The Quick Lane bowl is right around the corner, and for the first time in a while Pitt has a legit chance to take home some December hardware.  Yes it’s Quick Lane Bowl  hardware, but damn it, it’s hardware nonetheless, and outside of that Coastal Division championship last season, the trophy case is looking a little bare.  Plus, all grumbling aside, a win in Detroit will feel better than a loss anywhere else, so kudos to Heather for getting us into a winnable game. (I suppose…)

Speaking of winnable games, I wanted to do a season recap, and so I took a look back at the pre-season preview and prediction thread that I wrote on August 23rd.  Now is as good a time as any to go back and see how we did.

August predictions are in italics.  I started with the offense.  

On offense, we return two Receivers that posted 500 yards in our lovely 120th ranked passing offense.  That has to count for something.  I was speaking of Ffrench and Mack of course.  And as predicted, both shouldered the load, and more than doubled their reception totals.  Ffrench went from 35 to 84.  Mack went from 25 to 62.  Yardage increases were not as impressive.  French increased from 515 to 685.  Mack from 557 to 711.  The result of all that volume underneath (and horizontally):  Both of them got hurt.  Ffrench missed the last three games with broken jaw.  Mack was seen in a walking boot a little more than midway into the season, and he clearly wasn’t in the same guy during the last four games.  The silver lining I suppose is that the inuries gave Shockey and Wayne the opportunity to step up, and gives them something to build on for next year, but I think we may have beaten BC if Frrench was healthy or Mack was in early season form.

The Tight End position simply can’t be any worse than last year, even though that is a small bar to clear.  Maybe the reason that Watson didn’t throw to the tight ends was because he knew none of them could catch.  Without any actual data in front of me, I’d estimate that Gragg and Griffin-Stewart dropped twenty balls between them over twelve games.  And yet somehow they still managed to come down with 35 receptions for 316 yards.  As bad this all sounds, it is still an improvement over last year.  Heck, they even scored a touchdown.  If Whipple manages to stick around long enough to get an actual pass-catching Tight End on the roster, we’re potentially looking at a fifty-catch, 500 yard, five touchdown situation.  Note that I said “if”.

Our Center is primed for an all-ACC season, and if there is one position on the offensive line that can lift the rest out of mediocrity, it is the Center.  Morrissey was voted first team all-ACC.  I would say that he probably had a hand in lifting the rest of the to mediocrity, but there isn’t a Pitt fan alive who can say that he lifted them above it.  Pitt finished roughly 96th in run blocking (line yards), and 54th in pass blocking (sack rate).  They only thing they did well was protect Pickett on passing downs, and thank God they did because otherwise our offense would have been really bad – instead of just bad.  (They finished 24th in “pass down sack rate”).  Overall though, the line was average at best, and I think most fans would agree it was below average.

Running back is also a concern, since we graduated two 1000 yard rushers and have nothing but an unproven stable of backs to replace them.  Although I believe that if the offensive line can open the holes, Pitt will find someone to run through them.  Well, we did find someone to run through them, sort of.  AJ Davis was okay (4.2 YPC).  Vincent Davis was better (5.3).  Todd Sibley averaged five yards per carry…when he was healthy.  There was a lot of hype around V’Lique Carter during the fall, but Andre Powell sagely advised us that “no, he’s not going to win the Heisman”.  And he was right.  Carter averaged 3.7 yards per carry.  He did catch 16 balls for 173 yards though, and his two receiving touchdowns were instrumental in both the Delaware and Duke wins.

 And most importantly, our Quarterback has a year of seasoning under his belt.  He is older.  He is wiser.  Time will tell if he takes the leap that we need him to take.   Ahh the optimism of August.  Back when Mark Whipple was a quarterback whisperer who was going to magically transform Kenny Pickett into the second coming of Tyler Palko.  Well maybe that will happen in year two.  Through 12 games (actually 11 because Kenny sat out the Delaware game with an injury), Pickett has thrown 120 more passes than he did in 14 games last year.  But…he’s thrown two less touchdowns and three more interceptions.  I guess you could argue that his INT / ATT ratio is down, but his TD / ATT ratio is WAY down, and well that’s a big reason why Pitt won only seven games.  Think about it this way:  If Pickett had thrown just one more touchdown in every game, he’d have thrown 22 touchdowns vs 9 INT’s.  Still not great, but a heck of a lot better than 10/9, and given that we lost three of our five losses by a touchdown or less…

On defense our secondary, for the first time in a long time, is projected to be strength.   I was right.  Our secondary ranks 21st in passing yards allowed, and I think it’s even higher in Quarterback Rating Allowed (although I don’t have access to those stats).

Our defensive tackles run three deep with Keyshon Camp coming back off of injury, Jaylen Twyman completely transforming has body and drawing rave reviews this fall, and Amir Watts returning from injury as the spiritual leader of the locker room.   Watts had his best year and was named honorable mention all-ACC.  Twyman was voted second team all-American by three different publications.  Camp was injured…again.

The loss of Defensive End Rashad Weaver, of course, is the exception.  He was expected to be one of the best pass rushers in the ACC., and despite what you are hearing out of camp, Weaver will not be easily replaced.  And yet Pitt managed to replace them.  Weaver was replaced by a combination of Deslin Alexandre + Habakuk Baldonaldo.  Together they totaled 9.5 sacks.  On the other side, Patrick Jones notched 8.5 all by himself.

The linebackers are another question mark. The middle will be solid if unspectacular.  Reynolds and Brighwell have both been to combat, but I don’t think anyone classifies them as elite.  The Money linebacker should be an upgrade.  Florida transfer Kylan Johnson bring athleticism and motivation.  Redshirt Junior Chase Pine brings athleticism and size.  Has he matured mentally enough to make an impact?  The star linebacker is more of a question mark, and reading between the lines of the camp reports, it may even be a concern.  Pitt is forced to choose between youth and inexperience.  Cam Bright has been a linebacker since he came to Pitt, but he’s just a redshirt Sophomore.  Phil Campbell has been in the program for four years, but he’s a converted Safety.  There will be growing pains on the outside…  I was wrong here.  Except for maybe in the middle where Brightwell was…solid if unspectacular.  Kylan Johnson was a force at Money.  Cam Bright and Phil Campbell combined to put up borderline all-American numbers out of the Star position. (Again, you need to assume they didn’t see the field at the same time and combine their stats.)

Special teams will likely be a mixed bag.  Kicker Alex Kessman is seasoned, and he has a strong leg, but Pitt is breaking in a new holder.  Reports indicate that it will be Aussie Punter Kirk Christodoulou.  Has he improved his holding ability since his inauspicious debut last year against Penn State?  We can hope he has.  The Aussie was fine as a holder, less fine as a punter.

The return game should be strong with Maurice Ffrench handling both punt and kick return duties.  He was named preseason first team all-ACC this season.  Lets hope he stays healthy.  He didn’t (see above).  And not only did he not stay healthy, but he turned just about every punt return of the season into an adventure of the negative kind.  Not something you’d expect out of a senior captain.

Coaching should be an improvement, especially on offense.  The “Mark Whipple is better than Shawn Watson” horse was dead well before the spring game, and it does not need to be beaten.  On defense, Randy Bates enters his second season.  This continuity will pay dividends.   Whipple is going to be a polarizing figure throughout the entire offseason.  Did he do more with less and wring the most out of an undermanned unit?  Or did he simply shuffle his pieces around and then handicap the team with some questionable play calling?  On defense, Bates was nominated for the Broyles award (I think) and if he wasn’t he should have been.

The schedule is daunting.  And it was.

Virginia is the trendy pick to win the Coastal.  They return a Heisman-candidate Quarterback and an experienced defense.  And win the coastal they did.

Ohio features a Heisman candidate at QB.  Correction –  He apparently had the flu against Pitt, but then again a lot of quarterbacks did…

Penn State has been recruiting better than Pitt for years and has the home ref field advantage.  Officiating was fairly okay.  I don’t think we lost the game because of it.  Sure wish we could have scored from the one…

UCF still has all that Florida speed.  But not enough smarts to stop the Pitt Special.

Syracuse is just hitting their stride as a program and we play them on the road.  They were down this year, and Duz just seems to have their number.

Miami has always had our number.  And they always will.

We’ve never beaten North Carolina in this decade.  Took us six tries, but we did it.

That’s seven potential losses, even if we take care of business in the games we’re “supposed” to win.  Or five…

And so, with that, I will give you my prediction.  It stands at 7-5, and that may be optimistic.   Well I’ll be damned if we didn’t win seven games (although it could have just as easily been five.)  That’s the “magic” of Pat Narduzzi though.  And note the use of quotes around “magic”, because the Duz isn’t exactly in the fans’ good graces (and nor is he in mine).  Still, he generally wins the games he’s supposed to win, but then again he generally loses a couple too.  Boston College.  Miami.  But he generally pulls out a couple upsets as well.  We were home dogs against UCF.  I’m pretty sure we were road dogs against Duke.  And guess what, if those games had come at the end of the season instead of the middle, well I think we’d all be feeling a hell of a lot better about the Quick Lane Bowl.

But we’re not.  And I understand why.  Because by the time we beat UNC we had a real shot at nine wins and maybe even a Coastal Division repeat, and then we fell on our faces.  Hard.  In only a way that a University of Pittsburgh football team can.  (I say that without actually having been a fan of another college football team, but I think it pretty accurately sums up reality, or at least most Pitt fans’ reality.)  And so we limp into a third-tier bowl game against a team we should beat, and God help us if we manage to lose, because if there is one saving grace about the Quicklane Bowl, it’s that Pitt is setup to win.

Unless we turn the ball over five times.

Hail to Pitt

Michaelangelo Monteleone

(PS: Here is where you get to go back and check your prediction and then comment about it. Fun! Link to predictions.)

 

31 thoughts on “Quick Lane Bowl Coming (and how the hell did we get here?)

  1. MM — excellent article. A shame we’re all down with the crappy finish to the season.

    Still, I’m looking forward to watching our fightin’ Pitt Panthers one more time this year… 😊

    Go Pitt. 🎅

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well I was right, wrong and right

    Right about 7 wins
    Wrong about the offense progressing
    Right about the season being lost due to a loss against the Nitters…imagine how 7 wins would feel if one of those wins were against those Nitwits in Creepy Valley.

    If Heather gets beat by her AD replacement, I want to swap AD’s. I’ll buy her a one way ticket back to Blue EMU.

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  3. If you end up throwing enough passes you will end up gaining more yards. And folks that’s just we did so IMO the statistics on that front are very misleading. Those behind the line of scrimmage catches by Ffrench did very little for the Pitt offense this year IMO. As for Pickett I don’t think he progressed one inch from 2018. You got the same KP in 2019 that you got in 2020. And if we get the same KP in 2020 I’m afraid the results will be the same.

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    1. and further ….. Pitt scored 25.6 per game last year but only 20.1 this year. To me, that’s the issue with this offense …. the lack of TDs, whether it is red-zone or long splash plays.

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  4. WRONG … Twyman made second team A-A on 5 publications, not 3. Aside from that, it was a really good synopsis.

    If memory serves, I predicted 7 wins with 8 as a ceiling. But my biggest concern came to fruition … that the new OC would be too pass happy and ignore establishing the run. I knew the defense would be good but not as good as it turned out to be.

    While the majority of us predicted 7 or less (as I recall, ESPN had Pitt at 5.5), this year remains a disappointment due to the last 2 games.

    I’ll remember this season by the number of drops, the number of penalties and the poor finish. A win in the bowl won’t brighten me up any, but it’s certainly better than the alternative. The offseason will be absolute hell if Pitt finishes 7-6.

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  5. off topic … the Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa) at 2:30 today

    this will be between UCF (who Pitt beat this year) against Marshall (who Pitt plays at next year

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  6. Happy Holidays to all of the Pitt Faithful & here’s hoping that for those fans making the trip to Detroit that you find it an enjoyable experience. My understanding is that Ford Field is a great venue for a football game. I’d be interested in learning how the entire bowl game was after the fact if anyone would like to share their experience with the POV once they return home.

    One more chance to watch our Panthers. Let’s finally win a bowl game & go 8-5 OK?

    Hail to Pitt!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In order for someone to share the experience, someone will actually have to go to the game. No POVers going to my knowledge. Beginning to think that there might be 500 Pitt fans there.

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  7. I don’t recall a team with as many dropped passes, turnovers and penalties as this one, this and the injuries to Ffrench and Mack are why we are in the Quick Lane Bowl. If you add Whipple’s very poor effort at establishing any type of running game and the defenses inability to make the big stop after those too many turnovers, it is a wonder that we won seven. It seems many have forgotten the razor thin margin in a few of those victories, like UCF with the Pitt Special or the comeback vs. lowly Delaware.

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  8. We never did get that easy win, even against Duke when we got all the turnovers, we let them back in.

    If anyone thinks we finally have a game we can’t blow, they haven’t been paying attention for the last thirty years, but especially this year.

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  9. This season will always be remembered for a missed opportunity for me. The defense was one of the best in a long time but sloppy and bad play by the offense sabotaged the season. And definitely Narduzzi’s worst year as head coach.

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  10. Maestro, next year I will pay even more attention to your predictions. You really did a nice job of assessing the team and making a prediction, despite limited access to the team.

    If we clean up the awful drops, fumbles and pre-snap penalties, we perhaps win 9 with a chance at a 10 win season. If we don’t have two game winning drives against UCF and Duke, we are at 5 wins and waiting for next yr.

    In other words, our record is really who we are. Sadly, as we all yearn for at least one “special season”.

    That said, I believe there is something in the water at 55 Water Street on the Southside. The two teams have excelled defensively, regressed offensively. Both teams have issues with drops, one with pre-snaps and the other with bad snaps. Perhaps we should all pitch in and buy the Panthers a boatload of Brita filters.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Perhaps part of the reason I am so bitter about the season is that the team was poised to make me look like a genius. I predicted a 9-3 regular season with another bowl loss in what would have been a formidable opponent if Pitt had reached 9 wins. But alas….

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  12. Also, commenting on your question from a previous thread, Yes I think Curt Cignetti would be a very good candidate for Pitt in the future, if he hasn’t already moved on to bigger things by the time Pitt looks to make a HC change. Maybe Ben DiNucci would be his OC, lol.

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  13. I had predicted 8 wins, so I sure hope that comes to pass.

    But I said we’d finish the season strong, presuming Coach Whip would have the offense humming in the second half of the season — way off target (and way disappointed) on that one…

    Go Pitt.

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  14. For me the season comes down to one game, the Boston College game. Not surprised at all with the UVA, psu and the Miami games. The VT game is somewhat of a head scratched though. That loss is not that big of a surprise but 28-0? I think Ffrench may have missed that game and Mack being banged up as well didn’t help, yet still. Now the BC game is the one game PITT should have won and didn’t. Like a lot of teams PITT is just not good enough to overcome 4 turnovers and numerous stupid penalties. << Now is that game all on the coaches? I guess that’s just a matter of opinion but the whole PITT football team laid an egg in that game and pretty much ruined the entire football season for all of the fans.

    Win this bowl game and wind up at 8-5 and PITT will match what the majority of the POVers predicted. With his players this time.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I predicted 7-6 and feel glad I am wrong and will end up 8-5. I expected a better bowl game and opponent for some reason and a loss. That said, will be okay with an 8 and 5 record.

    I think injuries are excuses. Everybody has them. the teams we played have them, we just don’t talk about theirs because it hurts the narrative. Without injuries, Wayne doesn’t get playing time. Playing time that will show how important it is to protect the ball going forward. In addition it will show him how important it is to get his hands stronger. Watching tape is better than “hearing what you need to improve”. So for that reason, I am glad some young guys got to see the field. Unfortunately, it was by accident. Narduzzi needs to get the freshman playing time so they can learn the speed of the game and use that to work towards next year.

    Another excuse for next year’s defense is who might be leaving for the nfl. I will go out on a limb and say that most every team faces this type of scenario each year (whether it’s academics, drugs, off field, nfl, etc.). If the coaches don’t have someone ready to fill in for Twyman and Ford and others, than that is the coaches fault. They need to recruit better and to plan for those types of events. The Portal Is NOT a Plan.

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  16. Good points Huff the Third and you are touching on the real problem with PITT and recruiting 3* players as opposed to 4 and 5* players. Depth! Of course I don’t blame Narduzzi for not getting as many big* players that the big boys get, there are just not enough of them to go around. That’s why injuries to teams like PITT sting a lot more than some others. It’s why I say it will take a magical season for PITT to put together a real and serious run at the NCAA playoffs. All parts will need to be in place. I know some doubt that’s possible but I will always believe, after all, there will still be presents under my Christmas tree on Wednesday morning, I hope and who put them there? Santa?

    I do like the idea of getting the younger players use to the speed of the game and the learning curve is accelerated as well. Like I mentioned earlier, PITT was one game away (BC) Dam it!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pitt will be entering yet another new decade.

    Will Pitt finally decide to eliminate SOP? Will Pitt decide to place Lucy 6 feet under? Will Pitt decide that Narduzzi is a 8 win ceiling coach and move on? Will Heather finally be held accountable for declining attendance, paltry donation rates, budget deficits and directors cup rankings? Will Pitt finally commission a feasibility study for a MPC?

    I already know the answers. And I’m disappointed to say the least.

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  18. EMU is licking their chops watching film of Pitt playing Ohio and Delaware. Their eyes are wide and their mouths are saying “we can beat these guys”.

    Uh oh!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. For what it’s worth I don’t see Pitt coming out this Thursday and playing inspired football against EMU. If we see the same Pitt team that came out of the tunnel against BC then there is a real good chance of ending the season at 7 and 6. And if that ends up being the case Narduzzi may well gained hanged if effigy at the Cathedral of Learning on Thursday eve.

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    1. I doubt Duzz gets lynched, but Pitt will lose a ton of season ticket holders, if they haven’t already.

      Top that EMU lose off with numerous underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft and Pitt calling next year a rebuilding year, count me out.

      Folks, unfortunately all of the above could happen.

      Never forget Houston – fans haven’t. Duzz saw it, but wasn’t inspired by it.

      All I want for Christmas is a Pitt FB team to show up in Detroit inspired and ready to PLAY TO WIN! No fumbles, INT’s, ten men on the field, missed FG’s, dropped passes or false starts.

      Skew the EMU

      Liked by 3 people

  20. as for KP progressing, I saw it, then I didn’t, then I did, then I didn’t, then it was amazing, then he fumbled

    some of that was him, some the o-line, much was the receiver drops, etc.

    Hoping for a solid bowel game but expecting less…

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  21. The offensive leaders of EMU stats all have better numbers than the Pitt leaders. Interesting 🧐

    The Pitt D will need to bring their “A” game – sad to say it.

    I’m hoping the Panthers blow out EMU in the first half so I don’t need to re-apply my deodorant for the 2nd half scoring drought.

    Liked by 1 person

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