Signing day has come and gone, without the fanfare of yesteryear where expectant Pitt fans sat by the computer watching the commitments roll in. The fan base has early signing day to thank for that, and this past Wednesday was a quiet one day because of it.
You could argue that the two biggest commits that Pitt trotted out for the media were new Offensive Coordinator Mark Whipple and new Wide Receivers Coach Chris Beatty. Both of the new coaches were at the LOI event on Wednesday, and both DiPaola and Batko have done a nice job of writing up the Whipple interview.
One of the more interesting quotes to emerge Whipple was the “What’s it going to take to beat Clemson?” question that he asked the quarterbacks. It is a question that is dripping with insinuation, especially during an offseason filled with so much angst and so much promise.
First, Whipple was insinuating that Narduzzi wants to beat Clemson. Well the truth is that everybody wants to beat Clemson, but on the other hand, Pitt does not play Clemson in 2019. So if we read between the lines, we can infer that Pat Narduzzi believes that the team can repeat as Coastal Division champions. And why not? The coastal is shaping up no better in 2019 than it was in 2018. Here is a quick look at the teams: Continue reading “Narduzzi is Actually Better Than Dabo…Kind Of”→
This article was sent to me by Bill Aloe, whom many of you know as WWB, on January 17th. I told him I’d hold it until the appropriate time and Bill was good enough to make some edits last night. Enjoy…or not!
PITT POV Perspective, Please
After Alabama’s loss to Clemson a couple last month, I couldn’t wait to turn on Paul Finebaum’s call-in show the following day on the ESPN SEC network. As some of you may know, Finebaum is an ardent Bama fan as are many of his callers. And I was not disappointed …..
Saban is too old …. Saban is over-the-hill …. Saban needs to be replaced before it gets any worse …. (and my favorite) we need to hire Dabo even if it takes 25 million to do so.
Yes, the man who brought Bama five national titles over the past eight years definitely needs to go.
Isn’t it fun to look at people who lose perspective because they are so wrapped up in something they are so passionate about? But the fact is that we all do it …. whether it is a sports team, a political candidate, or a girlfriend. (There is indeed many fish is the sea, by the way.) When things don’t turn out as we hoped that we really care about, we all tend to take this myopic view of the situation without stepping back and getting a general perspective.
This is what I perceived when I read the comments after Pitt’s loss in the Sun Bowl and then when MJ Devonshire chose to go elsewhere. Passionate fans venting out their frustrations. Now I don’t mean to compare Narduzzi to Saban or Pitt to Alabama, but that’s the issue! Fans have far too high expectation on the teams they follow … whether it has won 5 national titles in the last 8 years or it has one double digit winning season in the last 35 years.
I noted the disappointment here with Pitt finishing 7 and 7, which is only natural after they lost the final three games. But I was caught a bit surprised by the furor it caused, especially when so many predicted doom and gloom before the season. And of course, the angry ones continue to forget that five of the opponents this season finished in the Top 20 …. that’s over 33% of the schedule. And by the way, let me be the first to mention that of the 14 games played, only six were played in the (quasi) friendly Heinz confines. Lastly, I got a kick by the POVers who predicted a minimum two TD Stanford win but took the coaches to task for the one point loss.
Long-time Post-Gazette high school editor, Mike White, wrote two articles over the last few years about how the number of Western PA FBS recruits are dwindling in an alarming fashion. Note that he was not only referring to 4-stars, but also 2 and 3 stars. Not only are there only 5 players in the WPIAL / City this year that have been recruited by Power 5 teams, there were only 14 being recruited by all of the FBS teams. That’s out of a total of well over a hundred schools. Like it or not, Western PA has become a barren waste land when it comes to high school football talent. No wonder the coaching staff has all but ignored the immediate area for recruiting.
There is recent local news about Penn Hills School District being in dire condition financially. It wasn’t that long ago that the school was the area’s largest, providing Pitt with Fralic, Flynn and Donald, to name a few. Now, apparently the story that it was unable to fund its football team’s trip to the state finals without Bill Fralic’s help was quite accurate.
The Pittsburgh city schools provide very few recruits these days. They all play their league games on one field, and the practice fields are deplorable. The coaches are to be commended for their efforts but the days of Pete Dimperio are long gone. Also are the Morningside Bulldogs for that matter. Even Franklinstein himself only recruited one Western PA player (a Rivals 3-star) this year.
From 1995 through 2011, Woodland Hills has graduated a dozen players that has made it to the NFL. This includes Lousaka Polite, Shantae Spencer, Lafayette Pitts and Ejuan Price. However, Price was its last graduate to become a pro, and WHHS hasn’t even produced a 4-star recruit in the last 5 years or so.
No doubt, Coach Narduzzi’s recruiting of offensive linemen / tight ends leave much to be desired. (He is literally the anti-Chryst in that his classes are very defensive oriented.) But anyone who thinks Pitt belongs in the Top 25 of recruiting rankings are guilty of the myopic view that was described above. Yes, the focus of the recruiting has been re-directed to where the quantity and quality prospects are (New Jersey and southeast US) but Pitt is just another school to many of them, let alone the fact that most of them have not heard of Tony Dorsett or Hugh Green. To them, Pitt is just another decent program that plays in front of a half-empty stadium. It should not come as a surprise that Pitt is willing to take a chance on a lower level recruit who is deemed to have potential.
I was also alarmed by the negativity of many of the posts in the blog article about the 2019 schedule last month. It is one thing to be sarcastic as Michaelangelo was in his article, but once again, we have to read in the comments of how pathetic the coaching staff is and there is little chance of success this coming season.
The fact is that Coach Narduzzi is 20 and 12 in the ACC, and those 20 wins rank 3rd in the league in that time period behind only Clemson and Miami. Not bad for a program that for the last 30 plus seasons has had one 10-win season, one division title and two share league titles. And for those who think Paul Chryst would have done the same or better, maybe so but remember it would have been Chad Voytik or Adam Bertke handing off the ball for 30 plus times per game for the first two years. How did that work out in 2014 against a schedule when Pitt played only one team that finished ranked? Even with Conner running for 1700 yards? Would Henderson be running all those varieties of the jet sweep, or Aston catching all those shuttle passes, or Weah having a break-out year? I highly doubt it.
Before you tell me that Narduzzi should be winning 9 and 10 games in his 3rd and 4th years, tell me who has done this at Pitt since Jackie Sherill? Foge didn’t, Gottfried didn’t, Hackett didn’t, Majors II didn’t, Walt had a banner year in 2002 with 9 wins but only 6 his last two years. Even Wanny went from 10 wins to 8 in his final season. Chryst had 6 wins in his 3rd year, again playing a very easy schedule.
And anyone who thinks these other guys played harder schedules than what Narduzzi has faced since he began is out of his/her mind. You should know all of the data by now of how many Top 15 teams and 10 plus win teams Pitt has played the last four years.
Lastly, Narduzzi is taking a big hit because of the ranking of his latest recruiting class. Narduzzi’s current class is ranked 49th made up of only 19 total recruits due to scholarship limits. Well, did you know that Chryst’s 2013 class was ranked 47th … and that class was made up of 27 total recruits? And that was before Franklin was at PSU, and the Nits were being sanctioned.
Yes, I was disappointed by the final three games this year. I also very much think that Narduzzi needs to recruit better, improve the passing attack and beat UNC. But I am not going to put down a coach who has done as good or better than any other of the eight coaches this program has had over the past 35 years, and under harder conditions.
Perspective please! And now time to get off of the soapbox.
Editor’s Note: turns out I’m day early on this – signing day is Wednesday – but better early than late. My wife delivered our second child (young Raphael Monteleone!) on Saturday morning and things have been a blur since then. Thanks for the understanding and I’ll try to post a pic once I can get the script onesie on him.
Most of the recruits are in the fold thanks to early signing day, but four-star Aliquippa talent MJ Devonshire sits out there like a glittering prize. Can Narduzzi win the sweepstakes and finish the 2019 class off with a WPIAL-grown crown jewel?
Every true Pitt fan hopes so.
In other news a number of readers will be attending the Pitt Signing Day event. I expect full reports and lots of inside information. Enjoy event and the day folks.
The All-ACC academic team was announced yesterday and Pitt put six players on it.
While questions may arise about head coach Pat Narduzzi’s on-the-field football coaching abilities, there is no question about his staff’s off-the-field academic coaching abilities. Information from Pitt’s SID is in Italics below:
“I think with the way our run game was, my job was to really fix our passing game and bring someone who could really change and make an impact on our receivers and our quarterbacks” – Pat Narduzzi on why he brought in Mark Whipple and Chris Beatty
One thing jumped out at me, and it was not about the passing game. What I found interesting was that Narduzzi, in passing, acknowledged that the running game was pretty good, and so it got me thinking, just how good was it?
Actually it was historically good. I said as much in one of my first posts (right after the Virginia Tech game). After two more ACC games, the ACC Championship and the Sun Bowl (four games in total), the statement still stands.
If you look at us vs the rest of FBS:
We averaged 228 yards per game, which was good for 18th nationally.
We averaged 5.6 yards per rush, which was good for 13th nationally.
We averaged 2.0 TD’s per game, which was good for 37th nationally. Not quite in the same class as the two stats above, but still pretty good, (and we’ve already beaten the Offensive Coordinator conversation to death so no need to rehash that…)
If you look at the 2018 Pitt team vs the other Pitt teams since 1975:
We averaged 228 yards per game, which was good for 5th best since 1975.
We averaged 5.6 yards per rush, which was good for the BEST YPA EVER (since 1975 which is all any of us really care about).
We averaged 2.0 TD’s per game, which cracked the top 10. Specifically the 2018 squad finished as the 9th best since 1975.
For those of you who would like a visual representation here are some graphs:
Pretty good stats right? So what made us so good at running the ball? In this case I believe our success can be boiled down to three things:
Two Talented Senior Running Backs.
Running back Coaching
The Offensive Line
(Editor’s Note: There are actually four things that contributed, and I was extremely remiss not to note the impact of Senior Fullback George Aston. Aston’s run blocking was brutally effective in both 2016 and 2018, which also happened to be two of the top YPC years in Pitt history. Aston was hurt in 2017 and it clearly impacted our ability to make big gains on the ground. My apologies George!)
First, the running backs. Hall and Ollison rank as (statistically) the top single season running back tandem in Pitt history. I believe a big part of this is because they stuck with the program for four years and developed into really good seniors. As a reward, both of them are going to have a good shot at getting drafted. Hall was invited to two college all-star games, and Ollison was recently invited to the NFL combine. I’m not sure if anyone would have bought into that if we brought that up as a prediction three years ago, so credit where credit is due. Nice work Hall & Ollie.
Now lets talk coaching. Powell has done a nice job developing our backs. And Qadree Ollison alluded to this after his 97 yard touchdown run in the Virginia Tech Game (emphasis added by me)
“As a running back, it’s my job to make a guy miss. It’s my job to run a guy over, not let one guy tackle me. Just running with power, running violent.”
“It’s my job”. He said that twice, and I’ll bet he didn’t come up with it on the spot. Somebody told him that. Somebody indoctrinated it into his head. That somebody is Andre Powell, and I think that we need to like what we’ve seen from Powell during his tenure.
2015: Ollison – 212 / 1121 / 5.3 / 11
2016: Conner (coming off of chemo) – 216 / 1092 / 5.1 / 16
2017: Hall – 128 / 628 / 4.9 / 9 (Editor’s note: This was the worst lead RB performance in quite some time…but we all know the issues we faced in 2017)
2019: Ollison – 194 / 1213/ 6.3 / 11
2019: Hall – 153 / 1144 / 7.5 / 10
A quick glance at the numbers above shows a minimum of +1 YPC increase over any previous year. Some of this was Yards After Contact (I have no stats on this so please post link if you do) and some of it was just great blocking.
This brings us to the offensive line. The 2017 line was not good. That is part of the reason why we didn’t have a 1000 yard rusher in 2017. Dave Borbely was brought into fix things in 2018, and (at least in the running game) he did. What’s more, he did it with what was widely considered to be marginal talent, at least going into the season. From my prior article on the running game:
Our starting left tackle was a two-star recruit and transfer from a tier-2 MAC program
Our starting right tackle was a slow-footed guard who was forced to play out of position.
Both of our starting guards spent most of their college careers switching positions and were originally recruited by Paul Chryst to play defense.
Pitt ranked 44th and 89th respectively in these two categories in 2017.
The other thing I will point out regarding the O-line was that with the exception of Center Jimmy Morrissey, they were all Seniors. Physical development matters. I believe 2018 was a case of four somewhat-talented, well-developed 21 and 22 year olds who out-executed and out-muscled more talented but less developed youngsters in many cases. As a Pittsburgh football fan, you have to love that.
So to wrap it all up, we had a great year on the ground because of a perfect storm (in a good way). We had couple of talented and well-developed senior backs. We had a great run blocking offensive line, and the backs and line were coached by the right guys at the right time.
I’m not sure if we can continue to churn out these types of stats year over year, or if “Air Whipple” will even want to, and that is a topic for another post. What I can tell you is that despite how the season went or the rest of the team performed, and despite whether or not you believe the program is trending up, we witnessed something rare and spectacular in 2018, and we should all be proud of that.