Hey everyone, glad to finally be back on the beat. First and foremost, I'd like to extend major thanks to Ray Fittipaldo for his yeoman's work while I was away.
Since I spent virtually all day yesterday in JFK airport, I had plenty of time to go back and watch all of the Youngstown State game. Fortunately, I really don't have too much to add that hasn't been said already. This game was an aberration (i.e. Pitt will beat an FBS team this year), but the question is how much. I'll have more on this in my advance for the game Thursday, but a win, or even just a strong showing, against Cincinnati Thursday would go a long way in putting this one way back in the rear-view mirror. Ray had a good story yesterday showing that teams can bounce back from losses to FCS teams.
That said, let's move on to Cincinnati. Paul Chryst spent most of his time with the media today talking about the Bearcats, and today was the last time we got to speak with him before Thursday night's game.
-It's a bit tougher to scout Cincinnati since they haven't played a game yet this season. Junior Munchie Legaux (unanimous selection to the All-Name team) will be starting at quarterback for the Bearcats after beating out senior Brendon Kay in the preseason. This wasn't really much of a surprise, as Legaux actually started five games last year in relief of the injured Zach Collaros.
Legaux was inconsistent last season, completing just 47.4 percent of his passes and recording a 5-4 TD-INT ratio. That said, he can be a tremendous dual threat with his legs. Last year, he rushed for 185 yards and two scores on 41 attempts. Pitt had some trouble containing Kurt Hess when he scrambled last week, but I suspect they'll key in more on Legaux's running ability and maybe use some spies to keep him in the pocket.
Legaux didn't play against Pitt last year, but his playing experience gives Chryst and the Pitt staff at least something to work on.
"You want to think every good coach, and I believe [Butch Jones is], adjusts to the skill sets of their guys, but it’s not like you say, ‘Boy, it’s a whole new offense," Chryst said of the difference between Collaros and Legaux under center.
-Cincinnati's defense is actually quite an interesting unit. It improved vastly last year, and the front seven was, statistically, one of the best in the country. The Bearcats led the nation in tackles for loss, were second in sacks and sixth in rushing defense. They'll suffer a bit from the loss of defensive tackles John Hughes and Derek Wolfe. They'll be replaced by sophomore Camaron Beard, who played sparingly last year, and junior Jordan Stepp, who started one game last year and played in all 13. The Bearcats return both starting defensive ends in Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano, who combined for 11 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season.
"I think they’ve got good players, I think they’ve got good speed," Chryst said. "They’re multiple enough that you’ve got to make sure that you’re locked in."
As good as Cincinnati's rush defense was though, the pass defense was very suspect. The Bearcats allowed 261.1 yards per game through the air last season, seventh in the Big East and 105th nationally. If nothing else, though, they return plenty of experience. Of the five starters (Cincinnati lists their nickelback on the depth chart) three are seniors and two are juniors. Strong safety Drew Frey was first-team all-Big East last year, and cornerbacks Camerron Cheatham and Deven Drane had three picks apiece last season.
-Jones has always had strong special teams units during his tenure at Cincinnati, and this year should be no exception. Ralph David Abernathy is back returning kicks. He ranked 15th in the country last year with 26.5 yards per return, and had one touchdown. Despite the challenge of a short game week, Chryst said the Panthers did spend plenty of time on special teams work.
"I think they really are, the film we watched, they are good special teams. I think combination, certainly their schemes are very sound, but they’ve got good players on them. I think their specialists just looking at that, they’re talented," he said. "That’s one of the areas where you can really see their overall team speed."
-As will be the case with every Big East game this season, this will be the last time Pitt and Cincinnati play in the foreseeable future.
Pitt holds a 4-3 edge in the series since the Bearcats joined the Big East in 2005. Combine that with four Panther wins in 1921, 1922, 1979 and 1981, and Pitt is 8-3 all-time against their River City Rivals.
"I certainly respect it," Chryst said of the rivalry. "To me, good rivalries have good teams. I like the approach from talking to especially some of our older guys. This is a big game because they, I think, respect what Cincinnati’s done. I’m not going to talk too much because I haven’t been there, haven’t been through it, haven’t earned the right to talk about it."
The most notable game in the series, though, was clearly the de facto Big East championship game in 2009. That game was part of one of the most memorable days of college football that I remember. That was also the day that Ndamukong Suh treated Colt McCoy like a rag doll and the Huskers came a second away from spoiling Texas' national championship hopes, and defending champ and No.1 Florida was dethroned by No. 2 Alabama in Tim Tebow's final SEC game.
I don't think I need to remind Pitt fans of how that one ended against Cincinnati, but it just goes to show that, even in their short shared conference history, these two teams have developed more than a bit of history. In most cases, I think Pitt is leaving the Big East for better matchups in the ACC, but this is one game I'll be sad to see off the college football schedule.
That's all for now. Like I said, I'm very glad to be back and excited for Thursday night. I'll be on the road to Cincinnati tomorrow, but will have a blog post up at some point, likely around the middle of the day. Chryst said a decision on the six suspended players will be made before the team leaves for Cincinnati tomorrow afternoon. If they remain suspended, they won't travel with the team.
Finally, I will be having the first of my weekly chats this Thursday at noon. I'll be coming to you live, likely from my hotel room, in Cincinnati. Barring any unforeseen changes, that will be my chat time every week for the rest of the season, so I hope you can join me.