As we sit here, 14 days away from a college football season that came perilously close to not happening (and still may yet not happen), the time has come to ask ourselves, “what do we have?”. In many ways, we already know. A good defense. Questions on offense. A coach that can motivate his team to greatness on any given Saturday and at other times lead an undisciplined rabble onto the field. And yet, for all his perceived shortcomings, (questionable in-game decisions, high rates of penalization, lack of focus on offensive recruiting), Narduzzi has won more than he’s lost, against tougher schedules than any other Pitt football coach since Jackie Sherrill. And that in and of itself is something. He’s also maintained a clean program, ranked fourth in the ACC in APR, and by all rights built a team culture that is one of the strongest in recent memory.

But APR does not win games. Players do, and to some degree scheme. Pitt has the players on defense (except for a newly-formed question mark at corner) and certainly the scheme. Offensive talent is…well behind the defensive curve, but the scheme is there with Mark Whipple, who made a living for four years at UMASS coaxing an effective passing game out of questionable talent. If ever there was a situation that called for that skill set, that situation is Pitt right now.

Still, not all the talent on the offense is questionable. For the first time in a long time, Pitt has a legitimate quarterback. Kenny Pickett was better than that most people gave him credit for last season, and with the exception of Virginia Tech in the rain, he finished the season on a high note, throwing for 359 against UNC, 323 against Boston College, and 361 against Eastern Michigan. He averaged better than 8 yards per completion in those three games, and completed around 70% of his passes, and that is exactly what you want to see out your quarterback in a West Coast system. Pro Football Focus graded Pickett’s overall passing performance at 75 last season, and that is considered Above Average. For the record, they graded his 2018 performance at 60, and so, at least by PFF’s arcane measures Pickett has shown progress. He also suffered 36 drops during the season (again according to PFF). Four against Virginia, Five against Miami and Six against Virginia tech – his three worst statistical performances of the year. Anecdotally it can also be said that Pickett appeared to be battling through throwing-shoulder injury for most of the season, and I would think it’s safe to assume he’s healthy and ready to go. Its his senior year, and suffice to say anything less than a breakout would be a disappointment.

Of course football is not played in a vacuum, and any breakout would be highly depended on three things, most important being the offensive line. The line has been a subject of much discussion on this blog, and Narduzzi himself rated their performance no better than a “C” in the most recent scrimmage. By now we all know the story. Great Center, Decent Guards, and Questionable talent and tackle. An offensive line coach that was picked off the scrap heap at Maryland (of all places) and yet somehow is an upgrade. Years of recruiting neglect. A pass blocking grade that finished squarely in the middle of the ACC last season (7th) and a run blocking grade that was 2nd from last (12th). All but one starter return however, and so development will be the name of the game. A chain is only as strong as its weakest links though, so in other words, how much have the Tackles improved?

The second factor affecting Kenny’s chances at a breakout season are the wide receivers. The story line in the offsesaon is that there has been an influx of young talent, headlined by true Freshman Jordan Addison. If (and I emphasize the IF) the rumors are to be believed, Addison has the talent level similar to such notable freshman as Antonio Bryant and Tyler Boyd. Comparing him to The Great One (Larry Fitzgerald) is likely not realistic, but if Addison is at least as good as Bryant or Boyd, that would be a huge boon to the receiving corps.

For the record here are Freshman stats for both:

Bryant: 42 rec, 659 yds, 9 TD

Boyd: 91 rec, 926 yds, 6 TD

Pitt also returns Taysir Mack, who is an above average receiver — when healthy — and in terms of contested catches has come down with some very clutch plays. The key phrase here is “when healthy” as last year a heavy target load and a slight frame (sorry he just doesn’t pass the 6’2″ – 205 eye test), led to a walking boot – and commensurate drop off in production – midway through the season. A similar situation happened in 2018.

Shockey Jaques Louis is another upperclassmen that Pickett needs to be productive, but his route running and ball skills have always been a bit of an issue in my opinion. Put another way, he’s fast and athletic but unpolished. Even the most cursory reserach on the West Coast offense will reaveal that “unpolished” not a great fit for the West Coast Scheme. Hopefully he’s spent the offseason working on things he can control, and he’ll improve on his 62% catch rate.

On the other side of the spectrum, Sophomore Jared Wayne runs great routes and has great hands, but lacks top end speed. Still, I’d expect him to grab more than his fair share of targets this season as these are the types of traits that help a receiver excel in the West Coast offense. A year of seasoning will only help. Wayne boasted a 69% catch rate in limited action in 2019. If he can match that in more extended action in 2020 he’ll be an asset to the offense.

A stronger running game will be the third part of any Kenny Picket breakout. In Whipple’s system the running game is a changeup, and most Pitt fans (who were raised on a steady diet of Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin and Leshon McCoy) abhor this. But at the end of the day, it can work if used correctly. Last year Pitt’s running game ranked close to the bottom of the NCAA in most categories. Narduzzi has very publicly commented on his desire to improve in 2020. The running backs will be a year older and stronger. The line as well. There is some new blood…although I for one am not a firm believer that Izzy Ibanikanda is going to be the Messiah. I do think he’ll be a solid piece though. Redshirt Freshman Daniel Carter seems to have emerged as a power back, which is sorely needed. But at the end of the day will Pitt run for more than the 3.5 Yards per Carry they averaged last season? They need to if Pitt is to take the next step.

And so, with all of that, Pat Narduzzi says he likes the team. We, of course, don’t know because of the lack of practice viewing windows. But there is the occasional hype video that is thrown our way. On the eve of the start of the college football season, I’ll break it down:

  1. Pickett is wearing a glove. No I don’t have a breakdown on his passing grades gloved vs non-gloved. I suspect he is better with the glove.

2. Confirmed: Patrick Jones is still a beast. That’s Nate Temple behind him BTW. Looks like he put on some weight.

3. There was a montage of guys hitting and tackling dummies. Here is Owen Drexel with some nice blocking form.

4. Coaches gonna coach

5. This is important. This is #74 Keldrick Wilson blocking Patrick Jones. It means he Wilson beat him at least once. All though it appears that Jones may be going inside on a stunt. Nonetheless Pickett got the pass off.

6. Redshirt Super Senior Tre Tipton juked rSo Marquis Williams after making a nice catch. We don’t normally discuss religion on this blog, but if you believe in God in any form, please say a prayer, make a donation or light a candle for Tipton to stay healthy and pay a full season. He’s certainly earned it.

7. Freshman WR Jordan Addison running after the catch. He’s not a big guy but he looks shifty.

8. One thing is apparent from both this video and the scrimmage video: If you try to arm tackle Daniel Carter you will fail. Here is #25 AJ Woods trying to do just that.

9. Joey Yellen sighting. Does #81 Aydin Henningham make the catch?

10. Pickett throwing off his front foot in drills. Tipton on the same drill?

11. AJ Woods breaks up a Pickett pass meant for Shocky

12. The “SC Connection” DE Nate Temple rushed QB Davis Beville

13. The very same Beville pass went for a TD to a wide-open Danny Moraga (TE). I guess that’s what you get with 2’s on 2’s. Still nice to the the pitch and catch to a TE though.

14. Nice to see the camaraderie in the QB room.

Here is the film:

Hail to Pitt

Michaelangelo Monteleone

66 thoughts on “Focused on September 12th

  1. Thanks Michaelangelo Monteleone, < doesn’t that have a sweet ring to it? Even sweeter than Ricardo Montalban……… Couple things I’ve heard..

    Beville maybe thinking of leaving PITT?

    Ford is really thinking of opting out? Doesn’t sound right if he already hasn’t?

    Mathis may have a health condition not related to covid.

    Twyman may have a million reasons to have opted out? $$

    I don’t know if I was supposed to but none of the videos would play for me. I feel so lonely.

    No grand kids tonight, you would think I would be sleeping like a baby right now. Two days without a nappy, I think I’m to tired to sleep?

    Oh and I can’t wait to see Austin Pee tomorrow, the football team that is.

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    1. FYI: In the 70’s Austin Peay had a basketball player from NYC named James “Fly” Williams. Every time he scored the students would chant “Fly’s open, Go Peay!

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      1. Someone who lives down around that way and is familiar with the kid. This guy also told me after he committed to PITT Clemson would be coming after him….. They did but Davis stood his ground. Not saying he’s leaving but he’s thinking on it. btw Patti is doing the same thing. I agree that they will wait until next year if Pickett leaves? But aha.. KP may not leave PITT now.

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  2. Hope you’re wrong about Davis Beville, ike. He sure looks like a QB. Not that that matters, but I’d like to see him get a chance.

    MM – enjoyed the photos and your commentary. This blog is at its best, to me, when the focus is on the players… (At least the players come and go — all the other crap pretty much stays the same old same old…)

    I think the hiring of Whipple (along with Beatty) is the main reason for the uptick in offensive skill recruits. The chance to get stats will turn a kids head. Examples — Krull and Addison…

    Go Pitt.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks John. I’d say this blog is at its best when the kids have been out to bed and I’m halfway though my third drink. 😎

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t see any QB leaving until they lose the starting job next year. Patti, Beville or Yellen will leave.

    Addison is a slot guy. The Ffrench replacement. Catch it short and let him go.

    Whipple gave the TEs tons of opportunity last year and they were bad. If Krull can catch the ball, he will have a big season. He will get his chances early to prove himself.

    I don’t think Vincent Davis was mentioned above. He started the bowl game. Dynamic speed back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Addison can be much more than just a slot guy. Just like Antonio Brown was much more than a slot guy for the Steelers in his prime. In fact I believe Narduzzi was quoted something to the effect that Addison took it to the house up the sideline on a play last weak. “Speed Kills” and it can be used short or long on any given play.

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  4. Here are a couple quotes about Carter Warren from Coach Borbs — from last August…

    BORBS: “I’ve said it to those guys since I’ve got there and I said it in my room, he has the most natural ability, not only as a left tackle, but as a linemen he has more ability, raw ability than anyone in the building. And it was a matter of him deciding on me being up his ass enough and him deciding to do it and that’s starting to take hold.

    REPORTER: Raw ability, like anyone on the team, not just offensive linemen?

    BORBS: Well I mean he’s 320 pounds, he’s explosive and he’s got great feet and he’s got great initial quickness. So I mean he can change directions, he can run – yea he’s pretty damn good.”

    I didn’t see any “great feet” or “great initial quickness” or “change direction” last season. Which makes me wonder if Coach was just saying this stuff to try to boast Warren’s confidence, or whether Coach was way off in judging Warren’s ability.

    If Warren can play decent this season, I’ll feel a lot better about him and about Coach Borbs.

    Go Pitt.

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    1. If you look at some of his film from last year you’ll see he’s a little tentative in his run blocking IMO. And he clearly needed to drop some weight which he did. Let’s see if he goes “worst to first”

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    1. Both the ACC site & ESPN have either no info or listed as TBD. I expect announcement of dates & times on Wednesday 9/2.

      There are 16 P5 matchups & 5 G5 vs. G5/FCS listed on ESPN for 9/12. Only 4 are P5 vs. P5 including Duke @ ND witch should be on NBC. The rest of the P5 matchups are P5 vs either G5 or FCS.

      10 of the 16 total P5 games are Big12 matchups vs. G5/FCS. Don’t know how Fox/Longhorn network effects the ESPN /ABC TV lineups.

      That leaves Peay vs. Pitt & L’ville vs. Western Kentucky. Hate to say it but I believe they will be on the ACC network. Hope I am wrong.

      B.C., NC State, Miami, Va. & Va. Tech are not playing on Saturday. Miami is playing on Thursday 9/10.

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    2. No Steeler home game on the 13th so that shouldn’t factor into the game time. Conversely, the Steelers play at home on the 20th at 1 PM. Might be hard to play Syracuse Saturday evening and change the signage, field logos, and sanitize the locker rooms in that timeframe. I expect the Syracuse game to be noon or shortly after.

      For what it’s worth, the Xfinity guide goes out two weeks. Slight chance we may see something listed there on the 12th by the end of today. But not likely.

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  5. I love whipple he did at least something with nothing other than fffrench and kenny tight ends blew no full back questionable o line midget rbs

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  6. Whipple coached at Umass. He is old and no one wanted him in coaching. Leave it to us Pitt fans to be excited we have him. What offensive recruiting has he done? Are we watching the same team? Hype videos are for teams that don’t make their own hype.

    If we don’t beat Austin Peay by 50 then send Narduzzi to Cal U as a Defensive Coordinator.

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    1. If I could only remember your stinging endorsement of Bates at the time he was hired and posted that Upitt I think we would all feel more confident about your current endorsement on Whipple.

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    2. Cheer up, UPitt. 😊. No way to know, but I doubt Krull and Addison are here except for the lure of juicy stat lines. Same for QB Yellen.

      You clearly don’t believe Coach Whip can do the job. What’s most important is that the recruits are buying what he’s selling — the chance for stats…

      Go Pitt.

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      1. Majors – AT FLORIDA (2018-19): Played in 25 games over two seasons for the Gators, catching nine passes for 108 yards (12.0 avg.)…he also completed 2-of-2 passes for 19 yards on gadget plays.

        You serious see this kid as a Savior and in 2 years these are his stats. Some guys have the intangibles but don’t perform. He looks like another one.

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        1. UPITT, the starting TE at FLA is the #1 rated TE in the nation and a probable 1st round draft pick. That is the reason for the paltry stats. Everything I hear tells me he’s got what it takes to be a very productive (good) player at the P5 level. Whipple and Pickett are going to give him ample opportunity to show his stuff and I think he’s going to shine.

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          1. Special K – No TE has every shines with Pickett or Whipple to my knowledge. I hope you are right but seems like another wait till next year moments we always use around here.

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            1. Looks like a possible upgrade over what we have had since Orndoff, Mark. If he actually can catch the ball, thats fairly helpful in a Whipple offense.

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      1. if it’s a REALLY NICE room and lots of board, maybe?

        Georgia Tech grad assistant is 25K total, not sure if you eat all meals with the team throughout the year and in Atlanta paying for room can’t leave much.

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  7. Whipple’s offense didn’t perform well over-all. Points were way down and the running game was terrible. Pickett did have a decent to above average year though. So I see the room for skepticism, having said that? I see room for optimism this year with a more experienced O-Line and a QB that understands what it is he’s suppose to be doing out on the field. First year under Narduzzi that both coordinators will back at the same time. I’ve screamed and preached continuity for a awhile now. It finally arrived with Covid riding along shotgun ……… Great.

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      1. It’s enough to get the board giddy… add Canada’s jet sweep and shovel pass back into the playbook and who needs a running game?

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  8. Lets go double or nothing Dan on that bottle of booze that PITT beats BC. The real bet though, is do they play. Dan, looking forward to your scouting report on the PEE tonight. Question, if the Austin peeer’s can’t play against PITT, will PITT get a forfeited win? Hell yes I’ll take it.

    Everything is a dam mess….. That’s why I’ll be glued to the TV tonight watching a live college football game. Never know if it will all go away just like that.

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    1. BC QB the difference. Duzz will be under fire but nothing will change. Nor should it. He is who he is, and that’s good enough for Heather.

      I’ve accepted the inevitable.

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      1. Who is BC’s starting QB? If it is Jurkovec he has little experience vs. the type of pass rush and overall defense he will see. Vs. a guy with a ton of experience. Granted you never know quite what you are going to get with KP.

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        1. It will be Jurkovec. Did you see what BCs O and D lines did to Pitt last Fall??? They are all returning. The game will not be close. Our O line couldn’t block Carlow Colleges flag football team.

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    2. Ike, I’m off the sauce maybe forever. Diagnosed with severe Diabetes. On a strict diet and have lost 16 lbs in 7 weeks. But, for you, I’ll always bet, and payoff in a bottle of your choice.
      I know your physical life is not easy and my hats off to you for your optimism and life out look.
      I am telling you BC is loaded and could win the conference in the ACC. Anyhow, I’ll be betting em heavy. Jurkovec is better than any QB in Pitt’s camp…..and by a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dan, this will be the first real live (other than mop up) action Jurkovec has seen. And PITT’s D is the real deal. I really like our chances in that contest. It will be physical, a slugfest for sure, but it will be Kenny Pickett, the 3 year starter, who will be the difference. Jurkovec has got some dues to pay yet I think.

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  9. I read where converted safety John Petrishen is the depth-chart backup to Cam Bright at Star LB. That’s disappointing. I’m guessing Sirvocea Dennis would be the first LB off the bench at either of the outside spots. Leslie Smith has an injury – otherwise we have a couple freshmen (DeShields and Kamara).

    Chase Pine and Wendell Davis in the middle, with frosh Roberts…

    Not a lot of Covid or “targeting” depth…

    Go Pitt.

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  10. Here are a couple of comments about the BC loss last year. The weekend before that game PITT was officially eliminated from Coastal contention by their loss to VT in that deluge. Yes, BC played a much more physical game than the Panthers, but I don’t believe their heart was in it. It might sound like sour grapes or a wait till next year statement, but I think they were flat because of those reasons.

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    1. It’s not only that but rumors that Addizzo was on the firing line. Every BC player was a Addizzo recruit. They were also 5-6 & needed a win to be bowl eligible, maybe thinking they could save their HC’s job or at least send him off with a W. They got the win but Addizzo was fired the very next day.

      Does anyone truly believe that BC wasn’t up for that game.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I think the Miami and game will be the second hardest on the schedule.

    Pitt Flys up to Boston College on October 10th. Then down to Miami the 17th, and back up to the Burg for Notre Dame on the 24th.

    Couple the drastic weather change and a potential top 7 opponent in the Irish, I can see Pitt struggling down in Miami.

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  12. Excuses all, Pitt had a chance at a good season with a win vs BC and they were not prepared. The defense was full of holes that day. Very disappointing.

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    1. It may be an excuse but some commenters always have an excuse for Pitt’s opponents when Pitt wins.

      Who can forget the glue sniffing QB from Syracuse in their 10 win season. Or Pitt’s win over the “Wildly overrated” Miami when they were 10-0 & Pitt 4-7

      Stuff like that happens in college football. It happens to Pitt & it happens to every other team.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. ^^ Mark disappointing is not a strong enough word. It was a terrible loss but it’s not an excuse to recognize that we are talking college kids.

    I remember years ago we were playing a softball game against a pretty bad team. I was playing third base that night when the shortstop look over at me and said, “don’t you just hate playing these crappy teams” I looked at him and said “No, I waited all dam day to play this game” Next thing I know we are in a close game, we still won but when hearts aren’t in it, anything can happen. You can only lead a horse to water…….

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    1. I thought we were “out-physicaled” by BC’s OLine and RB. Just like I thought we were “out-physicaled” by Northwestern’s defense in the Pinstripe…

      Go Pitt.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with BC and add that those big backs were never hit hard by our D, maybe one attempt by Paris, not sure.
        I think we were out-targeted in the Pinstripe by Northwestern and referees no-calls.

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  14. I give it till halfway in the 1st quarter before someone post how the Peay is going to flow all over us. Yup, 1st quarter. Oh, btw, don’t believe the coach speak on Danielson, until I see otherwise he’s a stiff.

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  15. I’m still concerned about Pitt’s linebacking group. If RBs get past that interior line, can the LBs stop the those big BC type power runners? I’ve never been comfortable with the linebacker recruiting.

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  16. JoeK, I could provide a short list as to whom might be saying that. The usual suspects.

    Been watching a little of the Cocoa Cola 400, my neck is getting stiff watching the cars go round and round. Phroom Phroom, although those cats can really drive at high speeds.

    Another Saturday night with a 70’s video….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ8DWOlslgI

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