** The Utah game is clearly in the rearview mirror for the Panthers and that is a good thing because -- if they keep looking back they'll get beat by the team that is right in front of them -- New Hampshire.
Yes, I know, New Hampshire is a I-AA program and all that stuff but as I have written before - not every I-AA, sorry, FCS, program is equal. There are some which are basically cannon fodder for Division I-A (FBS) programs and others, like New Hampshire, who have enough good players and talent to pull an upset if they are taken lightly.
Don't get me wrong, Pitt should win the game and should win it comfortably, but the Panthers have to play well and I'd expect them to. Still, this is a spread offense team like Utah, though the Wildcats do more in the run game out of the spread, do more option stuff and some read-option stuff. Last week in a win over Central Connecticut they ran for more than 300 yards and passed for less than 100, so it is a different kind of challenge for Pitt.
"What would constitute success this weekend? In other words, what do you want to see from your Panthers in order to believe they made progress from last week to this week?"
** I wrote this story on Tino Sunseri for today's paper and it basically is about his confidence level. He certainly has all of the qualities of a leader and he talked openly and frankly about how badly he wanted the ball in his hands at the end of the game. In fact, as you saw on the broadcast of the game, he came running off the field late in the game and said "put this on me" or something very close to that. He laughed about it and said he just got caught up in the game but then also said several times he would do it again in a similar situation because he wants to be that kind of player. If you click the link, you'll also see in the story how his debut compared to that of Bill Stull, Tyler Palko and Rod Rutherford and I'm sure you'll be surprised to find out that of the four, he did the best despite the fact that he is the only one who played on the road against even decent competition. So hopefully that brings to an end this silliness about how poorly he played and about how he isn't good enough to lead Pitt to a BCS championship. Sunseri has what it takes, now he just needs to put it all together and continue to improve each week.
** The weak link in the defense against Utah was the linebackers no doubt and given that the Panthers will face another spread offense this week - and about seven or eight more times this season - that is not good news. However, we talked with Max Gruder today and he basically did two things - took full responsibility for the way the linebackers played and said everything they did wrong in that game was correctable and that there were far more mental busts than physical mistakes. He also said the Wildcats will do a lot of similar stuff so it is imperative for the linebackers to figure it out in a hurry and he is convinced they will. "We were not even close to where we wanted to be," Gruder said. "Everybody who watched the game knows we didn't do what we wanted or needed to do. We knew what we were doing but didn't execute it. Some of it was experience, but we just have to be more mentally disciplined but I am not going to make excuses. We just need to get out there and be more mentally tough." Gruder is tough, he is smart and he is a leader out on the field and he also is doing his best to help Dan Mason settle in to his spot in the middle. The linebackers have a lot of work to do obviously but it was good to hear someone take accountability for his mistakes - even though Gruder played the best out of all of them - and point out the mental lapses they made. I expect the linebackers to play better this week and get better as the season goes on as they get more experience against the spread offense but there is a lot of work to be done.
** The team seems relatively healthy though there are still some lingering issues - Greg Romeus (back), Dom DeCicco (hamstring), Andrew Taglianetti (groin) and Ray Graham (knee) are all listed in that wonderful gray area known as "day-to-day" and I would suspect all will be listed as either probable or questionable later today when the Panthers release their second official injury report. I will say, however, that I will be surprised to see any of these guys play if they aren't 100 percent because all have injuries which could linger and with a bye week next week, there is no reason to push any of them back into the lineup. They could get a lot of rest and really be ready for the Miami game. It should be interesting to see the decision-making on these injured guys this week.
** Here are a few programming notes for Panther fans for this week --
Tonight (Thursday night) at 10:35 tune into Pitt Sports Call by Subway on CW-15 and join me and either Bob Pompeani or Jory Rand at 10:35. We will discuss all things Pitt football and we will also take your calls and e-mails and have some interviews.
Then on Saturday morning join Chris Peak from Pantherlair and yours truly at Rivertowne in the North Shore for our special pregame show from 9 a.m. to noon. The first hour will be the Pantherlair show, the second two hours will be Saturday Gameday. Chris and I will be broadcasting live from Rivertowne on 1250 ESPN RADIO. We will have interviews, we will take your phone calls and we will discuss all things Pitt-New Hampshire.