Pitt leads Youngstown State, 21-3, at the half. I suspect that the second-half is going to get pretty ugly as the Panthers size and strength is going to take over and wear the Penguins down. The Panthers offensive line, albeit against suspect competition, has held up extremely well.
And let me state that again -- yes, I know YSU is a Division I-AA team and not a very good one at that and one which is depleted due to suspensions and it is way too early to tell much of anything, but these are some of my initial thoughs about this team.
So far the MVP of the game by far has been freshman tailback Dion Lewis, who has 15 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns and he caught a 3-yard swing pass for a touchdown. He has shown what we have seen in camp -- he gets tough yards, he is a north-south runner and he does have some speed so while he doesn't run away from the defense (he's been caught a few times), when he sees a crease he can turn it into a 20 or 30-yard run.
A lot of his yards seem to be behind the left side of the line and that isn't a surprise as Jason Pinkston is flopping the Penguins defensive tackle around like he is a fish. They've also done some pulling this year with the guards and I don't remember that being a big part of the offense last year.
Here are some of my other thoughts.....
* It is clear they are not going to put Bill Stull in any situations today where he can make a mistake and they aren't going to take many chances. He completed 6-of-9 passes but I don't think he was asked to make a tough throw as everything he threw was either off play-action -- and to a wide open receiver -- or a checkdown or screen of some sort. I would like to see more from the passing game in a game like this but I can understand the idea of trying to get Stull some confidence in a game the Panthers are going to win with ease. The one shot they took down the field was a play-action and Stull threw it too early and ended up overthrowing Jonathan Baldwin -- who from the looks of it should have stayed home because it doesn't appear as if they intend on using him. How does he have ZERO catches in the first half.
I know it is great to see the run game work against a physically inferior opponent -- and by a lot I might add as Pitt is manhandling this team-- but isn't this the kind of game where you should work on your passing game and the timing of it all, which is clearly off?
This is something that was a problem for Pitt last year -- not being able to connect with deep passes and if the trend continues, the defenses will do what they did last year as well -- crowd the line, bottled up the Pitt running game and force the Panthers to try and beat them over the top.
* Pitt's defensive line has played pretty well, though YSU has done a good job rolling their quarterback out and using some play-action stuff to try and slow that front four down. It is a strategy I think we will see a lot of this year against Pitt which means the pressure will be on the back seven to make plays. So far they've been pretty good, although RIcky Gary did get torched for what should have been a long touchdown pass. The saving grace for the Panthers was that a Pitt defender, I think it was Romeus, hit YSU quarterback Brandon Summers just as he threw it and his pass just missed the mark as it was a little bit high.
* The special teams appear to be in good shape as well. I think Aaron Smith is going to be a good punt returner, he catches the ball well and has an excellent first step (which is what sets up the return usually) and Cameron Saddler showed his burst of speed as well. The coverage units were good as well and although the long-snapping on at least two of the extra points was a little bit suspect, the kicks have all been good, particularly the punts from Dan Hutchins.
* One thing that concerns me about Andrew Taglianetti is his size and while he is a good football player and really understands the defense, twice in the Penguins field goal drive he had a chance to make a third-down tackle and twice he got run over. After the second one, the coaches sent Elijah Fields in for about two plays, but it is clear Fields is or at least it appears as if, he's deep in the dog house. He hasn't even been in the one or two times the Panthers were in their bandit (nickel, dime whatever it is) subpackage. This is clearly something we will keep an eye on. Obvisouly Taglianetti is going to improve as he plays more, but size isn't overrated in Division I football and that is something he'll need to overcome his entire career.
Here is some things that I will be looking for in the second half.....
1.) When is it Tino time? It is clear this game is in hand, will we see much of Tino Sunseri and if we do, will he be allowed to throw? In other words -- WHEN DOES TINO SUNSERI GET SOME WORK? HE NEEDS WORK, GOTTA GET HIM SOME WORK.....
2.) How much will we see of Dan Mason at middle linebacker? Again, if ever there was an opportunity to get his feet wet, this is it.
3.) Ditto all of that for Ray Graham.....
4.) How long will the starters go? There is no need to get anyone hurt in a game like this. I say maybe two or three more series at the most then empty the benches but we will see what the philosophy is from the coaching staff. It will tell us a lot about how ready they think this team is for the season.