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Notes from Wannstedt's news conference

Written by Paul Zeise on .

** Today’s news conference with Dave Wannstedt was interesting because he did a lot more talking about the Utah game then he typically likes to about the past game. Normally he tries to talk more about the upcoming game and the matchups and tries not to dwell too much on the game that was just played – especially in a case like this when the game was played five days ago. But today he spent a lot of time talking about some of the decision-making he made and some of the things that he believes his team learned from the loss at Utah and I thought it was some good, honest answers. I thought he explained his thought process on the final series of regulation well and I also think he made his case for why he believed it was important to be conservative in the play-calling early in the game as well. That doesn’t mean I agree with it or don’t agree with it, but it does shed some light on what the coaching staff was thinking and more importantly, that they at least put some thought into the plan. And at the end of the day if your worst decision involves handing the ball to Dion Lewis,  I suppose you could rationalize that you’ve had a pretty good day. All of it also illustrates all of the factors which go into every decision that is made during a typical football game and how figuring out the right decision isn’t always as easy as it seems.  

** Kicker Dan Hutchins also took the podium and really was pretty honest when he was asked about the time-out routine pulled by Utah coach Kyle Whittingham at the end of the game. He admitted it bothered him a little he called it nerve racking and said it isn’t really the right way to play football. But he said as a kicker he needs to just do his job and as long as it is within the rules of the game, he needs to learn how to deal with it. I thought he did a pretty good job of giving an honest assessment of the situation. And he is 100 percent right – I don’t care what the rules say – and this is not a criticism of Whittingham specifically – this practice of calling time-outs at the last second before field goals are kicked is rather bush league. That rule needs to be changed so coaches can’t call back-to-back time-outs any more. One time for that kind of silliness should be enough. I mean, the NCAA has lost their minds trying to rid the “lack of sportsmanship” in touchdown and sack celebrations – isn’t shooting an angle like this contrary to the spirit of sportsmanship and fairness?

** The status of Ray Graham (knee), Dom DeCicco (hamstring) and Andrew Taglianetti (groin) for this week’s game is still not known, well, other than the meaningless “day-to-day” label which has suddenly become the polite way for coaches every where to say “don’t ask about injuries because we’re not going to answer the questions honestly anyway.” Wannstedt did say that a decision on Graham will be made based on how well he practices so at least it sounds like he is indeed getting closer to being ready to play.

**  Now, let’s see if we can do the same kind of lazy and over-the-top knee-jerk analysis that has been going on across the country with pundits and talking heads over the past three days.

Ready, OK, let’s go……

There were two Big Ten teams – Illinois and Purdue – who went on the road this past weekend to play against quality teams and they lost, hence the Big Ten stinks. Actually it is worse than that because Illinois lost on a neutral site!! And we're sorry but wins at Middle Tennessee St., UNLV (where they haven’t had a winning season since 2000) and Vanderbilt don’t count as quality road wins.

The SEC didn’t have any teams go on the road against quality opponents this past weekend and considering North Carolina (a North Carolina team who apparently doesn’t count as a good team anyway) had 90 guys suspended, LSU’s win on a semi-neutral field against the Tar Heels felt like a loss since they needed a late stand just to hold on and win. In addition two SEC teams – Vanderbilt and Mississippi -- actually lost at home to bad teams, so that’s even worse than the Big Ten, hence the SEC really stinks.

The ACC had only North Carolina and Virginia Tech play tough games away from home -- on neutral fields no less -- and both lost, so the ACC must really stink, too!!

And the Pac-10, what an absolute joke of a conference that is – look at it, UCLA, Washington, Washington State all went on the road to play quality competition and lost and Oregon State lost on a semi-neutral field!!! Good thing USC saved a little face for the conference by winning at Hawaii but hell, that doesn’t really count since the Trojans gave up 36 points!

All right, are we done with this silly exercise yet?

Look, the Big East obviously needs to win some games but the idea that somehow just because three Big East teams lost ON THE ROAD at tough places to play against three quality opponents it proves the conference stinks is laughable, if it weren’t so ridiculous.

But of course, this is what passes for analysis these days – just mindless, knee-jerk rants without any substance which barely even scratch the surface - and everybody's favorite whipping boy is the Big East, especially after a bad weekend or a tough loss.

Remember last season – when people across the country claimed the Big East was automatically terrible because they had no teams ranked in the preseason? Of course, that sort of went away rather quickly when the games began and by midseason there were as many five out of eight teams ranked.

There is a reason why most teams don’t go on the road in WEEK ONE and why most teams play a soft touch at home before taking on tougher opponents and more importantly, go on the road. And it is a legitimate one – because in college football there is no exhibition season and there is turnover with every team every year. And teams need to and can work out some of the kinks and growing pains by playing one game at home against a lesser opponent and not be penalized for it.

Coaches always say teams improve the most between week one and week two – and there is no question that playing on the road in front of a hostile crowd in week one is a very difficult challenge.

Take a look at the first half performances of Penn State, Florida, West Virginia and even a team like Oklahoma (and there are plenty of other examples out there) this past weekend, who needed a late stand to hold off Utah State – had any of those teams played a quality opponent on the road and put on that kind of performance, they not only would have lost, they may have gotten buried.

That’s the nature of the game.

If you want to criticize the Big East, criticize whoever the made those schedules and decided to play those games on the road – where it is tough to win, which is why most teams avoid road games like the plague – in week one.

As the season progresses, we may see ultimately that the Big East is awful but could we wait at least a few weeks before we start making declarative statements about anyone. I mean again, three teams played and lost their opener on the road against quality competition – which means there is no margin for error – and that isn’t much different than what most teams would have done in the same situation.

Nobody is saying the Big East is the best conference in the land but could we wait until the season a few weeks old before we declare it the worst?

**  And while we’re at it, let’s go one step further and talk about the absurdity of polls and people who vote in them.  I’ve voted in the past and probably will again at some point in the future so I know the challenges of voting, especially early in the season.

But the fact that Pitt – which, you can say what you want about how they lost but the fact remains they lost on the road against a ranked team by three points in overtime --  dropped from 15th to out of the polls –  and North Carolina – who lost by six points in a virtual road game with how many guys suspended this weekend? – dropped from 18th to out of the polls while a team like Stanford, who beat Sacramento State at home, and countless others get moved up in the polls, is ridiculous.

What is the incentive for playing a tough schedule, I mean, really is there one any more?

Think about it, what if Pitt played at home against New Hampshire this week, next week played at home against Ohio or someone, the week after played their game against Florida International, then went on the road to Navy and came home to play, oh I don’t know, Duke (in other words, scheduled as if they were Rutgers)  – there is a great chance the Panthers would be 5-0 and since they began the year at 15, they probably would be up to No. 7 or 8.  

Would that really prove anything? But yet, so many teams do this – take a look at, for instance, Wisconsin’s schedules over the past five or six years and tell me that isn’t much different than what they’ve done. They generally lose to the best two or three teams on their schedule, beat the bottom teams in the Big Ten and tack on four non-conference wins against virtual nobodies and get nine or ten wins out of it.

Pitt will likely beat New Hampshire this week but what exactly will that prove? Why do we continue to reward teams for beating nobody?

The top two teams right now should be Boise State and TCU why? Because they actually beat somebody of substance and did so away from home (albeit on neutral fields) unlike Alabama and Ohio State.

**  One last note about the Utah game – I’ve received several e-mails from people proclaiming the reason Pitt didn’t throw more to Jon Baldwin (again, not one pass to Baldwin in 17 redzone plays) is because he was being pressed at the line by Utah’s cornerbacks. I thought was a little strange until I watched the broadcast the other day and realized where it came from – Versus’s color commentator, a former NFL quarterback no less, kept banging that drum about Baldwin’s “trouble getting off the line” and the fact that Utah’s corners were up on the line in press coverage.
All of that sounds great, sounds official and even makes it sound like intelligent analysis – but unfortunately nothing could have been further from the truth. I watched the second half and kept rewinding it on Pitt’s offensive plays to make sure I wasn’t seeing things because it just wasn’t the case, even a little bit. No. 27 for Utah  - Brandon Burton – would SHOW press coverage almost every play, then he would back off the line five to seven yards and Baldwin would run free off the line. And this happened almost every single play in the second half. In fact, what is funny is there is actually one play where Burton is on the line, the color commentator starts talking about press coverage and what it is and then points to the guy as an example – and just as he does he backs off the line. I don't know that the Utes were in press coverage and jamming receivers at all in the second half, though I'm sure I might have missed one or two plays they might have done it…..It just goes to show that if you saying something enough and repeat it enough, it doesn’t have to be true to becomes the gospel truth for people who want to believe it. Baldwin was free to run off the line for the entire second half, which is what makes the fact that he wasn’t a bigger focal point of the offense even more frustrating.

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