For the last edition of our slightly-too-late midseason grades series (it really should have been published last week), I’ll be reporting on special teams and coaching.  Anybody wondering why we aren’t in the top 25 with a 4-2 record against a top-20 schedule?  Look no further than coaching and the third phase.  sigh

  • Fewest Penalties per Game:  8.83.  124th out of 130 – 5th Percentile.  The good news is that the only two power five teams lower than Pitt are Miami (9.0) and Syracuse (9.17).  Also for some sand in the craw, #21 Cincinnati is 129th (10.17)
  • Fewest Penalty Yards per Game:  83.17 – 127th out of 130 – 2nd Percentile.  Oklahoma is the only P5 team lower than Pitt.  (89.33).


  • Kickoff Return Defense (avg Yards allowed):  18.67.  41st out of 130 – 68th Percentile.  Pitt is tied with Florida.
  • Kickoff Returns (avg yards per Return):  17.4.  111th out of 130 – 14th percentile.  There we are, sandwiched between Georgia State and Army.  FWIW, Georgia is 119th.
  • Net Punting:  36.42.  97th out of 130 – 25th Percentile.  Honestly didn’t think we were that bad, but turns out we actually aren’t that good.
  • Punt Return Defense:  16.09.  120th out of 130 – 8th Percentile.  For a team that prides itself on defense and tackling, this is mindbogglingly bad.
  • Punt Returns:  6.83.  77th out of 130 – 40th Percentile.  Thank goodness Ffrenchy flashed a little bit last week or we’d be at the bottom of the pile here too.
  • Punting:  43.6.  35th out of 104 – 67th Percentile.
  • Field Goal Percentage:  .500.  101st out of 111.  9th Percentile.  I like Alex Kessman and I get that he’s nice guy and a good kid, but these numbers speak for themselves.  Pulling for him to redeem himself in the second half of the season.


  • Winning Percentage:  32nd (T) – Well they say defense wins championships.  Given that our very good defense has carried our middling offense and downright atrocious special teams to four wins against some stiff competition, I’d say the defense is at least winning games.  Imagine what could be if this team actually managed to play disciplined football and sound special teams.  *If* …

My grades:

  • Penalties / In Game Coaching:  F
  • Special Teams:  F.  Sorry, but Kirk Christodoulou’s respectable punting is not enough to avoid this grade.
  • Winning Percentage:  B.  Raise your hand if you thought Pitt would be 4-2 at this point, and would take Penn State down to the wire.  At the end of the day wins are the only stat the matters, and right now we are well above average.

Hail to Pitt.  Tomorrow we talk Syracuse.



77 thoughts on “Midseason Grades – Special Teams and Everything Else

  1. MM your analysis is spot on. FFrench is exciting, for all the wrong reasons, as a punt returner and apparently Ford is not the answer. FFrench’s biggest issue is trying too hard, i.e., trying to find an opening before securing the punt, and then bad judgement not calling for the fair catch when its the right thing to do.

    Kessman is now officially a head-case and I can’t imagine he will be able to work through his issues this season, which is why its hard to see Pitt winning out, or even getting beyond 7 wins. ST have to get you a win or maybe 2 and so far they haven’t and I don’t see it happening in the second half of the year.

    Our punter’s best kicks have been run back because he out-kicked his coverage, and not gotten enough air on the ball. His best skill so far is getting the ball to land between the 10-yard line and Endzone, and that deserves some kudos.

    Coaching grades for D is B+, for O is C+ (hard installing a completely new offensive philosophy), and ST D (grading on a curve). As for overall control over the team HCPN gets an F. If there are no consequences for inappropriate behavior and stupid taunting, late hit, etc penalties is it any surprise they never stop?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love grading on a curve…seriously, I luv me some curves. You have to with the offense at least. But Definitely not with the head coaching.

    I’ll raise my hand.

    I still think a 7-8 win season. No Coastal title (its not a championship). But a bowl win and possible top 25-30 final ranking. That actually wouldn’t be too bad a season.

    Next year becomes make or break then. 10 wins or Bust.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes expectations are going to be sky high next year. But let’s save that for the offseason…


  3. Thanks Maestro. Good data.
    Andre Powell coaches special teams and running backs.
    Do some teams have dedicated Special team coaches?
    The penalties are indeed troubling…
    Good to see Missingwlat considering traveling to the Syracuse game. Any POVerts going?


    1. I’m sure some do. Duzz has two defensive back coaches and to be honest I don’t think I’d change that. But hiring a tough as nails grad Assitant or two to help with special teams seems like a solid investment…


      1. I could be “mis-remembering,” but I thought I read where one of our grad assistants is the son of the Cleveland Brown’s Special Team’ s Coach.

        Perhaps this explains a lot…😊

        Go Pitt.


  4. to Dr Williams who gave me a D in Macro-Economics, I take back all the things I muttered about you under my breath

    But seriously, the penalties are obviously a big issue that needs to be addressed. HCPN mentioned stressing fundamentals yesterday in his presser, hopefully we will see a more disciplined team on Friday


  5. Kessman is now labeled a head-case by some commenters here? This after his most recent game stats which included 100% FG success with 38 & 43 yard kicks. Sorry, but Kessman missing one of four PATs does not equate him to being a head-case. It does define him as being one PAT away from perfection however in his latest effort against the Dukies.

    Whatever happened to the concept that you’re only as good as your last game performance says you are?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Kick-off returns are becoming less and less common as many of the PKers can boot them out of the end zone and the player has the opportunity take a knee and the ball starts on the 25…seems more and more punts are “fair ” these catch” at least for this group of Panthers…

    Penalties are the real killer but why none against the Nits- maybe because they had to concentrate and focus on each play due to crowd noise…….

    I think the Aussie has done well with punting definitely improved over last year..had one taken to the house because he out kicked the coverage..wasn’t his fault as the coverage guys have to make tackles..

    Alex has new lightbaby blue shoes and things are trending up..hopefully, he blasts a game winner or 3 along the way…only game that he had a chance to win but didn’t measure up was ND last year IMO


    1. BigB, in essence Kessman did just that (kicked winning FG) against the Blue Devils. It just didn’t occur at the conclusion of the game this time. That honor was reserved for Mr. Carter & his awesome spin move that enabled him to scamper into the endzone for our winning TD.


  7. Well this final segment confirms what we have known for a long time, Pitt is a very flawed team.

    A flawed team that is 4-2 against pretty stiff competition and with flaws that are mostly correctable, or at least where some improvement can be achieved.

    Pitt’s O-line should get better, receivers can stop dropping so many balls, id KP gets healthy he can pick up a few first downs with his legs, AJ Davis could come back strong. Fewer turnovers.

    Pitt’s defense could get stronger inside the red zone. Make a couple goal line stands.

    Special teams certainly can improve.

    Hopefully Pitt will need to be as good as it has to be to win 4 or 5 more games. That is the only stat that matters.

    One other comment on penalties is that the refs really have been one sided, so it is hard to figure how bad Pitt really is. So much of reffing is subjective, holding can be called on most plays if the ref wants to. Pass Interference can also be subjective. For what ever reason calls have not been going our way much of the time.

    Some of the penalties have been because of aggressive play which is ok, some PI’s are good if the d-back was going to get beat anyway. Motion calls and holding on the offense have been bad and need to be corrected, except for holding to save your QB from getting killed.

    I guess what I am saying is that all penalties are not the same, Miami and others have won championships while playing “dirty”. They changed rules because of Mel Blount and Jack Tatum.

    Just Win, baby!


    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree Pitt is a flawed team as are the rest of the teams in the ACC save Clemson, and even they (Clemson) almost lost. IMO, Clemson is the best and GT is the worst ….. but the other 12 teams can beat any other team on a given day.

      I would like to think Pitt is near the top of the 12 but unrealistic expectations must be checked. Yes, Pitt is capable of winning the balance of its game, but it also is capable of losing 3 or 4 of them..

      I believe Pitt is improved over last year’s team but that in itself doesn’t make it a shoo-in to repeat or better its 6-2 ACC record from a year ago. Other teams also improve, and some of them have just as much talent as Pitt does


    2. Agree that over-aggressiveness has led to penalties. But isn’t an aggressive defense what we want? Can be hard to judge the line in an emotion- filled game…

      I blame Coach Bates! And I credit Coach Bates!

      And I credit Coach Bates way more than I blame him… 😊

      Go Pitt.


  8. add this to the pot…our opponents have tallied 135 points against us while we have scored 129 points ..yet here we stand a 4-2… many one score games…was watching 1987 PITT vs ND on ESPN Classics the last 2 nights..we jump out to a huge lead only to win a close one score game in the closing seconds(same outcome both nights!)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree that the ACC I’d Clemson at the top, GT at bottom, and everyone else pretty much even with one another in the middle. But I’m getting nervous for UNC already … they are 3 and 3 but played Clemson very close, lost by a field goal to Appalachian State which I thought was a bad loss at the time but they an undefeated ranked team now, and lost to Wake Forest on the road and Wake is apparently a solid team this year at least looking at its record. And of course we all know that for whatever reason Narduzzi has bad luck against the tar heels.


      1. Agree… Heels are starting to “ feel it” since they beat the team that recently whipped Georgia and did it between the hedges…. Carolina’s freshman QB was heavily recruited by Dabo and crew… Heels also have a solid TE recruit from central Catholic, Pgh. PA


    1. the problem we have against the Heels is the last 2-5 minutes after we have lead the whole game… vuja dae all over again….. we gotta find ways to hold and build leads not build and hold… totally different….part of the process is eliminating costly miscues….

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t want this to sound like I’m just nitpicking with Narduzzi, but his secrecy concerning injuries is getting old. It today’s PG, he continues to be secretive about whether A.J. Davis and the Freshman Davis will play, even with the Freshman continuing to wear an arm protector. Would it really give away big secrets to identify the types of injuries and play status of injured players? Narduzzi’s secrecy is over the top, and frankly is a bit irritating…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s a Naduuzzi deep state conspiracy.

    I much preferred the old ACC compliance rule that dictated an accurate Thursday injury report when playing against another ACC opponent.


  12. Good, sobering article, MM.

    I keep reminding that we could be 1-5 if we didn’t make some dramatic late-game plays, but those special-team stats sure look like they belong to a 1-5 team…

    The good news of course is that we’re somehow 4-2 and we can play better on offense and special teams!

    Go Pitt.


  13. Osborne, it is irritating because he continues to thumb his nose at the loyal fans who may actually follow Pitt and care how Pitt does. I agree that we will put up with his little idiosyncrasies if he is winning, but he isn’t gaining many personal fans that would continue to support him in hard times. In short, he better win or he will have little support. I agree with Dr. Tom that Thursday injury reports should be reinstated.


    1. He doesn’t owe an accurate injury report to the fans!

      “he better win or he will have little support”
      Third best record out of 14 ACC programs through 4.25 seasons. He. Is. Winning.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Well we know Pitt wasn’t directly responsible for the change in injury reporting. At least 6 or more schools voted to remove the Thursday reporting requirement.

      Pitt (and PN) is just following the herd.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Coach Powell seems like a very likable and competent coach.
    I wonder if his message on Special Teams has gotten stale. Like how even successful hockey coaches often have a short tenure…

    Hate to say it, but perhaps Coach Duzz needs to shake up some staff responsibilities, get more involved in the Special Team’s coaching himself, or make a change…

    Go Pitt.


  15. I come from the school of letting the coaches coach and let the fans do their thing like second guess the coaches and how they coach. 🙂 I remember years ago when the NFL cracked down on reporting injuries. The week after that, all the teams practically listed every player on their roster that had a hang nail or the Ohio sniffles.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. as a follow-up newbk1 posting above that UNC’s 3 losses were all to pretty good teams, note that they also beat South Carolina at their place … yes the same SC that just beat #3 Georgia at their place. UNC also has a 4/5-star QB which Clemson coveted.

    This is why I’m saying that while Pitt is improved, so has other ACC teams …. and that includes a few teams that started out badly but are looking better in the last couple of weeks


  17. the only 2 reasons that NFL lists injuries is because of betting and Fantasy Football …. which they realize are why the NFL is so darned popular. The NFL has sold its soul to the devil a long time, and colleges are doing the same ….. while laughing its way to the bank.


  18. No doubt wwb, that is exactly the reason for the NFL injury report rule. Point being, NFL teams were refusing to be honest in listing the injuries on their team before the rule. Kind of like what Narduzzi is doing now, you know, since he is not required to do so. Second point, Narduzzi is far from being the only coach that plays the double secret agent game with the media.


    1. Yes, but taken in the context of:

      having big calves
      hairy gorilla arms
      a couple of card-carrying members of the “Friends of Pat” society on his staff
      closing the meaty part of team practices to the media

      this whole injury subterfuge is just another brick in the wall he has constructed to irritate loyal, longtime Pitt fans. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I think Nard should have to divulge the plays he will run on the opening series. That way us fans will know whether we need to show up early, or can saunter to the game. Geeze, it is so hard to make life and death decisions without good information!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Pretty damn sweet because it means we are going to win out.

      Of course we actually HAVE to win all those games first …

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I don’t think it would be a good idea to mess with any of the coaching chemistry after this year. The pins are set up for a strike next year, that’s after PITT finishes a nice season this year. I would like to see KP go into next year with the same OC that embraces the forward pass…. Same goes for Bates, let’s see this through with the continuity that it takes for the players to fully understand what their responsibilities are next year. Again, that’s after PITT picks up the 7-10 split this season.


    1. No question, or as Duzz would say, “No doubt about it!” that we need the continuity, especially with the co-ordinators.

      Kylan Johnson and Paris Ford are two huge assets we didn’t necessarily expect to have on defense, but having Coach Bates in his second season has to be a big plus too.

      Really looking forward to seeing what Coach Whip can do in his second season (and, of course, the second half of his first season…).

      Go Pitt.


  21. Oh, and Sports Illustrated has Penn State playing Boise State on Dec 28 at noon in the Cotton Bowl. Give the Nits time to get back home in State College to watch us play ND on Dec 30 at 8pm.


    Liked by 1 person

  22. I don’t understand why there were no reporters asking if Vincent Davis is wearing a fake cast and if the cast was on the same arm last photo. Plus, is Vince going to be wearing the same number next time he plays. Full disclosure please Pat!


  23. I view Pitt football (and all sports for that matter) as entertainment. So I would grade the team/season thus far from an entertainment perspective. Overall I would give them a B+.

    The defense definitely warrants an A. The mayhem in the backfield is really fun to watch. Guys flying around, spinning, grabbing anything they can get ahold of. Good stuff! I’ll take that over a defensive line that forms a wall and stops a run at the line of scrimmage anytime.

    Likewise, the secondary has been draped over the receivers more often than not. When guys are climbing over a receiver to swat a ball away, you are going to get an occasional pass interference call. Way better that what frequently looked like defenders playing 8 yards off the receiver, keeping the play in front of them, and hopefully making a sure tackle after the catch. The pass coverage this year is flat out entertaining.

    On offense, I would give them a B. I love the fact that we attempting more passes than running plays. Just wish we could throw less horizontal passes and more vertical ones. I have to admit that I find Big 12 football more entertaining than ACC or Big 10. Unfortunately I don’t have any interest in any of those teams other than enjoying a West-Why-God?-Virginia loss.

    Special Teams … who cares? The NCAA has made this part of the game almost irrelevant from an entertainment value perspective. Kickoffs rolling through the back of the end zone, punt returners waving a hand and catching a ball, punt coverage players circling a ball as it rolls to a stop on the ground … boring. What’s left is an occasional return or a blocked punt. That’s what, 3 or 4 plays a game?

    I hope we can keep this up. I haven’t enjoyed watching Pitt football this much since the Fitz days.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Interesting take.

      I agree this year’s team has been the most entertaining in a long long time. So kudos to Pat for building that.

      On the special teams … take all the boring stuff away and you still have one heck of an “entertaining” kicking game eh? I don’t think there is one Pitt fan who enjoys it…


    2. One special teams unit was overlooked in Maestro’s review. The tailgate unit. I’ve graded you and Fran as A+. You live the Boy Scout motto as well, Wolfe.

      Special mention to Doug and BigB too for their efforts and to Ike for use of the parking pass.

      Liked by 6 people

  24. FHSPA – very good synopsis. And I couldn’t agree with you more on the horizontal passing game. Maybe 2-3 per game to get the D thinking about the possibility, but I think the Hor Pass and Jet Sweep have had their run (so to speak). Defenses are pretty good at sniffing them out, and stopping them cold.

    I do wonder why we dont see an occasional shovel pass. I dont think that has been successfully stopped by defenses. Nor the screen pass – especially with our speedy backs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent point on the shovel pass! Matt Canada had that down to a science. Maybe we don’t have the line blocking to make it work. Seems like it would be worth at least one try.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Pitt vs UCF mentioned in this ESPN article. As usual Pitt was passed over in other categories. Randy Bates is a legit DC of the year contender. Jimmy Morrissey is a legit Rimington contender as well. That guy from Temple has played who again? Not Penn State. Not Virginia. No wonder he grades out…


  26. Frankly, I’d just like to take a deep breath right now and get past Syracuse this Friday. Even thinking about any bowl projections at this point just makes me nervous.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Amen to that. Any discussion on where we will go bowling is almost ludicrous. It seems everyone has forgotten last year. I am just hoping we can beat Syracuse on Saturday. Pitt is a first half team as anyone who was at the Duke game can testify. Paris Ford is going to be out for the first half against Syracuse. We may not even be ahead at halftime in which case we can all go to bed early.

      Liked by 3 people

  27. Okay, I give in on the injury issue. I like the NFL rule, and there are fines to back it up if teams are caught fudging the injury report. But I guess I’m the lone voice in the wilderness on this issue for college ball, so we can expect to get very little injury info from Narduzzi in the future, especially if the other coaches also hold back. By the way, I kind of like the idea of publishing the first series of plays and going mano a mano with the opposing team!


    1. VoR and you know you’re my buddy. Think if you’ve heard any updates and or injury reports from Syracuse for this Friday night’s game? Plus even if we did, how would we know how much truth is involved?

      Liked by 1 person

  28. The only point of injury reports are for gambling. It provides an advantage to the opposing team. It’s annoying but I’m fine with Duzz’s reporting of injuries. Plus, in most lines of work, medical records are private. None of our business.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Aren’t their HIPAA rules and laws that prevent colleges from divulging the health condition of their students? In the NFL, the players union probably bargain for a waiver of that for the players, but I don’t know if that’s possible in college.


      1. Impressive that you got the acronym correct as HIPPA is probably the most common misspelling that I have ever seen, even in the healthcare industry which should know better. HIPAA privacy laws would seem to cover PHI (Protective Health Information) for athletes, but like most regulations, there are many provisions and conditions included. It also wouldn’t surprise me that all pro contracts include a PHI waiver … and maybe even scholarship agreements (who knows?)

        Maybe, one of these days an athlete will challenge it


  29. Way off-topic, but Paul Zeise had Pitt’s women’s volleyball coach Dan Fisher on the radio for an hour. I guess if you build it, they will come…

    Annie pleased!

    This made me curious about where this volleyball wizard came from. Turns out he’s a Californian who came here after two lights-out years at NAIA Concordia U. in CA — and a stint coaching in Hawaii! Pitt hired him in 2013.

    Here’s some of Dan’s bio…

    2011 – 2012 — Guided the Concordia Eagles women’s volleyball program to an overall record of 75-2 (.974), including a National Championship in 2012 and a National Runner-up finish in 2011.
    Coached six NAIA All-Americans, seven All-GSAC players and five GSAC scholar-athletes in his two seasons.

    Led Concordia to its first NAIA National Championship in 2012, finishing the season with a perfect 38-0 record
    Named NAIA Tournament Coach of the Year in 2012
    Coached Concordia to a national runner-up finish in his first year with a 37-2 overall record and 18-0 conference record. Named the NAIA/AVCA National Coach of the Year in 2011

    Named head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team for the Pan American Cup – led Team USA to a Bronze Medal (2016)
    Led the U.S. Women’s National Team to a Gold Medal at the Pan American Games as head coach – marked the first time since 1967 (2015).
    Aided in Team USA’s Gold Medal run as an assistant coach at the Pan American Cup – aced as the team’s offensive coordinator, specifically working with the setters, and also coordinated opponent scouting (2012).

    University of Hawaii | Associate Men’s Head Coach | 2009-11
    Helped the Warriors earn a No. 4 national ranking in 2010 and coached three AVCA All-Americans during his tenure

    University of San Francisco | Associate Women’s Head Coach | 2007-09
    Helped San Francisco to an NCAA Tournament berth after finishing second in the West Coast Conference in 2008

    University of the Pacific | Assistant Men’s Head Coach | 2004-07
    Worked primarily with the men’s squad but did additional work with the women’s team (assistant coach/camp director)…

    Sounded good on the radio – pretty analytical…

    As I said — Annie pleased!

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sweet!

      I saw where the women’s BB locker room was re-done too.

      I imagine Coaches Capel and White had a lot of input — having both come from highly successful programs…

      Go Pitt.


  30. I saw some of the Syracuse v NCST game. A few observations:

    They run Devito (QB) out of the shotgun. He’s accurate on the short passes (slants, bubble screens & RB screens). They love the short passes to Jackson (WR) and to the RBs. Devito can run, but is not particularly fast or elusive. He can throw the deep ball if he plants and heaves, otherwise he is not great with the long ball.

    Jackson (WR) is really good.

    Syracuse OL is suspect.

    The Syracuse DL is solid and athletic. They blitz the LBs often.

    Syracuse’ defense is aggressive, but plays like the one Pitt scored on against Duke in the final minute or so will work well against Syracuse.

    Pitt should be able to find a way to win this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re getting ahead of yourself rocky. 😎. I’ll go ahead and publish the preview so you can repost


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