Tag Archives: james conner

Pittsburgh Q&A with @CzarOfPgh

You can follow Zach on Twitter at @CzarOfPgh.

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

As has been the case with basically every Pitt team I’ve watched, I have really no clue what to make of them. There have been some very positive signs.

The defense, in particular the pass defense, has been night and day different than last year. Last year’s philosophy on defense suited Paul Chryst’s conservative personality quite well: bend but don’t break. Unfortunately, the talent level just wasn’t good enough to avoid breaking. This year, Pat Narduzzi has already implemented a tough, attacking defense. Starting cornerback Avonte Maddox has had a phenomenal season so far, and last year’s top recruit in Pennsylvania Jordan Whitehead has already seized the starting strong safety spot and is among the team leaders in tackles.

On the downside, the run defense is still a work in progress. A large part of this is talent. Paul Chryst failed to recruit the d-line and linebacker positions very well. Still, it’s obvious that the new more aggressive scheme will pay off once the talent level begins to catch up in a few years.

More troubling, the offense is suddenly a mess. Sure the loss of James Conner to injury and 60% of last year’s starting OL to either the NFL or season-long injury has been a major problem. A bigger problem, at least in my opinion, is a lack of a real identity. It’s not clear to me what the offense wants to be. At least with Paul Chryst you knew he wanted a power running attack. Thus far, Jim Chaney seems very hesitant to try to run inside, possibly due to the OL concerns. The problem is that the outside running game hasn’t been so great either. There have been a lot of East-West plays that never really develop. To go with those issues, Chaney quite obviously never trusted Chad Voytik to do… whatever it is Chaney wants to do. Nate Peterman has looked like he can make a lot of accurate throws, but he’s also been fairly turnover prone. I’m eager to see the offense develop into something with a real identity rather than random elements tossed together to see what works.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

I expect a fairly ugly game, especially if the weather is as expected. I know VT’s defense didn’t look like the elite unit it was expected to be against ECU, but I don’t think Pitt can do (or wants to do) the kinds of things on offense that ECU does. I’m terrified that VT’s talented defensive line is going to eat Pitt’s offensive line for lunch. Jim Chaney is going to want to establish the run one way or another, and that is going to be a tough order. Even if the weather were ideal, I’m not sure how well Pitt could pass against a great secondary and strong pass rush. In poor weather, it might be impossible. Unfortunately, I think a good passing game that keeps Tyler Boyd and the tight ends involved is going to be the best chance Pitt has to reliably move the ball.

When VT has the ball, I hope to see an improved rushing defense. VT has a lot of talent at running back, and Pitt is going to need to hold their own in order to have any chance of winning. If the passing defense can keep up its improved play over last year, Pitt’s success is going to come down to how well they can stop the run.  In an ugly game in wet weather, I can’t really say that either team has a clear advantage.

Heinz Field is a house of horrors for VT, how do you feel about Pitt coming to Lane Stadium?

To be honest, the thought of coming into a night game at Lane would terrify me. I want no part of that. Luckily, this year’s game is at noon. It’s hard to think of any stadium that’s truly intimidating for a noon game. Couple that with the expected wet, cold weather, and it’s hard to imagine much of a home field advantage for VT.

At this point, how do you see the Coastal Division shaking out? Which team do you think will end up winning the division?

From the looks of it, Duke is going to be the class of the Coastal. They’re really playing great defense, and if recent history carries any weight, the offense will get going pretty soon too. They’re capable of easily winning the Coastal outright. Miami should be right up there with them, but it’s hard to have any faith in an Al Golden-coached team. They could easily collapse and lose several games that they shouldn’t. I also wouldn’t write off Georgia Tech either. They were too good last year to look so sloppy this year. I think they’ll still have a respectable finish.

What I am trying to say here is that I think Duke probably wins it but everyone has a good shot of finishing well. Except Virginia.

What is your prediction for the game?

Ugly. Maybe not Mizzou-UConn ugly, but pretty bad. These are two flawed teams that have been forced by injury to reconsider what their strengths are. A noon game in wet weather isn’t going to help them figure it out. I expect Virginia Tech to pull out a victory because they’re more talented on defense. If Pitt can figure out an offensive recipe that works–and it was in the VT game last year that the light bulb went off for the offense–then they have a good chance. Still, VT is the more talented team, so unless they get unlucky in the turnover department, I’d expect VT to win close.

Why can’t the Hokies have an SEC-sized offensive line?

It seems whenever the SEC plays, I see Hokie fans on message boards and on Twitter pose the question, “Why can’t we have an o-line like [insert SEC team here].” In a recent Twitter conversation with @hokiesmash, he posed the question why can’t the Hokies have an offensive line at least as good as Pitt or BC’s? Pitt and BC might not be the gold standard for great offensive play but they are consistently good in the ACC and should be a model for the Hokies to follow. So the question is, why are Pitt and BC’s offensive lines better than the Hokies? Let’s look deeper into if that’s true and if so, why?

Recruiting

Where do Pitt and BC recruit their linemen from and how talented are they perceived to be when they enroll?
* Star values come from 247sports.com’s composite rankings

Pittsburgh

2014 Commits: PA (2), MI, CT
1 4stars  3 3stars

2013 Commits: PA (3), OH, NY
1 5star3stars 1 2stars

2012 Commits: PA, WI
1 4stars 1 2stars

2011 Commits: PA, NY
1 3stars 1 2stars

States Represented: PA (7), NY (2), CT, OH, MI, WI
Average Stars: 3.08 stars 3stars

Pittsburgh

Boston College

2014 Commits: MA (2), GA
3 3stars

2013 Commits: No Offensive Line Commits

2012 Commits: VA, MA, NJ
3 3stars

2011 Commits: MA (2), IL (2), PA, MD
4 3stars 3 2stars

States Represented: MA (4), IL (2), NJ, PA, MD, VA, GA
Average Stars: 2.77 stars 3stars

BostonCollege

Virginia Tech

2014 Commits: NJ (2), PA, OH
4 3stars

2013 Commits: VA (3)
3 3stars

2012 Commits: VA (2), PA (2)
1 3stars 3 2stars

2011 Commits: VA
1 3stars

States Represented: VA (6), PA (3), NJ (2), OH
Average stars: 2.75 stars 3stars

VirginiaTech

Do the Hokies recruit the same areas as Pitt and BC? Yes. All three schools have recruited the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Do the Hokies have roughly the same recruiting success as Pitt and BC? Pitt’s offensive line recruiting has been better than both BC and VT. Pitt has one 5-star and two 4-star offensive line recruits. BC and VT have no 4 or 5 star offensive line recruits.

How have the results been different on the field been different over the last 4 years?

Pittsburgh

2014 Rushing Offense Ranking: 19th
2014 Sacks Allowed: 51st

2013 Rushing Offense Ranking: 102nd
2013 Sacks Allowed: 118th

2012 Rushing Offense Ranking: 92nd
2012 Sacks Allowed: 102nd

Boston College

2014 Rushing Offense Ranking: 8th
2014 Sacks Allowed: 34th

2013 Rushing Offense Ranking: 20th
2013 Sacks Allowed: 44th

2012 Rushing Offense Ranking: 115th
2012 Sacks Allowed: 106th

Virginia Tech

2014 Rushing Offense Ranking: 77th
2014 Sacks Allowed: 51st

2013 Rushing Offense Ranking: 109th
2013 Sacks Allowed: 96th

2012 Rushing Offense Ranking: 79th
2012 Sacks Allowed: 60th

oline-rankings

Boston College has by far been the most successful team on the offensive line. The 2012 season was nightmare that they rebounded nicely from. Pitt has not been better than the Hokies for the last two years before a huge improvement this year (hello James Conner). For the Hokies, 2012 was a mediocre year on the offensive line. 2013 was downright awful. So far, 2014 has been a return to mediocrity. So what does all this tell us and what do the Hokies need to do?

Well, out of the three teams analyzed, the Hokies are definitely getting the least out of their recruits. You can blame it on coaching transitions (three coaches in the last three years) or you can blame it on the quality of those coaches. I do not have enough insight into the program to give you the answer to that question but the level of production is clear. So what’s the answer? In my opinion it’s two-fold – pick a fertile recruiting area where you feel like you can be successful then get those recruits to sign with your program. Stacy Searels appears to be favoring the Southeast (Virginia to Florida) but he has gone as far as Massachusetts for a recruit. The biggest issue is picking an area where the Hokies can win the recruiting battles. It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time recruiting guys in the South who are going to the SEC anyway. It would seem like the low-hanging fruit would be recruiting the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic but if Stacy Searels feels like he can be successful in the Southeast – I hope he feels like he can close the deal with those recruits. Otherwise, the Hokies will not be getting any better on the offensive line any time soon. Virginia Tech will not be successful with the SEC’s leftovers. They are better off following Pitt and BC’s example by recruiting the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Then have some stability on the coaching staff to get the most out of those recruits.

Pittsburgh Q&A with @CzarOfPgh

You can follow Zach on twitter @CzarOfPgh

What are your thoughts on your team so far?

I’m basically like the guy from Momento; I should be carrying around polaroids of the past 30 years of Pitt football to remind myself in the offseason to never, ever be optimistic. The schedule seemed to be shaping up for an 8-4 type year: open 5-1 against Delaware, BC, FIU, Iowa, Akron, and UVA and then manage 3-3 in the chaotic Coastal. I remember thinking 4-2 to open the season would be a worst-case scenario. We’re 3-3.

So my thoughts are mostly not positive. From halftime of the Iowa game until halftime of the UVA game, the team has appeared alternatingly confused, listless, overpowered, and uninterested. I’m not smart enough to know if the issue is players, schemes, or coaching, but the current players in the current scheme aren’t getting it done for the current coaches. Something has to change before the season slips away.

What are your expectations going into the Virginia Tech game?

After that burst of negativity, let me be positive here. In the Paul Chryst era, Pitt has followed disastrous back-to-back losses to Youngstown State and Cincinnati with a win over a 13th ranked Virginia Tech. Later that year, a bad loss to UConn was followed with a win at a ranked Rutgers. Last year, terrible losses to Navy and Georgia Tech were followed with a win over a ranked Notre Dame. In short, when it really comes time to nut up or shut up, Chryst’s teams have always chosen the former.

So here we are – a disappointing 3-3 looking into the cavity-laden teeth of the ACC Coastal. There are 6 winnable games here and 6 losable games. When it seemed like the season was slipping away in years past, Chryst’s teams have been able to rally and salvage bowl eligibility. I can only hope they still have that kind of fight still in them [pulls out polaroid pictures and frowns].

At this point, how do you see the Coastal Division shaking out? Which team do you think will end up winning the division?

Forget everyone finishing 4-4, I think somehow everyone manages to finish 3-5.

More seriously, it’s clear (as it was before the season) that there’s no elite team here. In the absence of a team that has an elite offense and defense, someone who has one of those things is going to win it. If that’s the criterion, then it basically eliminates Pitt and UNC from the start. Things always seem to be on the precipice of falling apart at Miami, and Duke does a lot of things very well but none of them really elite. That leaves Georgia Tech’s offense and the elite defenses in the commonwealth of Virginia. UVA still has to play FSU and GT still has Clemson, so I am taking the Hokies, injuries and all, to end up on top.

What is your prediction for the game?

If Pitt has any chance of winning, they have to take advantage of the injury concerns the Hokies have at running back and the questionable choices Michael Brewer often makes. VT isn’t a team that’s going to put up a lot of points, so that is encouraging, because Pitt’s defense is adequate at best.

Unfortunately, Pitt hasn’t been able to put up points at all, really, over the past month.  The offensive line wasn’t able to get much of a push against Akron, of all teams. If James Conner can’t run and set up second- and third-and-shorts, then it’s trouble. Chad Voytik has spent way too much time looking uncomfortable, unable to go through his progressions, unable to see over the line, and unable to use proper mechanics. That’s a bad recipe against a VT defense that is ranked 4th in the country by the latest F/+ statistics.

I predict VT 21-Pitt 13 with a lot Twitter jokes about both offenses from the national tv audience.

Pittsburgh Preview and Prediction

Let’s examine the Hokies last three visits to Pittsburgh:

2012: #13 Virginia Tech 17, Pittsburgh 35
2003: #5 Virginia Tech 28, #25 Pittsburgh 31
2001: #12 Virginia Tech 7, Pittsburgh 38

That’s three times that a highly ranked Virginia Tech team has waltzed into Heinz Field and left with a lost. If the Hokies want to avoid it happening for a fourth consecutive time, they need to come prepared to play.

Virginia Tech’s front seven is small and fast. This works well against a lot of teams but Pitt has a very big offensive line and 6’2″, 250 pound running back. I don’t like how that matchup looks on paper especially with Luther Maddy out for the game.

You might say, is Chad Voytik going to beat us? Well, I didn’t think Tino Sunseri, Rod Rutherford and David Priestly would beat us either. His numbers this year aren’t terrible – 58.7%, 8 TDs, 5 INTs. If the Hokies want to take advantage of the matchup of the Hokies secondary vs Voytik – they need to jump out to an early lead and make him have to throw more than the Pitt coaches might feel comfortable with. That’s the formula for beating this Pitt team.

Statistically, the Pitt defense is very good. They rank 4th in total defense, 37th in rushing defense and 6th in passing defense. The Hokies haven’t been able to run on anyone this season, so don’t expect that to start this week with their top 3 running backs out for the game. That also means that once again, the success of the offense will reside squarely on Michael Brewer’s shoulders. If he takes care of the ball, more than likely the Hokies will win. If he reverts back to bad Michael Brewer, it will be difficult for the Hokies to win.  It’s really as simple as that. Let’s hope we see more of the Ohio State/UNC Michael Brewer than the ECU/GT Michael Brewer.

On paper this matchup looks pretty even all things considered. But given the Hokies bad mojo at Heinz Field, it’s hard to pick them. This game is going to look a lot like the UNC game – lots of penalties and just plain ugly football. I’m just not feeling good about the Hokies chances of going into Heinz Field in an even matchup and stealing a win. It didn’t work for those highly-ranked VT squads and I don’t think it’s going to work for the 2014 Hokies either.

Pittsburgh 27, Virginia Tech 24