Normally we call this installment (the recap of the most recent game played by Pitt) The Good (Blondie), the Bad (Angel Eyes) and The Ugly (Tuco) as we look at the Panthers performance and categorize it under those three headings -- what did they do that was good, what was bad and what was ugly.
But given that one of our all-time favorites, Patrick Swayze, died yesterday, we here at Redshirt Diaries feel like it would only be appropriate this week to pay homage to the man who brought us such wonderful theatrical productions as "Road House", "Point Break" and of course, "Red Dawn," instead of Clint Eastwood, who we still, by the way, believe is the greatest actor of our time......
So for one week, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly will have a "Classic Patrick Swayze-movie theme" and will be renamed.....Doc, Brad Wesley and Morgan (Three important characters from the movie Road House, see below for details).....
But before we get into reviewing the Pitt game, let's remember Swayze by watching this video of his cheesy 80's hit (does this make him a one-hit wonder?), which is one of those songs which reminds us all of just how cheesy pop culture was in that era --- and why love it so dearly.
Now, then, let's get to it......
* What more can be said about Dion Lewis? The kid is a true freshman and has already rushed for 319 yards and four touchdowns and is averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Are you joking? Saturday against Buffalo, the guy ran for 190 yards and two scores and his 85-yard touchdown run is one which he made almost entirely on his own. It is also a run that last year we saw LeSean McCoy make, except, McCoy often got caught from behind. I'm not saying the Lewis is better than McCoy or even faster, that's just an observation -- his downhill running style really seems to fit well into what Dave Wannstedt wants to do on offense. In fact, there were some plays Saturday that Wannstedt probably watched Lewis run and then turned to his right-hand man Greg Gattuso and said of Lewis "My goodness, He's like the Wind...."
* Everybody's favorite whipping boy this season has been Bill Stull. But if he does what he did against Buffalo every week, this offense will become extremely dangerous because all he did was take what the defense gave him and get the ball to his playmakers. He didn't force things, he didn't try to go downfield, he didn't make many mistakes. He just let his guys do their thing and "managed the game". Heck he looked a lot like Johnny Utah on the beach that day throwing footballs around trying not to get picked off by Bodhi.
* Speaking of playmakers, Dorin Dickerson looks like he has finally arrived as a legitimate player for this team. Eight receptions, three touchdowns, those are the kinds of numbers we've expected from him for the past three years. The coaches did a good job of moving him, in the backfield, to the perimeter, in the slot, tight to the line -- he gave the defense a lot of looks and a lot of things to think about in terms of trying to cover him on every play. He leads the team with 12 catches and four touchdowns. Last season he had 13 catches and two touchdowns, so he is clearly on pace for a much bigger season. He was so surprised he got so many balls thrown his way but he wanted to make sure there is a repeat of this so he went up to offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti after the game and said, "you know coach, I had the time of my life and I owe it all to you....."
* Speaking of the offense - Frank Cignetti called an excellent game. He knows what he has in Bill Stull and rather than have him chuck the ball all over the yard and down the field (he isn't very good at the deep ball) - so he has him dinking and dunking. That's why an H-back and a tailback are the leading receivers. Cignetti has indeed tried to get the balls to the playmakers as promised. The wheel route, for instance, which Dickerson caught for a touchdown pass -- it was set up by Jonathan Baldwin taking half the defense with him into the endzone and clearing out the flat. Dickerson was then left covered by a linebacker which is a mismatch. At some point, however, the Panthers will have to develop at least a threat of a vertical passing game but Cignetti did a good job of keeping the Bulls off balance with his play calling. But Saturday it was clear that during the pregame, Cignetti gave a rousing and inspirational speech which went something like this..."60 minutes, Billy. That's all I ask for, just 60 minutes of your life Billy, that's it. This is our tatic, we strike fear. It is basic dog psychology. Once you get them peeing down their leg, they submit. Also about fear, fear causes hesitation, and hesitation, causes your worst fears to come true."
* Although the defense stunk and the defensive line was not much of a factor, defensive tackle Mick Williams was dominant. He played extremely well in the middle, he made a number of big plays -- like forcing a fumble which turned into the game-sealing touchdown by Greg Williams. He is just one of those guys whose motor never quits running and he is a nightmare to block. He plays the game with a smile, then when he gets mad I'm sure it turns into a scowl. He takes the field every day with a vengeance and tells his teammates "If you want the ultimate, you've got to be willing to pay the ultimate price. It's not tragic to die doing what you love."
* The offensive line played much better Saturday than it did the week before against YSU. Again, this is a unit which should improve each week as Jason Pinkston, Lucas Nix and Robb Houser all settle in and get comfortable. Nix is in his first year as a starter and has a big upside and the other two are coming off major injuries. I expect the o-line to have another big day this week. They had a lot of blitzes and stunts thrown their way and for the most part picked them up and gave the offense a chance to be successful. The offensive line also bloicked extremely well for Dion Lewis, but it helps a lot that Lewis finds the hole and goes right at it. Of course, Buffalo defensive lineman Anel Montanez probably got the offensive line fired up right before the game because he walked up to Pitt center Robb Houser and said "you know, for your line of work, I thought you'd be bigger."
* Adam Gunn continues to grow into his role as a middle linebacker. He had three sacks on Saturday and he had 11 tackles but I think the thing about him that stands out is he makes so many plays just because he is in the right place. In other words, he understand his job, his position and he clearly studies a lot of film. He is another player who, the more he settles in, the better he will become. He has clearly taken the role as the leader of the defense. In fact, right after Andrew Taglianetti went down, Gunn stood up and told his teammates "We gotta win that fight tonight. We gotta get even with those Socs! Let's do it for Andrew, man. We'll do it for Andrew!"
* Elijah Fields didn't do a lot, in fact, he along with his fellow secondary members will likely appear elsewhere in this column, but for one play - a 30-yard interceptioin and return, he showed what kind of player he CAN become if he plays with intensity and desire. He intercepted the pass and it was very clear he wanted to score a touchdown as he ran it back with a purpose, like a man on a mission, broke some tackles, made some moves and at the end lunged at the goal line. He was stopped 2 yards short, but like I said, for that one play we got to see what type of big-play guy Fields could become if he really wants to. The problem, however, is he has used up most of his nine lives in the eyes of the coaching staff as he's been in and out of the coaches doghouse for the past few years. In fact, just the other day defensive coordinator Phil Bennett had to tell Fields "listen, it is my way or the highway." To which Fields responded "if I can't stay here and play football what am I supposed to do?" to which Bennett responded, "There's always barber college...."
* Speaking of turnovers, the Panthers not only forced four of them -- they made all four of them hurt to the tune of 27 points. They recovered a fumbled kick-off return -- one play later they score a touchdown. They recover a fumble in the redzone in the second quarter by one of the Bulls running backs, three plays later they score a touchdown. Greg Williams picked up a fumble and scooped and scored and one play after Fields interception, they scored a touchdown. That's called not only being opportunistic on defense, it is making sure you cash in on drives when you have a chance to score. That's a formula for winning football and it is also a way to help an offense that is not likely to be high-powered, score 54 points. Mick Williams was inspired by Greg Gattuso, who grabbed his face mask and told him right before the defense took the field for that series "All right, one quarter left. One quarter away from winning it all or losing to these miserable hackers with their [stupid] grins and their Saturday night wrestling tactics. One period away from remembering something for the rest of your life or something you wanna forget."
* Dan Hutchins punted five times for an average of 47.6 yards. But more importantly, he did an excellent job of placing punts and pinning Buffalo. He will clearly become a big weapon for the Panthers as they move through the season if he continues to punt that well. Hutchins, who is from a small rural town in north central Pennsylvania and after he booted that 53-yarder, he came to sidelines and got a high-five from back-up kicker Kevin Harper who said to him "To the game and getting out of that hick town! Thank God there is a sport for middle-sized white boys."
* The missed extra points - Dan Hutchins needs to hit them. There aren't any excuses. Yes, the one snap was bad -- which by the way, John Fieger has had a few bad snaps, so he needs to become more consistent quickly as well -- but the bottom line is you can't leave those easy points out on the field. And even he'll admit he just missed them both and that's not acceptable. Hutchins said thinking about those missed kicks kept him awake that entire night, similar to the one time he couldn't sleep because a ghost was sitting next to his bed singing "I'm Henry the 8th I am" all night at the top of his lungs.
* The two heralded defensive ends haven't played poorly, but they certainly haven't made a difference, either. And those two guys need to be difference makers every week. Yes, Greg Romeus made a nice play to save a touchdown on (I forget, it was either a draw or a middle screen) but through two games they have combined for one sack and 1 1/2 tackles for loss. I know the spin is "Pitt played mobile quarterbacks, the other team chipped, used tight ends and double-teamed those guys" but I'm not sure I am buying it. There were plenty of plays on Saturday where one or the other or even both were blocked effectively by a single lineman. Again, nobody is saying these two are playing bad -- they just aren't playing like the superstars they've been built up to be. Pitt needs these two to be difference makers in every game, not just contributors. Now the good news is that Romeus and Sheard can and will play much better and become much more impact players in the coming weeks. In fact, just the other day Greg Gattuso, when questioned about why his two stars haven't dominated a game said sternly "You ain't seen 'bad' yet, but I promise you, its comin......"
* The Panthers had 11 penalties for 119 yards and that is way too many. I can't think of many that were "killer" penalties, though a couple of roughing-the-passer penalties did extend drives, but if you continue to give away that many yards and first downs it will eventually catch up to you. A lot of the offending players tried to rationalize and or offer excuses for their penalties, but Dave Wannstedt wasn't hearing it and finally said "That might be all fine and dandy but still have a lot more to learn before you become a full fledged football star, my dears."
* Losing Andrew Taglianetti to an ACL is a big blow. Yes, the Panthers have Elijah Fields ready to step in to his spot on the defense and that could actually be an upgrade in some ways but Taglianetti was one of the Panthers best special teams players and he will be missed. He was excellent getting down the field and getting around the ball - he recovered the fumbled kick-off Saturday - and those guys are way too valuable to lose. Pitt has some other good athletes to plug in but Taglianetti's football IQ is extremely high and he gave maximum effort every tmie he was on the field. I'm just wondering, is it true that when Pitt trainer Rob Blanc ran out to the field to check on Taglianetti after he went down, he asked Taglianetti "are you in pain" and Taglianetti responded "pain don't hurt."
* For the fourth time in eight games against Division I-A opponents, the Panthers secondary allowed two 100 yard receivers. And if you look at the four games that didn't happen during the stretch, it is hard to tell whether the secondary played well because two of those opponents had awful offenses (Louisville and Connecticut), one is a running team (West Virginia) and the other was missing all of its best skill players because of injury (Oregon State). In other words, the secondary has a lot to prove and clearly after getting torched all day Saturday has a lot of work to do. And unlike the previous games, it wasn't just the corners, the safeties got into the act as well. In fact, outside of a play when Jovanni Chappel allowed a receiver to rip the ball away from him and make a big play, most of the issues were with the two safeties, Dom DeCicco and Elijah Fields. Now the spin we've gotten is that "eight plays accounted for more than 300 of those passing yards" which is ridiculous because usually when a team passes for a lot of yards, it means they made some big plays. And three big plays are way too many, much less eight. It was the kind of performance which left secondary coach Jeff Hafley screaming at his guys "Avenge Me!! Avenge Me"
* As bad as the secondary was, they weren't the only ones missing tackles Saturday as the linebackers and linemen got in on that act as well. The Panthers missed on two sacks, they allowed several short passes to become long gains and allowed the quarterback, Zach Maynard, escape many times. In fact, the defensive line played like they had fiddles in their hand and were yelling at Maynard "Do you believe in the here after? Then you know what we're here after..." though never actually catching him.
* The post-game interviews were in a cramped little hallway outside the Panthers locker room. At one point there were a few players out in the hallway and one of the players who got lost in the shuffle was linebacker Manny Williams, who was requested to talk about his forced fumble. Williams, was waiting his turn and stepped aside but somehow got shoved into the corner of a short entrance to a connected locker room prompting assistant sports information director Mendy Nestor to scold the assembled media by saying "Hey, what are you doing.....Nobody puts Manny in the corner."
And well, given as we've fallen this far into cornball land, sorry, I just had to find a way with this one given the theme of the day.......Pitt has an annual "alumni day" the second Saturday of training camp. A bunch of former players return to watch the first scrimmage of training camp as well as have some hamburgers and hotdogs with old friends, coaches, administrators, etc., etc. This year, when Tutu Ferguson, Lousaka Polite, Shawntae Spencer and Tyre Young walked through the gate at the SouthSide facility, Pitt sports information director E.J. Borghetti ran to the top of the film tower, put his arm in the air and shouted as loud as he can "WOLVERINES"........
One more time with feeling, please........