We Are Progressing Nicely Thank You

If you ask any college football head coach how he would want his season to play out if the .500 record was determined already I think they would want it to unfold much like Pat Narduzzi’s 2017 team is having their’s do this season.

And before you accuse me of jumping the gun to a break-even year I’ll say this: My head tells me we’ll be 5-7, my gut say 5-7 but my Pitt heart says 6-6.  Sorry – can’t see any part of my body saying we’ll run the table for a 7-5 finish.2017 so farOur season has certainly had its ups and downs – with the Downs having more dramatic outcomes than the Ups.  We have beaten four teams on our schedule that we were pretty much ‘supposed’ to win against anyway. Using the latest polls (which have us currently at #71) to show what our opponents have been doing so far this year here is some info on our games to date.

Our wins include FCS Youngstown State by 7 points in OT, # 127 Rice by 32 points, # 78 Duke by 7 and just last week we bettered # 41 Virginia by 17 – giving us a 15.8 point margin of victory in those four games.

If you are looking for silver linings to this depressed season then take a look at the current rankings of the teams we lost to; #6 Penn State by 19 points, #9 OK State by 38, #29 Georgia Tech by 18, #48 Syracuse by 3 and then #19 NC State by 18.  Those losses were by an average of 19.2 points.

So – armed with that esoteric knowledge what we know for sure is that we still stand at 4-5 on the year with three matches left to play.  One of those games, on Nov 9th against the one-win #96 North Carolina, is at Heinz and should be, on paper at least, a victory for us.

But not so fast on that.  Even though this is a horrible year for the 1-8 Tarheels they have always played us extremely hard and hold a definite edge in head-to-head games of 8-3 overall and 4-0 in ACC play. But that is the past and I’ll be pretty surprised if we don’t come out on top next Thursday night.

That means going into the end of the schedule we should be 5-5 when travelling to Blacksburg to play #14 VA Tech.  Currently VT is 7-1 with their only loss coming from  #5 Clemson.  If you remember we lost a close 39-36 one to VT last season when their great QB Jarrod Evans torched us for 406 yards and 2 TDs.

Good news is that he’s graduated.  Bad news is that his replacement, Josh Jackson, is playing even better QB for the Hokies than Evans did with his 2,32 yards and 13 TDs to 4 INTs. That adds up to a 153.9 passing efficiency and that effeciency success is what has been picking Pitt’s pass defense apart this year.

After VT it is back to Pittsburgh to face the now #11 Miami Hurricanes who have another QB playing well in Malik Rosier:  2071 yards, 17 TDs and 4 INT (144. 9 pass. eff.) but who also can tuck and run with the ball well.

Looking at those two future games and also back at how the Panthers have played over the last three games (and against NC if we get a win there) I have to say we do have a chance against either VT or Miami – slim, but a chance none the less because Pitt pulls an upset almost every season.

So let’s conservatively say we go 2-1 from here in and end up 6-6 and at .500 on the year.  Hey, after a 1-2 start then a 2-5 record we have to be pretty happy with the prospect of a balanced W/L ledger when the dust settles.

Which is also why I think any HC who, given the same circumstances Pat Narduzzi has had, would be pretty satisfied with that.  Even if those circumstances were tilted toward the negative by Narduzzi’s own actions.

Don’t jump the gun here – I agree 100% with Pat Narduzzi’s off the field work and decision-making.  But at the same time I wonder if every other HC would have suspended his top four returning defenders, making two of them gone forever in SR NT Jeremiah Taleni and SR DE Rori Blair. Bear in mind though that some of those suspensions might have been a NCAA mandated loss of eligibility such as a failed NCAA required drug test.

But we fans don’t know that – each could also have been more minor issues that Narduzzi just decided to say “No More” to.  Either way it crippled our defense and that sure showed up in the raw when we had to populate the starting D lineup with players of little or no game day experience in their 2017 positions but who are now growing into a better, more cohesive unit.

Right now we are at 4-5 and kind of sitting pretty given what could have happened.  The fact that Narduzzi avoided a tanked two or three win season was due to beating opponents we felt were supposed to beat anyway when looking at the schedule in pre-season.  Not to take anything away from those wins, but in any other season they would be rather ho-hum victories as opposed to their being season and reputation saving victories this year.

Narduzzi and his staff have done a pretty damned good job of damage control given the suspensions, early season injuries, and poor playing we had in the first half of this season.  Let’s hope we keep building on that and get these young players something to hang their hats on for those long eight off season months before fall camp starts again.

That doesn’t have to mean getting a bowl bid or win either.  In some ways I’d rather we end up the season at 6-6 (if possible) and stay home than go into a bowl game, lose it, and come out again under the .500 mark at 6-7 – which given HCPN’s track record in bowl games is entirely possible.

No. I say win next Thursday night and then take one of two to end the year and we’ll be OK closing out this year at 6-6.

Continue reading “We Are Progressing Nicely Thank You”

POV MMB: Virginia Win

Monday-Morning-QBAs I said on yesterday’s podcast I’m going to make it a short and sweet Monday Morning Quarterback for the Virginia game this week.

First off I think the game was a fun one to watch; it was a good win and showed a team that is solidifying for the push for the last three games of the season to try to get back up to respectability.

All in all it was a good day at the office for those guys.  Here’s my thoughts on some small items that I noticed during the game.

GOOD

Running back Darren Hall came through with another good game on Saturday with 111 yards rushing. Those two back-to-back hundred plus yard games is the first we’ve had since last season.  He is a true Junior this year so I don’t know if he’s going to be the feature back or not for 2018… but you can bet that he’s going to be the feature back for 2017’s last three games.

We showed a true balanced team for the first time this season in my opinion. We had a pretty decent running game with Darren Hall leading the way, but with also Ollison chipping in for a nice 25 yard  scamper for a TD.

Ourp passing game wasn’t great but it was enough to get some first downs and to get a nice 19-yard TD to Jester Weah for a touchdown.

Our special teams play was pretty good on the return side with Q. Henderson’s nice 70-plus yard punt return. Our defense played well also and that showed in the final score… when you can hold a team in college to 14 points something must be going well.

The slant pattern touchdown pass for 19 yards that went to Weah from Ben DiNucci to give us a 14 nothing lead was a very good play. What I really liked about that pass is that it was one of the first ones I’ve seen this QB throw where it hit a receiver in stride so he could use his talents to take the rest of the way.  It was actually a 4-yard pitch-and-catch and a 15-yard run.

DiNucci doesn’t have a big arm; he doesn’t have a consistent long ball and his intermediate throws from 20 yards to 30 yards are rather spotty so he’s got to be able to connect on these quick passes and he’s got to be able to lead these guys so they can get as many yards after the catch as possible.  That’s what he’s going to have to do to be a successful D1 quarterback and we saw at least one play Saturday where he accomplished that.

BAD

Instead of actual bad for this item I’m going to say this is medium and that would be Ben DiNucci’s play at quarterback. It might just be the nature of how he plays football but there’s always an element of his being not in control of what he’s doing out there which I think leads to missed opportunities on his part.

Just like Chad Voytik did I think DiNucci tends to pull the ball down and start scrambling before he really has to sometimes and when that happens he tends to lock onto one receiver as he’s rolling right or left instead of tryingto see the whole field… so he left some very wide open receivers out there on Saturday.

He needs to be able to determine exactly when to scramble and when he does scramble and he’s getting forced out-of-bounds he needs to get rid of the ball before he loses yardage on the play. We saw that happened on Saturday and it’s happened many times earlier so that’s something he’s going to have to grow out of.

Ryan Winslow’s punting Saturday was pretty bad as it has been almost every game this season. I’m not sure what’s happening with him but what was the strength of our team last year has turned into a liability over the course of one season. It’s just not enough to average 35 yards per punt.

I could understand the low yardage if he was trying to have pinpoint accuracy on the kick so that he’s putting it in within the 20-yard line or placing it out-of-bounds of the certain spot.

But that’s not what’s happening with him this year. He’s kicking straight ahead punts and they’re just not going anywhere but  he’s also kicking them low enough so that the receiver has time to get it  and then make a play on the return. As opposed to Winslow’s putting up hang time and having our defense cover the receiver to force a fair catch or maybe a tackle for loss of yardage.

UGLY

Two things combined for me here. The weather was pretty bad for a football game even though it’s mid-October when you can sometimes expected to be chilly but with the rain on top of it made a pretty miserable.

Along with that was the attendance issue. I touched on this in my podcast yesterday but no way in the world was there  30,889 people actually in the stadium on Saturday.  Maybe 30+K tickets went out from the ticket office but not that many human beings showed up.

That was even with giving out a ton of free tickets to HS cheerleaders and families…

We are used to seeing yellow seats at Heinz but when Rich and I came back after the halftime festivities and sat down in our seats it was just yellow everywhere. You couldn’t hardly imagine even five thousand people being left in attendance. The student section was empty. It was as low attendance at  any point of a game or a season that I’ve seen since I’ve been going to Pitt football games.

OK, Give us yours…

 

POV Sunday Podcast – Virginia Win, Yeah Us!

OK, so it’s  “…every loyal son.

What really struck me yesterday was the real power Fran “Lastrowofsection4” has with PennDot when he had them change all HOV lanes to POV lanes…and changed Reedsdale St. to

Here are the latest statistical standings Pitt has after this win – it shows our steady improvement as has been seen over the last few games.  At least we are out of the 100s in most categories…

Team Stats – Through games 10/28/2017
Stat Rank Value
Total Offense 99 363.8
Rushing Offense 88 145.3
Passing Offense 75 218.4
Team Passing Efficiency 80 126.45
Scoring Offense 95 24.2
Total Defense 90 420.7
Rushing Defense 55 156.8
Passing Yards Allowed 107 263.9
Team Passing Efficiency Defense 102 141.92
Scoring Defense 80 27.9

Here is something interesting I found – the Power Ratings for the Panthers over our first nine games. It’s a bit hard to read the info below but this site, www.teamrankings.com is great for getting into the weeds of college football.

Teamrankings VA.pngHere are some post-game videos for your pleasure…

POV’s Pitt – Virginia Gameday Thread

Here are the all-informative Game Notes for this afternoon…

Alright then… it’s that day of the week for Pitt football, except for when we play North Carolina on Thursday evening, but I digress.  Todays match is the Pitt Panthers vs the Virginia Cavaliers, with VA getting 1 point on the betting line, down from an earlier 3 points I believe.  Interestingly on the season to date Pitt is 1-6-1 for the over/under scores due to our poor offense.

I picked Pitt to win, and get our 4th in that column, on  the strength of the fact that I have picked them to lose almost all the games so far so I thought I’d mix it up a bit.  That is the way the season is going for me – I can’t get a solid grasp on either the offense or the defense and we are already eight games into the season with a 3-5 record.

I will say this though – our Panthers’ 1.43 yards per carry on 55 rushes for our offense last week (when you take out Hall’s two big TD runs) scares me.  It was less than half of what we had been averaging… a poor 3.5 all season prior to playing Duke.  I just don’t think Ben DiNucci can get this team a win if we revert back to that poor rushing production again.

Last week we saw hall as the featured runner with Ollison in a blocking H-Back role. However, if it is a mudder day out there I think we’ll see the bigger, stronger Ollison get more carries than he has been getting over the last few games.

Since the season opener we have seen his carries do this; 22 against YSU then 15, 7, 7, 6, 6, 2 and 3 carries the last week. He’s at 4.2 ypc and tied with Hall with four rushing TDs. I really felt that we’d be able to get back his 2015 production this year but with the QB shakeup and poor OL play that won’t happen.

I do look at this matchup and wonder if VA’s QB is going to have a field day against us.  I know VA’s Kurt Benkert’s stats aren’t off the charts but over the last two years our pass defense has tended to make superstars out of the opposing QBs.

PASSING STATISTICS For Virginia’s Starting QB
NAME CMP ATT YDS CMP% YDS/A TD INT RAT
Kurt Benkert 175 281 1806 62.3 6.43 15 4 131.0

If it is indeed as sloppy as we think it may be out there this afternoon then the score will remain low. That is when turnovers are magnified into game changing plays.  Benkert doesn’t throw INTs much – just 1 out of every 70 attempts.  That is superb and on Pitt’s side of that equation DiNucci is one out of 38 passes attempted.

Continue reading “POV’s Pitt – Virginia Gameday Thread”

Friday Predictions Thread – Virginia

Sorry for the very short piece today.  I’m doing a  WWII Service Veterans Gratitude Pinning Ceremony with keynote address today for 17 95+-year-old Veterans and that’s a full day (of standing on my feet and a rubber chicken lunch) of ceremonies… so little time to write this morning.

But it is your words that are important in the prediction pieces.  How say you with this one?

I think we’ll win two more games this season so this pretty much has to be one of them – if our run game can produce again.  I doubt we’ll see lightning strike twice like Hall’s performance last week – but if the OL can bring the thunder for a good regular grind-it-out rushing attack.then we’ll be OK.

Pitt 28 – VA 21

PITTVA.png

POV Roundtable Video; Oct 26th 2017

POV Roundtable Video; Oct 26th 2017

Here is last night’s Roundtable video for your viewing pleasure… we had Matt (PittintheVille) and Mike (TX Panther with us again with a late appearance by Missing Wlat.

Some things we discussed was that Ollison was in the backfield for Hall’s long runs – we went to the familiar two-back set that we used so well last two seasons with Aston at FB.  Ollison was more in the H’Back role but sprung blocks for Hall.  Kudos to the staff for doing that i think – it worked for the big gainers.

Q. Follow-up on Darrin’s performance Saturday, once you reviewed it and watched the tape, how realistic is it — 250 is one thing, but how realistic is it to expect him to stay being the guy, and stay providing that run game that you need?

PAT NARDUZZI: Right now, he’s the guy. It’s his job. You know, I think he’s got a lot of confidence right now. I think he feels good. I think he’s playing fast. I think he’s kind of in the groove a little bit. You saw him make cuts that he doesn’t make very often, and Coach Powell’s been preaching, preaching, preaching, about making somebody miss and getting yards after contact so it’s good to see someone take to it, and something happens.

But that doesn’t go without Qadree (Ollison) also blocking his tail off for him. There are a lot of two-back sets in there where Qadree’s in there also blocking his tail off. So we have an unselfish football team that guys play for each other. Whether it’s Qadree running and Darrin blocking or vice versa. Our guys are out there playing hard.

So Narduzzi has stated that Hall is going to be the primary RB for at least the VA game and perhaps we found a combination that will work in this stretch run.  However, as we discussed on the video aside from those great long gainers from Hall we ran the ball 55 additional times for only 82 yards – a poor 1.42 yards per carry average and that won’t do it.

I hate to think that we have to rely of Hall’s springing long TD runs for our running game though – he did a great job but we have to get better as a running offense if we want to keep winning games – especially at VT and against Miami.

This will be a fun game against Virginia on Saturday.  the weather at this time (11:00 am Thursday) looks wet  for game time with 100% chance of up to a half-inch of rain over the day.  So who does that give an advantage to?  Usually the team who runs better overall has the advantage in these conditions but not always.

We were discussing recruiting the last few days so I doubled back to Chris Dokish’s Top Ten PA players for the years 2017 and 2018. I thought we had gotten more of these players but we have been dragging behind.

We have two so far with a possible third in Kwantel Raines who is making his choice Monday.  He’s leaning toward WVU but let’s cross our fingers he looks more for Pitt that afternoon because he looks like a good one.

What really hurts is that in 2017’s class we had eight kids from immediately around Pittsburgh on that list and only one came here (Ford).  That was why Narduzzi himself mentioned in an interview with Rivals that they were disappointed in that year’s class – too many big fish got away.

2017 & 2018 BEST PA RECRUITS

2017

1.  D’Andre Swift, St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia) RB-  GEORGIA

2.  Lamont Wade, Clairton Area HS (Clairton) CB- PENN STATE

3.  Paris Ford, Steel Valley HS (Munhall) FS- PITTSBURGH.

4.  David Adams, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) LB-   NOTRE DAME.

5.  Donovan Jeter, Beaver Falls Area HS (Beaver Falls) DE-   MICHIGAN

6.  Mark Webb, Archbishop Wood Catholic HS (Warminster) WR-  GEORGIA

7. C.J. Thorpe, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) OG- PENN STATE.

8.  Josh Lugg, North Allegheny HS (Wexford) OT-  NOTRE DAME.

9.  Kurt Hinish, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) DT-  NOTRE DAME.

10.  Kenny Robinson, University Prep HS (Pittsburgh) LB-   WVU

2018

1.  Phil Jurkovec, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia) QB-  NOTRE DAME.

2.  Micah Parsons, Central Dauphin HS (Harrisburg) DE-  PENN STATE.

3.  Isheem Young, Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia) FS- PENN STATE

4.  Kwantel Raines, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) S- ???

5.  Matthew Bauer, Cathedral Prep HS (Erie) LB-  NOTRE DAME

6.  Zack Kuntz, Camp Hill HS (Camp Hill) TE- PENN STATE

7.  Darryle Simmons, St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia)-  VIRGINIA TECH

8. Kevin Doyle, Malvern Prep (Malvern) QB-  MICHIGAN

9.  Shaquon Anderson-Butts, Harrisburg HS (Harrisburg) WR-  PENN STATE

10. David Green, Central Catholic (Pittsburgh) DE-  PITTSBURGH

Don’t forget we have a tailgate going on at Red 5A lot in the corner adjacent to the Red 5 parking garage – I’m driving up Friday evening so I’ll be there with raingear on.

POV: Recruiting Thoughts

Tonight is another edition of our Roundtable.  We had a great time last week with Matt and Mark… and let’s get one or two more callers this evening.  Always more fun to discuss a win than a loss.  Details at the end of this article.

RECRUITING:

In yesterday’s comments a readers posted the following in regards to a quote Pat Narduzzi made during this last offseason:

Narduzzi was quick to point to freshman defensive backs who were either redshirted or used sparingly this season (2016), but could be key contributors in 2017.

“Damar Hamlin, (Therran) Coleman. (Jay) Stocker is going to continue to get better,” he said. “Bricen Garner is a good football player already. Henry Miller, across the board.”

He also threw out the names of three other freshmen: linebacker Chase Pine, defensive tackle Keyshon Camp and wide receiver Ruben Flowers. Then, he added, “Wait until you get a glimpse of (quarterback) Thomas MacVittie.”

I add this to show just how predictions – even from as close to the team as you can get – are often either way overblown or said with wishful thinking. Looking at those singled out you have to laugh a bit because aside from Damar Hamlin – who is having a nice comeback year and Bricen Garner who is doing OK – the rest of those players listed by Narduzzi can’t really be called a “key contributor” for this season’s team.

Here what the defenders listed  have done so far.  Henry Miller hasn’t played on defense yet.

D2D2.png

Of course we know that now Thomas MacVittie is out of the QB picture completely barring injury to either DiNucci and Pickett and WR Flowers hasn’t touched the ball at all.

Ruben Flowers is an interesting case here – a 4* recruit who had everyone slobbering over him during camp but so far he’s done nada on the field.  Now unless I missed it Flowers hasn’t been injured so something has kept him on the bench and that is the staff’s call.

My point with all this is, and I do know that recruiting is an inexact science that usually doesn’t show results for two or three years, Narduzzi’s recruits from 2015 on have not played to expectations yet – nor have his transfers… but those are another story.

Narduzzi has relied on transfers and he’s relied on switching kids’ positions. He hit a gold mine with Nate Peterman but in camp the jury was out on Chris Clark, Mike Flanagan, Max Browne, Dewayne Hendrix and some other players to supplement the returning Panthers for this ’17 season.  Continue reading “POV: Recruiting Thoughts”