Tag Archives: Dion Lewis

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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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 24 Rutgers 17

image from espn.com

image from espn.com

Game Recap

Phew.  I just need to take a deep breath after this one.  I don’t think I was the only Pitt fan to have flash backs to NC State in the 4th quarter.  It was good to survive this one and exercise a lot of demons.  A few notes from the game.

First of all, I’m still going nuts over this base defense, but I guess I have to live with it seeing as Wanny is obviously not going to change for anyone or anything.  This time there was a 3rd and 23 that we met with a 4-3 (that still baffles me).  Also, I think we should have blitzed a freshman quarterback a lot more than we did.  The front four was doing an excellent job of getting through Rutger’s great offensive line, but they could have used some help.  I understand the theory of having a great front 4 get pressure by themselves which frees up a lot more players to drop into coverage, but if you run into a good offensive line and they need help, they need help.  Now, the line had 3 sacks and allowed only 38 yards of rushing (granted that 38 is a bit inflated because Rutgers was behind and therefore passing for most of the game).  That’s fantastic, and I acknowledge that.  But there were a lot of times where Savage could sit in the pocket, and that can’t happen with our secondary.

The offense looked well balanced and had an excellent day.  Bill Stull had a decent game (ignoring the fumble).  A few poorly thrown balls, but nothing dangerous, and he was very productive.  He’s not afraid to scramble this year.  He did it twice this evening which will open things up for him in the future.  Our stable of running backs is incredible.  Rutgers is a very, very good defense up front, and we made them look ridiculous tonight.  That’s hard to do.  Dion Lewis had a game that should open up some eyes around the country.  I wonder how long we can continue to pull great young running backs out of our behinds?

Dan Hutchins is going to take a lot of crap for this game.  I’m not going to kill the guy.  He’s been alright this year.  But I will say this: Kevin Harper has a bigger leg, but isn’t as accurate from what I’ve heard.  If today isn’t an anomaly, Hutchins is taking away the one thing that’s keeping him in the job.  He’ll have to make it a pretty long trend to get out of Wanny’s good graces, though.  He’s one forgiving coach.

We had a period at the end of the first half where we just got stupid and undisciplined.  Luckily, it only cost us 3 points, and we corrected it at halftime, but what was that?

Overall, you can’t be upset with this game.  There were some areas to improve, obviously.  But Rutgers is a solid team.  And they’ve had our number for a while now.  The defense played solid.  The offense played solid.  We made some mistakes at key times, and that’s what kept Rutgers in the game.  We eliminate those, and we’re going to be tough to beat this year.  South Florida is next.  Very fast, spread offense.  They’re a WVU knock-off.  They even copied WVU’s penchant a few years ago for stupid penalties.  They shot themselves in the foot against Cincy.  Lets hope they afford us the same courtesy next Saturday.

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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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