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.

Friday, September 30, 2005

For the Alumni Newsletter 

Well, you rarely get information about these kinds of career moves.
A routine drug investigation led investigators from the state attorney general's office to a sophisticated prostitution and drug ring operated by a former NFL and University of Pittsburgh lineman and a Plum woman.

The business advertised extensively in City Paper to solicit customers and recruit employees, while principles John Robert "Buck" Buczkowski and Amy Schifano used cellular telephones to stay in touch with drug sources, dealers and the prostitutes in their employ, according to documents filed yesterday with criminal charges by Attorney General Tom Corbett.
Buczkowski, who helped collect debts from reluctant prostitution customers in addition to his other duties, is charged with 11 criminal charges, including criminal conspiracy, possession and delivery of a controlled substance, promoting prostitution and participating in a corrupt organization.

Let's hope the City Paper can withstand the loss of advertising.

Actually, the Trib coverage has a little more fun with this.
Bob Buczkowki's second career ended much like his first -- in a bust.

Authorities on Thursday charged the former University of Pittsburgh defensive tackle and first-round NFL draft pick with leading a $1 million prostitution and drug ring in Monroeville.

Buczkowski, 41, of Monroeville, who made ESPN's "Biggest First-Round Busts'' list of the worst-performing NFL first-round picks, helped run an escort service along with his girlfriend, Amy Schifano, 29, of Plum, authorities said.

Buczkowski was the "muscle" behind the operation, and Schifano was the "madam," state Attorney General Tom Corbett said, announcing an 18-month grand jury investigation that resulted in charges against 10 people.

"This case is about sex, drugs and money, plain and simple,'' Corbett said at a news conference outside Monroeville police headquarters. "These defendants created a criminal enterprise designed to profit from sexual exploitation and drug addiction.''
Buczkowski was considered one of the best prep linemen in the country his senior year at Gateway High School, and a former Pitt football coach said Buczkowski had "natural athletic ability'' and would be a "good choice in the (NFL) draft.''

He was selected by the Los Angeles Raiders as the 24th pick in the first round of the 1986 NFL Draft. He went on to play for the Phoenix Cardinals in 1989 and the Cleveland Browns in 1990 before he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 1991. Plagued by back problems, Buczkowski was cut by Seattle in August 1991 after five years in the NFL.

I'm guessing they weren't working the high end whores, or the market for prostitution is really depressed in Pittsburgh. It wasn't meth whore prices, but not escort level. The prices were apparently $150-$200 per, um, appointment.

Yes, It Is Wide Open. We Know. 

In addition to the Wannstedt-Schiano relationship storyline, the other one we can expect to have flogged is that the Big East is now wide open with the Louisville loss.

A few articles with that theme today.
The Big East Conference is now officially a free-for-all.

And, believe it or not, the 1-3 Pitt Panthers still have a chance for their second consecutive Bowl Championship Series berth. Because, after then-No. 9 Louisville's shocking 45-14 upset loss to South Florida, there is no clear-cut favorite to win the Big East title.

Certainly, West Virginia is the frontrunner at 4-0 with a victory over Syracuse. But if Louisville, the only team that could actually be considered a power in the watered-down league before the year began, can lose to South Florida, anything can happen.

So the Panthers must hope that anything probably will.

"It's a whole new season," said Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis. "We're going out to win the Big East. We're going out to go back to the BCS."
It is understandable that the feeling among the teams and players should be "Why not us?"
With Louisville, the odds-on favorite to win the Big East title in its first year in the conference, embarrassingly upset last week by South Florida, a projected also-ran, there is new optimism around the league that the championship, indeed, is up for grabs.

Pittsburgh and Rutgers, both of whom have underachieved so far this season, are two of the teams that share in that optimism. They'll be meeting in the weekend's only conference game at 8 p.m. today on national television (ESPN2) as each tries put a leg up in the race and prove that it can be a contender.

Surprisingly, the game isn't a sellout. It is expected to be over 35,000 fans at the game. Rutgers joint holds about 42,500. That's still enough of an expected crowd for the local paper to warn about traffic problems. Especially with the parking lots opening around 4 for tailgating.

Then there is this story from the Rutgers school paper ruminating on the football team ever finding a rivalry game.
But what about when you think of the words "rivalry," "Rutgers" and "college football"?

Drawing a blank? Me too.

As we count down to tonight's Big East season opener, we loyal sons and daughters of Rutgers are left pondering what conference foe will develop into our annual football rival.

Which school can we circle on our pocket schedules? On which weekend can we begin tailgating at even more obscene hours of the morning? And which mascot doll can we hang in effigy from the top of our RVs and torch on the grill with our kielbasa in a show of school pride?

Neither basketball team is at a loss for rivals. Coach Stringer has the pick of the litter with Connecticut, Notre Dame, Boston College, et al. Coach Waters, likewise, with Connecticut, Syracuse, Seton Hall, and so on.

But for a program without a winning season in the last 12 years?

It is anyone's guess whom Greg Schiano would choose.

He could take a big stride toward clearing up that picture tonight with a home victory over a former mentor and colleague - Dave Wannstedt's Pittsburgh Panthers.
Um... No thanks. We'll pass.

Trying To Take Seriously 

I'm sure the players and coaches are taking Rutgers seriously. I am concerned about this game, because I am sure of nothing at this point.

The media, however, is having a hard time generating serious energy about this.

The Scarlet Knights have not had a winning season in more than a decade, have not won at least eight games in a season since 1979 and have not finished with more than two Big East Conference wins since 1992. And Rutgers has never been to a bowl game outside of its home state of New Jersey -- and even then, it only managed to qualify for the Garden State Bowl once in the four years the bowl existed.

The past six seasons, Rutgers has won a total of four Big East games and has gone winless in the conference three times. In fact, Rutgers somehow managed to finish behind Temple in the Big East standings four times in the past six seasons -- yet it was the Owls who got kicked out of the conference for, in large part, football incompetence.

Despite all of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the refrain from those who follow or support the Rutgers program, or the opponent that is preparing to play the Scarlet Knights, annually goes something like this: "Rutgers is getting better, this is indeed the Scarlet Knights' year to turn it around."

Although Rutgers rarely shows much improvement, every season opens with Rutgers and its opponents talking about a new improved Scarlet Knights.

Tonight Pitt (1-3) plays at Rutgers (2-1) in the Big East opener for both teams. Naturally, it is the Panthers turn to tell the world what an underrated powerhouse the Scarlet Knight are.

Rutgers is expected to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in the Big East this year. This has as much to do with expectations of some new teams being worse than them, than Rutgers being that much better.

Now that Temple has been kicked out of the Big East, Rutgers is the reigning doormat of the conference.

Sure, Cincinnati and South Florida likely will battle the Scarlet Knights for that title, although USF raised its stock with a win against Louisville last week, but Rutgers has a lot of work to do to erase its sorry history.

But when Pittsburgh faces the Scarlet Knights tonight in Piscataway, N.J., the Panthers believe they won't face the same team they pummeled last year.

"They're not the old Rutgers," Pitt defensive end Chris McKillop said. "Rutgers has made huge strides in making their program a lot better. In the past, Rutgers wasn't as good, but in the present and future I think they're doing a lot to build their program."

The Panthers should be too much for Rutgers to handle on offense, while the Scarlet Knights have just a few offensive weapons. Quarterback Ryan Hart has 30 career starts and has completed 60 percent of his passes this season for 719 yards and five touchdowns. He has not been picked off. Hart was 31-for-57 for 351 yards against Pitt last year.

Pitt's offense may be a little deeper at positions like RB, TE and WR; but the Rutgers starters at those spots are close to equal if not a little better. And they seem to have a good offensive line. A line that opens space for FB Brian Leonard to barrel through, but has protected their QB very well. Allowing only 3 sacks in 3 games.

Still, there are things that make you start to think, yes Pitt will still win this game because their coach could very well be that dumb.

And then there is, of course, another more recent trend the Scarlet Knights need to stem tonight, one they should accept a bit more culpability for. Of the 14 wins Schiano has at Rutgers, only one has come after his team has had an off-week.

In fact, in going 1-7 following bye weeks, the Scarlet Knights have suffered some of their most disturbing defeats when they're in the position they are today. Schiano said he studies procedure every year and every year he polls new staff members for their experiences. But neither led to any wholesale preparation changes this year. Quite frankly, he said, he thinks his team has played well coming out of byes.

"We don't necessarily win them, but relative to what we had been playing, we played good football," he said. "I don't think we come out of byes and are just horrible."

To repeat: Rutgers is 1-7 after a bye under Coach Schiano, and he doesn't see much of a problem. He's still seeing "moral victories" in that the team didn't really play badly, they just lose.

Honestly, the attitude from Schiano makes me feel better about Pitt's chances than anything else.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Random Info 

I've stated on many occasions I don't gamble, despite my interest in betting lines. Pitt is getting a point in the game tomorrow against Rutgers. The thing that caught me off guard is the over/under is 48 to 48.5. Apparently others betting folk are curious about that.

"Oddsmakers most likely believe that the public will look at the history here, and overlook the fact that Pittsburgh stinks," says Covers Expert Shawn Torrey. "Trend players will eat this stuff up, and don't forget that very few people like to bet unders.

"Even with the last two meetings between these clubs sailing over the total, it is hard to figure where this number comes from."

Of course, Covers, um seems to be hedging on the whole thing.

The Scarlet Knights haven't covered a spread this season, largely because their defense has a minor problem: they can't tackle.

"It's just bad habits that return," sophomore safety Ron Girault said. "You're taught from when you're little to tackle with your head, but the natural reaction is to turn away at the last minute. We also need be in better position and wrap up the runner."

Wait a minute. They're having trouble tackling? That's like a hockey team admitting they're having trouble skating.

A game against Illinois in the season opener was the only serious competition Rutgers has seen so far. Defenders flailed and floundered against shifty ball carriers in the open field, allowing Illinois to run for more than 200 yards in a close loss. Even though opponents have only scored 14 points a game, the Knights defense is ranked 82nd among Division I teams because of the 410 yards they've allowed on average.

So it seems the door is open for Pitt to put their ugly start behind them and build on the 41-0 whooping they put on Youngstown State last weekend.

"Rutgers defense is just what they need to get healthy on offense," says Covers Expert Tony George. "With the current line, it is a slight advantage to take the team that has more speed and depth, and who has played on the road against stiff opponents."
Ultimately, they give a slight edge to Pitt.

Here's the AP story on the continuing Wannstedt-Schiano are friends storyline.

Pat Forde at ESPN.com puts Coach Wannstedt at the bottom of the rankings for new coaches thus far.

13. Dave Wannstedt (36): The good news for Miles, Harris, Orgeron and every other coach off to a rocky start: at least they're not as bad off as Wanny. Maybe beating up on I-AA Youngstown State and heading into a weak Big East will purge Pitt's pathetic 0-3 start. If not, some productive early recruiting will be the only positive for Wannstedt to cling to heading into 2006.
Anyone with a counter argument?

Courtesy of Big East Basketball Blog, this article that includes a list of what each BE team spent from their athletics department in 2004.

Total athletic expenses for Big East programs from the 2004 season, the last for which complete data is available. Figures are dollars reported spent on athletics on the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act forms, which universities are required to file annually with the U.S. Department of Education. Athletic revenue for each school might be lower or higher than the amount spent.

1. Notre Dame $43,119,402
2. Connecticut $36,337,819
3. Louisville $35,170,247
4. West Virginia $34,454,851
5. Syracuse $34,307,017
6. Pittsburgh $31,769,592
7. Rutgers $31,940,493
8. St. John's $24,072,910
9. Cincinnati $22,908,842
10. South Florida $18,566,177
11. Georgetown $17,705,058
12. Villanova $17,007,533
13. Seton Hall $15,260,330
14. Marquette $15,157,774
15. Providence $14,010,397
16. DePaul $13,497,690.
Final nugget that I present strictly for informational purposes. Courtesy of John Cole, blogger and WVU Communications Prof. West Virginia ranks #1 in the number of strip clubs versus population. It helps that the population of WV is only around 1.81 million. The article says nothing about overall quality. That is unless you go for meth whores.

Still Piling 

Just because Pitt beat a Division 1-AA team this past weekend, doesn't mean the national media isn't still taking whacks at Pitt. Bruce Feldman on his ESPN.com blog (Insider Subs.) lists his ten biggest surprises so far, both up and down.
6-Pitt (Down): I was surprised when the Panthers got blasted at home by Notre Dame. I was stunned when they got beat by Ohio in the follow-up. (Girlfriend: You're still watching that game? C'mon, does anyone really care about the outcome of that one? Me: Only one fool who thought Pitt was a top-15 program, and sadly, you're dating him.) If they lose to Rutgers, I think you'll start seeing Wannymustgo.com or at least Nomorestache.com spring up.
Stewart Mandel at SI.com wonders what happened to a bunch of players who ended last year as studs and this year to date have been duds.
Pittsburgh QB Tyler Palko: One year, you're walking into Notre Dame Stadium, leading your team to a dramatic last-second victory and cursing on national television, the next you're walking into Ohio's Peden Stadium, throwing two interceptions that turn into touchdowns and getting cursed by your own fans. Man, can this sport turn on you in a hurry.
What fans are cursing him? Despite Palko's problems so far this season, he's been treated very fairly by the fans. But then, that would ruin the cursing parallel Mandel was shoehorning in there.

Just Good Friends 

The Wannstedt-Schiano friendship/mentor-pupil meme continues apace. This article chronicles how they got to know each other.

They stumbled upon each other through a mutual friend nearly a decade ago. Wannstedt, head coach of the Chicago Bears at the time, had never met this 29-year-old hotshot assistant coach from Penn State. He needed to fill a defensive assistant vacancy. Nothing too complicated. Just looking for someone who could blend in with the rest of the staff and teach the players without causing a stir.

Bears defensive coordinator Bob Slowik knew that Schiano, a young defensive backfield coach for the Nittany Lions for five years, would be an ideal fit.

"Bring him in," Wannstedt told Slowik. "Let's talk to the kid."

The meeting wasn't exactly filled with fireworks.

"I remember going on the interview," Schiano said. "Dave is such a low-key guy. They put a premium on the people that they know and people they can trust. The biggest part was to see if I could get along with the staff and add to the staff chemistry. Dave's as good a guy to work for as there is. He's demanding, but he's fair and honest. I learned a lot from being around him."

Maybe it's just a different management style, but that bothers me. I'd like to think the premium is on ideas and ways to make the players better (and in college, add recruit like a fiend). The main criteria seems to be: gets along well with others. I am now deeply concerned about that regarding Pitt's assistant coaches. Maybe I'm worrying over nothing.

The relationship is also part of the Big East Notebook on ESPN.com (Insider subs.).

Schiano owes a lot to Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who hired Schiano when Wannstedt was coaching the Chicago Bears and then recommended him to Butch Davis to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami.

"He's been a real mentor to me," Schiano said. "He gave me an opportunity to get in the NFL. I learned a lot of football, about handling players. I think that's one of Dave's strengths. Butch and he are good friends, and I didn't know Butch at all. That certainly was a big help for me."

Schiano worked with nickel backs when he joined the Bears, then was elevated to secondary coach. Wannstedt saw an eager young coach, which is why he recommended Schiano to Davis.

"He was outstanding -- a great communicator, very smart," Wannstedt said.

The notebook also suggests that Schiano could be on the hotseat if he can't beat a vulnerable Pitt team at home. Otherwise, it just rehashes stuff already covered in the last couple days: injuries for Pitt; Rutgers working on fundamentals; Blades speaking well of Leonard; Pitt not losing any commits; Wannstedt accidentally naming recruits, etc.

Nerves Already Fraying 

Nervous about the Rutgers game? I am. It doesn't matter that Pitt is 19-3 against them and has won the last 6.

I was starting to feel good about it. Thinking about how Pitt could exploit the Rutgers defense and shut down their offense. Now, I'm starting to worry that it will be another ugly Nebraska affair. It was reading the stories today.

The Scarlet Knights are susceptible to giving up yards because they bring a lot of pressure and play man coverage on the outside receivers. When they don't get to the quarterback, the opponent has an opportunity for a big play by exploited a one-on-one matchup.

Quarterback Tyler Palko said the Panthers have success against Rutgers because they been able to pick up the blitzes and make big plays in the passing game.

However, that was in a system under Walt Harris that emphasized the passing game and utilized different blocking schemes with maximum protection. This year's offense has more emphasis on shorter passes and a power running game.
Palko said the Panthers have used the Scarlet Knights' aggressiveness against them in the past and expects a similar approach tomorrow. But don't expect the Panthers will revert back to the pass-happy outfit they were for the past eight seasons.

"We have to stay balanced," Palko said. "That's a pretty boring answer, but you have to be able to mix it up, especially with teams that like to pressure so much. We were able to hit some big plays and score on them when they are in man coverage, but the downside to facing man coverage is, when they get to the quarterback they can force bad decisions, and that usually means the turnovers come and the points go the other way."

In other words, Rutgers defense actually plays the correct style to beat Pitt's offense. The O-line which hasn't really shown any ability to pick up the blitz or slow down a D-line will be under continual pressure to protect Palko once more.

I'd like to type that it is just gamesmanship by Pitt coaches, to keep talking about being balanced on offense, and they are actually planning to exploit the Rutgers defense by stretching the field and provide Palko with some max protection. I don't believe that however. I think they are being honest.
"We've got to be very, very balanced in what we do offensively to have a chance to move the ball," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We've got to be efficient in the red zone and we've got to be efficient on third down. That's going to be the difference in this game."
"It's important to get the running game on track," Cavanaugh said. "We're not good enough to be one-dimensional."
The thing is, the running game is a little thin this week.
Tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling (ankle) missed his third consecutive practice and is doubtful for tomorrow. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said he will be a game-time decision, but generally players who haven't practiced during the week have been held out. ... Marcus Furman (ankle) is out and Brandon Mason (ankle) is doubtful. Rashad Jennings (shoulder), though, has practiced the past two days and is probable. Tim Murphy (shoulder) returned to practice as well and could share time at tailback with Ray Kirkley and Jennings and at fullback with Kellen Campbell.
Losing Stephens-Howling really hurts not just because of his production, but the whole change of pace he brings to the running game.

This is where I find real fault with Coaches Wannstedt and Cavanaugh and their offensive strategy. It's the same thing we faulted Walt Harris. A stubbornness about doing things one way, and not taking full advantage of what the defense gives and their weaknesses. So wedded to the "system" and not making adjustments.

Rutgers with the upfront pressure is designed to help the weak secondary. There's a reason their #1 and #3 leading tacklers are safeties. They are playing them closer to or in the box. Well, also poor tackling. Something Rutgers has claimed to be working on during their bye week.

Last year, when Pitt crushed Rutgers for Homecoming, Pitt was able to jump out quickly thanks to 4 picks thrown by Rutgers and picking apart their pass defense. This year, Rutgers has only one interception and one fumble in 3 games.

H.B. Blades -- and his family -- gets a puff piece as Rutgers Coach Schiano recalls his time in Miami.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Coaching Wannstedt 

Honestly, given Coach Wannstedt's present reputation as a coach -- especially after the way things ended with the Dolphins and the first 3 games of the season -- if he wasn't our coach, this story on Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano's relationship with Dave Wannstedt would just cause you to start laughing (or if you were a Rutgers fan, weep).
"He's been a mentor of mine that I've looked up to for a long time," Schiano said Sunday. "Dave is a great person and has treated my family really well. I think he's a great coach."
Greg Schiano is 14-35 at Rutgers and has never had a winning season.

Hmmm. The other team showed up. Guess we still have to play.

Unfortunately, this would appear to be one of those themes you can bet the ESPN2 D crew calling the Friday night game will be banging.
Wannstedt and Rutgers coach Greg Schiano have a history. "If you coach long enough and you're around good people, good people are going to end up in head coaching positions," Wannstedt said. "Greg and I are good friends, but I keep the business part of it separate from the personal." In 1996, when Wannstedt was head coach of the Chicago Bears, he hired Schiano as an assistant. Wannstedt also recommended Schiano to Butch Davis at Miami, where Schiano was defensive coordinator from 1998-2000. "(Wannstedt) has been a real mentor to me," Schiano said. "I learned a lot (about) football and about handling players from him. I think that's one of Dave's strengths."
There was an article on struggling coaches in their first year, especially when overhauling the system.

Trying to install a power running game with personnel suited for the West Coast offense is akin to mixing oil with water.

Go ahead and ask Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who is having trouble adjusting his system to the personnel he inherited from former coach Walt Harris.

Wannstedt is a believer in old-school football -- get a tough defense and a good running game and you'll be successful. It's the system in which he has used all of his life, with varying amounts of success, at his several coaching stops.

But trying to run block with smaller linemen who were recruited to pass block and identifying running backs and receivers that best fit his system has produced disappointing results through the first month of the season.

The article has comments from other coaches who had a less than perfect first year. At least Bucknuts called it right when OSU Coach Tressel was asked the question on his weekly teleconference.

Tressel was also asked by a Pittsburgh newspaper reporter about being a first-year coach and the types of roadblocks that can occur (the question may have been influenced by University of Pittsburgh first-year head coach Dave Wannstedt's rough start). Tressel, who first arrived at OSU in 2001, talked about some of his experiences during his first season.

"I think it's more of a (case of) you haven't had the time to develop relationships," Tressel said. "Teams and families and communities or churches or whatever are built on relationships, and if you got in there in January and you run around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to make everyone happy from the alumni to the booster clubs to getting to know your players and putting a new staff together, you just run out of moments to develop relationships. One thing you feel better about when you're in year two is that you know everyone so much better, and they know you and you know one another's needs and expectations, and so that first year is really a grind from a standpoint of if you really want to get to know one another, that takes time, and time is the one thing you don't have much of.

"I really think it has a lot to do with the personnel that's returning and just how much experience you have coming back. You see some people take over teams that were very experienced and had showed that they could win, felt that they could win, and the relationships would be developed when you were doing that. Then other times, you take on situations where you don't have quite as much experienced personnel, you have quite a transition as to who's going to play, and you throw that together with the lack of time to build as strong of relationships you'd like to have, that makes it a difficult year. Really, it still comes back to the personnel involved."

Pitt would appear to be somewhere in between those.

Good Cheer 

Once more, via Fanblogs, Athlon Sports has the next batch of cheerleaders for whom you can vote.

Click on the photo of the Indiana cheerleader and you will see two good reasons why she is the leading vote getter at this time.

Blogpoll Questions, Round Table #8 

This one is being hosted by ParadigmBlog (another Michigan blogger).

1. We are now 1/3 of the way through the season and things are starting to shake out. With that in mind, who are your picks to win each of the BCS conferences, as well as your choice for an at-large berth from a non-BCS league (none is an option)?

Big East: Louisville
ACC: Miami
SEC: Florida
Big 11: Ohio St.
Big 12: Texas
At-Large: ND

Not particularly exciting, but that's the way it seems to be shaking out in my view. Shakiest pick would be Miami. I can still see VT gakking some time in October. Too many years of doing it, especially when they get this high in the rankings and bandwagon.

Alabama would need luck in staying healthy to win the SEC. They lack depth for the whole season.

Louisville may have blown that game to USF, but after seeing the Hoopies struggle with East Carolina they aren't ready.

2. What team currently out of the Top 10 (AP or Coach's, doesn't really matter), has the best chance of ending up in the title game?

I hate to type this, but Notre Dame. This is the title game. Not just getting into the BCS. Since I doubt Alabama can do it, and Michigan State arguably has the same problem with concerns about injuries and depth, that leaves the Domers. They have the schedule to allow them to rise all the way to the top. To do it, they'd have to beat Tennessee and USC, but then there'd also be no argument that they deserve to go.

3. When you're watching a game, what type of fan can you absolutely not tolerate being around?

You know, this year I've got a new entry for the bottom of the list. The "State the Obvious" guy (SOG). Encountered this freak breed at the ND-Pitt game. Guy was a ND fan a row behind me. After every play, when they announced the yardage gained or lost on a play, he'd repeat it to his buddy like it was unique news.

PA Voice: Darius Walker for 4 yards on the carry on 1st down. 2nd and 6.

SOG: (Clapping and turning to his buddy) We got 4 yards! Only 6 more for a first down!
PA Voice: Palko's pass complete to Gill for 3 yards. 3rd and 2.

SOG: They got 3 yards. They only need to get 2 yards for a first down! Stop them D!

Imagine that for an entire game.

Bonus: A sizable portion of Michigan fandom is in full meltdown mode (myself especially). Some have chosen to sequester themselves for this weekend's game against MSU to avoid scaring children, causing long-term psychological damage to those in the near vicinity, and most especially to avoid jail (I'm not saying this is me per se). Anyways, we need some help. Give us some ideas for replacements for LLLyd Carr (3 L's for the number of losses per year, and no O this year either). Assistant coaches, head coaches elsewhere, etc. Please, give us something to look forward to.

Paul Hackett. He's an offensive and QB Guru, you know. Joe Montana and Curtis Martin like him. Pitt and USC fans can guarantee that you won't have 3 losses in a year. 3 wins, you have a shot.

A Pick-'em Game For Sure 

This will be a game to test the defense. They were treated harshly by Notre Dame , and have claimed to have made strides and improvements. While the raw numbers may suggest they have improved -- 19th ranked D and only 1 offensive TDs in the last 3 games -- they came against the 102nd (Ohio) and 107th (Nebraska) offenses in Div. 1-A and a Div. 1-AA team ranked 60th in offense. (In fairness, ND is presently the 13th ranked offense.) Coach Wannstedt actually can state this with a straight face.
"In my opinion, behind Notre Dame they are the second most talented offense we've faced," Wannstedt said.
Rutgers has a good offense and balance on it. In Brian Leonard, the teams leading rusher, there is a power back that is tough to bring down.
"He's a very, very underrated player," [H.B.] Blades said. "He's the best running back we'll face this year. In fact, he is the best running back I've played against since I've been in college. That combination of power and speed is amazing. Some of the runs he makes in the open field, he can cut like a tailback. He jumps over safeties when they try and cut him, but then he runs over linebackers and defensive linemen -- his combination of power and speed just makes him the best at what he does."
He's 6' 2", 235 pounds and plays at the fullback position even if he gets the majority of the touches. He has averaged 100 yards/game. Leonard rushes behind a good offensive line. A line that also protects the QB -- allowing only 3 sacks this year.

That improved offensive line is part of the reason, historically errant, Rutgers QB Ryan Hart has only tossed one interception this year. Hart has TE Clark Harris and WR Tres Moses, best TE and the second or third best WR in the Big East, as a targets. Hart, though, is looking at this game as one of his last chances at redemption.

His two previous games against Pittsburgh are pretty much microcosms of his career. He set his career-high with 384 passing yards against the Panthers in 2003, doing so in large part because Rutgers faced a 42-7 halftime deficit in a 42-32 loss.

He was 31-of-57 for 351 yards against the Panthers last season after overcoming a stomach virus that nearly kept him out of the lineup, but again accumulated big numbers playing catch-up against a zone in a 41-17 loss. Rutgers faced a 38-3 halftime deficit in that game, in large part because the ailing Hart threw four interceptions and lost a fumble.

This goes with the corners yesterday talking about their own hope for redemption. Call me crazy, but I'm sensing a theme.

Rutgers also had a bye week that they used to work on the "fundamentals." (Doesn't every team with a bye week always claim that they worked on the fundamentals? Why doesn't any team claim they were working on gadget plays and goofy crap. Claim that you practiced with Defensive Ends taking handoffs or something.)

Rutgers defense, though, is suspect. It is never a good sign when your leading tackler is a safety. That would be Freshman Courtney Greene. Greene, by the way, tweaked his hamstring in practice this week but is still expected to play. One of their CBs, Senior Corey Barnes, is only 5'8".

Pitt needs to use their size advantage with Lee, Kinder and Strong in the passing game. There are those, who think Lee's talents as a deep threat are not being used (gee, you think?).

Pitt may have to use the passing game more, regardless. The depth at RB is definitely shrunk with injuries to Brandon Mason and Marcus Furman (last week he was switched back to RB) making them still unlikely to play and LaRod Stephens-Howling questionable after missing 2 straight days of practice. Rashad Jennings should be back, but it is unclear how much work he can handle. Kirkley and Murphy should see the bulk of the running plays.

Of course, that still requires the offensive line to play better. 14 sacks allowed in 4 games. No other team in the Big East has allowed more than 8.

On special teams, Pitt's punt returns have improved -- not that that would have been particularly difficult -- with Darrelle Revis handling them.

The Friday night game makes it something of a short week, but it isn't that bad.

Disturbing Veneer of Respectability 

Forgive a little self-promotion, but what the hell.

As some of you are aware, I also do blogging regarding politics and events in Cleveland and Ohio. I do this under the aegis of Cleveland.com.

The editor of Cleveland.com, Denise Polverine, apparently nominated me for an Online Journalism Award for "commentary." No one ever bothered to tell me, but it's probably just as well.

Well, the finalists were announced a couple days ago. Turns out, I'm a finalist in the category of "Online Commentary (Medium)." The "Medium" means the size of the overall website in terms of monthly hits.

Apparently this is the first time in some 7 years that Cleveland.com has had anyone or anything make it to the finalist stage.

The only negative, is I don't get to go to NYC for the awards show.

I should also mentioned that the awards are sponsored in part by the Annenburg School of Communication (i.e., J-School) at USC. So until the awards are announced some time at the end of October, I'd appreciate it if the Trojans continue to win so I don't have to take them from the #1 spot in my blogpoll ballot.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

BlogPoll, Week 5 Ballot, Messy 

More shifting after the top 3. I can't deny a small pleasure in dropping Michigan out of the ranks. Every team comes in for humbling periodically.

  1. Southern Cal -- Still cruising
  2. Texas -- DNP
  3. Florida -- Continually improving
  4. Ohio State -- Always a good sign for a team when it shows it knows how to step on the throat
  5. Virginia Tech -- Dare I say, I'm starting to believe?
  6. Tennessee -- Yes, LSU gakked, but the Vols still had to do something with the chances
  7. Miami (Florida) -- Offense almost looks like it is becoming functional
  8. Georgia -- Steady
  9. Michigan State -- Definitely should have had them higher last week, but just how much should they be rewarded for not blowing an easy game?
  10. Notre Dame -- Damn. They are good
  11. Louisiana State -- Gurgle, gurgle
  12. Florida State -- DNP
  13. Cal -- Cruising through a cupcake
  14. Alabama -- At least until Croyle crumples
  15. Arizona State -- Rolling
  16. Iowa State -- Not an impressive win, but a lot of tumbles above them move them up
  17. Auburn -- Cupcake game, see above
  18. Texas Tech -- Ditto
  19. Vanderbilt -- Easy enough to root for. There aren't many Commodore fans around to piss me off.
  20. Georgia Tech -- Whupped by VT.
  21. West Virginia -- See Iowa State at #16 for explanation
  22. Toledo -- Really wishing I hadn't voted until after the Fresno St. game
  23. Virginia -- Beating up on Western Mich and Duke along with squeaking by Syracuse shouldn't do this, but options were limited
  24. Louisville -- It's real hard to play good football when you play with both hands wrapped around your neck
  25. Purdue -- That Minnesota might actually be good is the only thing keeping them on the list.
Dropping out: Iowa and Michigan. New: Virginia. Standing by: Boston College, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Games seen or listened to in whole or part: YSU-Pitt; PSU-Northwestern; ECU-WVU; WMU-Temple (So bad that at times I couldn't turn away); BGSU-Boise St.; Purdue-Minn; Ill-MSU; ND-Wash; Iowa-OSU; Ky-Fla; and Tenn-LSU.

Getting Ready for Rutgers 

Obviously it is a short week for Pitt, which made it doubly important when Pitt pulled most of its starters early in the 4th quarter of the YSU game. Rutgers had a bye week. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of streaks and records they'd like to change on Friday night:
Rutgers defense, other than, maybe the Illinois game has not faced much of a test -- and it failed that one. To be fair, Pitt's defense has failed its only real test so far -- ND -- but Rutgers defense, despite the wins has given up lots of yardage.
 TOTAL DEFENSE         G  Rush Pass Plys Yards  Avg  TD Yds/G


Connecticut......... 3 259 334 176 593 3.4 3 197.7

West Virginia....... 4 227 658 251 885 3.5 5 221.2

Pittsburgh.......... 4 652 477 260 1129 4.3 7 282.2

Syracuse............ 3 493 385 198 878 4.4 3 292.7

USF................. 4 444 741 240 1185 4.9 6 296.2

Cincinnati.......... 3 379 614 197 993 5.0 9 331.0

Louisville.......... 3 340 759 205 1099 5.4 11 366.3

Rutgers............. 3 410 820 252 1230 4.9 5 410.0
As the numbers suggest, Rutgers has been vulnerable in the passing game (100th overall). At the same time, the stats are hardly accurate at this point considering the variety of talent faced. Pitt is ranked 3d in the country on pass defense -- that doesn't seem completely believable when you think back to the ND game.

Last year, Rutgers' secondary was absolutely torched by Pitt, and the corners are now looking for redemption.

"We lost some key guys before we played them last year," Porter said. "It wasn't just a physical thing either. It crept into our minds that we lost three teammates. But I don't want to use that as a crutch. They had a good game."

Roberson wouldn't cite the personnel issues Rutgers faced against Pittsburgh as a reason for the Panthers' big passing day, but did say "we were facing some adversity that was just as much mental and physical."

"But I'm not going to put it on that. Just give them credit," he said.

This time around, however, Roberson said "there are no excuses."

"We had some flaws and they capitalized," he said. "But we feel so much more comfortable and confident as a secondary now. That's what experience gives you. It makes a difference."

The stats, however, flawed suggest that they are vulnerable to the pass, however, their defense has gotten 12 sacks in 3 games. They are also 3d worst in the BE against the run (66th overall). Pitt will need to give Palko some time to throw, not just run the ball.

On the injury front for Pitt.

Wannstedt said linebacker Clint Session (bruised shin) is likely out for the Rutgers game and tailback/wide receiver Marcus Furman (ankle) is doubtful. Tailback Rashad Jennings (shoulder), who missed the past two games is probable as is tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling (ankle), who was knocked out of the game Saturday.

Session and Stephens-Howling were held out of practice yesterday and Furman was wearing a soft cast and was on crutches. Tailback Brandon Mason (ankle) was also held out of practice yesterday and is questionable for the game Friday.

H.B. Blades is looking forward to the game on a personal level.

Linebacker H.B. Blades , a native of Plantation, Fla., smiled as he ticked off the names of players he grew up with who now play for Rutgers. There are more than two dozen Sunshine State natives on the Scarlet Knights' roster. "There are a lot of guys there who I played against -- and with -- in high school," Blades said. "Whenever you go against guys from high school, there's always trash talking back and forth. There are going to be a lot of emotions going on."

This is a disturbingly big game for both teams. Both head coaches need the win.


The big buzz is still the fact that the Big East is now known to be wide open with the loss by Louisville.
There are two ways to look at South Florida's stunning, dominating upset of ninth-ranked Louisville on Saturday, according to one Big East coach.

"One is, 'Hey, Louisville, they're human,' " said Syracuse coach Greg Robinson, seemingly wearing a big smile as he spoke by phone Monday.

The second view Robinson expressed probably wasn't as pleasing to the league's coaches.

"Uh oh, South Florida's good," Robinson said.

In the parking lot before the Notre Dame game, I had commented to Lee that USF would have had a better shot against PSU if it had been the 3rd non-con game for the teams rather than the first. A team and a system like the USF offense runs, has tended to need a game or two before it starts to gel.

But that Louisville loss changed the outlook for the conference. Teams don't feel like they are chasing anyone.

Although the Panthers are approaching the game as if they are 0-0, the fact remains that Pitt has played four games and has lost three of them. Wannstedt said there is plenty to take from those games and the Panthers have been a work in progress since he took over in December.
He also said now that the games are meaningful, the Panthers must pay more attention to detail.

"We need to continue to be balanced," he said. "Even leading into the Youngstown State, we were pretty close from a run-pass standpoint, but we weren't making enough plays in the passing game. We need to stay balanced in where we are drawing our big plays from.

"And now that we're starting conference play, we can't fumble the ball in the end zone. We can't fumble the ball in the end zone. We can't drop a ball in the end zone. We can't drop a touchdown pass. That's the difference now, starting this week. It is all there ahead of us -- we are 0-0 -- but we have to make sure we do the things you need to do in order to win football games."

There were, despite the score, plenty of mistakes and missed opportunities in the YSU game.

H.B. Blades is ready to go,

Junior middle linebacker H.B. Blades doesn't want to wait a week. He would like to start conference play immediately against Rutgers.

"It's a new season for us," Blades said. "Big East play starts on Friday, and this is what it all comes down to. The road to the BCS starts right here. ... We've played well, but we can get a lot better on defense. We're getting closer to where we want to be, but we're not satisfied just yet."

Coach Wannstedt addressed issues of recruiting.

"People were fired up," Wannstedt said Monday. "We had several recruits at our game, and they're fired up. It's going to be a top 10, possibly better, class in the entire country. It's going to be one of the best classes that I believe, if everything stays on course, that we've had here in a long, long time."

If that comes true, it might ease some of the disappointment over Pitt's rapid fall from the top 25 following consecutive losses to Notre Dame, Ohio U. and Nebraska. Pitt has yet to beat a Division I-A opponent under Wannstedt, but gets that chance Friday night at Rutgers (2-1).

To date, Pitt has 17 verbal commitments for its 2006 recruiting class, and there have been no reported defection. The class is currently rated by several recruiting services as being in the top 10, though the ratings fluctuate greatly from September until the national letter of intent signing date in February.

Of the 17 prospective recruits, five are rated as four-star players by the Rivals.com recruiting site: tight end Nate Byham of Franklin, running back Kevin Collier of Churchville, N.Y., running back-wide receiver Dorin Dickerson of West Allegheny High in suburban Pittsburgh, defensive tackle Jason Pinkston of Baldwin and multi-position player Aaron Smith of Gateway High.

"Recruiting is exciting right now," Wannstedt said. "I think we're close right now to adding a couple more players here in the near future to our outstanding class coming in already."

Of course, whenever Coach Wannstedt starts talking about recruiting publicly, the athletic department starts to sweat.

"Give me the hook if I say something I shouldn't," Wannstedt said with a laugh as he turned toward an athletic department official. "You know me, I get fired up about this stuff."

Wannstedt gets excited when he talks about the recruiting class he is putting together. But, he, sometimes, gets carried away and rattles off the names of high school players he's pursuing -- which, technically, is a violation of NCAA rules.

A few times during his televised news conference and his weekly radio show, Wannstedt has dropped the names of guys who have given verbal commitments to Pitt. It also happened in interviews during spring practice and preseason camp.

It's a little thing -- a secondary violation which rarely results in any punishment from the NCAA -- but it still is a headache for Pitt athletic director Jeff Long.

"I do cringe when it happens because I've been in intercollegiate athletics now for 25-plus years," Long said. "We've been over those rules with coach Wannstedt and he knows them. But he's also been 15 years in the NFL, where he didn't have to worry about what names he said.

"In fairness to the coach, I don't think anybody can say he was trying to gain a recruiting advantage or anything. But it's one of the things we have to remind him about."
At this point, it is still just a charming little mistake.

Direct Information 

From Dave Wannstedt's press conference earlier today.
On Coach Wannstedt's prior knowledge of the Big East Conference:

I just followed Pitt, I didn't really pay too much attention to the conference. And then there have been so many changes in the last year since I've been here with Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida. There have been changes. I guess you could say it's new for a lot of reasons.

On the conference title being up for grabs:

Everybody's sitting there right now saying, 'Oh boy, we've got an opportunity to win this thing.' And by the way, people have played (conference games already). West Virginia and a couple of the teams are undefeated, have two wins, three wins, and can say that with probably with a little more confidence. We don't have much room for error. We've got to go out and definitely play well and just take it one week at a time.

On playing against Rutgers coach Greg Schiano:

Greg worked for me at Chicago, and I helped get him in down there with Butch Davis at Miami. Greg and I are good friends. There was a time with our defensive staff -- at the Cowboys and the University of Miami -- there was myself, Butch Davis, Dave Campo. I was the coordinator. Butch was the defensive line coach. Campo was the secondary coach, and Norv Turner was the offensive coordinator. And there was a point in the NFL where Dave was the head coach at Dallas. Butch was at Cleveland, and Norv was at Washington. If you coach long enough and you're around good people - good people are going to end up in head coaching positions. The business part is separate from the personal.

On Rutgers:

Well on offense, behind Notre Dame, they are the second-most talented offensive personnel that we've faced. They've got an outstanding back that we know is an All-Big East candidate. They've got receivers that have got speed. The [Tres] Moses kid can make big plays. [Clark] Harris, the tight end, is an outstanding player. They've got a senior quarterback that's been a two or three-year starter in [Ryan] Hart. They've got a very good group. Then you look at them on defense, and they're led by [Ryan] Neill. We all know who he is. They've got I think 12 sacks already. Neill's got four and a half, and I think [Val] Barnaby has got four on the other side. They've got good talent. They've got big-play ability on offense. We're watching the films, and I can see why they would be optimistic. I think they've got one freshman playing at safety. And if you look at their depth chart for the rest of their team, they've got seniors and juniors. They're a somewhat veteran team. These guys have been together and played together for two or three years. They've got a lot of Florida guys. I think they've got like 30 guys from South Florida.
Coach Wannstedt also said that Pitt is close to having a couple more kids make verbals, and that recruiting is not suffering from the slow start (phew!).

As should be known, the Rutgers game is on Friday night, on ESPN2 at 8pm. The bad news, the broadcast crew will be the same abysmal group as the Ohio game: Dave Pasch with the play-by-play, Rod Gilmore and Trevor Matich with uh, color (or simply stating the obvious and the stupid, respectively)and Stacy Dales-Schuman on the sideline. The game notes are out from Pitt and Rutgers (PDF).

Another piece of information, the Cinci-Pitt "Ohio River Riv"-- I can't do it. It isn't a rivalry. It shouldn't have a trophy. It's a Big East game and that is it. Any how, the game has been set for 2pm on Saturday October 8. There is no TV broadcast. A couple extra hours of tailgating if you are going, though.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Open Opportunity 

The problem when you're team is in a conference that is ostensibly in the BCS, but treated by everyone else as if it was a mid-major, is that the top team can't blow it. Part (not all) of what has dragged the BE further down in terms of reputation the last couple of years has been the fact that the pre-season team pegged for big things has absolutely gakked it away.

This creates a conflict for a fan of another team in the conference. The usual joy one would take in seeing the presumptive conference winner, lose is tempered by the knowledge of what it means for the conference. Takes some of the fun out of it when you have to worry about a collective good.

Pitt in 2003 and WVU last year, both came into the season with big expectations. Expected to win the BE (or at least for Pitt in 2003 mount a credible challenge to outgoing Miami) by pundits and prognosticators. Instead both the teams and coaches wilted under the pressure and unearned respect. Giving everyone else reason to denigrate, mock and complain about the Big East.

Louisville entered the Big East with that mantle and has had the same fate befall it. Now obviously, this means the BE suddenly seems much more wide open for any team than before Louisville got humiliated by South Florida -- even Rutgers suddenly believes it has a chance.

Pitt, also has a chance, just like last year. For Pitt, there is the added bonus that the loss to USF in 2001 is no longer the biggest win for the Bulls in their brief history. So, thank you Louisville and Bobby Petrino for taking that honor. That '01 stain is not erased from my memory, but it has had a bit of bleach tossed on it.

WVU should be the favorite at the moment with 1 conference win, and winning on the road in Maryland. But nearly giving the game away to East Carolina this past weekend puts that in question. UConn, USF and Cinci just don't seem capable. Syracuse may have hung close with UVA, but they already lost to WVU and outside of Damien Rhodes, they don't have much of an offense. Pitt hasn't proven anything yet. Rutgers, barely more than Pitt.

Louisville may still win the BE, but they aren't helping it now.

Light Local News 

Funny thing. The Steelers play a big game on Sunday, and on Monday there isn't much on Pitt.

From the throwback game. Game worn jerseys, pants and helmets are on the auction block. All money goes to the Pitt Panther Club Athletic Scholarship Fund.

Senior Running Back Ray Kirkley, gets a puff piece. The focus is on his hard work and perseverance to once again earn the starting job.

So it was not a shock to him that, despite being the most experienced tailback heading into spring, he was not considered a favorite to win the starting job. By the end of spring, he was behind a freshman, Rashad Jennings, on the depth chart.

He fell behind sophomore Brandon Mason and Tim Murphy, and when true freshman LaRod Stephens-Howling got to campus for training camp, he vaulted Kirkley as well.

But as has been the case with Kirkley throughout his career, he never got down. He just worked harder and made sure every time he touched the ball, he ran harder than any other back and made coaches take notice of every carry.

His approach has paid off again. Four games into the season, he is the Panthers' leading rusher and has been their most consistent performer on offense. Mason and Jennings have been bothered by injuries and Murphy has moved to fullback.

As the article notes, he is also the only RB who is not or has not been dinged up to any level this season.

Kirkley has really benefited from Coach Wannstedt emphasizing that the team get faster and leaner. Shedding some of the pounds has really increased his speed -- hitting the hole, cutting and turning corners. It has made a big difference from last year, when at times he just seemed to be unable to make that cut or generate any speed.

Sophomore Tight End Darrell Strong also comes in for a puff piece on his growing role in the offense. Coach Wannstedt sees Strong as one of the potential playmakers on offense.

"Darrell Strong is a little bit like (running back) LaRod Stephens-Howling," Wannstedt said. "We have a handful of guys, in my opinion, that give us an opportunity to make a big play. He's one of those guys.

"Darrell has the ability to make the great finger-tip catch, and he's probably a better runner with the ball in his hands than we give him credit for. But he's just going through that whole transition."
Strong has struggled to get on the field at time because he has not exactly been an enthusiastic blocker. Given the preferences for running the ball by Coaches Cavanaugh and Wannstedt, the TEs need to be willing and eager to block. Since I didn't see the game on Saturday, I didn't see how often Strong was in the game. In the first 3, though, the only times he was on the field it was a given that the ball was going to him. Pitt is going to have to show some more variety as conference play begins.

I wanted to write about this yesterday, but I was traveling back from a family visit in Pennsylvania. Top RB recruit, LeSean McCoy suffered a compound fracture to his ankle.

"I heard it pop," McCoy said from his emergency room station at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "I was like, 'What was that?'"

What it was was a broken ankle, one that required surgery late yesterday afternoon to repair ligament damage of undetermined severity and to strengthen the fracture. According to McCoy's father, Ron, doctors said McCoy will have to stay off the ankle for 8-12 weeks before beginning rehabilitation.

McCoy has a long road back -- if ever fully. While he recently eliminated Pitt from consideration, I wouldn't wish this on a Penn State player. Hopefully one of the schools that offered him will still honor the scholarship offer, and give him a chance to at least get a college degree.

Tilting At Windmills 

We all have that one thing. Something we have to do, despite knowing it likely won't matter. Or we fight with blind optimism. It may be noble or just stupid.

Maybe it's trying elect a fringe 3rd party candidate. Perhaps it is the elimination of all porn and other fun vices. Maybe it's trying to stop a city from wasting money on a new convention center.

Sam, a Pitt Sophomore and reader, has his own windmill. He wants to get the Pitt Athletic Department to bring back the old unis and logo for good. Right now, he has an online petition. He is hoping to do more than just that, but it is a start.

Learning A Valuable Lesson 

Despite Pitt struggling to avoid being upset last year by Furman along with Rutgers losing last year to a 1-AA foe, the beating Pitt put on Youngstown State seems to have brought the Penguin faithful crashing hard. They aren't even back to reality, they seem a few layers below that.
Youngstown State got exactly what it knew it was going to get out of playing the University of Pittsburgh in football: $350,000.

That's the figure the Penguins' athletic department will receive for last Saturday's 41-0 loss to the Panthers and really nothing else.

That means in a couple of years when the Penguins head down to Columbus to play the Ohio State Buckeyes on a similar stage, the only thing they'll gain is about $450,000.

As long as YSU remains a Division I-AA football program, it can expect nothing more than a big payday for playing teams like the Panthers or the Buckeyes.

These are not Mid-American Conference teams, or even Cincinnati or Marshall like the Penguins have played in the past. These are Division I-A BCS teams, and even the bad ones are going to take it to the Penguins.

Pitt is not a great football team; it might be pushing it to call the Panthers good. But they were still head-over-heels better than Youngstown State.

The article also indicates that YSU will be playing some more Div. 1-A opponents, likely from the Big 11 for the cash grab.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Going Old School 

Here's a directory of photos of Pitt playing in the old unis, courtesy of Tony in Harrisburg. It also includes a shot of the band doing the script "PITT." They look great. And the unis just look sharp and distinctive when they aren't in old fuzzy video with lots of bad hair and fashion mistakes surrounding them. It feels less like nostalgia, and more like the right colors for Pitt. Unlike most of you, I'm not particularly wedded to the script, but the colors are the thing.

The Pitt players loved the unis.

"I hope this doesn't get me in trouble, but I really wish we could go back to those old uniforms," Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko said after the Panthers' 41-0 win against Youngstown State yesterday at Heinz Field. "Those things are sweet. Those get us back to the days of what Pitt really is. I like that. Hopefully, we can change back. Hopefully, we can keep them for the Rutgers game [Friday] because those are good-luck uniforms.

"I like them because they get us back to being down and dirty, like the good old Pitt days."

Tight end Darrell Strong said, "If I have any say or the players' word has anything to do with it -- I say keep them. We looked like Pitt today, [the uniforms] gave us a little bit of swagger."

And of course, Coach Wannstedt wants them to stay.
"I don't know if it's (up to) our athletic director or our chancellor, but we could be the Buffalo Bills of college football," Wannstedt said. "The Bills didn't want to take off their throwback uniforms. That's what our guys were saying in (the locker room). They want to wear 'em."
As for the game itself,

The Panthers (1-3) scored five offensive touchdowns -- [more] than double their output for the entire season -- and had an opportunity for several more if not for some dropped passes and a fumble by Erik Gill on the goal line. They finished with 25 first downs and 528 yards of total offense.

And Palko finally resembled his old self -- the one that came into the season being touted as a potential Heisman Trophy contender -- and completed 14 of 22 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he completed passes to six different players, including his favorite target from a year ago -- Greg Lee, who caught six passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

David Abdul had a successful return, aside from missing his first extra point attempt because of nerves.

And of course the defense pitched a shutout.
"You can't get two wins until you get one, and that's what I told the team," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We still have a lot of work to do, but it's obvious that there were a lot of plays out there that we left on the field, particularly on offense. A few scoring plays and a couple drops.

"The guys came out and played like they played the last two weeks. I told the defense it's great to get a shutout. It doesn't matter who you're playing or where you're playing, to keep somebody from scoring any points is not an easy feat. And it should add to the confidence that our defense has had the last couple weeks. So, they've played extremely well."
Arguably, YSU suffered the end of 3 games of major frustration from Pitt players.

Ray Kirkley had 121 yards of total offenses (82 running, 39 on a screen pass) and two touchdowns. He's stepped up, despite the increased competition, and is now carrying the load with the rash of injuries.
"You have to hand it to Ray for sticking in there and continuing to work hard no matter what," Wannstedt said. "We tried to replace him this season with other runners and they're all injured or struggling, and Ray is still there doing his best to help us win."
LaRod Stephens-Howling tweaked his ankle in the game and was held out the rest of the game as a precaution. The implication being that he could have continued playing if needed.

The one thing that was annoying was hearing Blades get hit with a taunting penalty, though the explanation is plausible.

After breaking up a pass, linebacker H.B. Blades did five push-ups on the field. Blades was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Wannstedt was upset, but not fuming, about Blades' actions.

"That was wrong. It was ridiculous," Wannstedt said. "They do a thing in practice where if they drop an interception, they do five push-ups. He felt like he missed an interception and some of the guys yelled at him, 'You owe us five.' It was not taunting, trust me. If it had been taunting, I would've acted on it on the spot."

Top Pitt recruit Dorin Dickerson was at the game and was back in the locker room afterwards. He continues to affirm his commitment to Pitt (not that Michigan should be feeling like it can brag after another loss).

And, like I said earlier, it was great to see Pitt get Bill Stull and the back-ups into the game as early as they did. You want to see that. See the young kids get experience and the older players that stick with the team and go through the practices, rewarded with some decent playing time.
"I could hear my (three) sisters and my family screaming for me," Stull said. "It was definitely a lot of fun."
This, despite an attendance announced at 43,135 -- though it is noted that it appeared to be significantly smaller.

As for commentary, Bob Smizik gets full credit for being dead-on.
What, if anything, Pitt's demolition of badly outmanned Youngstown State means for the remainder of the football season only will be determined by the team's final seven games. But the Panthers desperately needed this kind of performance. They needed a win against the Division I-AA Penguins, but they specifically needed the kind of lift this 41-0 victory yesterday at Heinz Field is capable of giving them.
Worth the full read.

Mike Prisuta sees a lot of work for Pitt remaining.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


The blowout it should be against a Div. 1-AA opponent. It isn't excitement about the win. It's relief. Still, Pitt is off the schnide and Coach Wannstedt gets his first win.

Listened to the game on the Internet. Hillgrove and Fralic were huge fans of seeing the old school unis. They opined that Pitt should keep wearing the old unis for good luck.

You can see pictures here or here.

I was very pleased that QB Bill Stull and many of the back-ups got some actual game time in mop-up duty. That's what is supposed to happen.

The defense was solid, though they still couldn't force any fumbles. Revis had his second interception.

I may be nitpicking, but I was bothered by the lack of balance for the offense. Not to mention some disturbingly predictable playcalling at times. Against better players, that has hurt.

Taking Nothing For Granted 

I've said it a few times this week. Probably everyone in Pitt's program and every fan has said it. Pitt just needs a win at this point. This untelevised game against YSU, is one Pitt knows it can't assume it will win -- especially after last year.

"Who are we to overlook anyone?" linebacker Brian Bennett said. "I mean, we haven't exactly lit the world on fire ourselves. We need to win. We need to win bad. We're sort of a desperate team, which means we're going to come out fighting no matter who we are playing.

"That Furman game showed us how easy it is to lose on any given day. Even though we won, we really had to struggle. It was a good learning experience."

Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko added, "They are going to play hard. They aren't just looking to come here to lay down for us. They are a good football team and they are going to try and win the game. We haven't won yet. We need to get a win and we're going to try like heck to get it this week. I don't care who the opponent is or where the game is, you have to lace them up and go play well in order to win."

This game happened because talks with Miami (Ohio) collapsed.

Since Pitt's offense hasn't exactly been stellar there is an expectation that the defense will have to continue to step up and hope the offense finally starts coming around.

However, since the kicking is questionable and the offense has been struggling, there is more pressure on Pitt's defense. Wannstedt said his defense would be able to handle it.

"I think they're just getting a little bit more comfortable and settling in with what we're trying to do," Wannstedt said. "But we've got to mix in the blitz to pressure people. Not all the time. We've got to be smart with it. But it's got to be a combination.

"[About the defensive line], I thought we got a little better. ... In my mind, if we play the scheme and play it effectively, I don't care who we're playing, people are going to have a tough time scoring points."

Whether actual attendance matches or compares closely to paid attendance, this could be the biggest crowd YSU has ever played before.

A crowd of more than 40,000 is expected for today's game at Heinz Field.

YSU sold out its allotment of 3,000 tickets and many more YSU fans purchased tickets through Pitt's outlets.
The largest crowd the Penguins have played before was 35,874 at Western Michigan in 1999, a game the Penguins lost 46-28.

YSU hasn't defeated a Division I-A team since Kent State (26-20) in 2000 and they have only played two I-A opponents since, losing to Marshall 38-24 in 2001 and to Kent State 16-13 in 2003.

And for some reassurances, Pitt recruit, Scott Corson a lineman out of Johnstown, says he hasn't changed his mind about Pitt. He has been offered a scholarship at Illinois, but isn't interested.

Friday, September 23, 2005


It's been a rough week for Coach Dave Wannstedt and Pitt football. I've been trying to do a full round-up of the national slapping -- but have had some, uh, interesting moments with blogger. Hopefully I won't consume too much of my dad's scotch tonight to get something out. In the meantime, how about some offering just a thought:
The head coach returned to campus after a long career as an NFL assistant and head coach. He came back to bring together a divided fandom. And with great expectations, he lost a shocker to a much smaller school that made for embarrassing headlines. And he lost two other games to big-name opponents. All that fanfare, and the head coach was 0-3. Talk about being upset.

Dave Wannstedt at Pitt in 2005? Could be. It also could be Gene Stallings at Alabama. The former Crimson Tide assistant returned to Tuscaloosa after coaching the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals in the NFL. Alabama opened with a shocking 27-24 loss to to Southern Mississippi, which had a quarterback by the name of Brett Favre. Then Florida came to Tuscaloosa and won 17-13. The following week, the Tide blew a late lead and lost at Georgia, 17-16.

After that 0-3 start, Alabama won seven of its next eight and went to the Fiesta Bowl. From 1991-93, Alabama won 28 consecutive games, including the 1992 national championship.

Does that mean Pittsburgh will win it all in 2007? Probably not. But there's precedent that says the Panthers can turn it around. An overtime loss at Ohio and a one-point loss at Nebraska mean that Pitt is two plays away from being 2-1. Don't be too quick to write Pittsburgh off.
Someone send Ivan Maisel a thank you card for the positive vibe.

Paul Zeise, the P-G's Pitt football beat reporter, has his weekly Q&A .
Q: With the offensive line not protecting well right now, why are they not using the running backs and tight ends more in the passing game?

ZEISE: Great question. They did during training camp, they do during practice and they need to do a whole lot more throwing to the backs and tight ends during the game -- before it is a two-minute situation. I asked some of the coaches about this and the answer was they are trying to work the tight ends, and in particular Darrell Strong, more and more into the passing game, so we'll all keep an eye out for that. As for the backs, the swing pass (or some variation of it) is usually a big part of the West Coast offense but we haven't seen it called a whole lot to this point. I agree it would be an excellent way to catch opponent's in blitzes, but it is not always as simple as it seems to get executed correctly. I know they tried at least one screen pass during the Nebraska game and not only did Tyler Palko nearly get sacked, the running back who caught it, I think it was Kirkley, got crushed by a linebacker as they were all over that play. So like everything else, that aspect is a work in progress.

It's a bit more toned down compared to last week, but he is definitely seeing the positives more than the negatives. He also defends the performance of the O-line to some extent.

YSU-Pitt: A Must Win 

Really, anytime a school that fancies itself a Division 1-A school faces a 1-AA team it should be considered a "must win." Just for Pitt, it has taken on a whole new meaning.

Pitt hasn't been 0-4 since coach Foge Fazio's 1984 team, which finished 3-7-1. There have been worse teams since, but none that went the first month of the season without winning.

That's why Pitt's game Saturday against Division I-AA Youngstown State (3-0) has taken on far more importance than would have been expected only a few weeks ago. Instead of being a transition game from Pitt's non-conference opponents to the Big East games that start next week, it's become a pivotal game.

If the Panthers win - and, of course, they are expected to against a non-Division I-A opponent - the schedule presents a chance for a quick turnaround. After the Penguins come potentially winnable games against Rutgers, on the road, and Cincinnati, South Florida and Syracuse at home in consecutive weeks.

No one is suggesting that Pitt is about to pull a turnaround and wind up as the Big East co-champion and BCS bowl game participant, as it did last season following a 2-2 start. But there's still plenty of time to salvage this season gone bad, though the Panthers shouldn't wait much longer to try to accomplish it.

No. No they shouldn't. So Coach Wannstedt is at least saying that they aren't looking past the Penguins.

Wannstedt believes that as the offensive line improves, so will the offense.

But as motivation, he brought the Panthers into the meeting room at 6 Monday morning to view the entire game film from Nebraska.

And you thought "The Exorcist" was frightening.

"We cleaned up the tape, and I think we got their attention about playing better and winning the game," Wannstedt said. "I don't see that being an issue at all."

Considering Palko has been sacked 12 times for 95 yards -- more than any other QB in the Big East -- they need to do more than look.

The defensive line still needs work.

Wannstedt is demanding more sacks (the Panthers have three, fewest among Big East teams) and turnovers (they have one) from his defense. He also wants the unit to shut down opposing running games.

"We haven't even come close to scratching the surface on playing the run like I envision us playing and how I know we can play," Wannstedt said. "When we start holding people to 50 yards rushing, then I'll feel better."

Youngstown (3-0), a Division I-AA program, used a power running attack to pile up points in its first two games.

Junior tailback Monquantae Gibson, a transfer from Kentucky, has rushed for 299 yards and five scores. Two weeks ago, he amassed 198 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-16 rout of Northeastern.

Last week, Pitt performed well in spots against Nebraska's offense. Still, Cory Ross was able to rack up 153 yards on 32 carries and found running room inside the tackles.

Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said the Panthers don't need to change their game plan. They just need to execute it better.

So aside from a non-existent passing game, a bad o-line and d-line things are fine.

Meanwhile a YSU student believes Pitt will fold under the pressure of a desperately needed win. In case you haven't figured, YSU and Y-town are pretty excited for the game.

Even Zetts, who always has the typical calm quarterback demeanor, said the excitement for this game is huge.

"You see how excited this whole city can get," Zetts said of the upcoming game and the city's fervor surrounding it.
The Penguin nation has been awoken as of late, and the Pitt match up maybe the most anticipated regular season game in YSU history.

Youngstown State athletic director Ron Strollo said the electricity this game has produced is contagious.

"It's a great game for us," Strollo said. "We are probably going to have over 4,000 fans there."

Strollo said that the excitement is intensified due to the fact that Youngstown State has such deep ties in Western, Pa. due to recruiting both students and athletes. The Penguins roster has four players from the Keystone state including one from Pittsburgh.

Strollo said community support has been overwhelming.
So, I may have overstated the expected number of YSU fans at the game slightly.

Joe Starkey in his ESPN.com Big East Notebook (Insider Subs.) is guaranteeing a Pitt win, and telling Pitt what they have to do.

Here's a guarantee, although not exactly a bold one: The Panthers (0-3) will get coach Dave Wannstedt his first victory Saturday against Division I-AA Youngstown State.

The game will also provide Pitt an opportunity to get its woeful offense on track in time for Big East play, which begins Sept. 30 at Rutgers.

To that end, Wannstedt must continue to feature true freshman tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling, who rushed for 98 yards in a 7-6 loss last Saturday at Nebraska. Stephens-Howling, who still is listed as a backup to senior Raymond Kirkley, gives Pitt the kind breakaway threat it has rarely had in recent years.

Even though he stands only 5-7, 165 pounds, Stephens-Howling can break tackles and gain tough yards. His durability might be a question mark, but it's worth Wannstedt's while to test it.

Another player who must be more involved in the offense is 6-5, 260-pound tight end Darrell Strong, one of the best athletes on the team. Pitt hasn't thrown nearly enough to the tight ends this season, even though it has three good ones.

The major problem is the offensive line, which hasn't provided quarterback Tyler Palko enough time to throw. Teams are blitzing Palko like crazy, and the Panthers are not making them pay.

From Biertempfel's notebook: Still no indication as to who will kick tomorrow. Rashad Jennings was practicing in pads but Brandon Mason wasn't. Marcus Furman was bounced back to RB from WR.

Finally, both papers go with the story about former Steeler and Pitt great Jerry Olsavsky being the linebackers coach for YSU.

Olsavsky is loyal to Youngstown State, but he is a diehard "Pitt guy" and considers Pittsburgh to be his home. He has a house in Pittsburgh and spends a lot of time here in the offseason. Deep down, he's not looking forward to facing the Panthers.

It goes beyond the fact that he is loyal to his alma mater. He also has many friends on Pitt's coaching staff and in the athletic office and is close to many people in and around the football program.

"[Pitt linebackers coach] Curtis Bray was my college teammate, I went to the same high school [Chaney High School in Youngstown] and I am friends with [Pitt offensive coordinator] Matt Cavanaugh," Olsavsky said. "I know coach [Dave] Wannstedt well. This is going to be very difficult for me because those people are friends, not adversaries. I want Pitt to win and do well, but I want us to win as well.

"So this is a very complicated game for me."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

It's Coming 

Wow. Basketball practice begins in a little more than 3 weeks. That's right. Midnight Madness begins Friday, uh, afternoon (more genius from the NCAA) on October 14.

Time for a little catch-up.

Chevon Troutman was drafted in the 3rd round of the Continental Basketball Association draft by the Albany Patroons.
Chevon Troutman, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward from the University of Pittsburgh, was taken in the third round. Greg Hotchkiss of the sports information department at Pitt said Wednesday that the last he heard from Troutman, he was playing in Italy.
If Troutman decides to play in the CBA, the Patroons hold his rights for the next 2 years.

The TV contract for Big East Basketball rights doesn't expire for a couple more years, but there is already speculation as to the size of it since negotiations are expected to begin soon.

It will be interesting to see if the Big East can land ACC-like dollars. It will be interesting to see if the league can jack the current $11 million contract up enough to give all teams, including the five new ones, more than approximately $900,000 per year.

To do that, commish Mike Tranghese and company would have to ink a $16 million or $17 million deal. Is $20 million out of the question?

Maybe the Big East should do what the ACC did in its latest football negotiations: hire IMG's Barry Frank as a negotiator.

Whatever the case, don't look for Tranghese to lay an egg in those talks.

There will be a lot riding on this contract. Not just for money for each team -- absolutely vital for teams like UConn, Louisville and Syracuse -- but also giving the teams exposure on TV -- which is very important to recruiting and profile for schools like Providence, DePaul and South Florida. Getting both will go a long way to determining how long the bloated incarnation of the Big East can survive.

SI.com is starting to get ready for b-ball season. They do a slide show of the top-10 Point guards. Carl Krauser is #9.

Then there is Levon Kendall. After his summer playing on both the Canadian Under-21 and full National teams he was the subject of an interesting article last week (you people didn't think I forgot about or missed it did you?). He spoke openly about wanting to be a leader on the team and assume a more prominent role.

There's no doubt as a Junior he will have the opportunity early in the season, but there will be a lot of competition for minutes at the forward positions. He will have to play better defense (not get caught in a bad position and commit the foul) and be a much more consistent shooter. His energy and hustle are not in question

The part of the interview that got everyone's attention, though, was what he said about Krauser.

"He's definitely going to win some games for us down the stretch," said Kendall, who likely will be the leading candidate to play small forward this season. "It'll be interesting to see if he buys into the system and can play with the other guys because I think the group we have right now really plays well together.

"We have a strong group, and I think Carl will realize that if he buys into that, it's going to make him a lot better player. He's still going to get his shots. I've been telling people that when it comes down to it, he's going to have the ball in a position to score. He's still going to be the go-to guy."

Here's the thing. I don't disagree with any of that. I've been saying that since Krauser decided not to go pro. It's the big thing I'll be watching to see from Coach Jamie Dixon. Keeping Krauser in the team game.

The surprising thing is it came -- attributed -- from one of his teammates. Essentially calling him out before the practices even start to not make it the "Carl Krauser Show." How that plays in the locker and between Krauser and Kendall will be an intriguing subplots this year.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Listed on BlogShares Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com