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A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us:
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Moss had no problem, Pitt's line was pushed off with ease.
Miami is now moving with ease against Pitt.
Pitt's D looks as bad as ever. Still no clue, showing no heart.
Another missed tackle.
Everyone knows the run is coming, but it doesn't matter.
On offense, it looks like a lot of this
Rutherford is getting no time to set.
Pitt to punt... again.
Pitt is doing nothing on offense.
The O line looks like it has no answers. That's the problem when you practice against the Pitt D.
My game notes really ended sometime in the third quarter. I just ran out of ways to write that Pitt was missing tackles and the line play from Pitt was pathetic.
It was difficult to follow along when the clock went out sometime in the first half. No clue how much time was left.
Lee summed up most of the issues of the game. Most of it was stuff I was going to write. There are other aspects to this loss that I know will be written here in the next few days, but sticking to the game, and the coverage on ABC, I still have a few more things to add.
The ABC technical crew and producers are no where near as good as ESPN (I know, same company, but there is a difference). ESPN is on top of replays and getting the cameras into position to catch more than one angle. ABC skipped a lot of replays on some close plays and penalties. A lot of the time because Brent Musberger was too busy talking about something else, but it also seemed that they flat out missed getting a good shot.
About halfway through the second quarter, I nearly spit out my beer after a completion to Pitt TE, Kris Wilson, when Gary Danielson said, "No one really exploits the tight end position like Walt Harris." It's hard to believe an analyst even has a clue when he says something as idiotic as that.
At halftime, you could hear the boos from the crowd as Pitt ran off the field.
Jack Arute cornered Walt Harris for a quick interview before the break. Harris just looked confused and lost. That did not exactly inspire me as to what second half adjustments would be made.
After the half, Arute reported that the Pitt locker room was very, very quiet. More negative inspiration. When a football team is quiet at the half, that means they are down. Pitt needed to get mad, show some pride, get up and prove they could recover. The team's body English looked defeated from the start of the second half.
Early in the 4th quarter (it was 10:30 pm), the cameras showed a wider shot of Heinz Field. The place was already more than half empty. I can't blame anyone who left at that point.
I didn't want to hear or read anything today, so I didn't watch the ESPN College Gameday Scoreboard last night, and avoided SportsCenter all morning. I even avoided the sports sections. It has taken a while to even be willing to think about that debacle.
The only upside to losing the way we did to Miami is it increases the chances that Fitzgerald will stay for one more season. There is no way he gets the Heisman now, and he may come back to try and get it. If I were him, I'd say "to hell with the Heisman, show me the money" and go pro, but I get the feeling he will stay and not challenge the NFL.
Pitt loses a lot of skill players even if Fitzgerald stays (QB Rutherford, FB Polite, RB Miree, TE Wilson, and our favorite, Shaunte Spencer at CB). Palko will be a pretty good replacement, and is probably a better raw QB than Rutherford, who did not benefit from having his own father as his HS coach. That kind of preparation, as well as 2 years to learn some of Harris' system will help Palko perform better than your average redshirt sophomore.
What we need more than anything is a new offensive line coach, and perhaps a new strength coach. Harris, with all of his flaws, is still the reason why we compete for the skill recruits like Morelli, Johnson and Fitzgerald. If we answer the "fire Harris" call, we better be in a position to replace him with someone damn good. And I don't mean John Cooper, Lee.
Harris should stay. Remember, Pitt was VERY bad for a VERY long time (at least in the world of college football). He brought us back to the point where we have high expectations again. Let's not make the mistakes that Posvar made in getting rid of Fazio and Gottfried when they didn't measure up to our expectations. We entered into the Hackett-Majors era because of those mistakes, and we are still paying the price.
Unless there is a better replacement who is willing to come to Pitt and make a committment to stay here, Harris is as good as we are going to get right now. Lets tweak where we need to tweak (line play, strength and conditioning) and see if we can't get into the BCS next year when the Big East becomes the Big Least.
Don't Fire Harris.
Saturday, November 29, 2003
--Well, I guess we're going to the Continental Tire Bowl to likely play a Virginia team that impressed me in beating up on Virginia Tech this afternoon. Oh well. At least we're not going back to the Insight.com Bowl, our home away from home. And at least West Virginia won't be screwed out of their rightful place ahead of us in the bowl pickings.
--And at least Fitzgerald got his TD. You just know that keeping him out of the endzone was a major goal for the Hurricanes. Still, even Brett Musberger couldn't help but note the crowd's derisive cheering when Fitz made his very first catch of the game... WELL into the third quarter...
--Pitt's tackling continued to be awful in the second half. Claude Herriot, in particular, should be ashamed of himself. Even Gary Danielson was making fun of his missed tackles at one point.
--Which Miami running back wound up getting the most yards against our pathetic run defense: Moss or Payton? Aw heck, I don't even care. Each had well over 100. We had to stop the run to win, we knew that we had to stop the run to win, and we couldn't even begin to stop the run. A team that was as weak against the run as we were against Miami, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame doesn't deserve to be in a BCS conference.
--Rod Rutherford got sacked 9 freakin' times. Disgraceful. No wonder he threw 3 interceptions. Rod hasn't looked that helpless since the Notre Dame game. Pitt's offensive line should be lined up and put out of their misery like the lame mules that they are.
--Thanks to my picking Pitt to get within the spread on this game, my season record is now 23-24-1. Oh well. At least FOXSports.com/The Sporting News got this game wrong too. Personally, I thought that Pitt (1) would be able to at least slow down Miami's rushing, and (2) run the ball more than a little itself. That's why I picked Pitt. D'oh. Given the Panthers pathetic run defense all season long, I wonder how I persuaded myself that things would suddenly change now?
--Thank God Virginia Tech was ranked in front of us at the beginning of the season. Otherwise, the Pitt Panthers would clearly have been the most overrated team of 2003. I mean, seriously... people actually once thought that this was a top ten team!?
--So what is the final word on what was supposed to be Pitt's big season? Disappointment? Sure. Disappointment so great that it could open opportunities for Penn State and West Virginia to get ahead of us in recruiting once again? Not this year, anyways. We're pretty far ahead of both of them right now (in everybody's opinion outside of State College). But still, we can't survive many more seasons as disappointing as that one, or Rodriguez will snatch the "offensive genius" crown from Harris forever.
That does it. I'm going to freakin' bed. Hail to Maryland pasting West Virginia again (in the Gator Bowl this time). Hail to Ohio State pasting Miami again (in the Orange Bowl this time). And for like the fifth time this season, hail to Pitt Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads and his staff getting the Frank Solich treatment.
I will actually do a write-up later, but right now I'm just pissed off, tired and disgusted.
Pitt's defense came out as flat as ever. Showed no heart, determination or ability.
It was like watching the Pitt-Notre Dame game from earlier this year, only Miami actually was competent on offense.
--We certainly started out well. Our first drive focused on the ground attack. Brandon Miree had 5 carries for 24 yards. Princell "Blockhands" Brockenbrough made a key catch, and Kris Wilson caught the touchdown pass. Then we intercepted Brock Berlin on Miami's next drive. Unfortunately, we peaked right about then.
--Due to a penalty and a sack, we wound up with a second and 21. And Walt Harris called two running plays?
--Then Miami's running game kicked in. Moss ran right down the field. I said earlier this week that stopping Miami's ground attack would be the biggest key to this game. Throughout the first half, we were increasingly unable to stop Moss and Payton.
--Then a 60 yard kick return by Allen was wasted when Rutherford got sacked. The second most disturbing trend in the first half was our inability to protect Rod. Rod never had time to see Fitzgerald half the time... let alone throw it to him.
--At the start of the second quarter, Miami ran it right down the field again to go up 14-7.
--On Pitt's first drive of the second quarter, a couple of runs were stopped and Rutherford got sacked. Each one of these events were met with boos easily heard over ABC television.
--A beautiful 78 yard screen play, sprung by some nasty blocking by Canes Tight End Kellen Winslow Jr., set up an easy Jarrett Payton touchdown. 21-7 Miami.
--After Pitt went three-and-out yet again, Miami had a half decent drive going down the field. The third most disturbing trend of the first half was Pitt's poor tackling on defense. Gary Danielson made a big deal of this during this drive, and justifiably so.
So there you go. If we don't stop the Canes's running game, protect Rutherford, and start tackling, this is gonna get ugly.
See you at the end of the game.
Friday, November 28, 2003
This is the final game of the regular season. Time for reflection for seniors and teams.
This being the final game in the Big East for Miami, there is a look at their "legacy." There is no denying it has been an impressive run.
Final games for seniors. Kris Wilson, Corey Humphries, Lousaka Polite, but especially Rod Rutherford.
And he has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in school history regardless of what happens in the Panthers' final regular-season game. He is not satisfied with that; not when a much bigger prize is well within his reach.
No. 20 Pitt (8-3, 5-1 Big East) plays host to No. 10 Miami (9-2, 5-1) at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Heinz Field. The winner gets at least a share of the Big East Conference championship and, more importantly, will earn the conference's automatic BCS berth.
If Rutherford leads the Panthers to a victory, he would go from being an just another excellent player to one of Pitt's all-time greats. He understands this, but said he and the other seniors already have accomplished far more than anyone thought possible.
This is also the game that could, ahem, ice Larry Fitzgerald's Heisman campaign. A big national game in 74% of the country over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Big East knew what it was doing when it made Miami-Pittsburgh the final game of the season.
ABC is doing its part by making UM-Pitt the lead national Saturday night telecast at 8 p.m. When the network TV schedule came out in August, Notre Dame-Stanford was the primary prime-time game. But the Irish are 4-6, the Cardinal just as bad, and ABC needed a better game.
UM-Pitt was projected as a day game but moved to night and given to most of the nation. Chicago, Indiana and the West Coast get Notre Dame-Stanford.
With Miami leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next year, the game has even more intrigue, and the conspiracy people believe that ABC's night switch -- with the weather forecast calling for sub-freezing temperatures and a chance of snow -- was made to help Pittsburgh.
That's just the way the schedule broke. Last year, UM ended the season against Virginia Tech at the Orange Bowl.
Then there is just how much this game means to Pitt and why so many others want Pitt to win. Forty years ago, Pitt was the #4 team in the nation and did not play in a bowl game. It was supposed to play the in the Orange Bowl, but things just "happened." A win tomorrow, and the Orange Bowl would be the likely destination. It would be a nifty symmetry.
There is of course the rest of the Big East rooting for Pitt, not to mention the payout Pitt would receive for going to a BCS bowl.
So let's look at the game. Lee had a solid breakdown here.
Generally speaking line play is where all games are won and lost. Pitt's defensive line this year, to be polite, has sucked with occasional flashes of competence. Miami's offensive line is in disarray with their senior center out. Miami will be juggling their line and moving players to different positions. This match-up can't be predicted. Miami QB Brock Berlin has been wildly inconsistent, and even benched for a game. (Did anyone think at the beginning of the season that the best college QB in the State of Florida would be Leak at U of Florida over Rix (FSU) and Berlin?) Even with the Miami line intact, they have had a hard time scoring. Running behind the Miami line will be Tyrone Moss and Jarret Payton. Payton tends to be fumble prone, and in the cold might be more so. Moss is more talented, but his inexperience has led to more dancing behind the line. Miami's passing game starts and ends with TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. Look, I keep typing this stuff, trying to get a read on the situation, but I'm not reaching a conclusion. I feel like I'm babbling. I honestly don't know about Pitt's defense versus Miami's offense in all levels. I have no clue which players, which team will really show up in this game. I want to have some faith in the Pitt D showing up and making plays at home, in the cold; but they have fallen flat in the big games this year. The best I can hope for is that Miami helps to beat itself with turnovers. Something that I actually expect if Pitt can get an early lead.
Pitt's offense will have to make the difference from the beginning. Virginia Tech showed that Miami does not play well from behind. They rely on their defense to make the plays and keep them in the game while the offense sputters through. The Miami defense is not Oklahoma or Ohio State caliber, but it is one of the best in the country. It is especially good with it's secondary. This is also Pitt's strength. Again, the question is, will Rutherford snap out of his game and a half funk. He can't be errant like he was against Temple and in the second half of WVU. He has to throw early and often to Larry Fitzgerald. Force Miami to understand just how many bodies they will have to put on Fitzgerald. Hopefully this will open up things a little more for TE, Kris Wilson and WR, Greg Lee (I just don't trust Brockenbough).
Then there is Pitt's running game. Miree will be playing, but it won't be against Temple. Miami, though, has been victimized by strong running backs. Since no one saw the Temple game, we don't know whether Miree was moving north/south or did he dance much behind the line before moving. Against Miami, Miree will have to be pushing forward.
Special teams hasn't been much for either team, and the weather may make the kickers non-existent.
I'm terribly afraid to pick Pitt, since they actually control their own destiny -- and haven't been able to do anything when given the chance before -- but when it comes down to it. I have a hard time picturing Pitt not getting at least 20 points, and Miami having a real difficulty getting much more than 17.
So here it is, Pitt to win 28-21 in the reverse score of last year.
Let us pray.
Why Miami might win: Miami has sputtered and coughed on offense, but when it comes to the really, really big games, the defense finds a way to come through with a win. It held tough against Syracuse when it had to and turned in a great performance against Florida State. Pittsburgh's attack is solid with the Big East's top ranked offense, but the Cane defense thrives on the national spotlight and the pressure. Even though the Canes are favored, most of the pressure is on Pittsburgh at home.
Why Pittsburgh might win: It's not just that Miami's quarterbacks stink, it's that the quarterbacks aren't doing anything. Brock Berlin has completed 6 of 15 passes for 86 yards, but threw two scores in his last two games. Derrick Crudup has been even worse completing 6 of 16 passes for 87 yards with a touchdown and a score. If the Panthers can somehow D up against the run, Berlin and Crudup shouldn't be able to beat them.
Who to watch: It's all about Larry. Every team keys on Fitzgerald, but no one has the talent in the pass defense to stop him like Miami does. Fitzgerald has ten 100+ yard days in his 11 games this year with 21 scores, but this will be his biggest test yet. On the flip side, the Cane defensive backs can make bigger names for themselves if they take away No. 1.
What will happen: Miami will keep Fitzgerald in check, but TE Kris Wilson and RB Brandon Miree will pick up the slack just enough to get past the down Canes.
Line: Miami -3.5
Must See Rating: (5 must see - 1 The Cat in the Hat) ... 5
Fearless Prediction: Pittsburgh 20 ... Miami 16
Really, the reason they think that Pitt will win isn't all that far from the reasons I gave for Pitt at least staying within the spread.
FOXSports/TSN's Fearless Predictions (once again, apparently somebody else has trademarked "Fearless Forecasts") have been pretty solid so far this season. Hail to their staying that way.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
The monthly negative Pitt column from Bob Smizik is out. The topic, one of his annual chestnuts -- even if Pitt wins on Saturday, they could lose.
What happens if Pitt beats Miami and then goes on to a major bowl game and wins there, too? The Panthers will be 10-3 and in all likelihood ranked in the top 10.
There's a sizable market out there for top 10 coaches, particularly those who have raised programs from the dead and who can legitimately claim the unofficial but highly impressive title of quarterback guru.
Would Harris leave Pitt?
If a better opportunity were presented to him, it's hard to imagine him not at least considering it.
Yeah, yeah. Whatever. This is the same type of column Smizik writes every year because it's easy. It's completely speculative, and perfect filler material. Plus, if it actually happens he can claim he saw it coming first. If it doesn't happen, it can be conveniently ignored.
Other useless thoughts.
This will be Pitt's sixth night game this season.
Pitt is 2-3 this year at night. 2-1 at home. 0-2 on the road.
This will be Pitt's fifth game televised by ESPN/ABC.
Pitt is 2-2 in these games. 1-0 on ABC regional coverage. 1-2 on ESPN/ESPN2.
And finally, a quick revisit to some preseason predictions of Beano Cook:
Well, let's take ND, first -- they will finish 10-2. Penn State will finish 9-3 with a chance at 10-2.
Not quite. Try again, next year.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
The lead stories are mainly about Pitt superstar WR, Larry Fitzgerald, and how to cover him. Miami hasn't allowed a WR to have a 100 yard game since playing Penn State in the beginning of the 2001 season. It would be nice symmetry to have the next one come at the end of this season against Pitt.
Right now the pieces are mainly individual player puff pieces or other matchups -- like Miami Butkus Award finalist, Jonathan Vilma, who was humiliated last year from a wicked lowered shoulder from Pitt QB, Rod Rutherford.
No one is sure what the Miami offensive line will look like with senior center Joel Rodriguez out with a broken fibula. Apparently there will be plenty of shuffling of positions.
Finally, one of the notebook pieces has the usual pap about how both coaches would like to see the "rivalry" continue. You can't call it a rivalry when Miami has dominated it so badly. Not that I wouldn't mind Pitt still playing Miami -- and lord knows Pitt will need to beef up its non-conference schedule -- but don't call it a rivalry.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
What teams play in what BCS Bowls and why?
So many questions...I will do my best to answer.
Basically, the BCS Bowl selection process is complicated as all hell. The easy thing: this year, the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the BCS poll go to the Sugar Bowl.
The hard part is figuring out who else goes where.
The other Bowls (Fiesta, Orange and Rose) all have conference tie-ins that are in effect unless the champion of the tied-in conference is in the Sugar Bowl);
The Big12 champ to the Fiesta; The Big East OR ACC champ to the Orange; The Big10 AND Pac-10 champs to the Rose. These tie-ins are not written in stone, for a "host" team may be moved for the following reasons:
1) The same team hosting the same BCS Bowl for two straight years;
2) Two teams that played against one another in the most recently completed regular season;
3) The same two teams would play against each other in a bowl game for two consecutive years;
4) An alternative pairing would have greater appeal to college football fans.
Pretty vague, eh? Well, it gets better.
If a tied-in conference champ is pulled to the Sugar, then the Bowl with the #1 team picks a replacement first (from the pool of BCS eligible teams), followed by the Bowl with the #2 team.
After this, the bowls that remain unfilled will submit a list of three teams as its top three choices, with any BCS conference champ required to be among its top two choices.
In a situation where two or more bowls select the same team(s) with their choices, the priority of selection would be the following:
1) The bowl making the larger per team payment shall be given first preference;
2) The bowl not getting first priority in the previous year, would be given first preference.
At the conclusion of these procedures, the pairings established by the BCS bowls may be adjusted by the BCS, in consultation with the BCS bowls and ABC, in the interest of creating the most exciting and interesting postseason matchups possible.
The Big East
The Big East conference tie breakers are as follows:
1) Team A defeats Team B and is higher ranked - Team A earns bid.
2) Team A defeats Team B and is ranked lower, but in Top 10 - Team A earns bid (except if Team B is ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the BCS poll, then Team B earns bid.)
3) Team A defeats Team B and is ranked lower, but no less than five positions below Team B - Team A earns bid.
4) Team A defeats Team B and is ranked lower, and more than five positions below Team B - Team B earns bid.
5) If the two teams have the same ranking, or both are unranked, the bid goes to the team that has won the head-to-head contest.
How does this effect Pitt, if Pitt beats Miami? Well, in this scenario, WVU is team "A", and Pitt is team "B".
WVU is currently ranked below Pitt, and and since neither Pitt nor WVU are in the top-10 or top-2, then scenarios 1 and 2 do not apply. Pitt is currently ranked in the top 25, so if they win, they still will be. Thus, Pitt will get the BCS because of Scenario 4, with WVU un-ranked (or at least ranked well below Pitt, as they would be after a victory by Pitt over Miami). Scenarios 3 and 5 would not apply.
Of Miami wins against Pitt, then Scenario 2 (and 4, I guess) would put Miami in the BCS over WVU.
So - who would get to "host" the Orange Bowl? Florida State, the ACC champ, or Miami/Pitt, the Big East Champ? I imagine the higher ranked team would be the host (it doesn't specify on the BCS site). Right now, that is FSU at #9, with Miami #10 and Pitt #25. If FSU beats #11 Florida, and Miami beats Pitt, the FSU victory will likely be more impressive, keeping FSU above Miami in the BCS. If Florida wins, then it's possible for Miami to be the host, but not likely for Pitt if they beat Miami.
So, if Pitt wins, where do they go? If things stay as they are, OU and USC will be in the Sugar. Florida State in the Orange, Michigan in the Rose. That leaves the SEC Champ (LSU or UGa), Pitt, and two at large teams.
The Fiesta will pick a replacement for OU (assuming they beat KSU in the Big12 championship), followed by the Rose replacing USC. Pitt will almost certainly be the lowest ranked team in the BCS, given the large number of top 12 teams from the BCS conferences that have at least 9 wins.
Sugar: OU v. USC
Fiesta: LSU v. Pitt
Rose: Michigan v. Texas
Orange: FSU v. OSU
I am assuming that OU beats KState, and #3 LSU beats Georgia, thus the Fiesta picks LSU as their replacement.
Then, the Rose picks a replacement for USC, so it will pick Texas (won't pick OSU because they already played Michigan, Texas is a huge school and the next highest ranked team).
It comes down to the Fiesta and the Orange. OSU was just in the Fiesta Bowl last year, plus the BCS won't want the two worst teams (FSU and Pitt) to play each other. The Orange would be better for Pitt fans (ditto for OSU fans), but this will likely be the arrangement.
Now, if KState beats OU, OU is probably still in the title game. That means either OSU or Texas is out (probably Texas, since they are ranked lower than OSU, and two other Big12 teams would be in the BCS). If Georgia beats LSU, LSU probably wouldn't fall as low as 5 or 6 in the polls. If both Georgia and KState win, then I can see OSU, Texas being out, and possibly LSU. What a cluster!
Now if Pitt loses, then the Gator Bowl gets to pick next. It is between Pitt and WVU, since WVU would only have 1 conference loss (assuming a victory over Temple), Pitt has two, and VaTech has three conference losses. The Big East has a "one loss rule" which mandates that a bowl must pick the best team (in-conference) or a team with only one more loss than the
best team. Pitt will likely get the nod, since we have Larry Fitzgerald and we are from a bigger market.
The Insight would HAVE to take WVU, with VaTech going to the Continental Tire, and the San Francisco Bowl (played at Pac-Bell of all places) will pick amongst BC, Syracuse (if they beat Rutgers) and Notre Dame. I include ND here because the Bowl games are supposed to weigh overall records when offering a bid, and ND can at best be 6-6, leaving them out of the running for games WVU (7-4) and VaTech (8-3) would be up for due to the one loss rule.
Now, this should all become much clearer this weekend...
I'm not just hoping for a victory, I'm also hoping for a swift conclusion to the game. It's not so much the cold as it is my desire to "hit the town" afterwards and this late start time's gonna nip that in the bud, I fear.
Of course, this desire is predicated on the hopes that many comely Hurricane alumni will be prowling the South Side and various other locales post-game, so I may be a bit blinded by a vain, vain hope. Of course, being a Pitt fan, this is nothing new for me.
#10 MIAMI (-3.5) AT #20 PITTSBURGH: Since October 11, 2003, the University of Miami has played five real opponents (sorry, Temple). The main thing that stands out about these five games is the appalling number of turnovers committed by the Hurricanes: they were intercepted 9 times and fumbled the ball 18 times -- 8 of which were lost. These turnovers cost the Canes games that they otherwise might have won (e.g., against Tennessee and Virginia Tech) and made some victories seem closer than they otherwise would have been (e.g., against Syracuse and Florida State). However, the Hurricanes greatly reduced their turnovers last week (admittedly against Rutgers) by emphasizing the run and tailback Jarrett Payton far more than usual (43 rushes to 17 pass attempts). Given Pitt's pathetic run defense, I can't imagine why they won't emphasize the run again this Saturday.
Miami Quarterback Brock Berlin, as was noted above, has been interception-prone. However, Miami's aerial attack is still lethal. Tight End Kellen Winslow Jr. is the best in college football, if not exactly the brightest (eh, soldier boy?). Winslow nearly carried the error-prone Hurricanes through the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (against my Buckeyes) all by himself. Wide Receiver Ryan Moore is almost as fast and tall as Larry Fitzgerald. Our secondary will have to keep these burners in front of them while our front pressures Berlin into some of his typical mistakes.
I think that the most important key to this game will be whether or not we can stop the Canes's ground game. If we can, I suspect that we will be able to pressure Berlin into tossing at least two picks. If not, I can't imagine why Miami couldn't drop at least as many points on us as West Virginia did. Thus, our defensive front must do a far better job of handling the opposing offensive line, closing gaps, and not overpursuing plays. Given that Miami's offensive line is not as physically strong as West Virginia's (although perhaps faster), I think we can partially accomplish that. I predict that Miami will score about 35 points on us.
On defense, Miami's main asset is, as always, speed. The Canes limited Syracuse, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech to less than 85 yards through the air each. However, against Florida State's speed receivers (who are probably more akin to Fitzgerald than anything the Orangepeople, Vols, or Castrated Turkeys have), the Canes gave up 235 passing yards. Furthermore, they gave up 213 passing yards to lowly Rutgers last Saturday (although they also picked off the Knights three times). However, Miami will be able to increase its odds against Fitzgerald and Company by dropping their linebackers into coverage or simply using a nickel or dime set... which they will do if we cannot run the ball.
To me, the second most important key to this game is whether or not we can run the ball enough to keep Miami's defense honest. We couldn't do that against West Virginia in the second half. But now we have Brandon Miree back. Being an Ohio State fan, I'm more than aware of how much a great running back can inspire an otherwise average offensive line (look at the difference between OSU's offensive line with Maurice Clarett and without, even though not one lineman graduated). Besides, Miami has been more than a little suspect against the run versus the Hoopies and Hokies. So I'm predicting a revival of our ground game via Miree. If we can get close to 200 yards on the ground Saturday, opportunities will open up for Rod Rutherford, Kris Wilson, Princell Brockenbrough, and Larry Fitzgerald that have never been there before.
I say we score at least 35 points on the Hurricanes due to Miree's return and the unique motivation of this truly do-or-die game. Thus, I'll take Pitt and the 3.5 points, please. And remember that I've picked three of the last four Pitt games right against the spread.
Hail to Thanksgiving football games that enable me to avoid direct conversation with relatives.
Anything less than winning the Big East will be a disappointment this year.
Let me now amend that to say:
Anything less than winning the Big East will be a bitter disappointment this year.
Pitt is the only "sleeper" BCS team left from the ESPN preseason predictions.
There is no understating the importance of this game for Pitt.
Strictly speaking, this Pitt-Miami game Saturday isn't all-or-nothing for the Panthers. It just seems that way.
A season that began with great expectations, ends with two of the Panthers' bigger goals still out there for the taking, those being getting a Big East championship and a Bowl Championship Series berth.
These are things that a torpedoing in Toledo, a Heinz humbling at the hands or Notre Dame, and even a Morgantown meltdown have failed to render unattainable.
Of course Coach Walt Harris is trying to downplay it.
But Pitt coach Walt Harris said he is not going to get caught up in the significance of the game.
"The focus is to win the Big East and whatever happens after that is great," Harris said yesterday at his weekly news conference. "And, in order to win the Big East, we have to beat Miami. They are a challenging team. When you watch their athletes and study them, you see they had a couple of games where turnovers got them [or they'd be undefeated].
If Pitt wins, the Orange, Fiesta or Rose Bowl.
A loss and Pitt could fall all the way to San Francisco.
Here are the Pitt Game Notes.
The corresponding Miami Game Notes (both in PDF).
Sweet Joy. Looks like the Pitt-Miami game will be shown in Cleveland (and 74% of the country).
The depth charts don't indicate that Miami Center, Joel Rodriguez, is out after breaking his leg against Rutgers.
Right now, I haven't completed any real analysis of the teams and the match-ups.
I feel cautiously optimistic about the game, and find myself absolutely terrified at the prospect of Pitt being in control of its own destiny. A completely unnatural situation for Pitt. To be honest, Pitt has yet to show that they can step up, and win in this kind of game.
1) Rod Rutherford had a real hangover from the 2nd half of the WVU game the week before.
2) We still don't know about the running game.
Yes Miree came back and ran wild on the Owls, which I didn't expect. But, that was against the Temple Owls. It tells me nothing.
As for Rutherford, he needs to shake off his funk or Pitt is sunk.
Syracuse wore the complete orange uniforms against WVU and deservedly lost.
I think WVU sent Boston College many, many "thank you and good luck in your future endeavors" cards for beating Virginia Tech and keeping the Hoopies from being screwed out of the Gator Bowl 2 straight years.
The real shame about Virginia Tech leaving the Big East, they just reached the point where it was fair to call them the Miami Dolphins of the Big East.
Ohio State lost badly to Michigan, when the defense finally had a bad game. Still, when the Buckeyes made it 28-21, and then intercepted John Navarre; anyone watching (or listening to) the game had to start thinkng, "Oh s**t, OSU is going to do it again."
Jim Rome is a complete west coast homer. That wouldn't bother me, except that he still claims otherwise.
If Pitt actually beats Miami and gets the BCS bid, look for plenty of national stories questioning how much Pitt truly deserves it.
Pitt actually controls its own destiny. That truly terrifies me.
Monday, November 24, 2003
Jeez. Given our stunningly improved ground attack with Brandon Miree back, I don't know which way to lean on this week's Pitt-Miami pick. The early line favors the Hurricanes by 3.5. I might actually be leaning towards the Panthers.
Say, can somebody explain to me how this game will influence who the Big East sends to the BCS? If Miami wins, I understand that Miami will go. But what if Miami loses?
Just asking. I'm sure that some professional sportswriter will explain this to me in some fish-wrap in a day or so anyways. I'm just impatient.
Hail to Miami not representing the Big East in the BCS.
As for my picks against the spread, I went 3-1 on the week. This improved my season record to 23-23-1 (0.500, baby).
Of course, this also means that Chas went 1-3 on his bizarro picks, decreasing his season record to God knows what.
As far as my specific picks, I thought that Michigan would prevail over my Buckeyes because of John Navarre and his short passing game. I never foresaw Chris Perry's absolute domination of what had been the best run defense in the nation. That made this loss particularly painful.
Temple always plays Pitt tough, so that pick was money in the bank. And until the oddsmakers start taking the Mountaineers seriously, I'll continue to pick Rodriguez and company against the spread.
My only foul-up was Penn State-Michigan State. Jeez. This is the hardest-to-figure-out Nittany Lion squad ever. They have gone back and forth between quasi-sucking and full blown black hole sucking on a near weekly basis. Tough against Ohio State and Wisconsin. Keystone Kops against Northwestern. Look impressive at home against admitted Big Ten whipping boy Indiana. And against Michigan State, the Lions couldn't stop PA native Jeff Smoker and a simple passing scheme to save their miserable, drunk-driving lives. If I had only stuck by my own rule of always picking against Penn State this season, I would now be 25-21-1.
At least Penn State was able to close out their season in true Nittany Lion fashion... with an arrest. I wonder what Maurice Humphrey was so mad about Sunday morning? Perhaps a fellow student wanted to discuss what happened out in East Lansing?
See ya next fall, Lions. We Pitt fans have a bowl game to worry about.
Hail to Pitt.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Of course, while the problem in all of Pitt's losses hasn't so much been the inability to run, it has been the inability to stop the run. With all the questions and a defense rated 87th against the run, some members of the defense are getting testy. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads attributes it to a lack of "playmakers" on defense who can make up for screw-ups by other parts of the defense. Uh, yeah. This just isn't translating well. He may have a point somewhere in there, but comparing the defense to Oklahoma's will not work.
"A year ago, we had guys who I would refer to as erasers," said Rhoads, whose defense returned three fumbles for touchdowns last season and did not yield 450 yards in any of its 13 games. "If we left a gap open and somebody didn't get there, Gerald Hayes might have shown up. Or, Torrie Cox would have got over top of his own block, beat his guy, then showed up somewhere else to make the play.
"If you would put on (No. 1) Oklahoma's tape, there's going to be a fair amount of mistakes on that film, but erasers show up. Unfortunately, right now, we don't have too many of those guys on the field. And if one guy or two guys don't quite get it, then it's the potential to be a breakout play."
Because the defense is inexperienced -- Rhoads has used as many as five first-year starters -- the Pitt coordinator said it's been tough to implement blitz packages, limiting the opportunities to make big plays. He said every one of the long runs by Notre Dame's Julius Jones en route to 262 yards came off of failed assignments on blitzes.
Except that Oklahoma isn't making the same number of mistakes each play, which means the "erasers" don't have to be worn down to a nub. Stupid metaphor.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
But let's take these stories seriously for a moment. FoxSports.com/The Sporting News has two interesting pieces on Notre Dame's dilemma today: one by PSB favorite Matt Hayes and one by Mike DeCourcy and Tom Dienhart. Both pieces dismiss Notre Dame joining the ACC out of hand, just as I did. Hayes makes an interesting point that Notre Dame had a lot more bargaining power before the ACC invited Boston College to become its 12th member. Really, the Irish should have played the Big Ten, the Big East, and the ACC against each other two or three months ago. Now it is too late, and the Irish must choose between freedom and money.
Let's rob DeCourcy and Dienhart's format and list the advantages to Notre Dame of joining each league separately. And please let me know if you think I overlooked one.
WHY NOTRE DAME SHOULD JOIN THE BIG EAST
--Notre Dame would automatically become the leader of the Big East Conference. As such, it could call many of the shots. In the Big Ten, the Irish would always be third chair fiddle to Ohio State and Michigan.
--As DeCourcy and Dienhart point out, Notre Dame could use the Big East to rebuild its football program the same way that Miami did. Even a mediocre Notre Dame team would be an automatic favorite to win the Big East's BCS bowl bid. The exposure gained by these quasi-automatic BCS bowl appearances would help the Irish recruit better.
--The Big East would have no problem whatsoever with Notre Dame keeping its TV money.
--The Big East would have no problem with the Irish limiting their number of conference opponents each year so that Notre Dame could keep as many out-of-conference "national" opponents (e.g., USC, Purdue, Navy) on the schedule as possible. As DeCourcy and Dienhart note, "If Notre Dame suggests the Big Easters play on one foot, with no helmets, it probably can get that passed."
--Notre Dame already belongs to the Big East in every sport but football.
--There are already several other Catholic institutions in the Big East (DePaul, Georgetown, Seton Hall, etc...).
--The Big East is a better hoops conference (hey, it was one of Miami's reasons for originally joining).
--DeCourcy and Dienhart suggest that joining the Big East would give Notre Dame a wider geographic exposure than joining the Big Ten. However, I don't buy their logic here. Both leagues are both Midwestern and Eastern (thanks to Penn State).
WHY NOTRE DAME SHOULD JOIN THE BIG TEN
--Money, stupid. The Big Ten is the strongest, richest conference in America. It currently has the biggest TV contract of any conference. This contract would only get bigger with Notre Dame in the mix.
--Notre Dame currently plays more Big Ten football teams than teams from any other athletic conference, including the Big East. Notre Dame has long-standing rivalries with Purdue, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, and especially Michigan. That's almost half the Big Ten right there.
--Geography. South Bend, Indiana is almost the geographical center of the Big Ten's turf. Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State are all an easy drive from Notre Dame. The Big East (which is admittedly so scattered as to not really have a "turf" to begin with) is still primarily a Northeastern conference.
--The Big East Conference's stock isn't exactly growing these days. Does Notre Dame really want to join a group of leftovers who weren't good enough for the ACC?
--As DeCourcy and Dienhart note, playing a national football schedule has never really helped Notre Dame anyways, so why not just join a regional conference? So what if the Irish's schedule would be largely limited to Big Ten teams? That didn't stop both Ohio State and Michigan from winning national titles in the past six years.
So what do I think will happen? I think that the most probable futures would be (ranked from most probable to least probable)...
1. Notre Dame stays an independent. I think that the Irish and especially their fans are far too proud of their historically independent tradition to give it up, even at the cost of financial solvency.
2. Notre Dame joins the Big East. It's the easiest conference to join, since they'll bend over backwards to get the Irish on board.
3. Notre Dame joins the Big Ten. Yeah, the Irish know that joining the Big Ten would be in their best long-term interest. And I knew that it was in my best long-term interest to keep my pants on in high school too. Maintaining as much of that independent tradition as they can now means more to the Irish than financial solvency twenty years down the road.
4. Chas makes a decent pick against the spread, relative to my picks anyways.
Personally, I'm still rooting for the Irish to stay independent and slowly slide into irrelevancy as their profits dwindle. Then, I'm hoping that the Big Ten invites Pitt to join. Hey, I can dream.
Hail to Dave Barry's blog, easily the funniest on the web.
Ohio State (+6.5)at Michigan. John Navarre is Michigan's answer to Alex Van Pelt. For those who are unfamiliar with the name, and history, he was the Pitt QB from 1989 to 1992. He ended up starting as a freshman and by the time he finished, passed Dan Marino for most of the career passing records at Pitt, by the shear number of games he played. Van Pelt could throw, but he was error-prone and completely unreliable in the big games. I think you see where I'm going with this.
I am rooting for and against Ohio State.
For: because it will help make more of a mockery of the BCS. Everyone knows that USC is better than OSU, but the BCS system now has OSU ahead. An Ohio State win cements that, and finally the BCS "fails" to get the consensus #1 versus #2 match-up. This is the kind of problem the BCS couldn't handle -- a bunch of one-loss teams where who's better/best is subjective. Of course anything that hurts the BCS helps Pitt and the Big East right now.
Against: I live in Ohio. Everyone roots for OSU and it gets on my nerves. Even my wife, a Cinci grad roots for Ohio State if she watches the game. It is like dealing with the Penn State thing in Pennsylvania.
That said, Ohio State and Jim Tressel are in the Wolverines' heads right now. Michigan knows they should win. They are expected to win. Even the most loyal Buckey fans are bracing for losing. Michigan looks like the better team. But they expected to win the last 2 years.
All of the pressure is on Michigan. I can see Michigan losing this game outright, but since I have points, let's just say Michigan wins by a field goal.
Pitt (-15) at Temple. Who is more down following the loss last week? Pitt after being humiliated in the second half by their rival team, facing a line-up shake-up, but still having the possibility of being Big East Champs with Miami a week later. Or is it Temple, who gamely came back to tie VT, only to lose in OT when their kicking game failed them -- again. I see a pissed off Pitt team, that will pound the crap out of Temple and be able to run against this bad team. For a day, at least Pitt will be able to kid itself about its running game.
Pitt and give the points.
Penn State at Michigan State (-5). I wonder if even people in East Lansing care about this game when the Ohio St.-Michigan game is going?
Lee knows better. He picked Penn State. Now as much as I'd like to see the Nittany Nation convince itself that things aren't so bad for a little longer, and not have to hear about the poor Penn Staters as I stare a roadie to the family for Thanksgiving in the face; I can't.
Michigan State has looked worse each week in their 3 game skid. But if there is ever a rebound game this is it. So, Penn State pasted Indiana. Uh-huh. After losing to Northwestern. Penn State peaked in their squeaker loss to Ohio St. If John Smith is half the coach he seemed before the skid, MSU will pound PSU.
West Virginia at Syracuse (+2). Um, let down for West Virginia after the Backyard Brawl? Okay, even I don't really buy that with Rich Rodriguez as their coach. All I can say about this bizarre line, is that 'Cuse gamblers have more money to spend than Hoopies. Analysis-wise, West Virginia further depleted its defense during its beatdown on Pitt. Surely Paul Pasqualoni will ride Reyes the entire game, and not try to throw so much like he did against Pitt. Right? Right?
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
#4 OHIO STATE (+6.5) AT #5 MICHIGAN: Nine years ago this November, I was a first year graduate student at The Ohio State University when the Wolverines came to town. Being a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, I naturally assumed that Ohio State-Michigan would be no different than the bitter Pitt-Penn State games I grew up with.
I was wrong.
High Street turned into the closest thing to a combat zone that I'll probably ever witness. Fistfights and shoving matches spontaneously erupted everywhere, whenever groups of Buckeye fans and Wolverine fans just passed and happened to look at each other the wrong way. The Columbus Police sprinted from one skirmish to the next, firing pepper spray as they went, in a failing attempt to keep order. Any car with a Michigan license plate had its windows smashed in (including one I saw that also had an OSU student parking pass). Bonfires erupted around campus before, during, and after the game -- some allegedly set by Michigan fans on park benches near buildings.
And we won that year... one of John "Deer-In-The-Headlights" Cooper's two wins in 14 tries against Michigan.
In comparison, I didn't see a single fistfight last Saturday night at the Backyard Brawl. As a matter of fact, I both entered and left Mountaineer Field completely unmolested. Panthers and Hoopies may officially hate each other, but it rarely comes to blows or widespread vandalism (well... against the other team anyways).
This Saturday will mark the 100th Ohio State-Michigan Game. Since 1951, the series is tied -- no thanks to the aforementioned stammering idiot Cooper. However, Cooper's successor -- Jim "I-Could-Run-For-Governor-Of-Ohio-On-The-Communist-Party-Ticket-And-Win" Tressel -- is 2-0 against Michigan. Can he go 3-0?
I'm guessing no. Michigan's stud tailback Chris Perry will have trouble running against the best run-defense in America. However, Quarterback John Navarre should be able to complete just enough short passes underneath the secondary to Braylon Edwards to keep his offense moving on a few drives. Ohio State's lethargic offense, on the other hand, will have to come out with a whole new bag of tricks to move the ball against Michigan's speedy defense. While trick plays are a staple of this series, I still don't think it will be enough.
When Maurice Clarett was tossed off of the team, I said that it would hurt the Buckeyes in three games: North Carolina State (which we were lucky to win... even by Ohio State's standards of "lucky"), Wisconsin (which we lost), and Michigan. Here comes the Wolverines, with both Lloyd Carr (a national championship coach who was actually on the hot seat after last year's game) and John Navarre (one of the best quarterbacks in Michigan history who is still sometimes seen as a failure) hungry for redemption from two straight losses to the Scarlett and Gray.
I'll (gulp) take the Wolverines to cover and pray to be wrong.
#21 PITTSBURGH (-15) AT TEMPLE: Call me lazy, but I'm not going to go through my standard, detailed, number-crunching analysis for this game. Besides, all the numbers would show is that Temple really sucks, whereas all knowledgeable Pitt fans know that the Owls always play us tough no matter how bad they suck. Plus, our Panthers have to feel a little deflated after they got sodomized in Morgantown. And did you see that Temple-Virginia Tech game? So I'll take Temple and the 15 points, please.
PENN STATE (+5) AT MICHIGAN STATE: At the opposite end of the college football rivalry spectrum from Ohio State-Michigan is this absolute snoozer. The Governors of Michigan and Pennsylvania had a "Land Grant Trophy" built in a desperate attempt to fire something up between these two schools that have absolutely nothing else in common besides (1) being the two most recent additions to the Big Ten, and (2) being the nation's two oldest land grant universities (look up the Morrill Act on your own time, dammit, and only if you're really bored). However, Michigan State has understandably always been more concerned with its cross-state rival Michigan, and Penn State has always been more concerned with the nearest Big Ten outpost, Ohio State (as has been discussed here before). Thus, there have always been two bizarre love-triangles in the Big Ten, with Penn State being the odd woman out in each. Perhaps she should start sleeping with Pitt and WVU again.
In any case, Penn State's season of sorrows suddenly came alive last Saturday when the Nittany Lions got their first Big Ten victory in blowing out hapless Indiana 52-7. The Lions now have one last chance to spend the winter without an entirely bad taste in their mouths. This is what passes as their bowl game. Meanwhile, the listing Spartans -- who have lost their last three games to Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin -- have, as usual, no motivation going into this pseudo-rivalry game whatsoever.
Given the motivation factor and Penn State's solid performances against Indiana and (to a lesser extent) Ohio State, I'm going to go against my long standing (and largely successful) tradition of picking the Lions not to beat spreads and take Penn State and the five points here. This is my upset special of Rivalry Week.
WEST VIRGINIA (-2) AT SYRACUSE: So let me get this straight... After that performance against Pitt, the Mountaineers remain unranked in the Coaches Poll and are only favored by two points going into the Carrier Dome against the 5-4 (2-3 in conference) Orangemen? Quincy Jones, Rasheed Marshall, and company are better than that. Although I'll be rooting against them for Pitt's sake, the Mounaineers will cover.
Hail to "The Game," Hail to a Buckeye upset, and Hail to each Wolverine grad actually having to stay in Michigan after they graduate.
P.S. Before we all laugh too hard at "Stuttering John" Cooper, remember who his chief protege is.
I'll take mine with sarcasm, please.
Walt Harris has reverted to the greatest motivational tactic known to football coaches: He is sending players to the bench.
It is the first time this season that the seventh-year Pitt coach has tinkered so heavily with his lineup from one week to the next. These things tend to happen when your defense sinks toward rock bottom -- 75th worst in the nation -- and when select offensive personnel fail to make plays.
Here are the changes:
Pre-season All-American Candidate, Claude Harriott, DE is now a co-starter. Harriott was bothered by injuries early, then subject to double teams, and lately has just sucked.
Weakside Linebacker, Malcolm Postell, the guy beaten at the end of the first half for the touchdown against WVU, is benched for J.J. Horne.
The #2 WR, Princell "Blockhands" Brockenbrough, has been benched in favor of freshman Greg Lee. Blockhands dropped an easy TD against WVU, and all season long has made it a habit of dropping easy passes because he is trying to look upfield without the ball.
Free Safety is now an open position. Tez Morris has had the job.
Strangely enough, Jawan "tap dance" Walker is the starting RB, rather than co-starter with Tim Murphy. I'd love to know what the Pitt coaches saw on game film to merit that decision.
Brandon Miree, the Pitt starting RB who has been out most of the season with a stress fracture, was listed on the depth chart for the Temple game, but isn't expected to play. He did practice a little last week. There have been unconfirmed and unreported rumors that Miree has been physically ready for some time, but has been mentally "soft" about feeling any pain. There might actually some truth to that, if you want to read between the lines:
Harris said that the stress fracture in Miree's leg has healed, but he is not mentally ready to return to action.
"We scrimmaged to try to get him confident that he can take a hit and make sure he can hold onto the football while getting hit," Harris said. "He's been away from it for a long, long time. But to me, it is still up in the air whether or not he feels he is ready to go. We know he is physically ready to go, that is why he is practicing and scrimmaging, but the mental healing has to take place.
"When you are a tailback, you are a marked man. He wants to play well and, hopefully, he feels more and more confident in his health."
Well, maybe not even bothering to read between the lines.
Then there is this warning from Harris to his team about playing Temple. I love this:
Harris said Temple has a distinct home-field advantage because the lack of a crowd lulls opponents to sleep. "You can see when you watch the tape, there is nobody in the seats up high," Harris said. "Fans don't play the game, we do and Temple uses that as an advantage, an edge. People are going in there thinking 'this is a scrimmage.' If you have that attitude, you will get yourself beat."
Beware the empty stadium. Beware.
Finally, Harris wants Rutherford to stop trying to do too much -- something that seems rather difficult when there is no running game -- because the interceptions were the result of Rutherford trying to force the ball.
There was a column recently in the Philadelphia Daily News, from Temple alum, and the ancient, perpetually cranky, and large sportswriter Bill Conlin. His message. Quit.
The Owls will go looking for a new conference lugging the leper's bell: Nobody cares. Nobody goes.
I have lost track of the times I have delivered this message, but here goes again: Drop your pretensions and the grandiose Division I dreams a fanatical cadre of alumni keeps gulping like methadone. Wallace is the latest of many good coaches holding his fingers inches apart to indicate how close the Owls are to being really big time. Just a good recruiting class here, a few breaks there, a little bit more of a commitment from alumni, students, the media and area high school coaches.
Nobody told the Temple people that urban college football began a rapid death when University of Chicago egghead Robert Maynard Hutchins dropped football and such powerhouses as NYU and Fordham dropped out or downsized. I get the argument that Southern California is proof an inner-city university can field consistently great football teams. The only difference between the Owls and the Trojans is that USC is among the wealthiest private universities in America, a depository for conservative, Republican money. Richard Nixon tapped USC for brain power the way John F. Kennedy tapped Harvard.
Temple has Bill Cosby...
So, don't give up football, Owls. Instead, give up the delusion you can ever be a successful, big-time program. Get back with Delaware and Villanova, William & Mary and Northeastern. Give a call to Georgia Southern. Keep scheduling the Daytons and Akrons. You'll need to be good to beat any of them.
Definitely going to be a light week.
Monday, November 17, 2003
This wouldn't be a problem if John was still living in Pittsburgh.
Maybe it's the time that I grew up, watching Pitt dominate - WVU was always an inferior program, and considered an expected victory, back in the Majors I, Sherrill, and Fazio eras. Even though Pitt lost a few of those games, it was expected that Pitt would win. When Pitt started losing to them regularly, it was a sign of how bad Pitt had become, not how good WVU was.
Even in the 1990's, when Pitt was god-awful and WVU was beating us nearly every year, most WVU recruits went there because Pitt (or PSU) didn't offer them a scholarship. I never hear of Pitt and WVU going head-to-head for a recruit and the guy ends up choosing WVU.
I like their fans (I echo Lee's comment here). They root for their school, or show in-state loyalty, because that's what you're supposed to do, damn it! They are loud - when Mountaineer Field is full, it's as loud as anyplace in the country (and even when it isn't full, often). They are proud of their school - unlike a lot of Pitt students and alumni who either don't give a damn about football or b-ball, or are outright traitors and root for other college teams. And most of all, they don't have that superior attitude that Penn State and ND (and OSU, Michigan, etc.) have about their team or their school. Granted, WVU isn't all that good, and the academics suck, so how could they, right? But they have that "Yeah, I'm a Mountaineer, what of it?" attitude that I like. I guess I see them as a constant underdog, and I always like the underdog. Even though they hate Pitt more than any school (although lately VaTech, Miami, and in years past, Penn State earned much hate from the Hoopie faithful), I still can't bring myself to hate WVU back.
Sure, they are easy to pick on. West Virginia jokes abound, and have nothing to do with football or basketball. As we walked away from the stadium Saturday, looking at the subtle poetry to the t-shirt vendors' products ("Shit on Pitt", "Pitt Sucks", and the sublime "Fuck Pitt"), and listening to the taunts of the drunken WVU faithful as they saw us in our Pitt gear, I could still mutter (not quite under my breath) "we may have lost the game, but you still live in West Virginia" as I walked on by. It wasn't out of hate, but almost empathy and pity. I became more irritated at the rest stop on I-79 on the way home, which was full of WVU fans, most of whom were talking shit. All I could think of was "Yeah, but the degree hanging on your wall still says 'West Virginia University', ass-hole" as I walked back to the car. But, they won, and we have to eat crow until next year. Such is the way of things.
Game and Stadium comments:
The lines to get into the stadium were ridiculous! We left John's house, not a mile away from the stadium, at a little past 6pm. Somehow I maneuvered my way though the throngs and was the first one of our group to the seats, and I was barely there by 7pm. Some of the guys missed the first TD of the game because they were still in line. The entire home side of the stadium, probably close to 30,000 fans, were expected to file past a total of four ticket takers. I thought that Beaver Stadium was the worst, but this set up took the cake. And it wasn't because of the stadium design - there were plenty of gates, just too few of them open.
I again echo Lee's comments, but I do like the stadium. It is a great place to watch football. The Steelers played some exhibition games there when Heinz Field wasn't ready a few years ago, and I envy those fans. The stands are on top of the field, great sight lines, the bleachers aren't nearly as cramped as other college stadiums, and there is plenty of leg room (unlike Pitt Stadium). Lots of bathrooms and concession stands, and just a great atmosphere. They expanded their scoreboards, and now have a large instant replay board at the south end zone.
The game, well Pitt's run defense sucks. It sucks ass. But why? Are they too slow? Are they not big enough, or strong enough up front? Is it a matter of mechanics, that they can't shake blocks or tackle? Are they not on the good steroids anymore? As I said earlier, Pitt always wins the recruiting battles with WVU, so there shouldn't be a talent gap. Perhaps their players are weak academically, so Pitt stayed away from them, or perhaps they were late bloomers that Pitt didn't notice because they didn't play much their junior or sophomore years in HS. I can't figure it out. Rhoades was a fine coach last year, and he didn't forget how to coach after one season. There has got to be a reason - I just don't know what it is.
I was a little disappointed that they didn't riot. Plenty of cops on the field and in the stands near the end of the game - some sporting riot gear right out of a South Korean newsreel - big, long wooden sticks. No pepper spray, just John Denver piped over the PA system. As the night went on, things stayed relatively calm. That's relative, for in Morgantown a few fires on a Saturday night are just a normal occurrence.
In Pittsburgh, the blame is falling on the defense and its inability to stop the run.
Walter Washington is a relatively unknown player among college football fans across the country, but by this time next week he could be one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
That's because Washington is the starting quarterback for the Temple Owls, and he is also their leading rusher. And the Owls' next opponent, the Pitt Panthers, have excelled this year at making the Heisman dreams of opposing rushers -- and sometimes even passers -- come true.
And considering Washington ran for 151 yards against Virginia Tech this past weekend, he has to be thinking he's headed for a 300-yard game come Saturday.
Not that the offense's running game isn't taking some heat.
As bad as the Panthers' run defense was Saturday night, their run offense may have been worse -- and that, too, has been a consistent issue for them this year. Pitt ran 26 times for 10 yards (0.4 yards per carry) and its leading rusher was fullback Lousaka Polite, who ran five times for 9 yards.
Both problems -- the inability to stop the run and run the football -- are the main reasons the Panthers are 7-3 as opposed to 10-0. Pitt is ranked 86th in rush defense (183.7 yards per game) and 79th in total defense (394.9) and they average only 110 yards rushing per game, which is worst in the Big East Conference and 98th in the NCAA.
The root of both problems can be found up front, where the Panthers have been consistently manhandled on both sides of the ball.
Gee, line play was a key. What a shock. Can't believe that was the case.
Of course, credit must be given to WVU's defense in the second half making, you know, adjustments to deal with the passing game.
"The defensive staff did a great job making adjustments," WVU coach Rich Rodriguez said. "In the second half, we played some different coverages and used a couple blitzes. We didn't want to use three-man pressure. We wanted to try to mix in four- or five-man pressure.
"In the second half, we did a little better job of getting more in [Rutherford's] face. I don't think any quarterback likes pressure. It was a chance to disrupt his rhythm. He was in such a rhythm in the first half. We wanted to try to make Rutherford hold onto the ball a little longer.
"I thought in the second half we did a better job of getting off the blocks and we did a better job of breaking on the ball. In the first half, we were kind of standing around too much."
Shame Pitt couldn't make any.
Of course, Pitt could still win the Big East, but even Harris knows that problems on defense are not going away.
The only thing worse than Pitt's offensive inefficiency, particularly along the line, was a defense that might not look the same when the Panthers play a Temple team coming off a near-overtime upset of Virginia Tech on Saturday.
"We missed more tackles than I've ever seen us miss," coach Walt Harris said
"We have to go back and try to fix whatever we can fix."
The Panthers got little production from their front four Saturday, most notably senior defensive end Claude Harriott, who struggled so mightily that backup Azzie Beagnym replaced him on numerous occasions. Harriott, a preseason All-America candidate, has only two sacks. He had 9 1/2 in 2002.
The starting defensive front of Harriott and Thomas Smith at the ends, and Dan Stephens and Vince Crochunis on the inside, combined Saturday for only 10 tackles, none of which occurred behind the line of scrimmage.
WVU tailback Quincy Wilson (208 yards on 34 carries with four scores) became the third back to run for 200-plus yards against the Panthers.
As for the guys behind the line, linebackers Brian Bennett and Lewis Moore both finished with double-digits in tackles, but weakside backer Malcolm Postell (5 tackles) found himself out of position on a number of occasions and got beat on a number of passes, including a sensational 28-yard grab by WVU's John Pennington that tied it at 24-24 with 31 seconds left in the first half.
Of course, just to depress further, there is still the issue as to whether Larry Fitzgerald will be back next year. Some are already saying goodbye.
Pitt's next game is against Temple. Somehow, I don't think it will be on national TV.
The basketball team plays St. Francis (PA) on Saturday also. Could be a light week.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
The Dominion Post has the story as a "mauling," and a Nyah-Nyah story of sure Fitzgerald is amazing, but WVU won.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh. The focus was on the failure to run and stop the run. Rather than a mauling, it was a "rout" or a "pounding." A lot of credit was given to WVU's final drive in the 2nd quarter to tie the game. Specifically the 4th and 4 touchdown pass.
Finally the notebook reports. Pitt still leads the all-time series with WVU, but has lost 9 of the last 12. Fitzgerald continued to set records in the NCAA, Pitt, and Big East.
WVU is denying rumors that it is looking into joining the SEC.
Lee even called me up as he was driving back from Morgantown to bitch about the game. It was a spectacular second half collapse, and yet another example of Pitt taking two steps back after taking a step forward. I still feel bitter, and the game helped cost me a decent night's sleep. Woke up around 3 am, because the daughter was fussing, and it took over an hour to get back to sleep because my mind started thinking about the game and all the things Pitt did wrong or was incapable of doing. Just not right.
Back to the game. I took notes, and I am supplementing with the box score and the play-by-play info to keep the facts straight.
The game kicked off about 7:05 with Dave Barnett calling the game, Bill Curry with analysis, and Rob Stone on the sidelines. ON the first drive they flash the numbers on WVU QB Rasheed Marshall along with his major -- "Coaching Education." Uhhhh, yeah. That's just too easy. Skip it.
WVU marches right down the field. Running well, and screen passes are working well against the Pitt Defense. Looks like Pitt is still overpursuing. Especially on the screens and short passes that are going for big yards. The other thing though, the officials are calling a tight game. Pitt got called for pass interference, that was questionable since the replays looked like the ball was uncatchable. Of course on the very next play WVU was called for holding. WVU scored on the 9th play with a screen that went 18 yards for a TD -- untouched by the defense. The drive took 4:03. Looks like the WVU coaching staff was well prepared on offense.
Pitt takes the kick-off and Allen has a 53 yard return. Nearly longer, possibly to the endzone, but a foot stepped out of bounds. Pitt starts at the WVU 41. Pass to Fitzgerald for a first down. Jawan Walker carries the ball twice for 7 yards. Walker actually looks halfway decent, when he doesn't dance waiting for a bigger hole and just drives forward. 23 yard TD pass to Fitzgerald. Beauty. 7-7.
During the drive, Bill Curry mentioned that Pitt hasn't used TE Kris Wilson much because of Fitzgerald. Said that Wilson will be in the NFL next year. No doubt.
WVU and Pitt swap 3 and outs. Watch Walker run forward for 8 then dance backwards to lose 6 on the next play. Idiot. During this time, Stone on the sidelines says that they have doubled the number of state troopers at the game to over 80.
Rasheed Marshall is looking good as he runs for 19 yards on a fake, when Pitt overpursues. Then hits Chris Henry with a 42 yard pass to the Pitt 6 yard line. Shawntae Spencer was beat again. Marshall is now 6 for 6 passing. He looks very sharp. Ooops, first incomplete. WVU settles for a field goal. 10-7.
Pitt takes the ball and scores on a 45 yard TD pass from Rutherford to Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was interfered with, but he still made the catch -- though the interference wasn't much, and would not have been called in last week's game. The refs are definitely calling a tighter game -- though it may just be the camera angle, it seems that WVU defenders are lining up in the neutral zone, I mean it looks like their hands are on the other side of the ball at times. Also saw Jawan Walker get a screen pass, where if he fell forward immediately he could have picked up 5 yards. Instead, he stood his ground trying to juke and dance, and got 1 yard. Not good. He is regressing in the first quarter, again. 14-10.
On the next series Quincy Wilson proceeds to gash the Pitt Defense for a 36 yard gain amidst missed tackles. The only plus, was that he was slow getting up. Aside from the big run, there was no gain. Marshall threw 3 straight incompletions. The last one hung up, and allowed Tez Morris to recover (after he let himself be beat) to knock it down.
Pitt goes 3 and out, luckily. Adam "Pac-Man" Jones should have intercepted a pass.
WVU goes 3 and out, as the Mountaineers are trying to pass a lot more. This benefits Pitt, if they aren't running the ball.
Princell "Blockhands" Brockenbrough lets a perfectly thrown ball go through his hands on 1st and 10 from the Pitt 16, at 13:45 in the 2nd quarter. He was wide open some 15 yards down the field on the left and would have been able to run it all the way for a touchdown. As he often does, though, he looked upfield and let the ball fall through. About a minute later, he makes a 15 yard reception for a first down, and even play-by-play guy sounds vaguely contemptuous when he says, "He hangs on... this time." Pitt ends up punting, and Andy Lee doesn't kick a good one. WVU takes over in decent field position, and I get my first sinking feeling about a missed opportunity to take an 11 point lead.
Sure enough. Quincy Wilson rips off another big run for 37 yards where tackles were missed because the defense was trying to hit more than tackle. Wilson then runs in with ease on the left side for 5 yards and the TD. 17-14.
Just before WVU kicks the ball to Pitt, they show that Wilson has 12 carries and 101 yards. This is at the 9:21 mark in the 2nd quarter. He is just gashing the Pitt defense. I am now very worried.
Terrell Allen has another big kick-off return for 49 yards. Where has he been all season? or is WVU's kick coverage that bad?
Fitzgerald makes an outstanding catch in double coverage with what appeared to be pass interference (though they picked up the flag) for 34 yards. He now has 5 catches for 124 yards and 2 TDs. He is completely amazing. A TD pass to Kris Wilson. Pitt 21-17.
This game has moved quickly to this point, I haven't had much of chance to breakdown the game.
Pac-Man Jones of WVU takes the kick-off 50 yards and a 5 yard face mask penalty added. Replays showed, that both sides committed face masks.
Marshall hangs another pass while trying a fake reverse, and this time it is intercepted by William "Tutu" Ferguson.
Rutherford throws a perfect pass and great catch to Greg Lee with 3 defenders around him for 32 yards. Rutherford is just on his game right now. He is throwing with precision. Wow. On a 4th and 1 from the WVU 17 Rutherford throws to Fitzgerald for 6 yards. WVU didn't see that coming.
Oooh. Rutherford nearly gave it right back to the Mountaineers with what should have been an interception. Pitt settles for a field goal. 24-17. This worries me that Pitt didn't get the touchdown -- again missing a chance to go up by double digits.
A good WVU kick return comes back. They start at their own 18 with about 4 minutes left in the half. WVU proceeds to march down the field with great ease. Just using runs, screens and the short passes to shred the Pitt defense. Only thing I note that could be positive for Pitt is that when the defense actually manages to pressure Rasheed Marshall he tends to hang his passes.
4th and 4 from the Pitt 28, and WVU is going for it with 37 seconds left. Oh my god! How do you let a receiver get behind you in the endzone? It was a beautiful catch, on another hanging pass, but dammit. Piss poor coverage by the secondary. 24-24
Halftime comes and they talk to Walt Harris as he jogs off the field. He says that Pitt hasn't been able to stop the run and Pitt hasn't been able to run. Says that needs to change. No s**t.
I'm still thinking about Blockhands dropping a sure touchdown. Pitt didn't play a bad 1st half, but they missed some big opportunities. The game is tied and it will all come down to second half adjustments.
Second Half, and Pitt starts out with the ball. Hey, on the very first play, WVU whistled for being offside. Maybe Walt said something before the kick-off. Pitt quickly marches down the field via the pass. Another beautiful catch by Fitzgerald for 37 yards in double coverage to the WVU 5. Augh! Intercepted in the endzone. Rutherford was trying to throw to Brockenbrough who had 3 defenders around him. A bad decision by Rutherford. A big miss on the opening drive.
WVU goes 3 and out. Pitt moves backward 22 yards on penalties on 3 straight penalties. Still looks like WVU is lining up in the neutral zone. Another interception when Rutherford tried to throw to Wilson who was double covered. Looks like WVU's secondary has made some big adjustments. Not a good sign.
WVU has a short field and runs another screen for big yardage.
Hmm. Halfway through the 3rd quarter and they just showed a comparison of rushing yards WVU 160. Pitt 36. Ewww.
Marshall just ran 12 yards for a TD. It looked like there was a fair amount of holding on that run. Descent into pathetic homerism? Maybe. Instead, Pitt commits a personal foul. WVU 31-24.
Jeez. Pitt's losing its composure against WVU just like Virginia Tech did against WVU. Pitt penalized 10 times for 86 yards in this game.
Pitt does nothing with the ball. Instead, on the punt it is returned for 72 yards to the Pitt 3.
At this point, WVU has all the momentum and Pitt is imploding in all phases of its game. It is becoming abundantly clear who made second half adjustments, and who doesn't seem to have a clue.
It takes Quincy Wilson two tries to run 3 yards for the touchdown. WVU 38-24.
Still more than 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. This is the first time all year that Pitt has been behind by this many points. The previous time was against Notre Dame and that was only 6 points in losing 20-14. Given the way the defense has rapidly worn down this half and the way WVU's secondary has adjusted to play their zones properly, it doesn't look good for a Pitt comeback. Especially if Pitt can't answer.
Pitt's next possession is a mess. They go 3 and out. WVU returns the favor, but Pitt has another 3 and out. WVU gets the ball with a few seconds left in the third quarter. WVU after a complete pass to end the quarter, goes with Quincy Wilson for 8 consecutive carries for 45 yards. WVU takes a time out. (I think you can officially declare without a doubt that Wilson has helped kill Pitt at this point.) The back-up RB then runs for 9 yards. Surprisingly Pitt's defense stops the run 2 times in a row for no gain, then Quincy Wilson fumbles.
It could be the big break Pitt needed, as WVU was sure to score on that possession. Still, they ran 5:30 off the clock on that possession.
Nope. Rutherford is now totally off his game. Intercepted at midfield and returned to the 2.
Touchdown, Wilson. WVU 45-24.
The game is unofficially over. I stopped taking any notes on the actual game.
Final score, WVU 52, Pitt 31. It wasn't even that close.
The game came down to second half adjustments. Specifically, Pitt made none.
WVU stayed the course on offense, which made sense. Pitt's defense was being worn down by a superior offensive line and good running back. Quarterback Rasheed Marshall played a very smart game. He was a respectable 14-23, 216 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 rushing TD. He was only sacked once and ran for 40+ yards. Marshall didn't try to do too much in the second half. WVU wisely kept the ball on the ground and used short passes. Running Back Quincy Wilson ran for 208 yards and 4 touchdowns, along with an additional 22 yards receiving. WVU ran for a total of 307 yards.
WVU made adjustments on defense in the second half. They stopped worrying about the run and concentrated on getting pressure on Rutherford. At the same time, their secondary got more disciplined and stayed in their positions, rather than trying to show they could go one-on-one with Larry Fitzgerald. The pressure on Rutherford helped throw off the timing and led to throws being off, just enough that the secondary could make plays on the ball. Pitt had no answer because their inability to run the ball caught up with them once again.
On offense, Pitt could do nothing on the ground. They had to rely completely on passing. So Rutherford had 419 yards on 25-47 passing and 4 TDs, but also 3 INT -- all in the second half -- to kill any chance of staying with the Mountaineers. Arguably, Pitt was in no position to make offensive adjustments, but that's why Pitt couldn't afford to miss the opportunities it did have. Especially in the first half.
On defense, we've been worried all week about the defense and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads public front that there were no real problems (look at the bottom of the post). Yes, Pitt once again failed to tackle and tried to hit. Once again, overpursued and got burned. The defense has been an Achilles heel. Especially against the run. This can't be emphasized enough. This was the 3rd game where Pitt allowed a single back to run for more than 200 yards in a game in the season. Pathetic.
WVU outplayed and outcoached Pitt.