Monday, October 08, 2007

Talking About Pitt

Well, as promised we've got your Pitt preview covered with the help of Chas Rich from Chas, who also works for AOL's Fan House, has been gracious enough to answer some of our question on Pittsburgh in anticipation for Wednesday night's game, when 3-2 Navy travels to Heinz Field to take on 2-3 Pittsburgh.

1) This has been an unfortunate year for the Panthers as far as injuries go, with seemingly half the offense going down with injuries for an extended period of time. Could you recap who will be out for this game, and what kind of an impact you think these losses will have on what the team tries to do against Navy?

Out for this game on offense: WR Derek Kinder, QB Bill Stull, OT Jason Pinkston (all were starters); additionally two freshmen offensive linemen -- Chris Jacobson and Dan Matha were expected to be part of the two deep (if not starting by now), but were injured in training camp and are out for the season. On defense: DT Gus Mustakas, DE Doug Fulmer are out. As injuries have mounted and younger, less experienced/trusted players have been playing the offense has gotten more and more conservative -- hard to believe, I know with HC Wannstedt and OC Cavanaugh. It's been all about getting the ball into the hands of Running Back LeSean McCoy. McCoy is a tremendous freshman talent who has made a lot happen with practically no O-line in front of him. As Pitt has shown not even the threat to pass, teams are putting 8-9 guys up front and McCoy has had nowhere to go. The defenses want to put a lot of guys up front anyways since there is a true freshman at QB behind a bad O-line. So even if Pitt does opt to pass, Pat Bostick is under immediate pressure.

2) Last weekend we saw the much heralded true freshman quarterback Pat Bostik make the start with mixed results, throwing a touchdown but also throwing an interception and taking three sacks. Will Bostik make the start this week, and what can we expect from him?

Pat Bostick will be starting. OC Matt Cavanaugh has promised that the offense will be less conservative this week, as he feels more confident that Bostick is more comfortable. Whether that means letting Bostick make an attempt before the second quarter, or what is anyone's guess.

3) The weaknesses at time seem too numerous to mention. A horrible, horrible O-line with a true freshman at QB where the OC wants experience means little trust in the QB to do much until the game is already out of hand (see the last two games in the second half). It means teams line up to stuff the run and rush the QB. The strength on offense is with the WRs (Turner, Pestano and Porter) and TEs (Byham and Strong). Of course, if you can't get the ball to them they become little more than decoys and additional blockers. In case you hadn't noticed, there's a bit of pessimism about the offense right now.

On defense, Pitt may statistically look good on defense, but that is misleading. The first two games were against Eastern Michigan and Grambling (1-AA). That will skew the numbers. The defense looked good against Michigan State, but that was the game where Mustakas went down injured. In the last two games, the run defense has begun to wobble and has struggled to get off the field -- badly. For the season, Pitt's defense is allowing 3d down conversions at about 38% (30-79), but in 2 of the last 3 games it was over 40%. Additionally, against BCS opponents Pitt allowed 5-8 4th down conversions. The biggest weakness for Pitt against Navy is that the DC Paul Rhoads, in his 8 years on the job has struggled mightily in preparing defenses against an option. Mobile QBs are his kryptonite.The history is long and painful. From the unstoppable like Pat White (WVU) to the deceptive Drew Stanton (Michigan State) to the still learning Jamell Sewell (UVa) to the downright lousy D.J. Hernandez (UConn); if the QB has even a hint of mobility, Pitt's defenses have proven to be little more than paper panthers.

4) It seems as though there has been a lot of pressure on Wannstedt to get this team winning since he got to Pitt three years ago. Considering Pitt hasn't been to a Bowl since 2004 and that Pitt is in serious danger of not making a bowl game this year, how much longer does he stay?

Coach Wannstedt isn't going anywhere for at least a year. His contract runs through 2009. He is very close with the big boosters and especially the school's chancellor. Add in the fact that Pitt just lost its Athletic Director and Pitt has been very slow in the past to fill the spot, and there is practically no scenario that I can see -- short of an abrupt, out of the blue resignation -- in which Wannstedt does not return.

5) You mentioned last week on your blog that Pitt's offensive troubles have been tied to first down play calling. Could you summarize the argument you were trying to make, and what, if anything, do you think will be done to correct the inefficiency?

Ah, the 1st down chart play calling chart, Dennis put together. It had to do with the predictability on offense. The coaching staff was so terrified to let Bostick throw, they kept calling running plays on 1st down. In the first 3 quarters, Pitt ran on first down 10 times and threw 3 times. Two of the three pass plays were to a Running Back, though (the other pass play resulted in a sack). The point Dennis was making, was that Pitt wasn't getting much in the way of 1st down yards. It meant Pitt would find itself in 2d and 3d and long situations. Making the offense even more predictable. Pitt's play-calling on 1st down was not helping the offense. The obvious correction is to mix things up a little more. Whether it is a quick dump-off. A slant. Something that changes it from running the ball straight ahead each time. Again, though, it comes back to the OC having confidence in the QB and the O-line giving a play a chance to work.

6) A few months ago this looked like just another non-conference game on Pitt's schedule. Now it's a must win game as the Panthers as they approach the meat of Big East play. How important is it for the team to come out of this specific game with a win?

Honestly, at the start of the season, I had this as a must win for Pitt regardless. If Pitt wanted to get to a bowl game and a 7-5 regular season record, this game seemed vitally important. Pitt needed to hold serve at home, with conference road games at Rutgers, WVU and L-ville. Not to mention non-con roadies at Michigan St. and Virginia. This game is still a must-win, but for a different reason. Fan frustration and dissatisfaction is running at a high not seen in the Wannstedt era. There was some acknowledgment that this could be a tough year. and injuries understandably were a setback. What has the fans upset and frustrated is the very clear and disturbing lack of progress, growth and improvement. The team is playing worse. Sloppier and the coaching has been sub-par. After this game, the only game on the schedule that Pitt looks to have a chance will be against Syracuse. So this game is huge for Pitt.

7) Prediction time. Who do you got a why?

I root for my school. I want to believe. However, I don't have any faith right now. I see Navy absolutely confusing the hell out of Pitt's defense and running wild. Pitt will be it's own worst enemy on offense. Final score, Navy wins 36-23.

Well, there you have it. I want to thank Chas again for helping us out, and remind our readers that Part II of our Q&A (the part where I answer questions on Navy) will be up shortly at


Gary said...

Coming from a Pitt insider- I sure hope hes right!
I do worry about the "conservative" offense getting more innovative as Pitt surely has the better athletes and speed.
My worry is that we get slaughtered by a 40-20 type score.
Things are at a point now where if the Mids can win they will get some coaches votes and in this crazy year could have a Top 25 shot.
If they beat Ball State they may have been almost there already.
THEY MUST BEAT PITT to show the nation that we deserve some respect.
Regardless of Pitts plight if they beat us -it becomes another game where Navy just cant beat the "bigger guys".
Sorry but while many Navy fans prefer to define the word respect-to me it simply means beat the better known teams.
In some eyes ESPN -National media dont matter.
If that were the case then Navy would never even schedule games for that network-so dont tell me they are not seeking national respect.
National TV - Big East team - JUST WIN.

football dad dan said...

"Very Interesting". --> Sure doesn't paint a very "pretty picture" for the Pitt Panthers, ... but what I see here is either a very "disappointed/distraught" Pitt fan, ... or another Lou Holtz (when he was coach @ ND) whining about how worried he was getting ready to play Navy/Army/The Little Sisters of the Poor the upcoming week because his Irish "weren't very good", ... and Navy "had a very talented team", etc... etc...

Fortunately Paul Johnson is "gifted" @ "coach speak" as well, ... and he won't let the coaches/players relax one iota. I just hope Navy will execute, ... preferably on both sides of the line-of-scrimmage, for as close to 60 minutes (or into OT if necessary?) as possible.

Beat PITT!!!

phelix said...

Gary, Navy didn't "schedule this game for ESPN." ESPN has a contract with the Big East and can pick whatever Big East home games they feel like showing. Or in this case, moving to Wednesday and showing.

phelix said...

I'm not overjoyed at the thought of seeing Ram Vela take on a 6-6, 340 tackle all night.

crackbaldo said...

Unfortunately for Pitt fans, Adam, Chas is neither a "disappointed/ distraught Pitt fan" nor a Lou Holtz type. I watched first hand Pitt get dismantled by UConn, a team that almost got beat by Temple. It was painful to witness. The sad part is Wannstedt has been a very good recruiter, and therefore Pitt has better talent than just about every team it plays. Wannstedt and his assistants preparation and game day coaching have been nothing short of horrible, however.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure your small fast guy will run right around our big slow guy, as most do. I wouldn't be too concerned. Your QB doesn't seem to be accurate at all from what I've seen, but this is your lucky week: Pitt has no run defense. Hasn't had any in years. Our admin must be stupid to have scheduled this. If you run for less than 300 yds, you should consider it a loss (even though you'll have won handily). You won't have to complete one pass either. You'll also probably end the career of at least one of our O-linemen - they drop like flies. Just please do it to the right side, not the left - those two aren't too bad, we kind of like them.

The thing i can't understand is why Pitt is favored...

Adam said...

Because your at home and we have one of the worst defenses in the country...

Gary said...

Thats right Phelix- I stand corrected.Again....Thx

All I know is Pitt $ must be coming in as the spread jumped a point to 4 1/2.

All I know is we are very psyched here for this game and hope for the best.

This is the year where the unexpected-becomes the expected....why not us?

football dad dan said...

Well, ... Despite the size & potential athletic talent mis-match in PITT's favor, (not to mention that Navy's defense is really, really bad), ... one of the things going for the Mids is that Dave Wannstadt is @ the helm in Pittsburgh. Seeing what he did with Da Bears ... and more recently w/ the Miami Dolphins, ... gotta say that PJ has a substantial advantage in player motivation & game strategizing/tactics. (o;
Let's see how this baby plays out tomorrow night???


vito said...

To all, I'm a Pitt fan, no way we win. Our coaching staff would ruin the the New England Patriots.

Best of luck to you and thanks for your service to this great country of ours.

Adam said...

Interesting thoughts guys, thanks for all the comments.