Monthly Archives: December 2009

Steelers 23 Ravens 20

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Ho hum.  Another game, another heart pounder, another day staying alive for the playoffs by the skin of our teeth.  I swear this team will give me a heart attack by the time this is done.  But a win is a win, and the playoff hopes are still there if we can beat Miami this week.  It’s much better than the alternative.

On offense, it was another prime example of the new Steelers.  259 yards of passing and 48 yards of rushing.  Wow.  Just wow.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I’m not opposed to passing.  I’m not a yinzer who thinks we need to go find another Bus.  But the name of the game is balance.  You have to be a threat in both facets of the offense, and right now we’re not.  I’m convinced that it’s a big part of the sub par season we’re having this year (probably the second biggest reason behind the struggles of the secondary).  Ben had a good day getting away from the pressure and he did have 17 completions, but how could you not when throwing the ball 33 times?  He also had a lower passer rating than Joe Flacco (I’m not a big fan of the passer rating stat, but it is at least trustworthy enough to illustrate the point that Ben puts up huge numbers because of the system he plays).  But I guess at this point we’ve got to go with whatever works to put points on the board.

Defensively, we had our best game in months.  The reason is that Baltimore rushed at us 38 times.  I have no idea why.  The weakness of this defense is the secondary.  Anyone who’s watched us play a single game without Troy knows that.  So why in the world are you trying to flex your muscles in the run game?  Even if you’re a run first team (the Ravens certainly are), you have to skew a tiny bit towards the pass when you play Pittsburgh.  Or at least be 50/50.  I think it was crazy of the Ravens, and I’m glad we cashed in on the gift.  There were a few missed tackles, but when the number of opportunities rises, so does the number of mistakes.  The up front guys were also able to get some pressure on Flacco when the Ravens did pass, getting 4 sacks.  I think that was the most surprising stat of the day.  The Ravens have a pretty good offensive line, and I wouldn’t have thought 4 sacks would happen in a million years.  Thankfully, I stand corrected.

Overall, this team has a lot of flaws that probably need an offseason (and most likely a draft) to correct.  But, for having one of the worst seasons in a decade, it could be a lot worse.  For the record if you haven’t heard yet here is what has to happen for us to make the playoffs (assuming we beat Miami):

  • New England over Houston and Cincinnati over the Jets
  • New England over Houston and Oakland over Baltimore
  • Oakland over Baltimore, Cincinnati over the Jets and Kansas City over Denver

Obviously, the first one is the most likely.  It’s not bad odds considering where we started out from.  I guess all you can do at this point is cross your fingers.

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Pitt 19 UNC 17

image from charlottesportstravel.com

Game Recap

Boy, it’s really nice to finally end a season with a win.  Pitt’s been on a 3 game skid with bowls, and it’s been frustrating.  I’ll be honest.  We didn’t have our best game of the season, but we played well.  Besides, it could have been worse (see last year’s Sun Bowl).  There’s weren’t a lot of mistakes, and there was even a big surprise which bodes well for next year (more on that later).  In fact, we probably out-played the Tar Heels by more than 2 points considering some of the bad bounces that didn’t go our way here.

Offensively, it was obviously the Dion Lewis show.  He was the bowl game MVP, and he earned it.  159 yards on 28 carries is impressive against anyone, but UNC has one of the better defenses in the country.  I have to admit that I was surprised by it.  I think Lewis was just plain quicker than the UNC defense.  I’m not sure if the Tar Heels have racked up their gaudy numbers by stopping a bunch of power guys (I don’t follow UNC football too much), but they were certainly a little slow to the outside.  Credit the coaching staff for seeing that and exploiting it.  Bill Stull didn’t have his best day ever, and I’m not sure why.  He looked awfully rushed, and threw off his back foot a lot.  The offensive line was allowing a bit of pressure, but they were giving him more than enough time.  I think it just looked like he was afraid to get hit out there.  The numbers don’t back me up.  He was 17 for 24 with 163 yards.  But a lot of those misses were his fault and way overthrown because of throwing off his back foot.  And most of those 17 completions were dump offs and timing routes (once again, credit the coaching staff for giving him throws he could make on a day he was struggling.  Matt Cavenaugh are you listening?).  Overall, he was a very serviceable quarterback (don’t get me wrong), but he wasn’t staying strong in the pocket and D1 quarterback (a senior D1 quarterback no less) has no excuse for not doing that.  I guess that’s the line on Bill Stull in general as he departs.  He had a lot of flaws.  He was never going to be great (no matter how much you booed him).  But at least his flaws were consistent so you could game plan around them.

Defensively, I was a bit disappointed.  The Tar Heels are hardly what you would call a juggernaut offensively.  I know that the secondary is usually what takes the heat on this defense, but they are the phase I was actually the most pleased with.  Nobody knows his name, but Greg Little has been a special receiver all year.  He’s the leading receiver on UNC by about 300 yards.  That’s incredible.  And he showed just what he could do with that really special catch in the end zone.  That was about as well defended as you can get.  He just made a great play (and then showed his big flaw by losing his head and punting the ball into the stands, but I digress).  The Tar Heels average 175 yards a game through the air.  They got 183 on Saturday.  There’s nothing to be mad at there.  The real disappointment for me in this game was the front 7.  We allowed an average of 3.6 yards per carry which is an invitation to rush the ball 3 times and get a first down consistently.  But that doesn’t tell the story.  What made that number go up was a bunch of long runs that had no business being as extended as they were.  We missed a lot of tackles.  A whole lot.  It was just like the NC State game (maybe its playing in North Carolina?).  There’s no excuse for it.  I saw way too many arm tackles that shouldn’t be happening at the end of a season.  There was no reason we shouldn’t have dominated this game up front and forced them to throw.  Just very disappointing.

There was a couple of really nice surprises in this game.  First of all, Dan Hutchins shook off an early game miss to get his next 4.  He’s never had the biggest leg and he hasn’t been our most accurate kicker ever by a long shot.  But it was nice to see him refuse to fold mentally.  That’s a lot tougher than you might think.  That being said, he’s really limited our offense this year by making them drive a lot deeper to get some points.  Here’s hoping Kevin Harper’s been improving his accuracy so that we can have a bigger leg step out there.  The other (and probably more important) surprise was Chris Jacobson.  He stepped out on the offensive line for the injured Joe Thomas and played extremely well.  We’re losing 3 guys off a very very good offensive line.  So knowing that one of those 3 holes can be filled without much of a drop is a big relief.  I think this win bodes really well for next season, though how that offensive line holds up will have a lot to do with how good we are.  This was a very encouraging game, and like I said, it’s nice to end the season on a good note again.  Finally.

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Steelers 37 Packers 36

image from espn.com

Game Recap

This may not be the prettiest win in the history of the NFL, but you know what?  We as Steeler fans can’t be too picky right about now.  You couldn’t have asked for more out of a game, though.  It had a little bit of everything: a lot of scores, an outstanding individual performance (Ben’s 500+ yards of passing with no interceptions), and of course a winning score on the last play of the game.  These are the games I love to watch when I have absolutely no rooting interest.  As it was, this game probably took a year or two off my life.

So let’s break this down by offense and defense and start with the offense.  Well, Bruce Arians is nothing if not persistent.  We were going down a bad stretch while throwing the ball around the field, and we continued to do it again on Sunday.  The Steelers had 65 plays (not including special teams) and 46 of them were passes.  I don’t see how being that unbalanced can be desirable.  I know that the way of the NFL is towards passing offenses, and I’m all for progress, but I think it’s going towards the opposite end of the spectrum and blowing past the ultimately most desirable outcome: having a serviceable running AND passing game, while being reliant on neither.  I’m not a yinzer who thinks we should get another Franco or Jerome and run the ball 75% of the time.  I’m looking for an even split.  Make the defense respect both aspects.  That’s all.  Is that too hard to understand?  I don’t know.  I’ll get off my soap box now.  I have to admit, when you implement that kind of game plan, and Ben is on, good things definitely happen.  And they did on Sunday.  We put up 37 points on a very very good defense.  But, the problem is we haven’t been consistent with that kind of production.  Just a couple of weeks ago, Ben was definitely NOT on, and we put up only 6 points in a loss to the Browns.  That’s the risk you run.  And if you’re not consistent, and the defense can’t be trusted to limit any opponent to less than 20 points on any given day (like they did last year), you won’t win a championship.  With one bad game, one loss, eliminating you from the playoffs, you can’t be inconsistent.

So, that’s the offense.  What about the defense?  They gave up an awful lot to the Packers on Sunday.  Now, I realize that Aaron Rogers can play, but allowing 376 yards of passing offense is ridiculous.  It can’t happen.  Plus, we are continuing to putter to a stop in the fourth quarter.  If nothing else, Tomlin’s onside kick call will tell you everything you need to know.  We were so confident that our defense would fail, we just wanted enough time to get the last score.  That’s incredible.  Remember last year when we had a ‘legendary’ defense that carried us to a Super Bowl?  Remember when you would get a late lead, put on Renegade and turn the lights out because the game was over?  Yeah, that’s not the case anymore to put things mildly.  I think the biggest story from this season is the erosion of this defense from one of the best of all time to a big joke.  In one year.  What the heck happened?  Are they just getting old?  Did one year make that big of a difference?  Well, I think that it has more to do with personnel than that.  Troy has been injured, and McFadden left after last year.  So that’s half of the secondary that’s been replaced.  And the secondary is where we’re getting torn apart.  It seems like the replacement parts aren’t up to par, and that’s something that needs to be addressed in the off-season.

So, I alluded to it before, but the other major story line here was the on-side kick.  It seems that everyone in Western PA  has an opinion on it.  Well, mine is that I liked it when it happened, and I still like it.  I even would have liked it if we wouldn’t have won.  Why?  Because you’re finally learning from history.  You’ve got tons of data to tell you that when a team needs to make an end of game drive, they usually pass and usually have success against our secondary.  Add to that the success that Green Bay was already having through the air up to that point, and the odds are with the Packers driving as far as they needed to go.  So if you concede the overwhelming odds, then giving them a short field so that the offense has the time they didn’t have in the last few games, it’s a smart move.  Plus, the odds of recovering the kick are greatly increased if you catch the other team off guard.  So, basically, we had a better than average chance of recovering the kick, and if we failed, the odds say we’ve got a better chance of winning assuming the defense gives up a long drive again.  It makes sense.  But it brings to light how awful this defense is, which is very hard to accept for a lot of Steeler fans that have a specific team identity in mind.  I know, conceding that your defense is unable to come up with a stop is a hard thing to do and doesn’t feel right.  After all, you’re basically conceding that you’re not a good football team.  But it’s the reality for where we are right now.

I don’t like the path that this team is headed down.  The defense (and my suspicion is that it’s mainly the new personnel in the secondary) is unacceptable.  The offense is becoming more and more one-dimensional every year.  These are some trends that have to be stopped right now if we want to remain a good football team.  The good news is that they’re easy fixes.  Troy will return (and hopefully have better luck when he does).  We can sign a better corner and try again.  We can adjust our offensive philosophy and at least put a fullback on the field.  There are easy fixes, but changes have to be made in the off-season.  I’ll be watching at least.  As for next week, we’ve got a huge game against the Ravens.  They kind of stole one from us a month or so ago.  It seems about time for some payback.

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Pitt 66 Mount St. Mary’s 48

image from postgazette.com

Game Recap

Well, the news out of Oakland was that Jamie Dixon was really working his players this week.  The result was probably their best played game of the season yesterday.  Which isn’t saying all that much about this team.  That stats didn’t seem too bad.  We didn’t shoot the lights out (45.6%), but we weren’t as inept as we have been at other points this year (I’m really grasping at straws now).  We shot 23% from beyond the arc: once more not outstanding but we’ve been worse.  10 turnovers isn’t too bad.  We had a solid 37-26 edge on rebounds.  I think those shooting numbers can be improved as Jermaine gets some more playing time and Gilbert gets back into the swing of things, but this might be about as good as this team will get.  We still have absolutely no post production.  Gary had a decent game, but Dante had 2 points and 2 rebounds in 15 minutes.  Now, he’s been struggling mightily with the physicality of the college game.  That much is obvious and understandable.  And the refs in this one were being a little more loose (which is fine.  They were consistently loose).    So it shouldn’t be a surprise that he didn’t have a great day.  But a point and a board for every 7.5 minutes is not an acceptable level of production for anyone playing the center position.  I don’t care who you are, how old you are, or how highly you were recruited.  I’ll give Dante some credit.  He played a lot stronger yesterday than he has in previous games.  The improvement is visible.  But he’s got to get better.  Especially on the offensive end.

The main story line I saw was the pace of the game.  Each team had around 53 possessions which is obscenely low.  I’ll put it this way.  If each team takes the entire 35 seconds and takes a shot with a defensive rebound every time, there would be 34 possessions for each team.  We weren’t much above that pace.  It’s very obvious that Coach Dixon’s strategy with the hand he’s been dealt is to slow the game way way down, play good defense and hope that we make less mistakes than our opponent.  It’s going back to the original Pitt basketball that Ben Howland brought, but it’s probably even more exaggerated.  It’s not a bad idea with this group, but we’ve got to rebound and play defense better if we’re going to be successful at it.  It seems to be what’s being stressed because I’m noticing improvements in both areas that are stronger than what’s happening on the offensive end.  The number of defensive lapses against Mt. St. Mary’s was drastically reduced from the beginning of the season.  We got a huge rebounding margin that was partly due to the Mountaineers being a pretty bad rebounding team, and partly due to some better technique.  At the beginning of the season, we were taking rebounds that came to us.  On Saturday, we were going after and grabbing rebounds.  We weren’t letting them come to us, and we were grabbing them with 2 hands and holding them strong.  It was a fantastic sight.

Offensively, we’re still a mess.  We have no consistent scoring after Gibbs and Wanamaker.  Jermaine Dixon is starting to take some more shots (and therefore get some more points), but who else can step up.  Travon Woodall is more of a distributor, and his shot hasn’t been there for the past couple of games.  Chase Adams is may be too unselfish (never thought I’d say that).  Nasir Robinson hasn’t been the same since he dislocated his finger.  Gary McGhee has really improved some of his technique but he’s got the worst pair of hands I’ve ever seen (they don’t keep that stat, but I’m sure half of the entry passes to him are fumbled out of bounds).  We’ve already covered Taylor.  I sure hope Gilbert has been shooting around while he waits, because we could really use him putting the ball through the hoop a few times.  It’s obviously not the priority of the coaches, but if we could find some deeper scoring, it would go a really long way for this team.

So that’s that.  The defense and especially rebounding have really improved.  The offense continues to struggle.  We’re going to play some really boring basketball over the next few months.  I’m a little worried about Big East play.  I don’t think this team is ready at all.  But in about a week it’ll be here, so ready or not we have to go.  We really stepped up our game to play Texas.  Hopefully something like that will happen again.  That may be our only shot at a .500 league record.  Ohio is the last non-conference game on Tuesday night.  The Bobcats are a decent MAC team, and they love to run the floor (at least they have in the past, I haven’t seen them yet this year).  It should really be a challenge for the backcourt.

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Big Ten Expansion?

image from sportsflagsandpennants.com

First and foremost, I apologize for the long absence of posts.  My computer once again went on the fritz.  Unlike last time, I’ve missed way too much, and I’m just going to move forward without a recap.  Sorry if you’re disappointed.

But there was something that was interesting that I wanted to touch on.  If you haven’t heard, the Big Ten issued a statement today saying they may be interested in a 12th team.  Here’s the story. First of all, I’ll believe Big Ten expansion when I see it.  They have a lot to gain, but they’re a tradition filled group, and I’m not sure there are any immediately available teams that fit the bill.  But, for the sake of a story, and because it’s a neat debate, I thought it would be interesting to examine what team they would select if they were to expand.  The obvious first choice would be Notre Dame.  Everybody knows that.  If expansion were to happen in the near future, I’d imagine the first call the Big Ten would make would be to ND, and I’d imaging the conversation would go something like this:

Big Ten: “Hey Notre Dame.  We’re really serious about expansion this time.  This is your last chance to get on board with the conference.  After this, the door’s closed.”

Notre Dame: “I see.  Well, I just built a vault with a diving board to house all of the money from our NBC contract.  You know, the money we don’t have to split with anyone?  It’s sweet.  Now we can go swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.  So, I guess, in short, we’re good.  Thanks, though.”

And that would be the end of that.  So, assuming Notre Dame turns them down, who would they take?  Well, there are a bunch of school names and rumors floating around.  Here are my thoughts on each.

Missouri

Pros: They’re rumored to be angry with the Big XII because they feel like an outcast in the North Division.  Do they have the guts to put their money where their mouth is and leave?  They’d be a perfect fit.  They’re a large, midwestern land grant school.  They’ve got a huge following and they’re an established BCS conference team.

Cons: I can’t see them leaving the Big XII.  The Big Ten is a good conference, but switching leagues is always a risk, and is the Big Ten that much of an upgrade?  They’re not in a bad situation right now.  Why would they throw that away?  I’d say they’re the obvious second choice, but from here on out I’m assuming they’re not a viable option.  That is until I hear something that says they’re officially interested.

Rutgers

Pros: New York market.  That’s the reason they’re here.  The Big Ten can expand into the largest market in the US.  Simple as that.  Plus, they add another state to put their cable channel in.  Rutgers is also a good academic fit (see the bottom of the post), and they’ve got a decent fan base.  All pluses.

Cons: Geography.  They don’t really fit.  That’s a hike to bring the Iowa field hockey team all the way to New Jersey every year.

Pitt

Pros: They fit in with the Big Ten well.  They’re in the geography, they fit academically, and they’ve got a big football tradition (they’re not at their best right now, but the folks in Ann Arbor would understand that, right?).

Cons: The fan base is tiny.  They’re not a big land grant school like the Big Ten teams.  They don’t have an entire state rooting for them.  Also, they’ve got a fairly undersized athletics department.  They only have 17 teams.  If they go to the Big Ten, they might have to re-invest some of the increased budget into fielding some more sports (the good news is that they’ve got decent facilities for the non-revenues once the new baseball/soccer fields are complete).  But the huge hurdle for them is fans.

Syracuse

Pros: Just like Rutgers, Syracuse would be added to try to grab the New York market.  Just like Rutgers they’d fit well academically.  They also have a good football tradition that would play well in the Big Ten.

Cons: They have a decent fan base, but I’m not sure it’s as big as Rutgers’ is.  The way I see it, if the Big Ten wants to go after New York, Rutgers has the fans and Syracuse has the tradition.  The fans (and $) win.

Cincinnati

Pros: My, my.  I’m not sure this name would have popped up about 2 years ago or so.  They’re definitely an up and coming program.  They also fit very nicely geographically (if that’s what the Big Ten is going for).

Cons: Lots of them.  First of all, they have no consistency in the athletics program.  They’re good now, but are they going to be good for the long haul (especially with the coach leaving)?  Second of all, they’ve got another small athletics department (14 sports).  But most damaging is their facilities.  Nippert Stadium is one of the oldest college football stadiums in the country and only seats 35,000.  That would be the smallest in the Big Ten by over 10,000 seats.

Louisville

Pros: They’re similar to Cincy.  They fit the geography of the Big Ten.  They’ve got an up and coming program in the past few years, they’re building a fan base.  Unlike Cincy, they’ve got a very strong athletics department on the whole with some very nice facilities.

Cons: They don’t have the tradition (read: name recognition) that a lot of the other schools have.  They don’t really fit academically.

WVU

Pros: Besides Mizzou, they’ve got the biggest fan base of any of the Big East schools under consideration.  They’ve got a big stadium that they fill up consistently.  Their football program’s in the best shape.

Cons: If the Big Ten wants to expand its boundaries, I’m not sure West Virginia is the state it’s got its eye on.  Also, the big killer is going to be academics (see below).  I have a feeling that academics won’t be the deciding factor by any stretch, but it will be a preliminary screen.

So, overall, I think the obvious first and second choices are Notre Dame and Missouri respectively.  But in the extremely likely case that both of those schools turn them down, I see this as a two pony race: Pitt and Rutgers.  Both schools fit the academic criteria.  Both have facilities that would measure up.  They would both do as a 12th team (neither is a perfect fit, but a perfect fit isn’t going to happen).  It all comes down to what the Big Ten wants from the 12th team.  Pitt would expand the Big Ten brand of midwest schools with solid academics and a deep football tradition.  Rutgers would expand the Big Ten footprint to include New York.  In other words, Rutgers diminishes the Midwest image that the Big Ten’s getting, but they bring a higher financial return.  Pitt would be a solid placeholder that gets them to 12 teams and a championship game.  I think I’m not stretching things too much when I say they’re most likely going to opt for Rutgers and the increased market.  Money talks, after all.  But, as a Pitt fan who would not want to be left behind in a Big East jilted again, I offer this caution to the Big Ten.  Remember the ACC.  They really wanted the New England market, so they took BC.  They wanted to go from a southeastern conference to an east coast conference.  Well, Boston didn’t care about BC before, and they don’t care about them now.  Think a lot of schools wouldn’t trade that extra “exposure” so that they don’t have to fly the mens cross country team from Atlanta to Boston every year?  I’m just saying…..

Appendix

Knowing that academics is probably going to be a weed out, I did some research.  Here are the academic rankings of the current Big Ten members, and the prospective teams.  The ARWU is the Academic Ranking of World Universities: a 100 university list of schools from around the globe produced yearly by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.  You can read about it here.  USNWR is the US News and World Reports yearly ranking of US universities.  133 were ranked in 2009, with the rest being grouped into ‘Tier 3’ and ‘Tier 4’.  Those are the two most widely cited rankings I could find.  Public Ivy is a list comprised by Richard Moll of Yale University and has been widely used since.  The original list had 8 schools and 9 runners-up.  The list was expanded to 30 schools in 2001.  You can read about it here. Since the Big Ten is mostly public universities that pride themselves on being on this list, I thought it was relevant.

School 2009 USNWR Rank 2009 ARWU Rank Public Ivy Class

Michigan                               27                                                          22                                          Original 8

Michigan State                   71 (tie)                                                 86                                            2001 List

Iowa                                       71 (tie)                        NR (last ranked #97 in 2007)              2001 List

Minnesota                            61 (tie)                                                 28                                             2001 List

Wisconsin                             39 (tie)                                                 17                                   Original Runner-Up

Illinois                                   39 (tie)                                                 25                                   Original Runner-Up

Northwestern                     12                                                           30                                               (Private)

Indiana                                  71 (tie)                                                 93                                             2001 List

Purdue                                   61 (tie)                                                  65                                                  N/A

Ohio State                             53 (tie)                                                  62                                             2001 List

Penn State                            47 (tie)                                                  45                                   Original Runner-Up

Missouri                                102 (tie)                                                NR                                               N/A

Rutgers                                   66 (tie)                                                 55                                            2001 List

Syracuse                                 58 (tie)                                                NR                                           (Private)

Pitt                                            56 (tie)                                                50                                     Original Runner-Up

Cincinnati                              Tier 3                                                   NR                                                N/A

Louisville                               Tier 3                                                  NR                                                 N/A

WVU                                         Tier 3                                                  NR                                                 N/A

And just so I don’t get accused of putting up numbers that only make Pitt look like the obvious choice, here are the football stadium capacities, football average attendance and number of varsity sports for each team:

School Stadium Capacity 2008 Attendance # Varsity Sports

Michigan                                       106,201                                                   108,571                                                25

Michigan State                              75,005                                                     74,858                                                20

Iowa                                                   70,585                                                    70,169                                                 20

Minnesota                                        50,000                                                    48,958                                                23

Wisconsin                                         80,321                                                     81,088                                                23

Illinois                                               62,870                                                     61,707                                               19

Northwestern                                 47,130                                                      28,590                                               19

Indiana                                              49,225                                                      31,782                                               22

Purdue                                               62,500                                                     56,702                                               18

Ohio State                                       102,329                                                   104,976                                              36

Penn State                                      107,282                                                   108,254                                              27

Missouri                                           68,349                                                       64,520                                              18

Rutgers                                             54,000                                                      42,378                                              22

Syracuse                                          49,262                                                       33,474                                              20

Pitt                                                     65,050                                                       49,352                                              17

Cincinnati                                       35,000                                                       31,965                                              14

Louisville                                        42,000                                                       39,680                                             21

WVU                                                  60,000                                                      58,085                                             16

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Steelers 24 Raiders 27

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Well, the Pitt game was disappointing, but this game really stank.  It stank because we’re better than how we’ve been playing for the last month or so.  A lot better.  It seems like I’m watching the same game over and over every week.  A team we should beat.  We let them hang around for 3 quarters without much excitement and take a small lead into the fourth.  On the last drive of the game the opponent finally figures out that our secondary sucks and picks us apart through the air for the winning score.  It’s getting ridiculous.

I’m not sure how much you can pick apart in this one.  We didn’t give up the big score on special teams.  We moved the ball very well, but had some miscues in the red zone.  But I think it’s fairly obvious that the problem lies with the defense.  It has the past few games. The Oakland Raiders have struggled to score touchdowns all year.  They came in averaging 9.5 points per game and laid 27 on us.  That’s unacceptable.  So where did the problem lie?  Well, the Raiders got 396 total yards yesterday, and 287 of them were through the air.  That seems like the problem to me.  If you’re not convinced, look at their play calls (28 rushing attempts, 34 passing attempts).  Our problem is our secondary.  And they can’t be letting up 3 touchdown passes to Bruce Gradkowski.  The Raiders were shooting themselves in the foot with penalties, and we were constantly letting them off the hook on 2nd and 3rd and long.  Can’t happen.  I know that Troy is not in, but he can’t be the sole reason that we’re playing such horrid defense.  Or at least I really hope he’s not.  He’s gatta retire at some point, and we can’t be this screwed when he leaves, can we?

Offensively, the only thing that worries me is the red zone offense.  We’ve got a nice balance of run and pass going up the field.  We can get some extended drives going.  We’ve got a lot of weapons.  That’s fine.  But we seem to kill ourselves when we get inside the twenty.  We were 2 for 5 in the red zone against the Raiders.  We lost one to a pick, one to a bad sack, and one to a failed 4th down try.  I have no idea what to say.  We don’t even have a consistent problem to address.  I would say it’s just luck, but luck isn’t extended over a number of games.  This is something that needs to be figured out by smarter football minds than mine.

That’s pretty much all I can say here.  We’ve got some big problems to fix, and they have to be fixed NOW.  I think we’ve already pretty much killed our playoff chances, but if we want to keep them on triage we’d better take this game in Cleveland Thursday night.  For those of you not in the Pittsburgh market, the game will be on the NFL network at 8:20 on Thursday.  Tune in and keep your fingers crossed.

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Pitt 44 Cincinnati 45

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Ugh.  That’s about all you can say about this one.  It’s extremely disappointing to be on the losing end of a close game like this, but surprisingly I’m more okay with this game than I have been for others.  I think it’s because we played a good game.  We made some mistakes, but I think the game as a whole was a good representation of our abilities.  We gave it a good shot, and we came up short.  We were beaten by a better team.  That’s the breaks, and that’s something I’m willing to accept.

Now, I will say that it’s frustrating coming from a classical school of thought with football.  I think most people growing up with football in Western PA love the classic 3 yards and a cloud of dust game.  It’s not just Pittsburgh, though.  It’s a rust belt thing.  They love it all over the Big 10.  They love it in Cleveland where the Browns used to play that way in their heyday.  Cincy doesn’t play that game.  They play a new spread passing offense.  They don’t want to beat you up.  They don’t care if you score a lot.  Just as long as at the end of the day they come out with one more point than their opponent.  There are a lot of people who think that it’s a cheap way to play and almost consider it a bit dishonorable.  But, it’s not.  It’s smart.  It takes advantage of the fact that there are over 100 D1 schools which dilutes the talent at the college level, and more importantly takes advantage of the fact that these are all kids who make mistakes.  Every spread offense is designed to get the play-makers in single match-ups and take advantage of a single mistake.  It’s a good bet in the college game.  Now, just to be sure so I don’t get a bunch of angry comments here, I’m not saying that it’s the best way to go.  Just a smart way to go.  The basic vanilla game plan Pitt plays wins a lot of games.  It wins against a lot of different teams.  If Cincy runs up against a team with an outstanding secondary with a couple of shut-down defenders, they’re screwed.  If they run into a team that gets the counterpoint defense to their scheme, they’re screwed.  Because they can only hurt you one way.  And they’ve built their program around it.  If someone comes up with a scheme to stop them that anyone can play, they’ve invested a few years of recruiting specific kids that fit the system, and they don’t know another way to score.  They’d be stuck.  So, in the long run, Pitt is in a good place.  We have a well-rounded team that’s playing at a high level.  It’ll be good again next year, too.  But on Saturday, we were bested.  And that’s fine.

Just some random thoughts after hearing the complaints from fans:

  • Dave Wannstedt does not deserve to be fired.  He didn’t lose this game.  True, he didn’t figure out a scheme to stop Cincy’s air attack, but neither have the other 11 teams that played them this year.
  • Continuing the last point, I didn’t see anything wrong with how the end game was handled.  I’ve heard a ridiculous thought that Dion Lewis should have gone down instead of scoring a touchdown so we could run more clock.  Are you serious?  First of all, Wanny was already running the ball.  He was trying to wind the clock down as much as he could, but if you can score a touchdown, you score it.  Did you not see the extra point afterward?  Anything can happen with a kick in that weather.  Anything can happen on any play.  Take the points when you can get ’em.
  • Which is a nice segment to the next point.  The botched extra point didn’t lose us the game.  Remember: Cincy doinked one off the upright earlier in the game.  They just had an opportunity to go for two and get it back.  The missed extra point didn’t lose the game for us.  If anything, the timing of it did.
  • The refs.  Well, there were some questionable calls, to be sure.  But when is that not the case in a college football game?  Plus, there’s been a precedent set in the college game.  Teams that a conference benefits the most from winning have mysteriously been getting a lot of calls this year.  Overall, I don’t think much of the conspiracy in this game.  None of the penalties ultimately affected the outcome.  I think there are a few calls that stick out in my brain because I’m a Pitt fan and I’m naturally going to remember calls that go against me more than for me.  But, at worst, it was something that shouldn’t be too surprising (which bring me to a rant on why college refs should be full-time NCAA employees instead of hired by the conference, but I won’t go there).
  • The WVU game is still meaningless.  Sorry, ‘eers fans.  With the special considerations the Gator Bowl made to take a 6-6 Florida St. while screwing over the ACC, they would have absolutely screwed over the Big East and taken an 8-4 WVU over a 10-2 Pitt.  We would have gone to the Car Care bowl no matter what happened last week.  This was the big game.
  • A note to Cincy fans: you were loud and proud in Heinz Field.  It was good to see from a Big East school.  Kudos.  But enjoy being on top while you can.  Brian Kelly is leaving (maybe not to Notre Dame.  Maybe not even this year.  But schools with big checkbooks will come knocking.  Don’t kid yourself).  And when Brian Kelly leaves, you’d better hire a pass happy coach.  I realize that Zach Collaros can run, but you’re still a system team that’s been recruiting guys that play a certain way.  If that doesn’t jive with a new coach, you’re in for some misery.  Just ask your buddies down in Louisville what happens when you have a passing system that gets handed to a guy who wants to change things.

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