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: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Wrong Reasons and Pressure 

Oddly enough, and despite a little knot of fear about this game in my stomach, I'm starting to feel optimistic about the game tonight (no, I haven't started drinking yet). Can't say why exactly. It's little things. Freshman Cornerback Darrelle Revis seems to get that he will have to step up his game after last week and because the talent on the opposite side will be even better. Then there is the fact that if it is a close game, Pitt has the advantage in the kicking game. Even people in Connecticut know about "Sunshine" Cummings after this puff piece.

There's the intangibles issues. If this wasn't a week for Harris to get the players to close ranks and start the "us against the world" mentality, then it really is time for him to go. Opponent they were expected to beat easily nearly upsets them, everyone is ready to write them off, first road game, national game, everyone drooling over the "potential" of UConn -- it's the perfect set-up.

Pitt knows there are plenty of doubts and questions. Maybe a road game would be a good thing right now.

Then there is something about UConn's attitude for the game. They seem more concerned about making a good show. About the TV.
"We want to get it going; we want another chance after losing on national TV before," UConn wideout Jason Williams said. "We've experienced the cameras, the national TV, all of that. All the things that made us nervous before are gone. It should be a lot different this time."
That's the stuff for the fans and the PR guys in the athletic departments to worry about. It shouldn't be something the players should be concerned. And even if they are, you don't vocalize it. UConn is acting like it is looking for redemption against ESPN, not playing an opponent they have never faced before.

Am I being delusional? Grasping at straws? I don't know.

Joe Starkey seems to think Pitt should be fired up.

Sure, UConn has built its program quickly and impressively since moving up to Division I-A in 1999.

That doesn't erase these facts:

  • The Huskies didn't get a full complement of scholarships until 2002.

  • They're 2-13 against past, current and future Big East teams, their only wins against Rutgers.

  • Their only victories this year came against a I-AA school, and two winless I-A schools -- Duke (0-4) and Army (0-3), which has the nation's longest losing streak at 18 games.

    The victory over Duke, by the way, came only when Duke's kicker missed a last-second, 36-yard field goal.

    Yet, Pitt is a touchdown underdog.

    If the Panthers aren't going into this game with a giant chip on their shoulder pads, something is wrong. They should be embarrassed to have been cast into the role of cuddly underdog.
    And that's just it, there are really just as many questions about UConn as there are about Pitt. And again, the UConn players seem way too preoccupied with the fact that this is game is nationally televised
    The glare of the lights from national television - which will also be glowing tonight - and the pent-up emotion of facing rival BC were factors in a 27-7 loss.

    "When we went into the BC game everybody was kind of uptight," linebacker James Hargrave said. "We weren't relaxed. We're not uptight about this game. We're taking it like a normal game."

    The game will be the first nationally televised UConn game (ESPN2) from Rentschler Field and the first UConn night game at the two-year-old stadium. Both are milestones for a program that has been Division I-A only five seasons.

    "It's something that we've dreamed about since I've been here," Markowski said. "The changes we've gone through in the program are just amazing. To finally have it where we're playing a Thursday night game against a Big East team and we're in the Big East Conference is just huge."
    If you have to claim you're not uptight this time, you're uptight.

    Of course some columnists are only now getting around to the Furman game. Bob Smizik returns to bash Walt Harris. The problem for me, is that while I want to bash him for the smug tone and almost glee he seems to take in attacking Harris

    Five days after the Furman debacle, Pitt gets a chance to prove the narrowness of the score was a fluke when it plays at Connecticut tonight. Before the game can be played, though, it has provided the Pitt program with its second major embarrassment within a week. The fact the Panthers are a seven-point underdog to Connecticut is a stunning humiliation. Connecticut is in only its third season of Division I-A play and, like Furman, should have nothing approaching the personnel Pitt does.

    Who would have thought when Harris was impressively turning around the Pitt program a few years back that well into his tenure his team would go to Connecticut and be a seven-point underdog?

    Both the Furman outcome and the Connecticut point spread are indication of the regression of the Pitt program under Harris. Unquestionably, the loss of stature of the Big East Conference has hurt the program and contributed to the loss of key recruits in this year's class. But those factors are not in play with the 2004 Pitt team. Pitt was recruiting in the best of times when it attracted its current senior and junior classes. The program was on the upswing with excellent facilities and playing in a respected league, yet Harris and his staff could not recruit well enough to manhandle Furman and be favored against Connecticut.

    I can't argue with the basic point he made at the beginning of his column -- that losing to Furman would have been the end of Harris' tenure at Pitt. And I can't argue with his final points.

    The games against Furman and Connecticut and the game against Temple Oct. 9 were expected to be the soft underbelly of the schedule after Nebraska. Instead, it has turned into a minefield. Unless the Panthers significantly pick up their play, there's no guarantee they'll have their way at Temple.

    After that the schedule gets considerably more difficult.

    It's a must win tonight -- for Pitt and Harris.

    After all, I wrote earlier this week:

    I don't care if the oddsmakers are favoring UConn over Pitt (UConn -7.5). This is a must win for Pitt and Walt Harris.
    Let's Go Pitt!

    Wednesday, September 29, 2004

    Everybody's Doing It 

    I don't mean to beat a dead horse. Especially one I wanted to shoot a few weeks ago. This is worth noting for some further perspective:

    Troy Smith was wearing a vintage Pittsburgh Pirates jersey Tuesday night with Willie Stargell's name and number on the back.

    Smith, however, was not sounding a "We Are Fam-i-lee" theme.

    The Ohio State sophomore quarterback expressed frustration with his backup status and said he will evaluate whether he'll remain at OSU after this season.
    Asked if he received a fair chance to win the quarterback job, Smith said: "That's for you guys to decide. I really can't say anything on that because I don't want to put myself in a situation where I say this and then something else [like] repercussions of what I said to the media have something to do with my playing time or my future here. So that's for you to decide."

    Two of the first three starting QB's Pitt faced were transfers from other programs because they realized they would never be the starter at their original school. Luke Getsy transferring from Pitt was not Harris' fault, or anything that unusual anymore. It's the nature of college football these days. If a kid has aspirations of playing beyond college, he goes somewhere where he can show what he has. We all know that the game has changed, and the kids playing it are doing what they have to.

    Crap, Another 5 AM Wakeup 

    The BC-Pitt game being televised on ESPN2 on Saturday, October 16 will have a 12 noon kick-off. Damn.

    Odds and Ends 

    A few articles that really don't have much to do with Pitt, but worth noting for one reason or another.

    Syracuse basketball will not have the talented but troubled Billy Edelin back this season. The NCAA ruled him ineligible because of insufficient academic credits. No one really knows why he left the program and the school during last season, even now.

    Ohio big 3 basketball programs -- Cinci, Ohio St. and Xavier -- are spotlighted. Xavier head coach and former Pitt great, Sean Miller, is given major hype.
    That's an impeccable coaching resume, and recruits have noticed. Miller has retained the verbal commitment 6-6 wing B.J. Raymond of Toledo had given to Matta at Xavier, and three weeks ago he picked up a commitment from 6-7 wing Derrick Brown of Dayton.

    The hiring of Miller also means Xavier no longer has an interim coach, which is basically what Matta was. Since his 26-6 Xavier debut in 2001-02, Matta was holding down the job on a temporary basis. Everyone knew it.

    For Xavier, it was better to lose Matta now instead of later. See, Miller was going to be a head coach -- soon. He almost took the Illinois State job two years ago, and Stan Van Gundy even tried to hire Miller for his staff with the Miami Heat last year.

    Whether it was Miller or someone else, Xavier was going to replace Matta with a rising star. Replacing Matta with Miller gives the program a rising star -- and continuity. Remember when assistant Skip Prosser replaced Pete Gillen in 1994? That worked out pretty well.

    Finally a real fun list. The top ten college sports scandals of the last 20 years.

    The Paddy Wagon 

    On a Friday or Saturday night in Oakland (Pitt Campus) you will see a full contingent of Pittsburgh Police and the dreaded paddy wagon parked across from The O at the corner of Forbes Ave. and South Bouquet St. It was reassuring to know that the cops and the wagon were in one spot. That meant they weren't out cruising around South Oakland to bust a house party you might just happen to be on your way to attend. The kids in Storrs, CT appear to need a lookout for Thursday night, because the police intend to be out in force.

    Meawhile the UConn team claims to be focused and not distracted by anything for the Pitt game. UConn has a bye week after this game before another home game against WVU. Arguably they need this game to avoid going to 0-3 in the Big East.

    Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming 

    How about a better picture of the dance team in cheerleader outfits. This courtesy of one of our long-time readers, Tony in Harrisburg that he describes as "a nice pic with the help of a drunken buddy right before the Furman game". He sent me a link to a list of other game photos. Take a look.

    We also got another e-mail (2 in 2 days? A new record?) . James asks:

    Why cannot Pitt schedule the weak sisters from the
    other major conferences(Kentucky, Indiana, Stanford,
    Vandy, Mississippi State, ASU etc.). Even if it is a
    home and home schedule, three or four of these would
    lead to a more national schedule and better
    attendance. I would also think that this sort of
    schedule would help recruiting too.
    It's a good question. One I'd like to spend some more time on at a later date. Off the top of my head, part of it is just money. Eveyone wants the home non-cons. Most big schools want/need at least 3 home non-cons out of the 4 or 5. You need at least 1 patsy, preferably 2. That leaves 1 or 2 other games. Pitt this year has road non-cons against ND and USF. Were it not for Furman (a last minute filler because of the defections of VT and Miami) , I'd call Pitt's non-con fairly respectable. I think next year we have Michigan State at home and Nebraska away.

    The other factor is cancelling. Everyone wants to host the first game, that way they can back out if it looks too hard or they can get another home game from a patsy the following year (think Louisville and FSU) with merely a buy out.

    I don't have time right now, but I hope to return to this. Discussion?

    UPDATE: Read this article about the payoffs to patsy schools to go somewhere for a game.

    Welcome to the backroom of college football, where athletic directors from Troy's Johnny Williams to Andy Geiger at Ohio State and DeLoss Dodds at Texas struggle to balance department budgets while often bleeding every cent from their major revenue producer. Acting as a booking agent goes with the job description. And scheduling the right mix of so-called money games isn't to be overlooked, both for the haves and have-nots.

    It's proven invaluable seed money for the Troy program, which 10 years ago generated $250,000 as a Division I-AA program and last season produced almost $3.5 million -- $1.6 million in game guarantees -- in its third season playing with the big boys. Money has been plowed back into an $18 million stadium project (Movie Gallery handed over $5 million for naming rights), plus another $10 million in facility upgrades for other sports.

    It's part of the reason the NCAA seemingly "forgot" to fix the rule that allowed Pitt to count the Furman game as a win for bowl calculations.

    Dance Team, Pt. 2 

    As promised, here are a couple other Dance Team photos from the Nebraska game. Obviously taken from our seats, as opposed to getting closer shots.

    Dance team in cheer outfits Posted by Hello

    The dance team ditched the "America" medley and t-shirts for the all black look. Posted by Hello

    Build Up 

    Today, building up UConn.

    An article talking about how far and how fast the football program there has come.

    No article about a Pitt opponent would happen without the Pittsburgh papers making it seem special by pointing out the local connections. This time there are plenty. Starting with a head coach from Eastern PA. Then there is a WR from McKeesport who verballed to Pitt but had trouble getting his SATs high enough.

    Josh Lay, the junior CB, who lost the starting job because of some academic issues as training camp started coupled with a minor injury and the strong play of Darrelle Revis is looking to get more playing time. Possibly by trying to play a little on the offense. Defensive coordinator and also the secondary coach, Paul Rhoads doesn't see that happening. Right Guard, John Simonitis, actually practiced yesterday. Maybe he'll play, maybe he won't.

    A rather scattershot piece from Joe Bendel on Harris, Edsall, UConn, Pitt and perceptions. I'm really confused by what he is saying
    "They're the only show in town -- and that's an advantage," Harris said. "It's different here."

    To say the least.

    Harris has become the low man on the totem pole in the Pittsburgh sports scene, a coach who is scrutinized more than Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon (who has four losing seasons in four years), Penguins coach Ed Olczyk (the NHL's worst record in 2003-04) and Steelers coach Bill Cowher (he's missed the playoffs four times in six years).

    So, let me get this straight. A college program that is "the only show in town," gets less scrutiny than one where there are 3 pro sports? At least in football? Usually that means the program gets more scrutiny, more unhinged fans, and more reactionaries. At least that's been my experience in Central PA with PSU fans and in Ohio regarding the Buckeyes. Maybe it's a Storrs thing.

    Pitt, however, has landed in the Top 25 just once during the Harris era and finished only 8-5 last season, despite having its best talent in 15 years.

    Harris is all but a lame duck. His contract expires after the 2006 season and a new one is nowhere in the offing. Most coaches like to have four to five years remaining on their deals to assure recruits they'll be there for the duration.

    Not so in this case. Beano Cook thinks he knows why.

    "What got him into trouble was his (complaining)," Cook said, referring to public comments Harris made about the lack of talent he gets at his football camps and his decision to discuss players who got away at letter-of-intent day earlier this year. "He does it all the time. If he's unhappy, it's time for an amicable divorce."

    Cook's rants are becoming more audible. He said he speaks for a good portion of Panthers followers.

    Sadly, in this case, Beano may actually be speaking, "for a good portion of Panthers followers." I'm speaking as someone sitting in the stands and the parking lots. Harris is looked upon with a great deal of scorn. The mood toward Harris really soured last year. Even though this is a rebuilding year and most of the fans know this is not a particularly strong team, there is a lot of lingering frustration amongst the fans at the way the season went last year.

    I think there was serious discussions about firing Harris in the beginning of January, but 2 factors mitigated against it:

    (1) The complete upheaval in the athletic department over the last year with the loss of the AD, interim AD and head basketball coach. No one had the stomach, power, or desire to make one more big change and make the entire Pitt athleticprogram appear to be in complete shambles.

    (2) The recruiting class appeared to be the best ever for Pitt. This was a top-20 recruiting class. Whatever Harris' shortcomings as a coach, he was bringing in some big names and did have the program going in the right direction. Get the new recruits in, and give Harris a little more time.

    Yes, we know what happened to the recruiting class, how Harris seemed to fiddle while it burned, and then whined afterwards. By that time, it was too late to fire him. It would have looked horrible and a reaction to what high school recruits did. With that, the school committed itself to Harris for at least this season.

    The comparison with Edsall -- the UConn head footbal coach -- is a bit of a stretch. Edsall started at UConn 2 years after Harris came to Pitt. Edsall gets more time because, no matter how down Pitt was, it was already in Div. 1-A. UConn made a move up from 1-AA. Plus, to this point, Edsall has shown steady improvement each year. He hasn't taken major steps backwards as Pitt did in both 2001 and 2003.

    I'm guessing this was Bendel's early epitaph for Harris. Not a good thing.

    Rich Podolsky at ESPN.com picks the weekday games.
    Connecticut - 7 over Pittsburgh: Nothing like playing the Black Knights of Army to get your momentum back. That's what UConn did last week, thoroughly embarrassing Bobby Ross' troops, 40-3. The victory came after a 27-7 defeat to rival Boston College. With Dan Orlovsky throwing the ball against two freshman corners, and Cornell Brockington running against a suspect Pitt defense, the Huskies should score plenty of points.

    Pitt lost three great players from last year's offense -- QB Rod Rutherford, WR Larry Fitzgerald and TE Kris Wilson. The Panthers came close to losing to I-AA Furman (ranked #4) last week. Pittsburgh won in OT, after trailing 31-14. The victory probably gave them a jolt of confidence, and featured the talents of new quarterback Tyler Palko. Unfortunately, it won't be enough to stop a fired up Connecticut bunch playing at home. This line opened with UConn favored by five and shot up to over a touchdown. It shouldn't make a difference.
    The pick: Connecticut in a high scoring affair. Also over 45.

    The plus side, Podolsky is a very Lee-esque 19-20 overall this season. The defense will have to step up for this game.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2004

    Building Pressure 

    I don't care if the oddsmakers are favoring UConn over Pitt (UConn -7.5). This is a must win for Pitt and Walt Harris. Here's Joe Bendel on his ESPN.com Big East Insider gig.
    First things first. The Panthers bumped their record to 2-1 last Saturday at Heinz Field, but they needed overtime against Division I-AA Furman to get there. Coach Walt Harris would like to paint a pretty picture of how his team fought valiantly from a 17-point deficit in the second half, but the Panthers shouldn't have been in that position in the first place. Good teams win those games by a couple of touchdowns, mediocre teams struggle to win and bad ones lose. The Panthers appear to be nothing more than mediocre at this point, as they take their show on the road for the first time at Connecticut (3-1, 0-1) on Thursday night (ESPN2, 7 EST). The defense failed to solve Furman's passing game -- Pitt yielded scoring passes of 17, 42, 75 and 43 yards -- and had it not been for a rejuvenated offense, the season would have been over before it started. The Connecticut game should give a true barometer of where the Panthers are.
    You can expect Orlovsky to attack the Pitt secondary, particularly freshman cornerbacks Mike Phillips and Darrelle Revis. Both have played well this season, but they've yet to face the bevy of receivers Connecticut can put out on the field. And remember, that duo was on the field for the four Furman touchdowns. Harris even said he would attempt to exploit them if he were Orlovsky. "Sure I would," he said.
    [Emphasis added.]

    Pitt loses this game and Pitt fans will start drawing up their wish lists for replacing Harris in earnest. Matt Hayes at the Sporting News does a piece on one who will be on many teams wish lists -- Urban Meyer at Utah. Success at Bowling Green and now at Utah. Clearly he can recruit and coach anywhere.

    Corner Pressure 

    After seeing Furman move the ball well against Pitt, and the fact that UConn has a darkhorse Heisman hopeful in QB in Dan Orlovsky, well the papers are focusing on the young secondary of Pitt. Makes sense when you have a true and redshirt freshman starting at the corners. Staying in the secondary, Safety, Malcolm Postell, who has made some solid hits and some big interceptions in the first few games gets his own puff piece as well.

    Right Guard John Simonitis is listed as a starter on the Pitt depth chart, but has yet to play this year because of an ankle injury. For some reason, I don't think he'll be in there this week.

    Coach Harris thinks Pitt is ready for the first road game of the season. I am hoping the road is the best thing for Pitt and Harris. Maybe getting a game away from Heinz Field can get the team more focused for an entire game. Something they haven't done yet. It cost them against Nebraska. Looks like the line is up around -7.5 with UConn.

    We Interrupt 

    The post-to-post football blogging to mention that Pitt finally got another recruit to actual give a verbal to the basketball team.
    Pitt coach Jamie Dixon got his first good news on the recruiting front in a while when forward Sam Young of Hargrave Military Academy gave the Panthers a verbal commitment over the weekend. Young, 6 feet 6, 220 pounds, chose Pitt over Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgetown and George Washington.

    Pitt had absorbed a series of blows in recruiting the past few weeks when some of the top players in the country had the Panthers in their final two but chose other programs. Jeff Adrien, one of the top forwards in the country, chose Connecticut; shooting guard Danny Green chose North Carolina; power forward John Garcia chose Seton Hall; and shooting guard Ricky Torres chose St. John's.

    Hargrave coach Kevin Keatts said Young will fit in well with the Panthers.

    "Pitt got a really good player," Keatts said. "He has the ability to score inside and outside. He's super athletic, a great defender and he gets up on the glass."

    Young is not currently rated among the top 150 players by Rivals.com, but Keatts believes he will be by the end of the season.
    These near misses were starting to bother me. His size suggests he will be a good strong player competing to fill the void after Troutman graduates after this season.

    Pitt is also in the mix for some other big names.
    They are in the hunt for top-three center Vernon Goodridge, a Brooklyn native who attends Lutheran Christian in Philadelphia. Goodridge eliminated Mississippi State, Florida State and Illinois recently. Also, highly regarded forward Tyrell Biggs, 6-8, 270, of Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., is considering Pitt, Connecticut, Miami and Syracuse. And, 6-8 forward Ryan Reid of Tallahassee, Fla., appears to be down to Pitt, Florida State and Miami.
    We need to close the deal on at least one of these. While it is still something of an achievement and minor surprise, even now, to see Pitt listed as a final possible choice for top players, it means nothing in the end if none actually decide to come to Pitt.

    Monday, September 27, 2004

    Harris Notes 

    The Walt Harris press conference is posted (Windows Media), as is the abbreviated transcript. Not sure if this was the full answer, but I think there should have been more of an explanation than this.
    Furman had success against your defense.
    "We have to upgrade. We've had guys who didn't execute their assignments as they were supposed to. We just have to fight, not quit, and keep working on getting better."
    They just didn't do their job? That's reassuring. Pitt also has a press release with links to the UConn site, roster and stats.

    Gratutitous Penn State Cheap Shot 

    Maybe this is why the more rabid get called Nittany Nazis with a story like this.
    A woman told police a group of cheerleaders standing in front of a downtown business plastered her with stickers and one hit her in the face Friday, police said.

    Police said they are investigating the allegations after an independent witness came forward and verified the woman's story. Both said that after the woman refused to take a sticker being handed out by Penn State cheerleaders Friday afternoon in front of the Student Book Store, she went inside the business and left via another exit to avoid the group.

    The cheerleaders saw the woman leave the store and followed her, police said. They surrounded the woman and put stickers on her, and one of the cheerleaders hit her in the face, the woman told police.

    Officers are attempting to interview several of the cheerleaders to get their version of events, said Cpl. Mark Argiro with the State College Police Department.

    The thuggery now goes beyond their football team.

    I actually felt kind of bad for my dad (a PSU alum) while we watched the Badgers physically whup the Lions. He just looked so depressed watching the game, and would mutter things under his breath about Paterno.

    Now Looking Forward 

    Short week. Thursday night game against UConn to open Big East play for Pitt. No one really knows how Pitt will play or if they are ready.

    The short week to prepare theme is being pushed by both sides.
    UConn quarterback Dan Orlovsky said he was going to return to campus Saturday night and start watching tape of Pittsburgh.

    It was a good idea considering the Huskies are pressed for preparation time for Thursday night's game against the Panthers.

    "We get two days cut off," Orlovsky said. "You've got to step your preparation up two days."
    UConn seems to be pushing harder on it. Or at least the papers have already started talking about it. UConn does appear to have worries (at least they were concerns before they thrashed Army 40-3).
    Special teams have been atrocious.

    Red zone efficiency has been mediocre.

    The defensive line does not have a sack.

    Injuries have started to take a toll.
    Almost makes you think we have a shot.

    Anyways, here are game notes from UConn, and Pitt (in PDF). There's no history between these two teams on the gridiron, and I doubt the basketball rivalry in recent years will be much of a spillover.

    Completing the Retrospective 

    Thanks Lee, that helps and interestingly enough, it goes opposite some of what was written. I just wish someone published the stats on a quarter or even by the half split. That's the sort of thing that tells you a lot more than just the box score, or even drive chart.

    The news for today. Josh Cummings was Big East Special Teams Player of the Week. The final paragraph of the press release may make you laugh at the spin, or cry at the reality:
    Pittsburgh is 25-10 (.714) over its last 35 games, its winningest stretch in nearly two decades. The Panthers have won 12 of their last 17 road contests (.706) and 14 of their last 18 Big East encounters (.778).
    The tight ends were definitely used often and well by the Pitt offense and Palko. Generally, it's something I favor, because they tend to be better going over the middle and keeping the defense off to allow the running game to have a chance. I have to wonder, though, how much was because the receivers weren't getting open or just to dump off to avoid the rush.

    Statistically, Palko had an amazing game, with 380 passing yards and no interceptions. That makes Coach Harris 6 for 6 with his starting QB having a 300+ yard passing game during his time at Pitt. The fact that the defense allowed 417 yards of total offense makes you wonder. Did they forget to tackle again? Was Nebraska even more inept than we realized? Did they start to believe their brief moment of positive press?

    In a bit of a contrast to what Lee said about the team quitting on Harris, Kevin Gorman writes that he doesn't think the team quit on Harris. The problem is, that Western PA recruits seem to have quit on him and Pitt.

    Western Pennsylvania football prospects have spoken loudest by saying nothing. Of Pitt's eight verbal commitments, only one is from the WPIAL. That player, Burrell offensive tackle John Brown, is a legacy whose father was the hero of the 1982 Sugar Bowl.

    There is an overriding belief among top WPIAL prospects that Harris will be gone by December, whether it's by his choice or that of the administration. That another legacy, Central tight end John Pelusi -- the son of a Board of Trustees member -- hasn't committed speaks volumes.

    Why choose a lame-duck coach?

    The damage done by defections of recruits Anthony Morelli, Andrew Johnson, Johnny Peyton and Alphonso Smith was mostly from a perception standpoint. None were as ready as Darrelle Revis or Darrell Strong, two players who kept their commitments and are playing regularly.

    Yet the reneging of the recruits devastated Harris. He was visibly disturbed on signing day, and has either been unable or unwilling to leave it behind him.

    As a result, Pitt is having trouble recruiting in its own backyard, which is the lifeblood of the city-based program. WPIAL players are quietly being advised not to commit to a coach who might not be there on signing day.

    Unless Harris receives a contract extension or a vote of confidence, the Panthers' commitments from out-of-state recruits might as well be treated as an afterthought, as well. A new coach isn't going to take borderline prospects.

    Which is why Harris needs to adopt the same circle-the-wagons attitude with recruiting that he has with coaching. It's time to rebuild the fence around Western Pennsylvania.

    I don't know if the players have quit on Harris or not. I do know that this article is more disturbing for the long term.

    The announced attendance was over 35,000, and the stories did nothing to dispel that notion.

    Lee's Quick Impressions of Pitt-Furman 

    In response to Chas's prompting, I'm too busy at work to do a decent write-up of the Pitt-Furman debacle right now. But I can give you my quick impressions: it wasn't good. On the bright side, it was a great game and I definitely got my entertainment dollar's worth. But it was humiliating. Our offensive line was completely dominated by a I-AA team. Palko spent much of Saturday running for his life. Harris's playcalling was, yet again, laughably predictable. And our secondary got repeatedly torched. I left with the feeling that we just wore down Furman's defensive line over the course of the game or we wouldn't have been able to come back in the fourth quarter. And I definitely got the feeling that Harris has "lost" this team, perhaps by insulting its players in public once too often.

    At times, our crowd was so quiet that the 200 or so Furman fans over in the corner of Heinz Field dominated the sound of the place. However, our crowd did, to its great credit, get loud enough to completely disrupt Furman's offense at the end of the 4th quarter and in overtime. The 15,000 or so gentiles who showed up were still louder than anything a little I-AA team had ever heard.

    Speaking of gentiles, why does a university with as many Jewish students and alumni as Pitt seem to always insist on having a home game on Yom Kippur? I mean, it does hurt attendance. Only 5 of the dozen or so members of our group could even show up... although, laughably, one did have to attend a pig roast afterwards.

    So anyways, the tailgating was quiet, the Field was mostly empty, and chants of "FIRE HARRIS" started earlier than usual (end of the 1st quarter). Unlike Shawn, I didn't bother to listen to the marching band (I was too busy daydreaming up ways to kick both Walt Harris and Paul Rhoads out into the snow). But it was still worth the ticket price and the gas to and from Altoona.

    Incidentally, which version of College Gameday were you watching, Chas? On College Gameday Final late Saturday night on ESPN (or 7:30 AM Sunday morning), Rece Davis, Trev Alberts, Mark May went out of their way to highlight the Pitt-Furman debacle. While Davis and Alberts openly snickered at poor Mark May, Mark merely looked down and said "talk about a coach on the hot seat... they need to make some major changes at Pittsburgh now... I mean, you shouldn't have even been playing Furman." Amen, Mark.

    The line for Thursday night opened up this morning at UConn -6 and quickly grew to UConn -6.5. I could have never imagined one year ago that we would be nearly a touchdown underdog to the Huskies in FOOTBALL. Then again, heck, I'd take UConn and give up ten based on what I saw Saturday.

    Finally, not to bring up an old tread, but despite crushing James Madison 45-10 last Saturday, West Virginia fell one spot yet again in this week's ESPN's mock BCS rankings. More disturbing, they fell BEHIND Florida State, which has already lost once. The inherent lack of respect for the Big East is frightening (remember that our champion has to finish in the top 12 over the next four years for us to retain our seat at the BCS table). And, as I've said before, I couldn't agree more with this lack of respect. We need to slut our way into the Big Ten now.

    Hail to Walt Harris just getting the hell out of town already.

    Looking for Perspective 

    I'm back, but in the dark. Rather than show the Pitt game on the local Comcast channel at my parents' house, I was treated to the Delaware-UMass game. So I saw nothing of the game. They weren't exactly talking this one up on College Gameday. Sure there are articles and wire stories in the paper, but it doesn't tell me what happened. I need the game report from one of the guys who was there. Lee? Shawn? Pat?

    Sunday, September 26, 2004

    I'm with the Band maaaaaaan... 

    Generally, I find the current incarnation of Pitt's Varsity Marching Band to be vastly superior to the operation that was extant during my days as an undergraduate at Pitt.

    Having said that, I wish to point out that while I LOVE the Beatles, I DO NOT want to hear a medley of there songs during ANYONE's halftime show, much less my alma mater's!

    It also didn't help that the medley included "Elenor Rigby", "Let it Be", and various other downbeat Beatles songs, given the circumstances at halftime.

    Friday, September 24, 2004

    Mistakes -- I've Made a Few 

    [Note: Leaving this morning to visit family. Probably no posting of Saturday news.]

    Two puff-like pieces and a must read Q&A.

    Allen Richardson is still the punt returner to the surprise of many. I'm guessing another muff, though, and he won't be on special teams for a long while.

    The story on Palko, while definitely with puffery, is one that should make every Pitt fan feel positive about him. The kid has loads of confidence, but he isn't arrogant and isn't blaming any one but himself for the mistakes he has made so far.

    Pitt beat reporter Paul Zeise, did the story and he is a big supporter of Palko. That brings us to his weekly Q&A. He's got plenty of positive things to say about Palko in this session. But he is also very honest in his opinions about the team and the coaching:
    Q: Does Walt Harris really think that Tyler Palko can do what Rutherford could not, which is, to win with an inferior offensive line?

    ZEISE: I think Harris has no choice because the line is what it is. And frankly, if Pitt's defense was good last year, the Panthers would have won 10 or 11 games despite the fact that the line stunk. Certainly they beat Toledo and Notre Dame and probably West Virginia as well. So you can win with Pitt's line, you just need a great quarterback, a Heisman-caliber receiver to score points and a good defense to stop the other team.
    Q: Is it just me or does all of Walt Harris's quarterbacks seem to struggle to get the plays in on time? At what point do you start blaming the coach for this?

    ZEISE: It is not the quarterbacks that are calling the plays so I'm not sure who else you can blame but the coach. All of those delay-of-game penalties and wasted timeouts add up, but they have seemingly become a big part of Pitt's offense. Saturday I saw an added twist - on several plays there were only 10 men in the huddle and an 11th had to rush onto the field. This can't continue.

    Zeise seems to think Harris needs 7 wins and maybe win the bowl game to be safe in his job. This is one article, where I suggest you click and read it all.

    Thursday, September 23, 2004

    The Game's The Thing 

    You know how I think Pitt is actually taking this game seriously? I've read nothing about the short week and Pitt's Thursday night game against UConn. There is no looking past this game so far. A good sign.

    Me, September 19, after the Nebraska game:
    To some degree, maybe you can compare this to the Texas A&M game for Rod Rutherford 2 years ago. Pitt's offense looked pathetic most of the game, and then in the 2nd half, Rutherford seemed to find the switch. Pitt still lost, but things finally started falling into place for Rutherford. Wishful thinking? Rod had Fitzgerald. Perhaps. We won't know for a few more weeks. I'm just saying there is something in my gut...
    Joe Bendel, September 24:
    Tyler Palko and Rod Rutherford had strikingly similar starts to their Pitt quarterbacking careers.

    Both were awful in their debut game.

    Both struggled against a Big 12 opponent Palko vs. Nebraska; Rutherford vs. Texas A&M -- in the first half of their second game.

    And both came to life in the second half, nearly leading the Panthers to improbable last-minute victories.

    Glad I'm not the only one who saw some parallels.

    We might see a quick kick this weekend, but it may come from Furman. A piece on their quarterback points out that he has experience punting.

    Marcus Furman is tired of hearing stupid comments about the opponent being the same as his last name. Furman and Kirkley both suffered "slight" concussions in the Nebraska game (is that like a little pregnant?") but will play. Tim Murphy is questionable with an ankle sprain.

    As for the ever-questionable O-line. Is the glass half-full?
    Harris sees some progress in the line
    Or half-empty?
    Pitt's line banged up
    Belarski and Pettiti are playing well. Spencer is still struggling with the conversion. Simonitis is returning this week, but left practice early for more treatment on his ankle. Frederick is still out. Who knows.

    Furman Finds 

    Not a lot of attention for the Furman game around the country (surprise!) . An AP Big East piece has Harris saying all the right things. There is also a really long piece covering Div 1-AA teams, that gets really, really bold about this game:
    GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 2 Furman (3-0) at Pittsburgh (1-1), 1:00 This I-AA upset thing could start to become a trend. New Hampshire took down Rutgers two weeks ago, and Maine went in and defeated Mississippi State last week. Now, the Paladins have an opportunity to prove that teams from outside the Atlantic 10 can take down a BCS level opponent. Furman has some experience knocking off I-A opponents with five total wins, though only one of those triumphs came in the last 18 years. The Panthers are saying all the right things, and appear to be taking the Paladins seriously. "People look at I-AA and see pushover," said Pittsburgh head coach Walt Harris. "But I'm sure Greg Schiano (Rutgers head coach) and Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom don't believe that." The Panthers focus should be strong, and they will want to get a win at home. But as focused as they might be, Pittsburgh is not as good as Furman. With Ingle Martin at quarterback, the Paladins hold an edge at the signal-caller position. Pittsburgh's offense is without last season's stars at the skill positions, and the Furman defense has enough talent up front and in the secondary to shut the Panthers down. The Paladins are second in I-AA in total offense, and a running game averaging 300 yards per contest has to perform against a pretty strong Pittsburgh run defense. The defenses will battle it out most of the day, but Martin is the best player on the field and will live up to the hype with a late touchdown pass for the win. Prediction: Furman 20, Pittsburgh 14
    Pitt might start to feel like Rodney Dangerfield before the coma.

    From the Pitt News, the columnists are bothered by the student section clearing out early at the Nebraska game. Another theorizes that the problem with the student section is the lack of uniformity in color scheme.

    Take T-shirts, for example. Right now you see people walking around with shirts in navy blue, royal blue, yellow, gray, white and even pink. The designs on the shirts range from the old-school "Pitt" logos to the new and dull "University of Pittsburgh" print.

    Starting to see the problem?

    Things are much different when it comes to basketball. You could make the argument that the team is better, but Pitt football has been solid over the last four years, so it has to be more than that.

    Uniformity rules at basketball games, and the atmosphere at the Petersen Events Center benefits greatly. The student section is a sea of gold "Oakland Zoo" shirts, and, because of fans' intensity, the organization has received national recognition over the last few years.
    It's not up to the athletics department to put a mandate out on what color shirts students should wear. This one is up to the students. They've started a "Panther Pitt" with towels that students wave, but so far no shirts have been printed, and if they have, they haven't caught on yet.

    The Pitt football team wears navy blue jerseys at home, right? So this Saturday, if you're planning on going to the game and sitting in the student section, plan on wearing navy blue.

    I recall an edict from the athletic department last year for a "golden shower." Failed miserably. Uniformity of colors may look good for the camera, but those things take time. The Oakland Zoo at Pitt basketball game didn't happen overnight or in one season. It took a while to catch on with the students, and a willingness to buy the t-shirts.

    Uniform colors from fans looks nice for the cameras, but it doesn't help the team. Enthusiasm, excitement and lots of cheering is what makes a good student section. Pitt students are willing to get excited for a game, but let's face it. The first 3 quarters of the Nebraska game was sucking the life out of the biggest, loudest fans.

    Yeah, Nebraska fans wore a lot of red. Big surprise, they've had the same colors for decades. Plenty of time to get the gear you like. Pitt shifted its colors and the present logo sucks -- that doesn't endear itself with the fans young or old. You want to see the fans embrace a little more uniformity of color scheme, give up the bland new San Diego Chargers color stylings and embrace a little more of the old school stuff.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2004

    Dance Team , Pt. 1 

    Breaking this up a bit, so I don't make this page any slower to load. Happy to say that they didn't break out their America medley this game. Maybe they did it one last time, owing to the day of the game against Ohio. This was one of 3 different outfits they wore in the course of the game.

    Fill in the caption. Posted by Hello

    Posted by Hello

    More next week. Posted by Hello

    Virgin Knights 

    Exposing myself for the geek I am, everytime I see reference to Furman by their nickname, the Paladins, I harken back to those high school days of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Hated Paladins. Boring characters. No high school kid wanted to be a Paladin. We were virgins in real liife, why do the same in role-playing? Not getting any in reality and fantasy. What a great idea.

    Obviously not a lot in the papers.

    The notebook columns have almost exactly the same information: starting DE Azzie Beagnyam is out for at least 6 weeks; Harris actually had praise for the way Darrell Strong is practicing at WR -- after converting from QB then TE in 2 months; Freshman RB Brandon Mason practiced, but so did Kirkley and Furman; and right guard John Simonitis made it all the way through practice healthy.

    In their personal observations: Palko is feeling more comfortable running the offense and Harris was actually happy about a Tuesday practice.

    A puff piece on a former Furman player and ex-NFL head coach, now QB Coach for the Buffalo Bills, Sam Wyche. Sam is making the roadie from Buffalo for the game. The article also talks up how tough Furman has played against Div 1-A teams in the last 5 years. Something to keep in mind.

    Story on Furman QB, Ingle Martin's journey from Parade All-American to Florida to Furman. He transferred to Furman so he wouldn't have to sit out a year before playing.

    Joe Bendel's ESPN.com Big East Notebook (subscription req'd) gives Pitt a moral victory in losing to Nebraska. Focuses on the positive of how the team played in the second half. Also this about the Furman game:
    The Paladins (3-0) are ranked second in I-AA, and quarterback Ingle Martin started four games at Florida last season before giving way to Chris Leak. A Parade All-American out of high school, Martin has led Furman to 45.0 points and 545.3 yards per game. The Paladins would love to be known again as "Giant Killers," just as they were in the 1980s with wins over South Carolina, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. Their biggest win of late came in '99 against North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
    Haven't even seen a line on this game.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2004

    The New Big East 

    These banners are at the game. Even though USF, Louisville and Cinci don't join until next year, they are all but members now. Notice that BC isn't in the group. Posted by Hello

    Tomorrow. Dance team.

    How We See Live Games 

    Some shots from the Nebraska Game.

    Posted by Hello

    Have we mentioned that one of the great things about our seats, is they are right by the student section? Posted by Hello

    Improvements Need to Continue 

    Direct information first. Here is the Walt Harris Press Conference (Windows Media) and the abbreviated transcript. Nothing particularly eye-catching. The team showed improvement in the second half but needs to do more, the defense is playing great, kicker Josh Cummings is excellent, Freshman RB Brandon Mason may actually play this year...

    Punter Adam Graessle was named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week.

    The articles looking back on the game remain optimistic. Or at least the pieces don't take issue with the positives expressed by Coach Harris. The receivers seemed to make a big improvement from last week, clearly Darrell Strong playing WR has really helped for depth and packages.

    There were injuries in the game. I mean, we aren't saying this was anything like what happened to the Cleveland Browns, but there were some players who won't be returning right away. The big one, starting defensive end Azzie Beagnyam has "ligament damage" in his right ankle. He will be gone for an extended period, very possibly for the season. The reason Brandon Mason might play, rather than take the redshirt as expected, is that the RBs got banged up in the game:
    All three of Pitt's experienced tailbacks -- Tim Murphy, Ray Kirkley and Marcus Furman -- were injured in the Panthers' 24-17 loss to the Cornhuskers. Murphy (ankle) was not able to return the to the game but Furman (head) and Kirkley, whose injury was undisclosed, did.
    On the positives, right guard John Simonitis, may actually be healthy enough to play.

    Mike Prisuta's column was about optimism with Pittsburgh quarterbacks -- both Pitt's Tyler Palko and the Steeler's Ben Roethlisberger.
    Palko seemingly arrived not at the outset of or at any time during Pitt's opener against Ohio U but in the fourth quarter Saturday against Nebraska. His play until then had suggested things couldn't possibly have gotten much worse, but a timely series on the sideline allowed him to regain his equilibrium and he re-emerged a different player.

    Ever conscious of running the team and leading his teammates, Palko suddenly seemed less concerned with what everyone else was doing and more consumed with doing what had to be done. Perhaps, given the bleak state of what had been taking place against the Cornhuskers, Palko felt as if he had nothing to lose. Whatever, he finally started to let it fly and trust his receivers to make some plays for him.
    If Palko can become a little less obsessed with making the right play and a little more trusting of his instincts for making winning ones, Pitt's offense has a chance after all.
    As for the game on Saturday, which I will miss and I doubt will be shown at my parents house, here are the game notes (PDF). This matchup is against the Paladins of Furman. Furman is hoping for its first win over a Div 1-A football team since it beat North Carolina 28-3 in 1999. After what happened to Rutgers, Pitt can't take the #2 1-AA team lightly.

    As noted, the starting QB was actually a transfer from Florida. He transferred after not getting a chance to be the starter. Still, I think the toughest thing for Pitt and the fans, will be getting "up" for the game. I mean, this is the game the Pitt athletic department knew would have trouble getting people to show up for (and not just because it is Yom Kippur) -- that's why it's buy-one-get-one ticket day. Scalpers will be giving tickets away for this one.

    Monday, September 20, 2004

    WVU Barely Survives the 4th Place ACC Team at Home, Chas Automatically Gives the Hoopies the National Championship Trophy 

    In his latest half-baked rant, Chas only brought up half of the argument I made last August, and then assumed that WVU's less-than-impressive 19-16 overtime win at home over a much weakened Maryland team (which will probably wind up 4th place in the ACC at best) completely negated my conclusion that WVU is overrated. It doesn't, and WVU still is.

    But let's look at Chas's rant more closely...

    For a couple days in mid-August, I found myself engaged in a little argument
    with Lee
    over WVU. Lee was in a righteous fury over their preseason ranking.
    His argument always came back to the fact that they were continually smoked by

    Once again, that was only half of my argument. The main part of my argument was that because WVU hadn't put together a top 30 recruiting class in decades, it was unlikely (although admittedly not impossible) for them to justify a sudden jump into the AP top ten -- ESPECIALLY given that their last game (at the time) was a humiliating loss to Maryland in the Gator Bowl. But Chas isn't done yet...

    After the Pitt game, as we were listening for other scores, and learned
    first that the WVU-MD game was tied, and then that WVU pulled it out, Lee
    started his wonderful revisionism that winning for WVU wasn't enough. They had
    needed to have smoked Maryland from the beginning to the final whistle. That
    merely beating the team that had beaten them soundly 4 times in the last three
    years was insufficient.

    Insufficient for what, exactly?

    Once again, Chas chose to hear only part of what I said. I did indeed say that WVU needed to beat Maryland badly -- but ONLY so that they could (1) validify the Big East as a conference, and (2) justify a spot in the national championship game should they go undefeated. I have a hard time seeing any part of this statement as revisionism (even just the fragment that Chas quoted), because I never stated anything to the contrary beforehand. And face it, a team that can barely beat a mediocre ACC team in overtime at home (Maryland giftwrapped the win with 5 turnovers) doesn't deserve to play for the national championship IF that is their strongest win (as it likely will be). And it doesn't say much for the Big East that our likely champion can barely beat what was then the 21st ranked team in the country at home.

    But I, being a fairly unoriginal person, didn't come up with this line of reasoning on my own. On Friday night's SportsCenter, Fowler, Herbstreit, and Corso all agreed that WVU needed an "impressive showing" against Maryland to justify their ranking and a potential national championship run. At the end of Saturday night's ESPN College Gameday Final, Corso -- who, remember, originally picked WVU to play for the national championship -- said (to some laughter) that he now regretted his pick. They were clearly unimpressed with what happened in Morgantown.

    But the scariest thing I heard was on the drive home from the Nebraska game, on WEAE 1250, ESPN Radio Pittsburgh. Mel Kiper Jr. used WVU's 19-16 win to trash the Big East conference's inclusion in the BCS. He repeatedly asked how a conference whose strongest team could barely beat the 4th place ACC team at home (his stat, not mine) justified a place at the table while the Mountain West, Boise State, Fresno State, Utah, and company were all locked out in the cold. Good point. And a very scary point too. As overrated as I think WVU is, us Pitt fans ALL have to root for both their success AND the perception of their success in the national media for the good of the Big East.

    Through absolutely no fault of their own, WVU has a very weak schedule. Maryland will probably be the only ranked team that they play this year. And already, their weak schedule is beginning to hurt them in the computer rankings. Look at ESPN's latest mock BCS rankings. WVU dropped to #9 despite their win because of the computer rankings, which value strength of schedule more than humans do. How's WVU going to justify passing a one-loss Oklahoma or USC team for a shot at the title should the need arise? Well, we shall see.

    But to concede something to Chas, I did not see WVU beating Maryland at all. So I was certainly wrong that much. But what's wrong with occasionally agreeing with Ron Cook? This piece is fine. The Mountaineers do have problems with their kicking game, discipline, and at times even Rasheed Marshall. And they probably wouldn't pass a one-loss USC or Oklahoma team in the BCS. Sure, Cook is an idiot. But even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

    Hail to WVU's surviving Blacksburg in two weeks. As much as I hate to admit it, we need the Mountaineers to win there...

    ...and so somebody can't call this revisionism later (by the way, that was VERY Karl Rove of you, Chas), it wouldn't hurt if WVU beat the Hokies badly!

    Defense Deserving Credit 

    The stories today are about how well the defense did. How the defense has recovered from last year's collapse, and just how far ahead the defense is over the offense. The only other article speculates as to whether punt returner Allen Richardson will make it back onto the field this year after how he did in the game. Bendel notes that Harris will go with a slower less athletic returner who won't make big mistatkes, if the speedy athletic guy screws up badly.

    Otherwise, the papers are more concerned with the Steelers loss to Baltimore.

    Sunday, September 19, 2004

    Revising His Position 

    For a couple days in mid-August, I found myself engaged in a little argument with Lee over WVU. Lee was in a righteous fury over their preseason ranking. His argument always came back to the fact that they were continually smoked by Maryland. After the Pitt game, as we were listening for other scores, and learned first that the WVU-MD game was tied, and then that WVU pulled it out, Lee started his wonderful revisionism that winning for WVU wasn't enough. They had needed to have smoked Maryland from the beginning to the final whistle. That merely beating the team that had beaten them soundly 4 times in the last three years was insufficient.

    Congratulations, Lee. You can proudly say that you share that revisionism with Ron Cook. Feel the pride.

    Article Round-up 

    Let's start in Nebraska, where they aren't sure whether to blame Bill Callahan or the weather for only winning by 7. Honestly, I know the situation in the 'Burgh in general was bad, but the field looked in good shape and game day weather was perfect. And if you want to blame the field for the slippage by the Nebraska team, then aren't you also giving excuses to Pitt's first half performance? Homers.

    Disturbingly enough, even Smizik saw some positives in this game, albeit with some backhand smacks.
    But this is not necessarily a sad story -- not for Palko, not for the Panthers.

    In what is clearly a rebuilding year for the Panthers, this game can be a building block for the team's young quarterback and the host of inexperienced starters that surround him.

    Palko rallied in the second half, not to brilliance but to a level of play that gave hope for the future, particularly against a schedule where opponents the likes of Nebraska seldom will be seen.

    Palko will get better and while he improves the Pitt defense will win some games by itself, if necessary, in the weeks ahead.

    The defense was the surprise of the game. It never gave ground to the vaunted Nebraska rushing attack, giving up only 123 yards on 43 attempts.

    The Cornhuskers had only one drive of substance during the game and their second-half drives went something like this: 5 yards, 19, 25 , minus-2, 16 , minus-2 and 13. Small wonder they didn't score a point in the second half.

    Makes you almost think that Smizik thinks that Harris may survive the year, so he has to start straddling. What am I saying? Give it a week.

    Mike Prisuta, at the Trib., is even more willing to see the positive. Plus, Prisuta, actually seems to have attended the game. He captures some of the feel including the waves of fans who bailed in the late 3rd quarter and early 4th quarter. (Confession time: I probably would have been among the 2nd wave if Pat hadn't been in the bathroom -- he had the keys to the car holding our beer.) There is a lot of talk about how Palko got abused, but kept getting back up. Like I said earlier, it's like something finally clicked (something to be said for getting smacked around?).

    I'm absolutely fascinated by the two versions I'm seeing about the game. In Pittsburgh, there is little talk about the weather and conditions. Yes, lots of rain the night before and plenty of damage, but the field was hardly looking torn up. With the natural/hybrid turf and pro football drainage, the field looked fine, and there wasn't nearly the slipping and troubles the Nebraska writers seem to claim. Pitt was willing to blame themselves for the loss.

    It will be interesting in the rematch in Nebraska next year. You have to believe, that by next fall, Nebraska fans and writers will have convinced themselves that the game was played in 6-12 inches of standing water, and that the rain only stopped 5 minutes before kickoff. Good thing the game was televised on ABC for all to see.

    The Positives Don't Outweigh the One Big Negative 

    Specifically, we lost. Everything else is secondary. Scoreboard. The final arbiter. Just ask the Red Sox (heh).

    Having said that, there are good things to take away from this game. Some things the team can build on, and fans can have reason to hope. Some specific, some vague, and some plain old wishful thinking.

    I haven't looked at articles and columns yet. I will, and maybe I'll post links to some, but I like to get my memory/alcohol hazed recollections out there first, only the box score, play-by-play and drive chart to help with specific facts. Still can't believe how much scoring took place. Barely stayed under.

    For me, the morning started with the roll out of bed a little after 5 am. Get dressed, kiss the sleeping wife and daughter good-bye as they sleep and hit the road. The drive from my door to Pat's is about 138 miles. With no small level of pride, I can say that I broke the 2 hour barrier with a minute to spare -- and that includes stopping for a triple espresso on the Ohio Turnpike.

    Only saw one Nebraska license plate on the drive, the rest of the crew assumed that to mean most Cornhuskers arrived the night before -- judging by the redshirts in the stands, that was probably the case.

    On the drive to the stadium, saw a late model burgundy Ford Explorer with a PA license plate that said "CONF USA." Not sure what that means.

    Tailgating was excellent. There is nothing like having Maker's Mark Bourbon before 9 am with an excellent fillet mignon and Krispy Kreme donuts. Way over the top on the tailgating this weekend. Beat the hell out of the usual frozen beef patties and dogs. Plus, I wasn't tending grill. Not sure how Lee felt about it all. Seemed to catch up with him by the end of the game.

    Took game photos -- well atmosphere really (never actually took photos of the field of play) -- but I have to clean them up and reduce the size of them first. They will be posted in the next couple of days.

    As for the game.

    The defense looks so much better than last year. They were making clean, crisp tackles. None of that hitting crap. They held the Cornhuskers to under 270 total yards (139 passing, 129 rushing). Yes, they gave up 24 points, but 3 of the 4 scores came from drives inside the 10, and there was no Nebraska scoring in the 2nd half. Yes, the Nebraska offense was in transition and not on a level of USC or Oklahoma; but this was still a team that piled up big yardage in their loss to Southern Miss. This was still a really good O-line the defense was facing, and they kept the running game in check and got some pressure on the QB (2 sacks). Pitt shut them down, and kept the game from getting out of hand. On the negative, Pitt only forced one turnover (INT) against a team that allowed 11 in their first 2 games.

    Special teams played very well. Furman returned a kickoff, 96 yards for a touchdown -- the only highlight of the first half. Josh Cummings easily nailed a 38-yard field goal in his only attempt. Adam Graessele boomed some punts that kept Nebraska from getting even more short field starting positions. Coverage by the punting unit was stellar.

    Offense, though, was another story. If you work backwards you can see the positives. The first half, though was ugly. And let's face it, it started with the O-line. I don't want to say they played badly, because for them, it wasn't so. The problem is, they didn't play well. Palko was under pressure from the start. He was hurried, harried and hit. One of his 3 interceptions was just a bad throw, but the other 2 came while he was just trying to keep from being killed. The O-line's performance was also exemplified by the lack of a running game, forcing Palko to throw in 2nd and long and 3rd down situations when the Cornhuskers could tee off on him. Kirkley had a total of 28 yards (13 rushes for 23 yards and 3 catches for 5).

    Pitt committed 11 penalties in the game -- 8 from the offense -- where most were false starts or some 5 yarder variation (I'll come back to this with the coaching). Dumb penalties that came from a jittery line.

    The offense didn't score a touchdown until the 4th quarter. And that was where you could suddenly see a change in the offense -- especially Palko. The start of the 4th saw back-up Joe Flacco come in for a series. He gave up a sack and gave a poor version of the pooch punt (also called a quick kick). After that Palko came back in, and seemed much crisper. He almost seemed like he relaxed, and something had finally clicked for him. He was making the throws without trying to aim every pass. His receivers still dropped a couple (Greg Lee let one bounce off his numbers and on another didn't realize he was a yard short of the 1st down marker before going down), and he had some ugly throws, but you cold see that it was if he finally "got it." The counter argument, was that he got some more time to throw and Nebraska was starting to drop into more of a prevent defense; and it's hard to totally disagree, but there was definitely something and a growing confidence from Palko, his receivers and even the line, that if they give him a chance he will make the throw.

    To some degree, maybe you can compare this to the Texas A&M game for Rod Rutherford 2 years ago. Pitt's offense looked pathetic most of the game, and then in the 2nd half, Rutherford seemed to find the switch. Pitt still lost, but things finally started falling into place for Rutherford. Wishful thinking? Rod had Fitzgerald. Perhaps. We won't know for a few more weeks. I'm just saying there is something in my gut...

    As for the coaching. As this season has gotten underway, I have found myself defending Walt Harris from columnists who seem to dislike him. Not because I think Harris is a great coach, but because their attacks are personal and not based on what he has done on the field or even with recruiting. Harris seems to have pissed them off on a personal level. And now that he is obviously on the hot seat, they are moving in for the kill. I find this dishonest, cheap, petty and not in the best interest of Pitt. If you want to go after Harris be legitimate about it, not a wussy. This is somewhat frustrating for me, because if there is an area that drives me nuts about Harris, it's his actual X-O coaching and his absolute Achilles Heel: in-game adjustments.

    This game, had its share. Things that drive you nuts as a fan of Pitt. Some of the play calling, the seemingly deliberate Brian Billick/Mike Shanahan "I'm an offensive genius and I'll prove it right now, even if it costs me the game" plan of attack. Makes you crazy. There were 2. TWO! Illegal substitution penalties on Pitt in this game. Both came with the offense -- which Walt calls. No one else he can blame. Again, go back to the Texas A&M game a couple years ago when the same dumb penalty cost Pitt an extra point (swinging gate) and then committed again when they had to go for 2 points to tie. Walt, doesn't make it easy to be in his corner at times.

    I'm going to cut this a little short, because I've gone on longer at points than I thought. Hopefully the others will add their thoughts.

    The offense, especially the passing game, showed signs of life by the end. Palko is definitely improving, but needs to make better decisions. The O-line must somehow get better or this will definitely be a 5-6 win season. Defense is playing very well. Receivers are still too willing to give up on the play and not fight for the ball. I don't know about the running game. The special teams are solid.

    There's a bourbon in the kitchen with my name on it.

    Friday, September 17, 2004

    More Prognostications 

    Yesterday seemed to be the optimism of predictions. Today, the pessimism.

    CollegeFootballNews (via Fox Sports) picks Nebraska 27-13.

    Stewart Mandel of SI.com doesn't think Pitt scores a TD, losing 24-3.

    From SportsAdvisors.com (also via Fox Sports) comes this commentary about betting the game.
    Nebraska is 1-1 SU and 0-1 ATS after losing at home last week to two-touchdown underdog Southern Miss. The Cornhuskers are only 4-6 against the number on the road the past two years, but have covered seven of their last 11 overall.

    Pittsburgh beat Ohio 24-3 as a 17-point home chalk in its season opener last week. The Panthers have covered eight of their last 11 as a home pup, but are only 5-8 against the spread at Heinz Field the past two years.

    Pitt is still a 4 point underdog. I take those comments to mean they just don't know about this game. I do know that SportsBook.com has the over/under at a whopping 42.5. I'd bet the under if the wife would actually let me, and I had money, and an online account.

    The Unknown 

    That's really what this game is, isn't it? We just don't know what we are going to see from Pitt tomorrow? What about Nebraska? Crowd size and make-up? The game conditions?

    The weather has shifted again. The previous few days, it looked like there would be rain for the game, now they are saying it all hits Pittsburgh today and tonight, but nothing on Tuesday. We don't even know about the weather. For Pitt, it would seem that a rainy game would be best, keep either team from throwing too much, see what the running games could do on offense. Count on the defense to step up. Make it a low scoring affair. (Of course on a personal level, since I have to get up at some ungodly hour to drive from Cleveland, tailgate really early and sit in the stands no rain isn't a bad thing from that perspective.)

    As previously posted, Nebraska will be looking to blitz and bring pressure on Palko and the entire offensive line. That means that the offensive line will have to play its best game. Ever. They know it, but they still have to do it. This is especially true for the guy protecting Palko's blind side, right tackle, Dale Williams. For Palko, though, he must not to be so ready to rabbit out of the pocket the minute the pressure starts coming. A difficult thing, to be sure, given how well he knows the O-line, but he was a little too willing to run rather than stand in there. Nebraska thinks Palko and the Pitt offense will try to open things up more in this game. That they didn't show much of the playbook in the Ohio game.

    The defense, which isn't really being talked about too much, will also face the difficult task of battling the Nebraska O-line. Nebraska's offense has mostly adapted well to the new offense, except for making 11 turnovers in the first 2 games. It was what cost them against Southern Miss.

    Mike Prisuta of the Trib. is a bit late on his column about the negatives of former walk-on Joe DelSardo being a starting WR. Yes it's a sad commentary on the depth and issues of talent and desire at the position that he could win the job. The problem is, the issue of walk-ons and depth was discussed by the beat writers back in training camp, when Walt Harris lost his cool. It's a little late now to just notice.

    In an amusing/embarrassing sidebar, Pitt had an online auction to be the "ultimate fan" for the game. Watch the teams warm-up on the field, go out for the coin toss, sit in a club seat and have food and drink brought to you. The winning bid was nearly $1200. Problem is, the guy who bid the highest for it was a Nebraska fan. Pitt is refusing to let him wear his red gear out for the game, so they turned down the bid.

    The Pitt basketball teams (men and women) will be signing autographs before the game. At halftime the men's team will be introduced and they will receive their Big East (regular season) Championship rings.

    Final thing, the weekly Q&A with P-G Pitt beat reporter, Paul Zeise, is out. He gave a very candid and truthful answer that bears reprinting:
    Q: Why does Pitt continue to struggle with recruiting in its backyard?

    Bob Lichtenfels of Robinson

    ZEISE: There are a number of reasons, but one of the biggest is the Panthers haven't capitalized by winning games when they had momentum. The 2001 season could have been a real turning point as Pitt had just returned to the national dialogue, had brand new facilities, it was the first year in Heinz Field and the Panthers were involved with some of the best kids around. Then Pitt went out and lost to South Florida and fell to 1-5. They did rebound and make it to a bowl but by then, the damage was done. Last year was another chance for Pitt to show it had truly made strides into the big time and we all know what happened there.

    Kids want to play at big-time programs and the few windows that Pitt had to prove it was one have closed. There are also a number of Western Pennsylvania high school coaches who have lost confidence in Walt Harris and the program. Once that happens, it is very difficult to have much success. The scary thing for Pitt fans should be that among the top seniors in the WPIAL this year, I can't think of one who has Pitt among his top two and many don't even have Pitt on their radar.

    All of that being said, let's not forget that both Tyler Palko and Darrelle Revis were arguably the top players in Western Pennsylvania in their respective classes, so there have been some successes as well. And while I realize that both Andrew Johnson (Miami) and Anthony Morelli (Penn State) were rated higher than Revis, I'm fairly certain Revis is the best player of the three.

    Winning makes recruiting a lot easier.

    Quick Keys and Some Predictions

    <>Pitt O-line has to be better than last week, just to look as bad.
    Kirkley needs to have a big game on the ground.
    Receivers have to actually go to the ball, give Palko a little help.
    Defense needs to get pressure up front, and stop the run early.
    Secondary needs an early interception, and can't play too far off the receivers.

    There will be a pooch punt.
    Any booing by the fans at the offense will not be directed at Palko so much as the ineptitude of the O-line and Walt Harris.
    One of our group will "fall asleep" during the game from being up too early and tailgating too quickly.
    Pitt wins 13-10.

    Thursday, September 16, 2004


    Regular comments contributor, B.B. notes that Tony Meija at Sportsline is also picking Pitt, 17-12. Of course, he is also picking Syracuse over Cinci; Ohio St. over NC St.; Auburn over LSU; and Maryland over WVU.

    ESPN Insider (subscription) for picking college football, Rich Podolsky, didn't pick the Nebraska-Pitt game, but did have this to say about it.
    Pitt is very young and is trying to shore up its bullfighter defense against the running game this year. Nebraska showed a power running game last week despite the move to the West Coast offense, but also displayed a very unstable quarterback situation. If Nebraska loses again this week, new coach Bill Callahan shouldn't open the Sunday papers.
    I read that to mean he has no clue how this game will go. He also picked Syracuse, and marked NC State as a "best bet" to win.

    Heading for the Final Round-Up 

    I am not looking forward to rolling out of bed on Saturday morning, even earlier than usual, to make the roadie. The true downside of the noon start. I still think of 3:30 start times as ideal. On the road around 9, tailgaiting by noon, game, then post-game 'gating, and maybe head home around 9. Shame we never have any like that any more. That's just a roundabout way of saying I won't be looking at the final batch of stories on Saturday. On to today (which for some reason, already feels like a Friday).

    Wide Receiver, Greg Lee, has his mysterious leg ailment return. He missed practice yesterday and looks to be questionable. I'd say Coach Harris is a little frustrated.
    "He doesn't have a hamstring; that went from the back of his leg to the front of his leg," Pitt coach Walt Harris said, referring to what was later diagnosed as a quadriceps injury. "I don't know what happened. He was limping early in practice, so we sent him in to get treatment."
    Since he has previously questioned Lee's injuries in the press before, I am guessing that Harris believes Lee responds to being called out publicly. Either that, or Harris is trying to drive the kid away.

    Looks like the Harmon forecast has Pitt pulling the upset -- Pitt 19 Nebraska 17 -- and that doesn't sit well with Steve Smith of HuskerBlog. He even decides to call Pitt the "Pampers." Get it? Panthers sounds like Pampers? So creative and innovative. I've heard better insults from a 7 year old.

    That isn't to say I disagree with what he thinks the Nebraska defense will do -- blitz and bring pressure on Palko. Actually, I'm sure of it. Pitt is weak on the O-line and John Simonitis is still expected to be out. Add in the fact that Nebraska's starting cornerback and defensive end are doubtful for the game, and it suggests that they don't want to give Palko time to find an open receiver. Oh, and that is also what Nebraska says they are going to do.
    As of late Tuesday afternoon, Nebraska left cornerback Fabian Washington had never seen Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko play.

    Not that it matters much. Whether it was Palko or Dan Marino behind center Saturday, Nebraska's prevailing sentiment on defense would be the same.

    "Pressure," Washington said before repeating himself for emphasis. "Pressure. All day long. He's going to get a lot of it. I hope that team is preparing for it because I know our plan is to put pressure on him."
    This means that Kirkley and the running game has to be big. Pitt will need to establish the run if Palko is to get any kind of time to throw. I expect at least 2 3-and-outs from Pitt in the first 4 possessions on offense as they try to run the ball. And I think they have to. You also have to factor in the weather. The effects of Ivan are expected to make this a very wet game. Wet games are all about running the ball. Nebraska is well aware of how inexperienced the Pitt offense is, and that Kirkley will get the ball. It will be interesting to see how FB/RB Tim Murphy will be used. Will he get much chance to do more than block? Will he be effective as a RB to spell Kirkley? What about Furman? Will Freshman Brandon Mason play? Lots of questions, no real answers yet.

    Of course on the other side of the ball, Nebraska is still adjusting to the West Coast Offense. They are piling up yardage, but their QB has struggled with interceptions as he leaves the option style behind. Nebraska appears to have a mighty mite at running back. He also catches the ball well, and is easily hidden behind the O-line.

    Obviously, the Nebraska offense will be a huge test for Pitt. Let's face it, Ohio was not much of a challenge for the defense. You could argue the defense proved nothing, as Ohio shot themselves in the foot on several drives where they made quick completions for 10-15 yards. Not a lot of yards after the catch, but they kept moving the chains until they made stupid mistakes, dropped the ball or turned it over.

    I really don't know how to predict this game right now. I just have no familiarity with Nebraska. Pitt's offense played a lousy first game against a bad opponent, that may have had a bit to do with jitters or not. The weather will be a factor. We'll see.

    In a final note, the College Football Radio Network will not be broadcasting the Nebraska-Pitt game. They are based in Mobile, Alabama and could not get out before Ivan arrived. They may do a future Pitt game.

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