT at 6’1” 195, and the combo that killed us in that last heroic UNC drive that saw the Tarheels convert three 4th down plays to win against the Panthers in the final seconds of the game, Ryan Switzer & Bug Howard, now all gone to the NFL soon as well.
That’s some heady competition. And that’s not excuses, them just be the facts Jack! But Pitt didn’t always lose against that kind of talent. We did beat PSU, Clemson and Syracuse, all of whom have their own elite QB – WR combos. So why did we win those games? Mainly it was turnovers in the PSU & Clemson games and the Syracuse game was all about the offenses, BOTH OF THEM, Pitt just scored more! Was there even any defense put out there in that game, on either side?
So look it. Pitt stunk putting CBs out on their islands last season when facing elite talent, Fact#1. But when we stopped the run, we still stayed in the game Fact#2. And if we forced turnovers, we won games against quality competition, Fact#3. So where does that leave us going into 2017? Was it the Xs & Os, or the Jimmys & the Joes? Or was it the level of our competition, or maybe the turnover ratio? News flash!!! All of the above.
That is exactly why Coach Narduzzi stuck to his guns with installing this defensive system. Stop the run first, get some turnovers and make some plays and you win games. That is exactly what happened in the PSU and Clemson games. Don’t make those plays and us POV guys sit around on Sundays bitching about how Goddamn awful our defensive secondary’s play is against the guys who are good enough to play “throw and catch” over our CBs all game long.
So getting back to my optimism. Yeah, by nature I’m a glass half full kind of guy, but it doesn’t mean that I wear Pitt Blue & Gold Glasses either. Come on, if you are going to play the game, play it to win. If not, you’ve lost the game before you’ve ever stepped on the field. It’s just the way it is. That’s a Champion’s mindset Ladies and Gentlemen. You can choose to be optimistic or pessimistic, guaranteed, the optimists are the winners out there.
So why so optimistic? Like I said, I can see the warts on this team. One of the biggest deficits in recent years has been the lack of elite recruits brought in, even worse, simply adequate recruits to be able to compete at the P5 level. HCPC didn’t cut it with his, “just offer them” attitude. Loser attitude! Actually I was surprised that he was able to bring in the quality OL guys that he did, his one recruiting strong point.
Lucky for us that the pedophiles to our East were under full attack by the NCAA and the courts back then or we never would have gotten Dorian Johnson in a Pitt uniform in the 1st place, and probably others as well. So yeah I bitched about the level of recruiting back then but I remained optimistic at the same time because the moral quality of the student athlete that Chryst brought in helped stabilize the program. After Fraud Graham, this program could have gone in the crapper big time. So we at least had that going for us.
So now Narduzzi comes in and we see an immediate uptick in the W-L column. With the same players that HCPC had at his disposal. Why? Attitude and mindset, that’s why. Coach Narduzzi can get mediocre kids to play well and good kids to play better. What can he do with great kids? We all are going to find out soon enough.
I’ve listed the names before, I’m not going to continue repeating them here again. The big picture is that Coach Narduzzi HAS recruited a better athlete during his short tenure here, especially DBs. Bigger, faster, more talented and more of them. He’s also opened up Florida for us once again, a football factory state for sure, and he has assembled a coaching staff that are rabid recruiters. That is going to show up on the field as wins and loses in the future, maybe the near future. To say more wouldn’t be dealing with the facts, because this talent is mostly untested and the flops will occur.
Damar Hamlin is a fine example, he came in injured, didn’t practice in Fall camp and when he did see the field, was ill prepared to hold down his corner spot. Paris Ford, coming in this year, on paper looks good, who knows?
We’ll see soon enough. Solid competition brings out the best however. Even if Paris never sees the field and takes a RS, he will be providing competition. Let’s get Hamlin fully healthy and now, we have even more depth in the defensive secondary and on paper more talented players. That combination with the ingrained winning mindset that Coach Narduzzi has indoctrinated into this team over the last couple of seasons should produce results pretty soon.
Results like deflected passes rather than big catches by opponents, more INTs, and hopefully thwarted 4th down conversions attempted though the air (I hate UNC!). Make those kind of plays consistently and you win more games, PERIOD. Those are my expectations.
So, until proven otherwise, I’ll choose to remain optimistic.
Hail to Pitt.