Run Forrest, Run!

 

Here is a piece done in rebuttal to a comment made in a separate article. This is by our friend NotRocketScience (I screwed that up bigtime) and certainly is thought provoking. I’ll write a rebuttal later on but enjoy this – its a good read and makes one hopeful.

30 and PickettSuccessfully running the ball in football comes down to having both talented players and a good scheme.  That’s simple.  Pitt has more than enough talent to have a better than average run game in 2021.  Pitt even has the Offensive Line (OL) coach to pull it off in Dave Borbely.  He did it quite well in 2018 and in his previous stints throughout the college football world.  What Pitt is now missing is the correct scheme.  In other words, he was a good Offensive Coordinator (OC).  

Comparing this year’s potential Offensive Line (OL) (we don’t know who will start yet) to the one Pitt had in 2018 is a good way to evaluate if Pitt has the talent to be a formidable run team.  The 2018 run stats were ridiculously good, 3191 yards on the ground, 16th nationally in yards per game, two rushers over 1100 yards, both averaging over six yards per carry.  Yeah, yeah, the passing game was atrocious…. focus!  This is all about running the ball.

Let’s check out the 2018 OL that produced a top 20 run game.  These names aren’t going to jump off the page at you.  No superstars.  The average Rival rating is 5.52 if you are generous and give Morrissey a 5.3 2 star out of high school.  Counting him as a 0, which he was, the average rating is 4.46.

Mike Herndon – 2014 5.6 rated 3*.  didn’t start until RS SR year besides one start in 2016. Recruited as a DT.

Connor Dintino – 2014 5.6 rated 3*. Didn’t start until RS SR year.  Recruited as a DT.

Alex Bookser – 2014 5.8 rated 4* 26 starts going into RS SR year.  Never became the star many expected.

Stefano Millin – 2013 5.3 rated 2* Transfer from Kent State, started 30 games at Kent.  This pick up was laughed at and he ended up as a 2nd team all ACC.

Jim Morrissey – 2016 not rated, no stars, walk on, 12 starts going into 2018.

This land of misfit toys OL put up some of the best run numbers in Pitt history.  You must give coach Borbs a lot of credit.  Two guys with no starts, a walk-on, and a MAC tackle.  Come on!  Oh, let’s not forget the run scheme included probably the best fullback in Pitt history in George “the Animal” Aston.  The OL was coached up and the scheme was all about the run game and took advantage of the talent on the team.  Mainly, there were also Tight Ends (TE)  who could block and a very good FB.

Now check out the OL that will get the most playing time this year.  Seven OL, many with a lot of starts.  I don’t remember Pitt having this many OL that have so many starts under their belts.  Great job picking up Minor.  He is a high star guy and adds depth.  With this type of experience, Pitt’s OL should be very good, and they can withstand a few injuries.

The Rival’s average star rating is 5.628.

Jake Kradel – RS JR, 2018 5.7 rating 3* with 15 starts and Rivals no. 17 overall recruit in PA

Marcus Minor – RS SR, 2017 5.8 rating 4* with 17 starts for the Terps

Gabe Houy – RS SR, 2017 5.5 rating 3* with 15 starts, Rivals no. 20 overall recruit in PA

Owen Drexell – RS SR,  2017 5.4 rating 2* with one start

Blake Zubovic – RS JR, 2018 5.7 rating 3* with two starts, Rivals No. 18 overall recruit in PA

Matt Goncalves – RS SO, 2019 5.6 rating 3* with three starts,  Rivals No. 4 overall recruit in NY

Carter Warren – RS SR, 2017 5.7 rating 3* with 21 starts, Rivals No. 10 overall recruit in NJ

Talent wise, this group is clearly above the 2018 group.  There should be optimism that Pitt excels at running the ball this year, but the last two Whipple years have shown us nothing.

So what gives?  Why the decline in production the last two years?  Borbs was the OL coach in 2018 and is still at Pitt.  Has he gone mad and forgot how to coach run blocking?  Ah, hardly.  He is known for coaching a good run game and coached good balanced teams back with Charlie Strong at Louisville.  They were hugely successful.  Before Pitt, he was in Maryland.  In 2016 they rushed for 2594 yards and had 26 rushing touchdowns. 

The criticism on this blog when Borbs was hired had nothing to do with his ability to coach run blocking.  The knock on him was that he could not coach pass blocking.  This was based on stats for Tackles For Loss (TFL) and sacks allowed per game.  Maryland was at the bottom of the NCAA rankings in Borbs two years there. 

First of all, he was only the OL coach one year. The OC at Maryland at the time was Walt Bell.  A spread guy who is the head coach at UMass now after the one-year disaster with Willie Taggert at Florida State.  Borbs did not mesh well with the offense.  He’s more of a pro style OL coach. 

Also, those two statistical categories are bad ones to cherry pick.  Pitt was 86th last year in sacks allowed and some of the best teams in the country were worse like Ohio State at 92nd.  The bottom line, Borbs has had some very successful years with exceptional run games.  Maybe pass protection is his weakness but I don’t see that.  Is he the greatest OL coach ever?  Heck no, but he has produced very good run games before.  He is not the problem.

The biggest question for this Pitt team going into fall, will Mark Whipple commit to running the ball.  Will he let that experienced OL play smash mouth football?  Will they be on their heels or aggressive?  After Whipple’s arrival in 2019 the offense dropped to 118th nationally at 114.8 rushing yards per game.  More of the same in 2020 when Pitt ranked 110th at 117.9 yards per game.  Last year Pitt ran for 1319 yards, not even half of 2018.  Average per attempt was a horrible 3.4 yards. 

Whipple hair

In the years Whipple has been the OC or head coach in D1, he has only had one team with a good run game.  That was eleven years ago in Miami.  Whipple had Jacory Harris as his quarterback.  In 2010 Miami was pretty much a balanced attack 50/50 run-pass but those numbers are a bit deceiving.  Harris got hurt and Whipple got conservative and started running the ball more because the next guy up was inexperienced.  Some speculated the Harris injury was runners’ knee from the miles of jogging back and forth to the sidelines. 

Continue reading “Run Forrest, Run!”

2021 Frankcan Cup Golf Outing UPDATE

Location:  Meadia Heights Golf Club, Lancaster, PA (where Jim Furyk played his junior golf)

Date:  Saturday, August 21, 2021

Time:  noon to 1pm tee times (lunch served prior to golf).

Format: Four (4) person team “step aside” scramble golf tournament (18 holes). 

Cost: $85 per individual (includes golf and lunch – the club’s 19th Hole will be open after golf for meal & drink – additional cost to you).

Lodging: DoubleTree Hilton, Lancaster, PA is within a few miles and numerous other hotel options in Amish Country, USA.

NOTE: The cost per player is the same as 2019.

Prizes: 1st place team gets to hold the Frankcan Cup for the year plus individual prizes for the 1st and 2nd place teams, longest drive, closest to the pin, straightest drive and longest putt.

Payment: Due today, August 1st – some have paid and others have alerted me that their payment is on its way. 

I look forward to another fun day of fellowship with good to great Pitt fans.

To those who could not attend this year’s outing, please know that you will be missed – we have always had a good time at these golf outings.

Editor: Here is a graphic and description of the “Step Aside Scramble” rules. Don’t worry if you can’t read this very well – Rick Caldwell will explain everything at the luncheon before play. I think I got them down correctly.

Step Aside Scramble Played as a normal scramble except that the player whose ball is selected ‘steps aside’ and doesn’t play the next shot.

On the starting tee all three players tee off. Player A’s drive is selected so only Players B & C play the second shot.

Player B’s second shot is selected and ‘steps aside’ while Player A & C play the third shot and so on until the ball is in the hole and the score for the hole is determined.

Whoever sinks the putt then ‘steps aside’ and only two players tee off on the next hole. Players may take their shots in any order as this is part of the tactics of the game.

Enjoy guys…. Maybe I’ll pop in for a drink or something…

A Preseason Look at Duke

Another in-depth look at our 2021 opponents by Rich in SC.

Trying to find a story line or interesting tidbits on the Duke football team is like having your teeth pulled – a slow and painful experience. After three evenings of starts, stops, rewrites and erasures, I just decided to gum my way through it. Why is it hard? You probably know or guessed the answer – Duke is a Basketball School.

David Cutcliffe enters his fourteenth season with the Blue Devils. His overall record is currently standing at 74 – 88 (35-71 ACC, 36 – 13 OOC, a bowl record of 3 – 3, and finally 0 -1 in conference championship games. If you ignore the 2020 season, Duke basically averages going 3 – 1 in OOC play. His golden years at Duke was the time period from 2012 – 2015. His teams were 33 – 20 (18-14 ACC, 14-2 OOC, and four bowl appearances (1-3).  His best year was 2013. A 10 – 4 record (6-2 ACC,    4-0  OOC and a conference championship appearance (loss).

AS usual, I start off the preseason look with Duke’s and Pitt’s 2021 schedule.

On to the review, starting with recruiting.

Duke’s recruiting is not very accretive (JoeL ☺).

Duke took in 4 players from the transfer portal (TP).

I hate to say it, but this TP haul reminds me of Pitt’s pre-TP search for OLinemen and tight ends. Who are the Duke players to know?

Usually, I start this by listing the returning 2020 All ACC selections followed by the 2021 Athlon All ACC selections. There are no returning 2020 selections. The 3 players Duke had, went pro. Instead, I have listed the two names besides Mataeo Durant who attended the 2021 ACC Media Days.

Speaking of the ACC Media Days, the ACC released the 27 man (13 offense, 11 defense, three special team) 2021 Preseason All ACC team.

Howell Named Preseason POTY, Clemson Leads with Eight on All-ACC Team – Atlantic Coast Conference (theacc.com)

The team was selected by 147 media attendees. Mataeo Durant’s name is in bold to mark his selection.

That wraps up the recruiting, TP additions and ‘names to know” section of the review.

What payers did Duke lose?

As I said previously, Duke lost their three All ACC selections to the pros. Their names are in bold. Here is the complete listing.

One TP entry from Stanford. Mark Gilbert opter-out of the 2020 season.

Of course, they lost a few players to the TP

I do not know much about Duke, but I believe they lost at least 3 starters – QB Brice, Safety Waters and DT Tangelo.

Brice will be replaced by 2021 ACC Duke Media Days representative Gunner Holmberg. He had 48 snaps where he either passed (25 snaps) or ran the ball (23) during the 2020 season.

That all I got. There is some grumbling from the Duke fan base on Cutcliffe tenure but probably not going anywhere. After all, Duke is a Basketball School.

On College Football Realignment

A clear and concise look at possible conference realignment by POV reader Joe Lawrence.

Last week’s news about Texas and Oklahoma giving the bum’s rush to their Big 12 (B12) college football conference partners in search of the almighty dollar in the SEC was a bit surprising… and at the same time, not at all. The Longhorns have flirted with other conferences in the past – both the Pacific-12 (PAC-12) and Big Ten (B10) were suitors. And the pairing with the PAC-12 was given a long look by both parties.

To be honest, I thought that Texas A&M’s move to the South Eastern Conference (SEC) gave the conference the TV footprint it needed in Texas and it might not need another school. Silly me! The Longhorns are one program that any conference would take in a heartbeat. As for Oklahoma, anywhere the Longhorns go, so goes the Red River Rivalry.

Obvious questions following this news are: what happens to the remaining B12 schools? Specifically, what do the Hoopies do in a heavily diluted conference? And will other Power Five (P5) conferences make expansion moves in response?

Today, Jay Bilas of ESPN indicated that ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips should call the SEC and propose a merger. Jay doesn’t always get it right and I believe this is one of those times. But his remarks did get me thinking about the future of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and upon reflection, I think he has it half right.

In a merger of businesses (and college football is a business), the end game is to unlock accretive value. Sometimes it comes through back-office consolidation; other partners bring complementary products/services which when paired unlock higher sales. Often, a merger will give the combined concern greater geographical reach.

I’m not sure overall that the ACC offers any of those things. It’s a second tier P5 conference whose TV network has not been able to get a cable deal in the geographic markets where it has a different footprint than the SEC – namely the Xfinity markets of the mid-Atlantic. The SEC has a significantly better TV deal than anyone other than the Big Ten. Adding Texas and Oklahoma though makes perfect sense from a financial standpoint. The two bring accretive value.

Rather than call the SEC, Jim Phillips may want to call an investment banking firm that specializes in large, complicated transactions. I say this because I believe the ACC’s break-up value may be actually greater than its total. An argument can be made that a split of the ACC between the SEC and B10 could create more TV revenue than otherwise.

If one goes down this path, who goes where there is the biggest challenge? Some current ACC schools such as Clemson and North Carolina State feel like SEC programs. Others like Syracuse and Boston College feel like logical fits in the B10. Here is a table with some rough thoughts about who might go where in such a deal:

ACC SchoolAAU MemberBigTen FitSEC FitBest Non-Conf geographic rival
Boston College          YY Notre Dame
Clemson  YSouth Carolina
Florida State    YFlorida
Louisville         YKentucky
NC State          Y?
Syracuse        Y Rutgers
Wake Forest     ?
Duke  YY ?
Georgia TechYY Georgia
Miami   YFlorida
North CarolinaYY ?
Pitt     Y  Penn State
Virginia          YY Maryland
Virginia Tech    YWest Virginia

Notice that the first column in the table notes membership in the Association of American Universities (the AAU for short). This is important to B10 school Presidents – the folks who actually decide on membership invitations. AAU schools share non-athletic resources such as libraries and research – something many sports fans overlook when considering a school’s fit in a conference. Thirteen of its schools are members and adding other AAU schools might be attractive. Only four SEC schools enjoy AAU status (and we all could have guessed that).

Something else to think about is a vague idea of “fit”. This can include geography, historic rivalries of fanbases, location of alumni, etc. I’m sure many of you might come up with something similar to what I’ve noted in the table, give or take a few changes. Taking a look at the last column of the table, many of those moves would bring some existing natural rivalries in-house.

Based purely on the table above, the two “buying” conference might each take six ACC schools, putting the SEC at 22 schools and the B10 at 20. Wake and Pitt still need homes. In return for the B10 taking both schools (despite the non-accretive value each would bring), Vanderbilt agrees to a “trade” to the B10 and the SEC “picks up” Nebraska in the deal. B10 Presidents are pleased with the shrewd deal-making, adding six AAU schools to their ranks.

Those folks aren’t wired like the average sports fans after all and have other agendas, such as being associated with other like-minded universities. The SEC then snatches up WVU and OkSt to round out to 24 schools and creating a reasonable geographic footprint. The B10, needing four schools of good academic caliber, picks up AAU affiliates Iowa, Kansas and Iowa State from the B12 trash heap.

It is at that moment that the investment bankers call Notre Dame President, the Reverand John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. and throw the Irish a life raft. As the mega conferences now can each hold their own playoff systems, talk of expanding the CFP quiets down. With Irish no longer guaranteed a spot at the CFP table, the Irish grab the lifeline.

In short, Pitt is a pawn in this transaction. Is anyone surprised?

There is of course a more realistic scenario where no trade occurs and the B10 does not pick up Pitt due to its TV market overlap with the Penn State Nits. Pitt – standing in a corner of the gym while all of the prettier programs dance together – plotting the chance to rekindle their relationships with Temple. If only we had an experienced, savvy AD who could leverage Pitt’s considerable position of strength…sigh…