Tag Archives: Bill Stull

Pitt 19 UNC 17

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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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Huge Recap

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Well well.  My computer picked an awful bad week to just decide to crap out.  Every team I talk about had at least one game.  So I’m just going to run down my current thoughts on each, and then I can move forward like nothing happened.  Sound good?  Alright.  Let’s go.

Steelers

I’ll lead off with ‘dem Stillers cuz I know that’s what yinz guys like to hear about.  Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that the world is ending for the Steelers.  We’ve lost 3 in a row for the first time in years.  We’ve got our quarterback and star receiver arguing.  We’re on the verge of missing out on the playoffs.  There is no doubt that the world is going to end tomorrow.  So.  Now that you’re caught up, how do we save the world (or just the Steelers)?  Well, first things first.  How do we get everyone to just get along?  I mean its bad enough that the Bengals took our division lead…did they have to give us their drama on the way?  C’mon!  For those that aren’t in Pittsburgh and/or haven’t been paying attention, Hines Ward said in an interview that he’s played hurt and insinuated that Ben should too.  Ben allegedly went through the locker room saying ‘good luck without me guys’ in a sarcastic tone.  That’s a very high level recap, but the actual details don’t matter.  What matters is  what happens on the field.  How do we cut this beef between Ben and Hines up, grill it up and eat it so that we can play better?  Well, the short answer is win.  There is no drama in a winning locker room because there is no blame in a winning locker room.  The long answer is that Ben and Hines need to sit down and talk about this.  It was an obvious misunderstanding.  Both were frustrated at the time of their incidents.  In fact, I’m fairly sure that they’ve already talked (being that they’re grown men and this is an obvious step to take for two people striving towards a common goal).  So, in short, I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either.  So with that cleared up, what is wrong with this team on the field?  Well, besides the obvious injuries I mean.  The defense seems to be giving up a lot more ground (especially in the fourth quarter) than they ever have before.  I’m just stumped as to why.  It could be because they’re getting old and tired at the end of games.  It could be because we really miss Troy.  My personal guess is that it’s the cornerbacks.  These have been come from behind fourth quarter wins in the past 3 weeks.    That means the other team has been throwing a lot.  If a team is most successful coming back in the 4th because they’re throwing, and we usually step up our blitz when we’re ahead, the only thing left is the corners that need to step up.  Maybe if they just jam their receivers a bit more at the line to buy some time it would help.  But I really don’t know.  That’s just a guess.  The special teams has also been awful.  If it’s not a kickoff being returned for a touchdown, it was awful punt coverage against Baltimore.  We just can’t win.  But, unfortunately, you can’t do much with special teams beside get guys in who really want to be there.  The one thing you can’t say much about is the offense.  They’ve been fine.  The loss of Ben hurt last week, but hey, it happens.  We’re much more balanced lately which I love.  So, in conclusion, the secondary will hopefully improve with Troy coming back soon which I hope will shore up the defense, the offense looks good already, and we just have to cross our fingers and hope the special teams don’t cost us too many games.  Oakland comes into town next week, so that should be a great opportunity to get back on track (though I said the same thing about Kansas City a couple of weeks ago.  Gulp).

Pitt Football

Hmmm……well that was a fairly depressing recap I just finished, and it isn’t going to get much better here.  The loss to WVU was ugly.  We didn’t just play poorly.  WVU played poorly and we played even worse.  I hate to say it, but this one goes on Billy Stull.  Now, as Mike Tomlin would say: ‘he’s got some money in my emotional bank account’, so I’m going to dismiss this as one bad game and not get on him too bad.  However, he played awful and he’d admit it.  He was overthrowing and underthrowing everybody.  It makes me wonder if he just gets tired at the end of a season (remember: he was alright leading up to the Rutgers game last year, though not as good as this season).  His inability to pass made us completely one-dimensional.  That will lose you a game every time.  Now, usually, when a quarterback is struggling, he’ll go with a lot of dump-offs.  Just to get back in a rhythm.  I saw a couple of passes to Dickerson (which he dropped.  He also had a terrible game).  But I only saw 2 passes to Dion Lewis.  You’ve got to dump off to him a bit more in that situation just to get some completions.  It seemed like he was chucking it to Baldwin every time.  I understand that Baldwin probably had a mismatch, but you can’t keep trying something that doesn’t work (well, it finally did in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t worth the total effort and wasted downs).  But, lucky for us, this game didn’t matter.  We still win the Big East with a win on Saturday.  And no matter what people will tell you, there was no way the Gator Bowl was taking us even if we won.  Especially with Bowden crying for one last gasp of attention (he wants to play his last bowl game in Florida and furthermore against WVU if he can because he used to coach there).  This loss probably just dropped us from Charlotte to Birmingham/Toronto if we lose on Saturday.  So crappy bowl to crappier bowl.  Hmmm…..  Not that big of a loss.  But this is still a huge game on Saturday.  Who would have thought that the River City Rivalry would ever mean anything?

Penguins

The Pens have been the most busy of any team.  Since I last left you, they’ve gone 3-1 including a home and home sweep of the Rangers.  Now that we’ve got some guys returning from injury we’re really playing at a high level.  Sid really seems to be on a role, but I think that may have more to do with the Rangers opening the ice to the coast to coast game that he really excels at.  The power play is still my biggest concern, by far.  I have no idea why this team struggles so much, except to say that we look for the perfect shot way to much.  The power play is a time for decent shots, not great shots.  But, overall, you have to be pleased with the play of this team.  Overlooking a hickup on Long Island, we’ve really been controlling the puck well and doing an excellent job being physical and checking teams.  It’s a return to that great play we started the season off with, and I’m going to run out of ways to say ‘we’re awesome’ before too long.  But Colorado will be a tough test on Thursday.

Pitt Basketball

Pitt only had one game over the long weekend: a fairly easy one against Youngstown State.  The game story was that it was a close game for the first 30 minutes before Pitt finally out-lasted them in the final 10.  I think the general assumption is that we had superior depth compared to YSU, and that’s what eventually won us the game.  I noticed something, but I haven’t read it in any recaps yet, so here it goes: we finally figured out their zone with about 10 minutes left and that’s what lead to the turnaround.  YSU played a classic 2-3 zone from start to finish.  It was fairly obvious that Coach Dixon thought it was very slow on the rotation.  He was having the team do a lot of perimeter passing trying to pass the ball faster than the defense could react.  Either it will open up an open 3-point shot or it will open up a lane to pass the ball into the post.  Well, the defense was slow to rotate alright, but when we saw the open space we didn’t take the jumper, our eyes light up and we drove the lane…..right into the teeth of the defense.  We had a ton of turnovers that way.  The only reason we stayed in the game was that Youngstown had a horrible offense and absolutely no frontcourt presence.  We also crushed them on the glass which didn’t hurt.  With about 10 minutes left, we finally started to attack the zone the right way and take what the defense gave us.  It was like the light bulb finally went on that ‘Hey!  Coach Dixon might know what he’s talking about.  Maybe we should try his advice’.  And, what do you know?  It worked.  I hope that’s the last of our struggles against the 2-3 zone, because as I said before, that’s something we’ll see a lot this year.  Duquesne is up next in the city game and the last college b-ball game in the Mellon Civic Arena.  I think this will be a really hard test for Pitt.  Much harder than most people think.  I wouldn’t even be surprised to come out with a loss in this one.  But I sure hope I’m wrong.

Pirates

….still suck.  Actually, they signed some guys this week, but no one of consequence.  We’re going to trot out a AAA team again next year.

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Pitt 27 Notre Dame 22

 

image from espn.com

 

Game Recap

That was a great win last night, but I can’t help but feel a little empty looking back at it.  I guess that’s because we didn’t quite accomplish the goal.  The game was meaningless in the standings.  The goal was to prove to the nation that we were for real.  That we were something to watch.  Well, reading the postgame stories, it appears that the story line is that we survived Notre Dame and got some questionable calls at the end to hold them off.  That’s misleading to say the least.  We out-played the Irish for 3 quarters.  The questionable calls?  Well, that certainly was a chop block.  There’s no arguing that one.  As for the fumble at the end?  Well, looking at the replay, it looks like the ball came out at the back of his windup.  Exactly in no-mans land fumble wise.  Now, I understand the Irish argument of how the ball went forward if it was a fumble.  Well, the defenders arm was also swinging forward at the time of the fumble following Clausen’s arm path.  So the ball is going forward fumble or not.  Looking closer at a replay, I would have ruled it an incompletion.  I can see the ball going forward, but not that far forward if it were a fumble.  And I wish they would have ruled it an incompletion, too.  Notre Dame was facing a 4th and 16 and some long odds to getting the winning score.  Even with their great passing game.  I would have liked to see them lose by themselves and take away any doubt.  Though, in hindsight, any doubt would have been removed if we hadn’t allowed that punt return, either.  But, alas, that’s not the case.   We won.  We got zero respect for it.  I had a sinking suspicion that this was a no-win game for Pitt.  Either we lose and the Big East is weak and so are we, or we win and Notre Dame gets torn apart in national perception this year and we still have no “quality” wins.   That’s exactly what happened.

But, anyway, lets step away from my frustrations as a fan of a non-insane-amount-of-fans team and examine the actual game, shall we?  When the Irish had the ball, it was no surprise how much Notre Dame relied on the passing game.  The Irish had 42 passing downs and 25 rushing attempts (as compared to 27 passing plays and 32 rushing plays for Pitt).  Notre Dame only got 66 rushing yards on the day, but it appeared like a lot more with Armando Allen busting off a few good 10 yard rushes.  The Irish offensive line is huge.  They average 315 pounds per man with the shortest guy being 6’4″.  They’re monsters.  They’re in stark contrast to our much quicker by smaller defensive line.  You saw both strengths get highlighted on different plays.  There were times when the Irish line just got in our path and wouldn’t let us through.  That was when Clausen would get what looked like 10  seconds to make a throw or Allen would get to run 8 yards before being touched.  On the other hand, if we got  around them, they weren’t going to catch up.  That’s when you saw us flush Clausen out of the pocket (we only had 1 sack, but a lot of pressures) or make a throw he wasn’t ready for.  The defensive backs played a very nice game.  But, as I’ve said in previous posts, the defensive backs have never been the problem this season.  When we’ve gotten exposed by a passing game, it’s by little over the middle stuff that attacks our outside linebackers in coverage.  Notre Dame didn’t run one crossing route all game.  That was a mistake.  Throwing toss-ups to Golden Tate is not a bad idea.  The kid is a freak athlete, and I was really impressed by him.  He has outstanding hands, and then can kill you when he’s got possession of the ball.  But, that’s still not attacking Pitt’s weak spot.  They had some success throwing dump-offs towards the sidelines.  I’m wondering why they didn’t expand on that success.

Offensively, we showed a lot of balance.  The Notre Dame defense kept switching back and forth between stacking the rush and dropping into coverage for the first couple of quarters.  They finally decided on blitzing with an eye towards stopping the run.  No matter what they did, we found a way to counter.  We did a fantastic job of picking up blitzes.  That right there is the single biggest reason that we came out a winner in this one.  Bill Stull had a clean jersey all game, and just picked apart the Irish defense.  Dion Lewis didn’t have much against a much bigger front 7 than he’s faced before, but he stayed patient.  He had the one big 50 yard touchdown run, but didn’t break off any other big ones.  To his credit, he didn’t get frustrated and just took what was given.  He ended up getting 102 yards on 20 carries (excluding the big 50 yarder).  He sure didn’t play like a freshman.  Jonathan Baldwin stole the show offensively.  He made a couple of very athletic catches that brought back some shades of some guy named Larry that just rolled through Pittsburgh a few years ago.  Who says we’re no longer wide receiver U?

Overall, the national perception of this game is disappointing, but at least we got the win.  It’s much better than the alternative.  I don’t think any Pitt fans were surprised by the performance the team gave yesterday, and we’ve got a couple of more games in this season to make the rest of the country wake up and smell the coffee, too.  The Backyard Brawl being the first of them a week from Friday.  I think Morgantown will be foaming at the mouth considering what happened the last time we were down there.  To tell you the truth, I’m kind of glad that the game is meaningless in the Big East.  I think we’ve got more talent, but you never want to have something on the line when a team is looking for revenge like that.

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Pitt 41 South Florida 14

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Wow. Just wow. I had no idea that Pitt had a game like this in them. I had a knot in my stomach leading up to this game because these are the games that Pitt generally loses. We always get expectations up and then fall on our faces. Well, this was a statement game, I guess. This team will not be doing that. I was discussing with my dad, and neither of us could come up with a lopsided score like this in Pitt’s recent history (that wasn’t against a 1-AA team). Well, after a little research, our memories are just bad. Last year Louisville came into Heinz Field and lost 41-7. But we were favored pretty handily in that one. The last game that we turned into a laugher that wasn’t supposed to be was not in the 80’s surprisingly. It was in 2006 when Virginia opened up the season coming to Pittsburgh. We were a 3 point favorite, but ran away with it 38-13. Now, UVA turned out to be pretty bad that year, but there’s no saying USF will improve, either. We’ll see. But I think the fact that I couldn’t come up with one of those blow-outs was telling. The general perception of the Pitt team is that they always fall short of expectations. This could be a big year where we finally exceed expectations. I really hope so.

As for the play on the field, there’s not much you can really say. All 3 facets of the game were clicking. The offense was unstoppable. We got 214 rushing yards against a very very good defensive line. Bill Stull completed 18 of 25 balls for 245 yards. A fine day that even his critics can’t poke too many holes in. I think the reason for the offensive success was balance. USF came out determined to stop the run, and they did. So we threw the ball all over the yard on them. So they backed off. Then the running game opened up. They couldn’t win any way they played. That’s the reason that we can match up against anyone offensively (man, didn’t think I’d type that sentence this season). But the best stat of the day was that we were 11-16 on 3rd down. That will win you a lot of ballgames.

The defense was just as dominant. We only allowed 90 yards in the air, but more importantly limited the Bulls to 122 yards on the ground. USF lives with the running game. When we shut that down, they were sunk. We did an excellent job kepping B.J. Daniels contained in the pocket after struggling earlier in the year with mobile quarterbacks. *cough Russell Wilson cough* I think this defense has really improved since the N.C. State loss. I’m not sure what made them click, but I’ll go with it. We had 4 sacks. Usually, I’d say that’s good but this line can do better. However, you have to look at the other team in this one. Daniels was scrambling half of the time, so there’s little room to sack him. The secondary, after starting out real slow, had 3 picks in this game. I tore them down, I’ll give them credit when it’s due. (I still think the problems with the secondary were more problems with the outside linebackers, but I’ll drop that for now).

There are two more great things that happened that I have to point out. First, Bill Stull stayed clean the whole game. Not one sack. Tino Sunseri got hit in garbage time, but the first string offensive line did a great job protecting, and I haven’t heard much praise for them (I guess there’s too much to go around in this one). The second thing: we didn’t punt all game. Not. Once. I never thought I would see a Pitt team do that. Ever. I’m still flabbergasted looking at the stat sheet. If that doesn’t show the strength of our offense, I don’t know what does. We’ve got a by-week coming up and then Syracuse. The team can’t overlook them, but I will for the fun of it. IF we get by ‘Cuse, it sets up 3 monster games to end the season, and all three are within an hour of Pittsburgh. It should generate some much needed pub for this football team. Just cross your fingers that it’s good pub and not bad pub.

Oh, P.S.: the rankings are out and if you haven’t yet seen, Pitt is number 15/16 16/17 (we’re 15 in the BCS poll.  Sorry). That in itself will turn some heads in the city.

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Pitt 24 UConn 21

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Well, this was far from a pretty win, but in college football, all that matters is the final result.  The defense was so-so, and the offense was bi-polar, but it’s a win.  More than that, it’s a conference win against a solid mid-tier team that really will define who’s a contender and who’s a pretender in the conference.  UConn won’t win the Big East, but they’re going to a bowl game.  I’ll take it.

I’ll keep you waiting on the defensive thoughts for a moment.  Let’s first concentrate on that offense, shall we?  The offense revolves around the quarterback, and ours unfortunately is hot and cold.  This week he decided to be both at the same time.  He made some pretty good throws that were right on the hands of the receivers.  He also made some poor decisions including two interceptions.  The first interception was a miscommunication between him and the receiver.  He locked eyes with his receiver for an improvised route.  The receiver juked left and went right.  Stull unfortunately bit on the juke and threw left right to a UConn defender.  He has to wait until a receiver is open to throw, but that’s an understandable mistake.  He’d been holding the ball for a few seconds and he wanted to get rid of it.  The second interception was totally his fault.  He didn’t look off the secondary, and a safety read his eyes and jumped the route.  If you focus on one man, that will happen every time.  A senior quarterback can’t make that mistake.  I think that was the most troubling thing I saw from Bill all day.  Not looking off his safeties and missing an open man because he’s too focused on his reads.  They’re both indicative of the same problem: not reading the defense.  But, I guess we have to live with him.  Having a hit or miss quarterback is better than having a purely terrible one.

Besides Stull, the rest of the offense had a fairly good day.  UConn focused on the run, putting 8 in the box a lot.  That’s okay.  Dion Lewis and Ray Graham took what was given and were content.  Their job on Saturday was to keep the defense honest and keep the passing game open, and they seemed to understand that.  The offensive line had a fine day pass protecting.  There were some hurries, but against a great defense like UConn’s, that’s going to happen.  I guess the only thing I can nit pick is that there were a few dropped passes.  But this isn’t the pros.  Guys will drop passes occasionally.  It happens.

The defense seemed to struggle a bit, even though they only gave up 14 points (7 were on an interception return).  The defensive line sure didn’t look like the overpowering force they were made out to be in the pre-season.  UConn was manhandling us in the trenches.  We struggled both stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback.  The latter problem really put some pressure on our secondary which isn’t a good position at all for this team.  I think a lot of this was that the defense was not put in a position to succeed.  The entire game I think I saw one play where we were in something besides our base 4-3 defense.  On obvious passing plays, that puts pressure on the linebackers by forcing them into coverage.  If you’re not bringing a linebacker in to blitz, the extra man in the secondary on 3rd and long would really have helped on a number of occasions.  As for the run, I think UConn was successful because of the tremendous amount of blockers they put in.  For most of the game, they would put in a tight end and a fullback both to block, which meant they only had 2 true receivers on the field.  That’s in invitation to switch to a 5-2 or a 5-3 and try to out-man them on the line.  As it was, they had 7 men blocking and we had 7 in the box.  They put a hat on a hat every time and got gaping holes for their running backs.  It’s the defensive line’s job to get off blocks and make the tackle, but if you don’t see that happening, you have to put an extra man in the box and out-man them.  I didn’t get the defensive play-calling at all.

So, overall, not a good game from really anybody (including the coaches), but I’ll take the win.  I saw the stadium kind of clear out when we were down by 15, and I think that it spoke volumes about the program.  We consistently lose games where we fall behind in the second half.  We’re not a comeback team.  We’re a play good defense and hope we score enough to win team.  I hope this sparks a trend that makes Pitt football a bit more exciting.  Having a dynamic offense that can stage a comeback like that is new around here.  Maybe that would earn a few new fans, as well.  Also, I hope that kicking a game-winner does wonders for Dan Hutchins’ confidence.  The place kicking is as weak as I can remember it.  Short week and then Rutgers on Friday.  The Scarlet Knights are a game we need to win if we want to remain a serious player in the Big East.

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Pitt 27 Navy 14

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

This season is shaping out as expected for Pitt so far.  For anyone else, these 3 wins are par for the course.  For a Pitt team that makes a living breaking its fan’s hearts with losses to inferior teams, it’s a welcomed breath of fresh air.  Last time we were 3-0 was 2000.  That’s before we moved into Heinz Field.  That was so long ago, the third win was Penn State (remember 12-0 at three rivers?  You’re smiling.  I can see it).  I think that it’s an embarrassing stat.  Sure, most of the years we fell to a decent team in the first 3 games: Miami in 2001 (with a terrible loss to D1 newcomer South Florida preceeding it), Texas A&M in 2002, Nebraska in 2004, Notre Dame in 2005 (followed by a terrible Ohio U loss), Michigan St. in 2006 AND 2007.  I guess the fact that we don’t have 3 straight patsies most years is a testament to our strength of schedule.  But its still disappointing that we never pulled off an upset, and twice we had schedules to roll through and didn’t:  in 2003 we tripped over Toledo after beating Kent St. and Ball St.  (I guess we couldn’t handle 3 straight MAC teams.  That’s too much mediocrity) and last year we started out losing to Bowling Green before beating Buffalo and Iowa.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just making too big of a deal out of this.

But lets at least get back to the game at hand.  Bill Stull had another terrific game due to the fact that he was rarely asked to air a ball out.  He did connect on a couple of fairly deep balls, but I think that a lot of what happened needs to be taken in context.  Our receiving corps (and Baldwin in particular) was taller, faster and more athletic than the Navy CBs guarding them.  Stull had some poorly thrown balls that his receivers went up and grabbed.  I guess you can give Bill credit for throwing in the right zip code for once, but it still won’t be there during the conference schedule.  If we can get a short passing game going though, it will still do something to open up the run game.  I’m not slamming the panic button yet to be sure, but I’m not ready to heap praise on Stull yet, either.  He’s exactly what I thought he would be going into the season: a good decision maker with no arm.

The defense looked really good.  I think they’re really getting the hang of defending an option offense.  I guess a few years of WVU and Navy will do that.  The story of the day was Dan Mason.  He had a heck of a day, and it’s nice to know that we’ve got depth at MLB, but I don’t expect to see him starting.  It’s not Wanny’s style.  In a close race, tie goes to the upperclassman, and Mason waits his turn.  I have no problem with that.  Gunn’s nothing to sneeze at.  Lets see if he can deal with the pressure of someone breathing down his neck.

Speaking of Mason, it was nice to see him do well, because a freshman and local product being named conference defensive player of the week is a good story line.  Otherwise, we’d have to hear about how Pitt fans are classless because a few students booed the Navy team coming out.   Just goes to show how you need to take what is written with a grain of salt after a blow-out.  There has to be a story somewhere, even if that means blowing a small one out of proportion.

We’ve got a lot of weapons on offense.  Dion Lewis is now established (as evidenced by the effort Navy devoted to stopping him), Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham are legit threats over the middle, Baldwin is…well…Baldwin and Henry Hynoski had a coming out party and showed he can be a physical runner.  We’ve got a number of ways to hurt you on that side of the ball.  I’m feeling comfortable with how the offense is shaping up.

The defensive line is still a force, and the linebacking corps also looks pretty good.  The secondary is still a bit off, but they maintain it’s all correctable mistakes.  We’ll see this Saturday.  They’ll be tested.

Special teams is looking better.  Luke Briggs looked to be back in form after a shaky game in Buffalo.  Kevin Harper continues to impress with his punting, but I’ve lost some faith in the kicking game after the two botched extra points last week.  I think Wanny also lost some confidence as evidenced by the fact that he went for it on fourth down from the edge of field goal range twice.

There were a lot of stupid penalties this week.  That’s two games in a row.  We had 6 penalties, and all of them were personal fouls.  And all of them were costly.  Now I’ll admit that some of them were earned and some, ummm, were not.  But you’ve got to me more carefull out there.  The flagrant facemask and late hit in the end zone, those are penalties that cost you 15 yards AND a bit of a reputation.  If a ref associates you with those kinds of dirty plays, he’ll be more apt to call a closer penalty like the pass interference.  But the good news is since they were all personal fouls so they’re corrected by discipline, and not are not caused by making up for a lack of talent.

Next up on the bill is N.C. State.  They’re led by a great QB in Russell Wilson.  He’s a sophomore who started last year, but still has a bit of a new car smell because of some injuries last year.  He’s a bit of a gunslinger who can really throw hard, and sometimes throws into some tight spots that make you hold your breath.  Surprisingly, however, he’s got an excellent reputation for not throwing interceptions.  He’s also extremely mobile.  He’s the same style as Zach Maynard (Buffalo’s QB who had some success against us), but he’s better at it.  That could spell disaster.  State is also a very senior heavy team.  Especially on defense.  I think their weakness is their two lines.  They also don’t have a good track record against Big East teams.  I think this has to be a redemption game for the defensive backs from Pitt.  They could also get some great help from the front 4 if they can pressure Wilson all game.  Should be a good game, though.  Our first real test.  I’m looking forward to it.

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Pitt 54 Buffalo 27

image from postgazette.com

image from postgazette.com

Game Recap

Wow.  Lots of questions for a 27 point win on the road, aren’t there?  If anyone expected Pitt to play the game they did, raise your hand……didn’t think so.  I think reasonable people thought the defense would hold Buffalo to 10 or under, and the offense would score in the high 20’s, and we’d head back for Navy.  Well, the defense turned into swiss cheese, the offense showed some things, and all of a sudden we had 81 points scored.  Woowza.

So lets break this down by side of the ball, starting with the defense.  What happened?  Well, Buffalo obviously exposed a kink in the armor, so to speak.  And that kink is the secondary.  We started out in man coverage, and the Bulls wide outs turned out to be a little too quick.  That’s not terrible.  I know this is a MAC school, but they do have Naaman Roosevelt (probably an NFL draft pick after this season) and some other decent receivers.  So I’m surprised and not very happy, but I can at least accept it.  So, once man defense didn’t pan out, we went to zone and Buffalo proceeded to pick it apart with timing routes.  Now, this is a problem.  If our secondary continues to misread routes and not follow the quarterbacks eyes, we could be in trouble.  As a last ditch effort, we threw some blitz packages to mess up that timing, but we never got to the quarterback quick enough.  That’s a lot to ask of a defensive line.  On the positive side, Zach Maynard is a very mobile QB.  When you have that, you have to dedicate a linebacker as a ‘spy’.  Someone who doesn’t drop into coverage or blitz, just watches to quarterback and makes sure he doesn’t take off.  Adam Gunn filled that role a lot.  That also means that you’re basically playing defense with 10 guys.  It’s a disadvantage that won’t be seen much later in the season.  On the negative side, the news today is that we lost safety Andrew Taglianetti for the season.  The silver lining is that the safety position was a  close preseason battle won by Taglianetti over Elijah Fields, so it’s not too much of a step down.  The bad news is Taglianetti won not because he’s a better athlete, but because Fields is a knuckle head who is squandering his talent.  He’s a step up in ability.  He already has a pick up in Buffalo (the lone bright spot for the secondary).  But he’s a definite liability.

So how do we fix the secondary?  Well, first of all, lets not write them off after one bad game.  They didn’t tackle all that well in either of the first two games, but the mental mistakes were mainly against Buffalo.  By mental mistakes I mean taking a wrong path to the ball, not reading a quarterbacks eyes, and just overall looking lost when they were defending a pass.  I sure hope these can be cleared up in the next week.  Since this isn’t a reoccurring problem yet, I still think they wake up and do better against Navy.  Or at least I hope they do.

So enough with the surprisingly bad defense (or, just the secondary to be exact.  The D line and linebackers did pretty well).  Lets look at the surprisingly good offense.  Dion Lewis had another 100 yard day (almost 200 yards).  I was convinced last week, but now I’m certain he’s the real deal.  The offensive line is also playing extremely well.  Lets just keep them all healthy because I don’t think there’s much depth behind them.  The receivers did well for themselves.  Nothing exceptional, but nothing poor.  They caught the ball (well, most of the time.  Turner had another bad drop) and got as much as could be expected after the catch.  They didn’t make many plays, but they didn’t make many mistakes either.  I’ll take that.  Bill Stull shut up the fans (including me) this week which was fantastic to see.  Everyone who was questioning him, me included, should take the time to admit that he had a great game.  You don’t have to think it will last and this is a sign of the future, but you have to tip your cap to him on a good afternoon.  Now, I’ll admit that a lot of his success had to do with Frank Cignetti’s playcalling.  Frank called a great game overall, and mostly because he listened to me (I’ll keep telling myself that).  You’ll remember I’ve criticised the playcalling in the past because it doesn’t put Bill in a position to succeed.  He’s a decision maker without a cannon for an arm.  Well, on Saturday we tried a number of short (<15 yard) passes, and got a number of completions out of them.  You’ll notice if you check the stats that Baldwin averaged 11 yards per catch, and no one else got more than 10.  That means we were doing a lot of crossing routes and screens and check downs.  Stuff that Stull can throw.  We took one big shot down field that I remember was the first play from scrimmage where Stull aired it out to Baldwin and almost threw a pick because he overthrew him so bad.  If the Buffalo DB hadn’t dropped it, the game could have been much different.  I’m not comfortable without having a deep threat, but I’m less comfortable without a passing game at all.  If we can even show a good short yardage passing game, it should do wonders for Lewis.  I think Stull proved he can be a good decision maker on Saturday.  I really don’t remember him throwing into coverage too much.  He either found an open man or found his tailback in the flats.  It was good to see.

Special teams was a mess.  Dan Hutchins had a great day punting, but got some bad breaks with the kicking.  We missed two extra points in the game.  That’s embarrassing.  To be fair, both of them were on the snapper instead of Hutchins.  Both misses started out with snaps that were way high and barely gotten down by the holder.  When that happens in can mess with a kicker’s timing, and we saw a couple of pushes because of it.  Not having a reliable long-snapper could be a big problem later on.  Also falling apart was the kickoffs.  After a fantastic game doing kickoffs against Youngstown State, Luke Briggs decided he’d rather not kick past the 20.  After two touchbacks against YSU, he didn’t even make the end zone once in Buffalo.  And take it from someone who was there: the wind was not the issue.  It was a pretty calm day.  There was one kick that landed at t he 30.  That’s pretty strong winds to take off 35 yards.  I guess he just wasn’t feeling it for some reason.  It’s something else to watch.

So I guess that’s it.  Defensive secondary is a vulnerability.  The offense found a passing game (KISS: keep it short, stupid).  Special teams were apparently either left in Pittsburgh or abducted by aliens.  Dion Lewis is the real deal.  Some interesting story lines going into the Navy game.  The secondary can get some time to lick its wounds and figure things out because they won’t be doing much against Navy.  The Mids aren’t exactly what you would call a ‘pass-heavy’ team.  I think we match up extremely well against them.  I think we overpower them on offense and the front 7 stop the option on defense.  We should be 3-0 after this weekend.  However, Wanny always drops an easy one and he’s running out of gimmies.  What’s going to be the loss that makes us cry this year?  Stay tuned.

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