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Assistants, players talk Iowa prep

Written by Sam Werner on .

We're less than 24 hours from Pitt's biggest game of the season against Iowa. In fact, you could make an argument that this is Paul Chryst's biggest game since he has arrived at Pitt. Sure, there are others up there (Notre Dame in 2012, Florida State last season) but in those cases, Pitt was just a scrappy underdog trying to pull off an upset. Tomorrow, the Panthers are going to have a chance to prove that they are a legitimately good football team and one that's worth top 25 consideration and a divisional contender. As we get ready for the game, here are a few notes from the players and assistants this week...

- Offensive line coach Jim Hueber was pretty blunt when I asked him if there was any common theme throughout the sacks Pitt gave up last week. "Yeah," he said. "Dumbness." After not giving up any in the first two games, Pitt allowed three against the Golden Panthers.
"I think we've proven that we can do good things," Hueber said. "I think we have to eliminate the dumb things that get us in trouble, then throw it out there and see how we match up. We won't know until it's over Saturday, but I'm confident that our kids will go out and play and I think it'll be a good test for us."

- Sticking with some concerns from last Saturday, defensive backs coach Troy Douglas said Pitt's biggest problem in the secondary is "bad eyes." I wrote about it earlier this week, but Douglas said that, basically, with all the young guys the Panthers have back there, they need to work on being more disciplined with their assignments and not giving up big plays.
"Everybody wants to look in the backfield, look in the backfield, look in the backfield," Douglas said. "When they break on a receiver, they want to look at the quarterback. They don't want to cover the guy first. So most of our mistakes are basically made with our eyes, not having our eyes where they're supposed to be an where they're trained to be."
Iowa isn't really a "big play" team the way maybe FIU was, but Douglas cautioned that the Hawkeyes can hit it over the top on playaction if the Pitt defense isn't careful.
"What you worry about is cheating too much playing the run and trying to fit," Douglas said. "The run game and the pass game, it's a team. Secondary guys have got to play the run and in the pass game, the front people have got to rush the passer, the linebackers have got to get their drops. It's everybody. What you worry about is sucking up too hard on the play-action pass and them throwing it over your head."

- Douglas also had some interesting comments on redshirt senior safety Ray Vinopal. Basically, Douglas said Vinopal is thinking a little bit too much on the field right now, and that he just needs to let it go and play football.
He also noted that Vinopal can sometimes give things away on defense, like when he starts creeping up towards the line of scrimmage on a safety blitz.
"He's giving things away as far as what we're trying to do," Douglas said. "If we're spinning a safety down in one-high [coverage], he's cheating his alignment too much because he's got to get there. He doesn't know he can get there if he's just patient with it and that type of deal. He's fine, he'll be fine, we'll get it corrected and he'll be fine."

- Freshman running back Chris James didn't get a single carry against Florida International after he missed what running backs coach John Settle called a simple blitz pickup in the first quarter that allowed FIU to sack Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik for a safety.
Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, though, said he liked the way James responded in practice this week and should play a role against Iowa tomorrow.
"I think when you've got young guys, those steps that you take as you have experiences, good and bad, you can grow from them," Rudolph said. "He had one that he would like to have back but it's his opportunity now to grow from that and I believe he'll do that."

- Rudolph also said that, despite the heavy workload for James Conner thus far, he still has plenty of faith in all his other running backs.
"I still have all the trust and belief in the world in Isaac and feel the same about Rachid and giving Chris some opportunities," Rudolph said. "That group, I feel great with and they'll push. James knows that he's got the opportunity to run with it and those guys are on his heels and pushing him and that's the way every position should be."

- Speaking of Conner, he said he spoke to former Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald this week about how to handle the national attention he's been getting recently. Conner admitted that it went to his head a little bit when he first saw his name bandied about in the Heisman Trophy discussion, but that, after talking with Donald, he's going to take some time off social media until the end of the season.
"He said just stay focused, keep playing ball and those individual awards will come," Conner said. "So really, obviously I'm going to listen to every word he says, so when he tells me to stay focused and keep playing, I'm not thinking about any of that stuff anymore."

- Finally, I thought Voytik had some interesting comments this week about how to use Tyler Boyd in the passing game. In each of the past two games, Voytik has thrown basically a jump ball into the end zone that Boyd has come down with. Voytik said that he needs to do a better job of doing that in other parts of the field.
"He has made me look good in the red zone a lot," Voytik said. "I need to give him more of those plays in the field, I think, because he'll make those plays. I feel like my mentality in the passing game changes in the red zone because you know you have the back of the red zone to kind of be your safe zone, so you can throw it up. But he can make those kinds of plays in the field, too, so I'm looking to give him some more opportunities."
I think the passing game will play a big role in tomorrow's game because, while I think Pitt will be able to run the ball to some degree, they won't be able to bludgeon an opponent on the ground the way they have in every game thus far. That leads to two things: 1) Voytik will probably have to complete some 3rd-and-longs, and, 2) He will have to be good on first and second down, too, to keep the defense honest. The easiest way to do that is to get the ball to Boyd, and I think he realizes that.

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By the Numbers: How WVU stacks up statistically in FBS (Week 4)

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on .

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — At the dawn of the Big 12 season, it's time to take another look around the nation and see how West Virginia (2-1) stacks up statistically with its Division I counterparts. For comparison's sake, check out the final national rankings from last December. Things look ... better now.

What you'll find below are the national rankings for West Virginia on all three sides of the ball — offense, defense and special teams. The easiest way to split it this was "GAIN" vs. "ALLOW" on the chart. So, under "interceptions," for example, on the left is the number of interceptions gained by WVU (caught), on the right is the number allowed (thrown).

The NR numbers are the national rankings (and there are 128 FBS teams). +/- marks whether WVU rose or fell in the rankings: means they got better, means worse.

+/- NR GAIN WEST VIRGINIA ALLOW NR +/-
-- 39 39.0 Points Per Game 23.3 55 --
-- 80 154.0 Rushing Yards 164.3 72 --
-- 5 410.3 Passing Yards 204.7 39 --
-- 13 564.3 Total Yards 369.0 55 --
-- 8 29.3 First Downs 17.7 28 --
-- 5 65 Plays of 10+ Yds 40 80 --
-- 21 17 Plays of 20+ Yds 11 58 --
-- 20 8 Plays of 30+ Yds 4 39 --
-- 22 50.9% 3rd-Down Conv. 36.9% 58 --
-- 81 42.8% 4th-Down Conv. 0.0% 1 --
-- 114 68.4% Red-Zone Scores 100.0% 103 --
-- 92 52.6% Red-Zone TD Pct. 60.0% 64 --
-- 50 30:50 Time of Possession 29:10 -- --
-- 38 43.3 Penalty Yards Avg. 63.3 41 --
-- 79 62.5% Field Goal Pct. 100.0% 88 --
-- 42 42.7 Punt Avg. 40.8 62 --
-- 19 25.5 Kick Return Avg. 22.0 94 --
-- 75 6.8 Punt Return Avg. 34.0 122 --
-- 42 6 Sacks 8 102 --
-- 31 20 Tackles for Loss 22 115 --
-- 63 2 Interceptions 1 18 --
-- 108 0 Fumble Recoveries 4 110 --
-- 108 -3 Turnover Margin -- -- --

NOTES 

 West Virginia ranks in the top-25 in ... Offense: passing yards, total yards, first downs, plays of 10+, 20+ and 30+ yards, third-down rate, interceptions thrown. Defense: fourth-down conversions. Special teams: kick return average.

• West Virginia ranks in the bottom-25 in: Team: turnover margin, fumbles lost. Offense: red-zone scoring percentage, sacks against, tackles for loss against. Defense: red-zone scoring percentage against. Special teams: punt return average against.

 With punter Nick O'Toole, West Virginia owned the No. 6 net punting average in the country last season at 40.7 net yards per punt. This year, following a punt return for touchdown last week, the Mountaineers are No. 10 with a 33.8 net yard average.

 West Virginia's defense has stopped all four fourth-down attempts by opponents.

 In 2012, West Virginia was a +7 in turnover margin (13 turnovers, 20 takeaways). In 2013 it was -4 (32 turnovers, 28 takeaways). So far, they're -3 (five turnovers, two takeaways).


Stephen J. Nesbitt:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

 

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Sill returns with more confidence - 09-19-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Initially joining the Penguins as an unsigned invitee to training camp in 2009, Zach Sill labored for four seasons in the organization's minor league system primarily in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. After several training and prospect camps, he finally got his first taste of NHL action last season when injuries and a lack of depth ravaged the team's bottom-two lines.

He appeared in 20 NHL games in 2013-14 and averaged 10:47 of ice time primarily in a fourth-line role. He would have probably appeared in more games, possibly even in the playoffs, if an ugly skate cut on his left forearm suffered in late January didn't derail his season and keep him sidelined until March.

Re-signing with the Penguins this past offseason on a one-year two-way contract, Sill is looking to claim a full-time NHL gig out of training camp.

Recently, he talked about his NHL debut and recovering from his injury.

You probably can't read too much into it, but you have a stall in the team's main dressing room instead of one of the auxiliary dressing rooms normally reserved for prospects.

"I liked seeing that when I walked in the first day. It definitely makes you feel good and make you fee like you're part of the room. Makes you a little bit more hungry."

After getting a few games last season at the NHL level, how do you approach this training camp compared to others?

"I think I have the same mentality as I came in with last year. I'm coming in, I'm trying to get a spot. Trying to fight for a spot. Nothing is given to you so you have to fight for it. It looks like my chances are a little bit this year than they were last year. But it's still the same mentality that you have to fight for that sport that might be yours."

What do you know about the NHL now that you didn't before making your debut?

"I think just the level of my confidence going into games. Since I have been up and played, that I feel a little bit more comfortable and fit in and help a team out."

What is like with all the changes which happened with the franchise this past offseason?

"It's different. Definitely different. You don't know where yous stand with new management and a new coaching staff and stuff like that. You've got to come in. You've got to make a good first impression again. You feel like you're 20 years old again coming into my first camp. First impressions can be good or they can be bad. I have to work hard and put the right image in the coaches' minds."

What do you have to do in order to make this team out of training camp?

"I think I just have to be myself and play the game. Do the things that got me here in the first place. Blocking shots, fights, that sort of thing. Being a team guy. Hopefully that will do the trick."

Are there any lingering effects from the skate cut you suffered last season?

"No. Everything came back really well. Worked out over the summer a lot trying to get ready for camp. It didn't bother me at all in playoffs last year when I came back. I've had no issues. Hopefully it keeps going that way."

Was there any frustration over suffering that injury when you did? It prevented the NHL Penguins from recalling you while dealing with trouble with their bottom two lines.

"Maybe I could have been called up if I wasn't hurt. But hockey has all kind of turns like that. You never know what's going to happen and you just got to kind of roll with the punches. So I try not to dwell on it and just look forward to the next chance I get."

Were there any issues with confidence in your forearm after that injury?

"No. I actually got into a fight my first game back in Wilkes-Barre. I wasn't planning on it but it's a pretty good first test to put it through as soon as you get back to playing. I was maybe a little bit nervous about it but after that game, it didn't bother me taking faceoffs and that sort of thing. My confidence didn't really take that bad of a beating."

(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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A dozen predictions to go for Week 4

Written by Mike White on .

Program note: Tonight's live blog will come from Apollo-Ridge at Shady Side Academy. We'll see if the "Tre Tipton Show" has another terrific night. For score updates and notes, follow @PGVarsityXtra's Twitter account to the right of this blog. We appreciate any score updates if you could tweet them to @PGVarsityXtra and use #WPIAL. And tweet us any photos of student sections, cheerleading squads, etc.

Also, follow me @mwhiteburgh for updates on tonight's game. Follow @BREAL412 for updates from Seton-LaSalle at Steel Valley, and @CraigMeyerPG for updates from Mt. Lebanon at Penn Hills.

And just got back from Schorr's bakery in West View and got these dozen predictions to go. Last week: 8-4 for the third consecutive week. Season: 24-12.

WPIAL CLASS AAAA

Mt. Lebanon at Penn Hills - Mt. Lebanon's offense has been awfully impressive, but I get the feeling that Penn Hills might bounce back after last week's loss at Central Valley. If Penn Hills doesn't put the ball on the ground ... Winner: Penn Hills.

Seneca Valley at North Hills - I know Seneca Valley has been hit hard by some key injuries. But it's still hard to believe they are 0-3. Although North Hills hasn't defeated anyone of significance, Pat Carey has the Indians at 3-0. Key to the game is Seneca Valley's run defense, but North Hills QB Jake Bruder might be the "X" factor in this game. This one should be close. Winner: North Hills.

WPIAL CLASS AAA

Ringgold at West Mifflin - Ringgold has two decent wins after the shellacking by Thomas Jefferson in the season opener. But can the Rams win a big one on the road? Winner: West Mifflin.

Knoch at Gateway - Until Gateway wins one, it's hard to pick the Gators. Knoch's offense will be the difference. Winner: Knoch.

Indiana at Franklin Regional - This could be a big game in determining positioning in the Greater Allegheny. Watch Franklin Regional the second half of the season. Winner: Franklin Regional.

Mars at Greensburg Salem - Mars certainly isn't the same team without injured running back Josh Schultheis. But still good enough to win on the road in this one. Winner: Mars.

WPIAL CLASS AA

Seton-LaSalle at Steel Valley - This is our P-G Game of the Week. A correction from earlier in the week. We looked at some incorrect stats on Steel Valley RB DeWayne Murray. He is not over 2,000 yards yet. But close. He is 9 yards short. How well Seton-LaSalle's run defense does will determine the outcome of this one. Winner: Seton-LaSalle.

Apollo-Ridge at Shady Side Academy - Tre Tipton is becoming one of the big storylines of the season. Don't forget his quarterback mate Duane Brown. The Vikings should go to 4-0 against a 3-0, but banged up Shady Side Academy team. Winner: Apollo-Ridge.

Highlands at Kittanning - Kittanning gave up 44 points last week to Apollo-Ridge, but Highlands doesn't have anyone like Tre Tipton. However, Highlands does have Elijah Jackson. Will Kittanning's defense rise to the occasion? Winner: Highlands.

WPIAL CLASS A

Brentwood at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic - It's hard to find a Class A game this week with two top teams. CWNC is No. 1-ranked in Class A. Brentwood is 2-1, but about to become 2-2. Winner: North Catholic.

CITY LEAGUE

University Prep vs. Perry - Perry must slow down University Prep's offense to have a chance. Winner: University Prep.

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Penguins reveal third jersey - 09-19-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

The Penguins unveiled a "new" third jersey today with Sidney Crosby serving as the model:

-With the exception of the yellow collar with the NHL crest and the Reebok jersey, this is identical replica of the black road jersey the team wore in the 1990s when it won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles:

Here is the schedule of games the team will wear these jerseys this upcoming season:

-EN Says: After underwhelming efforts with their two previous third jerseys - the generic, bland look for last season's outdoor game in Chicago and the Frankenstein mish-mash blue mess from the 2011 Winter Classic - the Penguins finally got it right.

This is the team's most iconic look. And while it might not be as pleasing cosmetically in comparison to the team's blue throwback jerseys it wore in the 2008 Winter Classic, it harkens to the greatest era in the franchise's history.

Make no mistake. Introducing new jerseys is a blatant cash grab but in this case, the Penguins finally did the right thing. It wouldn't be surprising to see this eventually become their permanent home jersey down the road.

(Photo: Lemieux-Allsport)

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