The more I've watched films and clips of this Tulsa offense - which is now, of course, the Pitt offense - the more I became convinced that there is no way that this entire offense is going to be able to be implemented in one season.
I mean, I've seen so many different formations and plays and looks from this offense that I thought to myself "how in the world are they going to get all of this in during one offseason with a team comprised mostly of a lot of players recruited to play pro-style football?"
Well, I finally decided to ask Todd Graham about it today and I was surprised by how candid he was in his answer. I will have a larger story about it for Sunday's paper, breaking it down even further but for now, I'll just give the Cliff Notes version.
The question I asked was "how much of the offense is realistic for you guys to be able to run this year and how much will your offense resemble the Tulsa offense of a year ago?"
Graham said basically that he came in with the idea that he could get this whole offense installed and he basically has - but that doesn't mean all of it will be available. He said it is more realistic to think that the team can master - that's the key word, master - about 65 percent of it this year.
That makes a lot of sense - he'd rather the team become efficient at a smaller portion of the offense rather than try to do too much. I think that is the right approach - simpler is better.
Now, I expect that we will see more of the offense each week as the team demonstrates it can handle some of the basics but I'd be surprised if we see the truly "high octane" offense displayed in this video below for at least another season, if not two.
I asked Graham about how many formations this offense has when it is rolling - he told me "about 87" which is just crazy but if you watch this video you will see some three wide, some two wide, some wishbone looks, some two tight end looks, you will see some formations with two tailbacks and a threeback, there is some wildcat, there are a lot of variety of reverses and sweeps - it really is going to be fun to watch this thing.
That's especially true once the team starts to really feel comfortable with the basics of the offense and coaches can begin to build on it.
*** One of the most interesting stories to follow this year will be that of kicker Kevin Harper. Yes, I know "he's just a kicker" but we always talk about highly recruited guys who have come in and failed to live up to their potential and never seem to mention the kickers or punters. Perhaps there is a bias just because a lot of people don't think that kickers and punters are real football players - but Harper was the 9th rated kicker in the country coming out of high school, was celebrated by coaches when he signed as a can't miss prospect and then arrived to find a group of walk-ons at his position. But he is now in his fourth season and he has yet to be much more than a kick-off guy specialist and he's not exactly been consistent in that role, either.
But here we are on the eve of this season and Harper looks like a guy whose light finally went on - as his position coach, Randall McCray, said to me today - and he really seems like a guy who is going to have a big year. He has been booming kicks from 55 yards and beyond and he has been consistently making kicks from 45 yards and in -- those shorter kicks were what he struggled with -- and in this offense, as he told me today, they are all about scoring points so he is going to get plenty of opportunities to shine.
Then there was this money line from Harper ---
"We're playing to win and score points as opposed to playing not to lose...." Harper said.
Wow. That is all I will say about that line - and I offer it without any editorial comment about it.
Now, I will write about Harper for Saturday's paper but the thing that really impressed me is that he really has matured greatly and does seem to finally "get it". And based on my experience covering college football, when a player with a lot of talent "gets it" and the light does go on, well, that's when he has a breakout year.
Harper admits he came in a cocky kid, thinking he'd waltz in and be a star but didn't have the right focus or attitude and it set him back but a few years on the bench has really taught some great life lessons.
Again, I think the most important part of the story is that Harper, by all accounts, is ready to really become a big factor for this team.
** One other thing Graham talked about today and actually, a number of the defensive players have talked about is this - the defense is going to attack and that means there is a risk involved.
Phil Bennett, who was the defensive coordinator obviously for the past few years, said it best when he said "when you blitz, somebody's band is going to play and you better make sure that it is going to be yours."
So there is always going to be a risk involved in blitzing but guess what - this team is going to blitz and it is going to put pressure on the offense and it is going to be in press coverage with its corners. In other words, it is going to throw caution to the wind and play fast and not worry about
That, to me, really is what should have Pitt fans excited -- this coaching staff will (as Herm Edwards would say) "play to win the game."
Now, that is not to say that the last staff did not play to win, but the number one complaint I used to field from fans was that the Panthers were too conservative, particularly on defense but also on offense.
I don't think that is going to be a problem this year as they are going to attack.
Max Gruder, who, despite being from the South is NOT 38 Hot but he does often find himself reading under shade trees, told me that the thing he likes the most about this defense is that the defense will dictate to the offense as opposed to the other way around. He also likes the fact that the Panthers will do a lot of blitzing because he thinks the secondary is good enough to make plays every time the opposing quarterback is "impacted."
*** The Annual FanFest is tomorrow (Thursday night) at Heinz Field from 6 to 8. The autograph session is from 6:30 to 8. The admission to the event is free, it is $5 to park in Gold Lot 1 and Gold Lot 2. There will be music, games, inflatables, etc., etc. and there will also be an opportunity for fans to purchase season tickets. And oh year, Chris Ferris called to make a correction - he will indeed pose for photos and sign autographs, but it will be Pat Bostick and Justin Acierno, as a duet, who will be singing Neil Diamond songs karaoke as well as showing off the new "Sweet Caroline" dance....
*** There was some recruiting news today as well - as Darryl Render, a defensive end from St. Edward (Cleveland, Ohio), committed to the Panthers. He is the 13th player from the Class of 2012 to commit to the Panthers. He chose Pitt over offers from Connecticut, Cincinnati, Louisville and Iowa. He seems to be a very highly regarded prospect so that's a good get for the staff. Here is a link to a detailed story about Render from Chris Peak (from the recruiting web-site Pantherlair).
*** I'm sure some of you out there are degenerate gamblers and love to look at things like odds and so this should interest you.
Here are the odds to win the Big East according to the sportsbook Bodog...
West Virginia - 2 to 1
South Florida - 5 to 2
Pittsburgh - 7 to 2
Cincinnati - 7 to 1
Louisville -10 to 1
Rutgers - 15 to 1
Syracuse - 18 to 1
Connecticut - 22 to 1.
And while we are at it -- here are the odds for Pitt's non-conference opponents to win their respective conferences.....
Iowa (Big Ten) - 15 to 1 (That is sixth, behind Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State).
Buffalo (Mid-American Conference) - 35 to 1 (That is tied with Ball State for 10th behind everyone but Eastern Michigan)
Utah (Pac-12) - 13 to 2 (Fourth behind Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State)
Notre Dame is not in a conference and Maine is Division I-AA (FCS)