OK… I’ll say weep… or scratch your head maybe. There are some real surprises and concerns here and unless this is a some-what joking attempt to rile up Pitt fans I see some scary issues in front of the opening game.
First off I am actually not that surprised that SR Mike Flanagan is listed before rsSO Chris Clark at TE. Regardless of that 5* and #1 TE recruit ranking Clark was given years ago Narduzzi always goes with real game day experience if he has the opportunity to do so. We see that now at the TE position for the opener.
Most specifically it is because of Flanagan’s blocking abilities. He’s a big and proven guy and, again I don’t care what the Pitt people say, Chris Clark is on the thin side. Pitt needs bulk for that 6th offensive lineman this season.
Jim Morrissey over both Conner Dintino and Alex Officer (who played Center last year) is disturbing to me. I have said repeatedly that I have real concerns about the Offensive line. A rsFR with absolutely zero game experience beat out both of them… not good at all. Hey, you can believe Morrissey is some sort of Fall Camp superstar if you wish – but the real possibility is that the other two guys sucked at playing Center.
Here is the lineup as of Monday afternoon…
And what do the first two paragraphs of this article have to do with each other?
This offensive starting list centers (no pun intended) on the maximization of pass protection for our new QB Max Brown. This will be a key issue throughout the season but especially in this first game for him in his new home surrounded by a new supporting cast.
Browne isn’t very mobile to begin with so these changes, especially at TE where Clark’s blocking is completely unknown in real game situations, are key to keeping him not only upright but inside the pocket so he can get off accurate passes. He’s not very effective at throwing on the run like we saw with Voytik and Peterman over the last two years so he’ll need that Safe Place.
One other small tidbit about the TEs. Notice that on the two-deep Narduzzi listed real FBs (SR Cotton Lively and SO Eric Sellers) and thus is not employing an F-Back using Flanagan as was discussed in the interviews. Now it should be said that since Narduzzi believes in surprising opposing DCs he may be holding that formation in abeyance until needed, but if one talks openly in camp about the possibility of using it – then you can bet he’ll do it sometime down the road.
That makes me wonder even more about how Clark did, or didn’t, impress the staff since he got here back in 2016. But that’s just me – the situation may be that SR FB Colton Lively impressed the OC well enough in the camp scrimmages to take Aston’s place until Aston returns and allowing the playbook to stay unchanged from before Aston’s injury.
I do wonder how well we will be able to accomplish our pass protection. – maybe not so worried for our match against YSU but certainly concerned about the next week up in Happy Valley. I have written, and I believe, that we will see our ‘sacks allowed’ number rise dramatically from a Pitt record nine sacks given up in 2016 to two or maybe three times that many.
Peterman was excellent at feeling pressure even before it came too close to him – his anticipatory skills were excellent. That’s not the case so much for Browne I fear.
What will really be interesting to see if Watson incorporates Flanagan in the passing game before he does Clark…
As I said Narduzzi favors experience if he has it to use. Ollison was the clear starter at Running Back no matter what inane coachspeak we heard during camp. If a HC sits down a player who previously had 1100+ yards; 11 TDs and a 5.3 ypc average for a virtually untested Moss, or worse as shown in the above listing, JR Darrin Hall – who hasn’t shown a thing in three years, that HC needs to have his head examined. That starting position was never in doubt.
There aren’t too many other surprises here – but seeing Moss left out as not even an “or” with Hall at RB is a bit wonder making. These kind of things take us by surprise because of those closed practices Narduzzi loves so much. Maybe Hall did a bit better than Moss over the length of camp… or maybe Moss is a bit dinged up – who knows? But I think we all expected Moss as RB2.
On defense I cringe just looking at the lineup – we knew Whitehead, Blair, Taleni, and Wirginis wouldn’t be in the starting lineup but very little on that defensive side of the ball impresses me at all. I can say that of the 11 positions at least six of them have big “?“s next to them.
At DE we wonder 1) if Hendrix is actually healthy enough to play well and 2) if his ‘playing well’ is akin to a high D1 level. We really don’t know what we’ll see from him as he’s inexperienced in actual games and even if his hype level is astronomical among Pitt fans he needs to live up to it while in uniform. Since he hasn’t done so I’ll award him a single “?‘”.
On the other side we have another Panther, 2* recruit DE SR Allen Edwards who, even though eligible to play for Pitt in 2015 didn’t get into any games, started only four games last season. He did… OK… in spot duty last year so I’m hopeful he’ll be better, and that means very good, this year. Average ain’t going to cut it from our DEs this season, not if The Great Pat Narduzzi and his sidekick, the Small Coordinator, want to keep believing that continual hard pressure on the Black Hat QBs somehow makes it impossible for opponents to pass the ball with success.
I know! Crazy, huh? Not one word about the actual failed pass defense schemes over the last two seasons for the guys in the defensive backfield. One more horrid defensive season like we have in 2016 had and we’ll have to put the DB’s on mass suicide watch.
I just am always hesitant when I see a SR getting full starting playing time this late in his career. But I was psyched to see what Taleni was going to do for us in his SR year this season so I’ll keep an open mind on Edwards but still award him a single “?” based on only four starts.
Commenting on the interior of our starting defensive line needs only one statement… Shane Roy !!
Roy is another journeyman ex-special teams player turned starter in his SR year. That gets a “?” from me there; a double one actually – “??“. My gut feeling is that the if our defensive staff coaching is forced to play Roy in that key lineman spot then it is an indictment as to the honest level of over-all talent we had at this point in time. Notice I said “honest level” and not ‘the level fans think we have‘
We have talked about the prospective ’17 starting lineup since January and not once, never, did I read or hear even once Shane Roy’s name being mentioned as a starter until there was only one week left in fall camp. And if readers are being honest with themselves they never seriously considered Roy as a starter either. As I said in the opening sentence of this article – either this is a coaching misdirection toward the opposing coaching staffs or we just truly are bereft of new talent on our DL.
Sad to accept as it may be, but it is the latter situation most probably.
Next to him is rsFR Keyshon Camp, a 3* recruit who apparently jumped over a 4* game-experienced (at least a little) SO Amir Watts. That might be some goods news I hope but again – no D1 experience at all there again. One “?” for Camp.
We have another question mark in the LBs who will start on Saturday. I’m not sold on the WR-LB Elijah Ziese experiment yet but with no concrete evidence I can’t say whether he’ll play well or not at the Money LB spot. But it does concern me that, again, we have less than one full game experience there. Mark him down as a single “?” in my opinion.
Perhaps where injuries are going to hurt most is in our defensive backfield. Returning CB Starter Phillipe Motley is out at this point and that might hold for a while. He had two starts at mid-season and was set to be the starting CB for the last four games before missing those matches with injury. Even with his small experience he’s needed.
His replacement, 2* recruit rsSO Dane Jackson, has one less start than Motley with three and those came in relief after Motley left the lineup. I give him a “?” for his recruit rating combined with his inexperience.
At the Strong Safety position 2* rsJR Dennis Briggs (from mighty Shadyside Academy) is going to play well for us I think. He’s been in a lot of games over the previous two years and that should help settle down some of those newbie DBs who you can be sure are going to give up some big-ass passing plays early on.
With S Briggs out there along with SR CB Avonte Maddox, who is a three-year starter at that position, they will be a stabilizing influence for all those other inexperienced guys on the field with them. Let’s hope they are up to that task. I give Briggs a “?” not so much for inexperience, he has that, but for his suspect talent level.
At the other Safety spot; the Free Safety position has newcomer SO Jazzee Stocker will be out there chasing down WRs from behind. You may remember him as he is the younger brother of “Pitt’s Magically Disappearing Quarterback” Manny Stocker. Sure you remember him, he was just plain old Jay back then; that’s why you didn’t recognize the name. BTW – “Jazzee” is his given name.
Jazzee has been a regular Special Teams player with only dipping a toe into the starting waters last season. He is Whitehead’s replacement during the latter’s three game suspension.
As much as I like Jazzee’s cool name, because I am down with that my Brother from another Mother and am too hip to be square, I still give him a big “?” as I think he’s in over his head filling in Whitehead’s shoes, especially given his almost complete lack of play at Safety.
Now – I have talked a lot about the inexperience on this Pitt team this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. I think it is a clear and real problem for us and is magnified because there are so many unknowns when it comes to these guys’ actual talent levels also.
There is a huge difference between fans assuming a player is going to be talented and then make that talent into productivity… and it actually happening. If it was just two or three players on defense who fall into this category perhaps I wouldn’t be so worried. But it isn’t. With exception of… Hell, only Idowu, Maddox and Briggs, we have no idea how the other eight guys are going to do when the whistle blows and they are playing as first time starters.
I have reservations about the two-deep on offense also, but it is nothing like what I feel when I looked at the defensive two-deep when it was published yesterday afternoon. I think I can speak for most fans when I say that looking at a prospective defensive lineup and feeling unsure about two or even three positions is normal at the beginning of each season. but seeing so many real question marks here is unnerving as hell.
One last note and I’m adding this: just because I feel there are question marks on offense and defense doesn’t mean those players are going to fail out there. Not at all – it means we fans (and the staff) have no real idea how well those players will contribute. But there are valid concerns going into 2017 and I think all us fans can agree on that.
PITT vs. YOUNGSTOWN STATE
September 2, 2017 • 1 p.m., ET
Heinz Field (68,400/Natural Grass) • Pittsburgh, Pa.
ACC Network Extra • Pitt IMG Sports Radio Network
PittsburghPanthers.com • @Pitt_FB • #YSUvsPITT
LINK (PDF): Pitt Game Notes (vs. YSU)
- Pitt opens its 128th season of intercollegiate football when the Panthers host Youngstown State at Heinz Field.
- Under the direction of third-year head coach Pat Narduzzi, the Panthers are looking to build off consecutive eight-win seasons. The Panthers have finished second in the ACC’s Coastal Division each of the past two years.
- Pitt is 82-43-2 (.654) all-time in openers. Since the 2000 season, Pitt is 12-5 (.706) in its initial game, including 2-0 under Narduzzi.
- Narduzzi has deep ties to Youngstown and YSU. His father, the late Bill Narduzzi, was the Penguins’ head coach from 1975-85, twice leading them to the NCAA Division II playoffs, including the 1979 national title game.
- Pat Narduzzi was a starting linebacker for his father in 1985, leading the Ohio Valley Conference in tackles as a YSU freshman.
- A member of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), Youngstown State is coming off an exceptional 2016 campaign. The Penguins finished with a 12-4 record and advanced to the NCAA Division I national championship game, where they lost to James Madison, 28-14.
- Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini is in his third season with the Penguins. Like Narduzzi, Pelini is also a Youngstown native. Prior to YSU, Pelini was the head coach at Nebraska for seven seasons (2008-14).
- Narduzzi (Ursuline) and Pelini (Cardinal Mooney) starred at rival Youngstown high schools. In their last meeting against each other, Ursuline routed Mooney, 35-0, in a game that decided the 1984 Steel Valley Conference title.
- Pitt is 14-1 all-time against FCS opponents. The Panthers’ lone loss to an FCS foe came against Youngstown State in the 2012 season opener, 31-17.
Pitt and Youngstown State meet for the fifth time in a series that began in 2005…the Panthers are 3-1 against the Penguins…the last meeting occurred on Sept. 5, 2015, a 45-37 Pitt victory…that 2015 game served as the head coaching debut for Pat Narduzzi…incidentally, Bo Pelini was making his YSU coaching debut in that same game…the Panthers’ lone loss in the series came on Sept. 1, 2012, when YSU upset Pitt, 31-17…the 2012 YSU game is Pitt’s lone loss to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent…the Panthers are 14-1 all-time vs. FCS foes…on Sept. 5, 2009, Pitt rolled to a 38-3 victory over YSU to open the season….the inaugural game between the schools was on Sept. 24, 2005, when the Panthers defeated the Penguins, 41-0…the 2005 encounter is the only contest between Pitt and YSU that was not a season opener.
Television • ACC Network Extra via ESPN3/WatchESPN
Robert Lee, play-by-play (Andrew Jackson is his research assistant)
Dustin Fox, analyst
Pitt Radio • 93.7 The Fan & the Pitt IMG Sports Network
Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play
Bill Osborn, analyst
Larry Richert, reporter
SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Sirius Channel 93, XM Channel 197, Internet Channel 959
WPTS Radio (Pitt Student Station) • 92.1 FM
Pitt IMG Sports Network Online Audio Options
Pitt Panthers Gameday App
TuneIn (free live and on-demand content)