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The Pitt Script Blog - A Pittsburgh Panthers Blog | Page 73
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Written by PSB Bryan | 04 November 2010

screen_shot_2010-11-04_at_7.45.47_amFor justifiable reasons, a lot of the first half of the season was focused on the offensive line.  The group really struggled and the whole offense - especially Heisman hopeful Dion Lewis - struggled.  With much of the first half of the season being spent fretting about the offensive line, Pitt's defensive line has quietly been one of the best units in the country.  Currently, Pitt linemen rank number 1, 2 and 6 in the conference in sacks with over 20 sacks between the three.

And that line got a big boost this week with the return of reigning Big East Defensive of the Year Greg Romeus.  Romeus had a really tough September, first losing his mother to cancer and then undergoing back surgery just a few days later.  All signs point to Romeus being ready to play against Connecticut, just don't expect to see him to be immediately back to full strength:

The key will be how is he used. There is no way, at least initially, he will go back to his normal spot in the rotation. Greg Gattuso has talked about using him in a limited role until he is back in game shape, but with only four games left, I'm not sure what kind of shape it is realistic to think he'll get into.

But coaches have talked about 20 to 25 plays or so. Also, the play of both Jabaal Sheard and Brandon Lindsey will make it tough for Romeus to step right in unless he is productive because both are playing so well right now.

With Brandon Lindsey and Sheard playing out of their minds lately, it will be tough to give Romeus a ton of snaps right away.  Obviously, he might not be ready for it, but whose snaps do you reduce?  Newly elected captain and conference sack leader Sheard? Or the number two guy in the conference in sacks (who was number one up until last week?).  Having to really look for snaps for the reigning conference (co-)defensive POY is quite the nice problem to have.

Inside, Pitt's starting defensive tackles - Myles Caragein and Chas Alexih - are having a solid, but not great year.  Following guys like Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas is not an easy task.  Add in the very good play of the ends as well as everyone's favorite freshman Aaron Donald and it's easy to overlook the two guys in the middle.  Caragein had his moment in the sun when he scooped up a fumble and nearly took it to the house against Louisville:

That Caragein played such a pivotal part in the turning point of the game meant a lot to the Panthers, who understand that Caragein sacrifices personal statistics for the sake of teammates such as defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Brandon Lindsey, and defensive tackle Chas Alecxih.

"All he cares about is winning," senior safety/linebacker Dom DeCicco said of Caragein. "He does do all the dirty work. Everybody else might not see that, but Myles is taking on two or three blocks every play and letting Jabaal and Chas make plays. It's awesome to see someone who is grinding every play to make a play like that.

We still haven't seen much from sophomore Tyrone Ezell, who was predicted by many (including me) to have a big year.  With him, Donald, Lindsey and Murphy/Clemmings as the probable defensive line next year Pitt looks should be able to keep up the top notch line play into the future.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 01 November 2010

The New York Post is reporting that Big East officials will meet Tuesday in Philadelphia to discuss possible expansion:

"The goal is to get the presidents' blessing to seriously pursue teams," said one Big East athletic director. "I don't think we're going to get pushback on that."

Several sources confirmed a Post report last month that TCU is a strong candidate. Houston, Central Florida, Temple and/or Villanova, which is in the midst of evaluating a move up from FCS, are other lead candidates.

It's the Post, so take what you read there with a grain of salt, but it'd be pretty surprising if expansion wasn't on the agenda.  Of course, this makes the non-football side completely unwieldy - and as such, I'd expect this to be completely shot down.  That's the problem with the current system - the football and the non-football schools have different (and now competing) interests.  Perhaps an amicable divorce is in the future.  Then, the "new" football conference could go ahead and add UCF (no brainer), TCU (ditto), and then maybe some combination of Houston, ECU, Memphis, Villanova and Temple to get to 12 if desired.

I'm anxious to see what comes out of this meeting, but I suspect it will be a tough sell convincing schools like Providence and Seton Hall that adding TCU is a good idea.

Let the speculation begin.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 01 November 2010

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Not to sound negative, but Pitt's 20-3 win over Louisville was almost completely unremarkable.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.  Pitt was all over Louisville early and the Cardinals just couldn't hang.  Although it was 6-3 at halftime, you just had the feeling that Pitt was going to be able to extend the lead and then do what they do best - sit on it.  The offense wasn't particularly great compared to the past two games, but they were good enough to prevent mass panic among the Panther faithful.  One area that deserves special recognition is the offensive line, which has only allowed one sack per game on average since the Miami game.  Of course, part of that is the competition, but a big part is the line finally gelling and playing like a competent unit.

The defense on the other hand was exceptional, highlighted by a Myles Caragein fumble recovery and return to inside the 10 yard line.  The defensive line has been playing at a very high level as a whole and they've really been the catalyst for big defensive plays in the secondary.  Zeise agrees:

And on defense, if there is a better player in the Big East right now than Jabaal Sheard, I’d like to see him because Sheard is playing lights out and has been all season. There is no question he is the Panthers best player and today he came up with a huge play at the right time. But beyond Sheard, Dom DeCicco has really become a very good football player now in his new role as the nickleback, Aaron Donald keeps getting better and the unsung hero of this team has been Brandon Lindsey, who was excellent today against both the pass and the run. Also, I thought Jason Hendricks had a good game again, as did Jarred Holley and Greg Williams played perhaps his best game of the season as well.

And it hasn't just been the big plays and turnovers - Louisville had been averaging over 200 yards rushing per game.  On Saturday, they got 103.  Knocking their star running back out in the third "helps," but it's not like he was lighting it up before then (64 yards to that point).

So now Pitt is 3-0 in the conference, with a game and a half lead over Syracuse (!) and two games over WVU.  The defense is playing well, the offense is doing enough, and hell, even the punting is incredible.  They don't have the look of an elite team, but they're steadily improving and taking care of business.  And right now they have the look of the team we expected hoped to see in the non-conference.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 30 October 2010

4-3 (2-0)

vs.

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4-3 (1-1)


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
12:00 p.m. EST
Weather.com Kickoff Forecast: Mostly Sunny, 51°
TV: ABC Regional, ESPN3.com
Radio: 93.7 The Fan

93.7 The Fan Blogger Discussion

AP: Unpredictable Louisville, Pitt seek consistency

Game Day Stories (Good Guys):

Game Day Stories (Bad Guys):

Opposition Blog: The Collision Course

Hail to Pitt.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 29 October 2010

ashton-gibbsMeant to throw something up about this yesterday, but I got lazy busy.  Pitt is number 5 in the AP Poll.  Pitt trails Duke, Michigan State, Kansas State and Ohio State.  Can't really argue much since, you know, no one's actually played a game of basketball yet, but I'd have probably put Pitt over Ohio State.  Still a great position to be in and Pitt should be within striking distance of being #1 early on if they can beat Maryland, Texas/Illinois and Tennessee.


The other Big East teams to make the cut are Villanova at 6, Syracuse at 10 and Georgetown at 20.

Other teams of interest to Pitt are Illinois at 13 and Tennessee at 23.  Texas, WVU and UConn all received votes.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 28 October 2010

Today was the day to write about Louisville’s Bilal Powell. Both the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review went with articles on fifth-year running back, and with good reason. Powell is on pace for over 1,700 yards this season and has gone over 150 yards four times this season (twice for 200+). He’s a power runner, but he’s got some speed to him:

Powell, who has already surpassed 1,000 yards this season, will be featured Saturday at noon when Louisville (4-3, 1-1) visits Pitt (4-3, 2-0) at Heinz Field. The 6-foot, 204-pound Powell is the No. 4 rusher in the nation at 143 yards per game and possesses a rare combination of speed and strength.

"He's definitely the best back that we've played so far," defensive tackle Myles Caragein said.

Powell, a Lake Gibson, Fla., product, is coming into his own after averaging only 31 rushing yards per game in his first three years. Powell had an 80-yard touchdown run against Kentucky in the season opener, a 74-yard TD against Memphis on Oct. 9 and an 85-yard tackle-breaking touchdown run against Cincinnati on Oct. 15. He is the only FBS running back with three runs of 70 yards or longer.

He’s a great runner and he should test Pitt's defense early and often.  Pitt has been struggling with getting their own star in the backfield going, although we know what he can do:

Lewis' emergence has coincided with a dramatic improvement in Pitt's passing game. First-year quarterback Tino Sunseri is coming into his own, passing for 307 and 266 yards in the past two games. Pitt's ability to make plays in the passing game has opened up new running lanes for the backs.

The Panthers rushed for 206 yards against Rutgers, with Ray Graham rushing for an additional 56.

"The past two weeks, Tino has had pretty good games," Lewis said. "That's helping the running game. It's keeping defenses honest. They're not loading up to stop the run all the time. Most teams come in wanting to stop the run, and, once you open up the pass, they kind of [step] back. And that's when we're able to find some running room."

Yes, the emergence of Tino Sunseri has done wonders for Pitt's running game.  He's been able to spread the ball around to different weapons and involve roleplayers.  Add in several Jon Baldwin sightings against Rutgers and this offense is beginning to look as explosive as what everyone thought it could.  Every time Pitt has me feeling confident, they go down in flames, but I will say this: There's no reason to think Pitt can't put up another 40 point performance on Saturday.

Pitt's defense has also been solid, and should be able to handle Louisville, a team still recovering from Hurricane Kraigthorpe.  Pitt will again be without Greg Romeus, but Brandon Lindsey has been outstanding in his absence, leading the team in sacks.  The return of K'Wuan Williams should help the secondary in nickle and substitution packages.  The linebackers have played solid, all things considered (but not well enough for Phil Bennett apparently).

Lots of reasons to be optimistic, but every game is a must win for national respect and to keep Pitt controlling its own destiny in the conference.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 27 October 2010

According to a report Philly.com (which is affiliated with the Philadelphia Inquirer), Villanova head football coach Andy Talley had this to say regarding making the move to FBS:

As far as what's been going on behind the scenes, it's been very quiet. I think Villanova is doing their due diligence, which is to spend time within the administrative level discussing pros and cons. And any discussion that's been going between Big East officials and Villanova, I haven't been privy to.

So I know a decision is going to be made some time in December, we hope, and at that point in time, it's really going to be whatever is in the best interest of Villanova University.

So there's that.

As has been discussed ad nauseum, Villanova has huge questions that need to be answered before it would be permitted by the NCAA to make the move.  First of which is "where are they going to play?"  Next is "who is going to come watch?" Next is "why invest all this money into a conference that may or not exist on the whim of the Big 10?"  Next, "where is said money going to from, oh small/private school?"  And so forth and so forth...

Prediction?  Villanova declines at this time, based upon having zero answers to the above questions.  The fact that they need all of this cajoling while other programs are begging for a seat at the BCS table speaks volumes to their commitment to football.  Let a new wave of Big East jokes fly.

(Recommended homework: On The Banks' post on this topic from September).

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Written by PSB Bryan | 27 October 2010

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A little more than a week after the Tribune Review headlined an article "Pitt suffers drop at tight end," Mike Cruz put together a performance that was enough to earn him the John Mackey Tight End of the Week.

I pretty much chalked Cruz up for dead after being benched against Syracuse in favor of Brock DeCicco, who found the endzone for touchdown.  On Saturday, Cruz raised the bar to two catches for two touchdowns.

As my collegue Anson over at Cardiac Hill deadpanned, it must have been a slow week for tight ends.  But much like the Big East, sometimes beating bad competition is enough.

Joking aside, congratulations to Mike.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 27 October 2010

robinson

First, it was Gilbert Brown's hamstring.  Now, it's Nasir Robinson.  According to Pitt, Robinson underwent knee surgery yesterday after tearing his meniscus during Monday's practice.  Unlike Brown, whose injury shouldn't keep him from missing any games, Nasir is expected to miss 3-6 weeks, which would have him back by the NYC trip (Nov. 18-19) at the earliest.  Either way, the timeframe given indicates that he'll be back in plenty of time for the Big East schedule.

While not an elite scorer at this point in his development, Robinson is one of Pitt's best defensive player and his toughness will be missed early on.  If anything, this gives freshman Talib Zanna an opportunity to shine at the Peterson as opposed to the Greentree Sports Complex.  Talib had a great summer and really looks to be a contributor this season.  It would be nice to have the luxury to work him in gradually, but it looks like Zanna will have to debut by playing major minutes.  Not ideal, but workable.

A hearty "get well soon" to Nasir from the Pitt Script Blog.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 26 October 2010

After a rough start to the season - captured on national television for all to see - Pitt seems to be hitting their stride:

Since losing to Miami, 31-3, a month ago, the Panthers have enjoyed the second-best day by a running back in Pitt history, posted the program's first-ever consecutive 40-point Big East games, gained 500 total yards in a Big East game for the first time in a decade and got a 300-yard passing game from a sophomore quarterback with seven career starts.

"I think we are just starting to jell now as an offense in all areas," said fullback Henry Hynoski, who had seven receptions for 51 yards, both career highs, against Rutgers. "Everyone is just playing better."

The offense is clicking on all cylinders with a revitalized running game and a quarterback who is showing signs of growth every week.  The defense is playing at a very high-level, even without stars Greg Romeus and (projected) star Dan Mason.  A lot of which can be attributed to role-players stepping up.  Brandon Lindsey is leading the teams in sacks in replacement of Romeus. Jordan Gibbs has filled in above adequately at right tackle, while Lucas Nix has adjusted to the move inside.

tino-sunseriThe players and coaches are feeling good moving forward.  Of course, at this point, the damage has already been done to Pitt's national perception.  Despite dominating wins, Pitt received no votes in either the AP or Coaches' Poll (by comparison, Syracuse received at least some votes).  They don't really deserve it.  Add in that voters might be feeling just a bit scorned after giving Pitt all those accolades just a few months ago.  For God's sake, someone actually ranked this team #4 in the country preseason!

Yes, the hype was great.  Good for the program and good for the fanbase.  But in the end, it only matters how you finish and if Pitt keeps getting better, they have a good chance of finally winning the conference outright for the first time.

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