Empty Netter Assists - 11-21-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .


-“I definitely have the skills set to put up numbers, but, right now, I’m focusing on playing defensive hockey,” he said. “My goal is not to put up points every game. My goal is to shut the other team down and move the puck to the forwards, because we have good forwards. The points will come eventually.” - Simon Despres (above).

-Pascal Dupuis will be around quite a bit over the next six months.

-Beau Bennett took over for Dupuis on the second power-play unit.

-Mike Johnston speaks:

-Kris Letang speaks:

-Beau Bennett speaks:

-Andrew Ebbett and Jayson Megna appear to be the most likely candidates to earn a recall from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

-After the Jump: Slava Voynov is officially charged with a crime.

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West Virginia shoots itself in the foot again in 26-20 loss vs. K-State

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on .

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Three up, three downers.

West Virginia came out flat, again, and lost its third game in a row, this a 26-20 defeat against No. 12 Kansas State Thursday night at Milan Puskar Stadium. The Mountaineers fell to 6-5 on the season and will travel to winless-in-Big-12 Iowa State next Saturday in hopes of salvaging an eight-win regular season.

There were new disappointments in this one, things that didn't arise two weeks ago against Texas, so let's address some 'em:

• QB PLAY | You didn't think it could happen, right? QB Clint Trickett has come hurtling back to earth as a very, very mortal quarterback. Tonight, he completed 12 of 25 passes for 112 yards and two interceptions and left with a concussion. He was replaced by backup Skyler Howard after the second pick, but it appears the concussion came on the first one, when Trickett saved a touchdown by diving for S Randall Evans's knees to bring him down. We'll have more answers Tuesday, when coach Dana Holgorsen takes the stand again, but presumably Trickett was either not showing signs of a concussion at halftime or was evaluated and ruled as OK to play. His second pick came on the first drive of the second half, then he headed up the tunnel to the locker room. Howard, for his part, nearly saved the night. The junior-college transfer finished 15-of-23 passing in his first real work of his West Virginia career and threw two touchdown passes, a 7-yarder to WR Kevin White and a 53-yard screen-and-run to WR Mario Alford. “[Howard] went in there and didn’t bat an eye,” Holgorsen said. “He was confident. He was comfortable. … He gave us a chance to win. He’s the reason it was a six-point game." Holgorsen opted to speak of Howard's good game rather than Trickett's bad one, and he said he "absolutely" will consider expanding Howard's role next week. That might depend on Trickett's health, anyway. Just take a look at Trickett's statistical dropoff the past month (via ESPN) ... pretty remarkable.

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• RUNNING GAME | West Virginia's running backs did a whole lot of nothing tonight. RBs Rushel ShellDreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood combined for 122 yards on 31 carries, which seems reasonable except for the fact that opponents are begging West Virginia to run the ball and giving them favorable boxes to run into. I'll have to look back over the tape to break down Kansas State's approach, but it ain't an Alabama run defense. Smallwood fumbled on first down at the Kansas State 2 to end West Virginia's first scoring chance. It was a mess.

• CROWD | Yeah, it's easy to shout down from the press box that the stadium looks half-full or half-empty or whatever. We have food and (some) warmth up here, so this will probably fall on deaf and freezing ears. But, man, it looked sad. There was an announced attendance of 47,683 — the lowest number of the season — but even that seemed way high. There were huge swathes of empty seats in the upper deck and, especially, beyond the end zones. And, yes, fans, DL Kyle Rose stood up for you in the way he is supposed to. He said he knew it would be like that tonight because: 1. It's cold. 2. Students are on break. 3. It's a Thursday. 4. It's still cold. But, gee dangit, it's a nationally telivised game against a top-15 team — I know WVU fans got spoiled by having Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State all at home — so come on out and enjoy the show! Rose said he understood why it was empty but wishes it weren't that way for the seniors in their home finale. Holgorsen didn't want to answer the question of whether he was disappointed by the crowd, so he said he was "disappointed to lose by six points." Which, sure. Here's a timelapse of the 90 minutes before the game. You can't see the empty end zones. I should have left the video on through the first half and halftime, because that's when the exodus occured, with brake lights as far as the eye can see leading away from the stadium. A real shame, man.

• SPECIAL TEAMS | We've seen some special kinds of special-teams blunders this season, and tonight may have taken the cake. Maybe. First, there was P Nick O'Toole booming one from the back of his own end zone to the West Virginia 43. Not great, but you can't ask for too much from the back of the end zone. But, wait, apparently there was an itty-bitty problem with the kick. “Horrible punt,” Holgorsen said. “Our whole team went right and he mishit it left. I could have scored.” Holgorsen didn't score, but WR Tyler Lockett did, returning it easily up the right sideline for a touchdown. And then, later, PR Vernon Davis, the latest victim on punt returns, made his first major gaffe by coming up on a bouncing punt and, despite three defenders standing around him, trying to field it. He muffed the punt and Kansas State recovered. Oh, shoutout to Justin Arndt, who forced the kickoff/punt team's first takeaway of the season. #littlevictories

• ONE HALF | West Virginia played one half of football again. They did the same thing against Texas. Remember? DC Tony Gibson sat in the media room in Austin, Texas, and said his defense would have been better off sitting on the bus during the first half. And, here again, West Virginia didn't show up in the first half. Here's Holgorsen: “Offense was garbage. I thought defense was very below average. Special teams were horrendous.” Here's OC Shannon Dawson: “Everybody failed in the first half and really put us in a hole.” And, yes, he's implicating himself there, too. 

• TURNOVERS | This has become the strangest and strongest storyline late in the season. Goodness me, what does this team need to do to hold onto the ball? West Virginia entered the game -13 in turnover margin. Only Georgia State (-18) was worse. And Georgia State is barely an FBS football team. Can we all just think for a second and try to comprehend a -13 turnover margin? That's almost impossibly bad for a team that is bowl-bound. 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 before Thursday, they were -13 (22 turnovers, nine takeaways). Amazingly, those numbers got worse tonight. West Virginia turned the ball over four times — its 23rd-26th of the season, good for third-most in FBS. The Mountaineers were -3 in turnover margin, sinking to -16 on the season. I can't even.

And what's the worst about all these little issues? West Virginia lost this dadgum game by six points.  Let's count back: Smallwood fumble (-7 WVU points); Lambert missed field goal (-3 WVU); punt return touchdown (+7 KSU); Trickett pick at KSU 12 (-7 WVU); Davis muffed punt (+3 KSU). Granted, K Matthew McCrane only hit four of six field goals, but point is: there were points to be had. Easy ones. And despite Kansas State's complete inability to put West Virginia away in the second half — they settled for three field goals — West Virginia just put itself too far behind the 8-ball to make it matter.

Eager to hear your thoughts, whether you went (left early or stayed late) or watched from home.


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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HALFTIME: No. 12 Kansas State 17, West Virginia 3

Written by Stephen J. Nesbitt on .


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia players and coaches insisted all week that No. 12 Kansas State wouldn't beat itself. The Mountaineers, then, couldn't beat themselves, either.

Well, that's not going so well.

West Virginia turned the ball over twice, including a fumble inside the Kansas State 5-yard line, and missed a field goal in the first half. The Mountaineers currently trail the Wildcats, 17-3, at haltime at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Quarterback Jake Waters put the Wildcats on the board at the 10-minute mark of the first quarter. He bought time on third down and found tailback DeMarcus Robinson sneaking into the flat for a 7-yard touchdown.

It was just the third opening-drive touchdown scores on the West Virginia defense this season, but the second in as many weeks. The first such score, it should be noted, came after a turnover set Baylor at the West Virginia 7.

The Mountaineers reached the doorstep on their next drive, ready to answer, but running back Wendell Smallwood fumbled on first-and-goal from the Kansas State 2 to end an 11-play, 69-yard drive.

The teams swapped field goals early in the second quarter, with Kansas State’s Matthew McCrane booting a 36-yarder and West Virginia’s Josh Lambert, who entered the night tied for No. 1 nationally in made field goals, hit from 47 yards to shrink the Wildcats’ lead to 10-3.

West Virginia’s Justin Arndt stripped returner Tyler Lockett on the ensuing kickoff, giving the offense a shot at tying the game from the Kansas State 22. Three plays later, it seemed it had.

Quarterback Clint Trickett’s third-down pass pinballed off receiver Jordan Thompson and safety Dante Barnett and ended up in the arms of Kevin White for an impossible touchdown.

On review, though, officials ruled the ball had hit the ground as Barnett tumbled to the turf, and, on paper, it became a simple incomplete pass.

In reality, it halted the Mountaineers in their tracks.

Lambert pushed a 40-yard field-goal try to the right. West Virginia’s next drive went nowhere, and when punter Nick O’Toole tried to kick them out of trouble, Lockett returned the punt 43 yards for a touchdown.

Trickett was intercepted by nickelback Randall Evans with 13 seconds left in the half. Trickett made a phenomenal tackle to save a touchdown, and West Virginia blocked McCrane's field-goal attempt.

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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Post Route Podcast: Episode 10

Written by Sam Werner on .


Hello and welcome back to another week of the Post Route Podcast, hosted by Post-Gazette college writers Sam Werner (Pitt) and Stephen J. Nesbitt (WVU).

Last weekend was West Virginia's turn to have a week off, and the Mountaineers now have their fifth top-15 matchup when No. 12 Kansas State comes to town tonight. Meanwhile, while Pitt fell apart late Saturday against North Carolina, taking a 40-35 road loss.

On a time crunch? Here are some helpful time stamps:

0:30-15:57: RB James Conner rumbled for 224 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries against the Tar Heels, but a weakening defense and QB Chad Voytik's fumble ended the Panthers' hopes of a last-minute comeback win. Is the Pitt defense regressing after its strong start to the season? Voytik had a steady start marred by the last drive and late fumble; he has begun to round into form, but does he need to spread out the offense more? Now Pitt faces a Syracuse team that is not a good one. Can the Panthers hold serve at home against an Orange team that has lost seven of its past eight games? Syracuse doesn't play much offense, but what strengths does it possess? 

15:58-25:44: Kansas State is a team that doesn't beat itself, according to everyone down in Morgantown. So, can the Mountaineers find a way to stop shooting themselves in the foot — as indicated by their minus-13 turnover margin? Was the off week a blessing or a curse for West Virginia, after a blowout loss against Texas and back-to-back defeats for the first time this season? Has this West Virginia/Kansas State game lost a little bit of its luster in the past few weeks? QB Jake Waters and WR Tyler Lockett are one of the more potent QB-WR tandems West Virginia has faced this season; will the rested Mountaineers secondary be up to the task?

25:45-40:00: Alabama bumped up four spots in the rankings this week after knocking off then-No. 1 Mississippi State, and the Crimson Tide now atop college football as the new No. 1. "Which is so stupid!" says Werner. Florida State hasn't looked dynamite week in and week out, but it's pretty darn hard to go undefeated; are the Seminoles being undervalued? Is this Florida State team comparable to the 2012 Notre Dame team? Who in the Nos. 4-7 range can jump up and secure that No. 4 seed? Could it be Baylor? Ohio State? The Buckeyes, for our money, might be the scariest team to face right now. All that and more on the 10th episode of the Post Route Podcast.

Sam Werner: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and Twitter @swernerpg. | 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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House talks Syracuse preparation

Written by Sam Werner on .

It's no secret that Pitt's defense has not been so great over these last few games. The Panthers have given up an average of 49 points per game in losses to Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina. Perhaps the worst part was the sense of inevitability that came over when the Tar Heels got the ball back late in Saturday's latest loss. There just didn't seem to be any doubt that North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams would lead his team down the field for a game-winning score, and, sure enough, that's what happened.

We spoke with Pitt defensive coordinator Matt house, as well as secondary coach Troy Douglas earlier this week. You can find a lot of Douglas' comments on the state of the secondary (including some interesting comments on cornerback Lafayette Pitts) in my story in today's Post-Gazette. Here are a couple of extra notes from their sessions...

- House said that UNC's tempo didn't cause major problems for Pitt overall Saturday, but pointed to one play in particular — the Tar Heels' 63-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown to Ryan Switzer — as the one that stuck out in terms of the speed being an issue.
"We just weren't aligned in a leverage position," he said. "At the end of the day, at any point the game is about angles and leverage and we didn't have the proper leverage on that play."

- House also rued the missed opportunities and how close Pitt came to making a few big plays on defense Saturday. More than once, Nicholas Grigsby appeared to have Williams in his grasp for a sack only to let him slip away and make a play.
"Quite honestly, in the UNC game, we were in position to make big plays and we've just got to finish the plays," House said. "That's the whole battle cry this week, going forward to Syracuse. When we get the opportunity, we've got to finish."

- Speaking of Syracuse, House said Orange running back Prince-Tyson Gulley is the player that concerns him most on the Syracuse offense. Gulley has 568 yards and one touchdown this season. He doesn't get a high volume of carries (only one game this year of more than 15) but has big-play ability, and the Panthers have been prone to giving up big plays this year.
"I can't say enough about the back, I think he's a really good player," House said.
Syracuse's quarterback situation is up in the air a little bit with Terrel Hunt out for the season, but it looks like freshman AJ Long will get the start Saturday (though coach Scott Shafer was less than forthcoming on this week's ACC conference call). House said that, especially against a young quarterback, it will be important for Pitt to generate pressure and force long to make quick decisions with the ball.
"At the end of the day, every game, if you can hit the quarterback," House said. "At the end of the day, if you can hit him, there's a cumulative effect on those hits. So certainly that's part of the gameplan and every gameplan, really."

- Douglas was overall pleased with the way cornerback Avonte Maddox bounced back from a game against Duke that saw him get beat for two long touchdowns. He had three pass breakups, including a couple of nice athletic plays on deep passes. There's still some things Maddox, as a true freshman, needs to learn about the game — Douglas specifically pointed to a 3rd-and-10 late in the game when he was too passive in man coverage.
"He's got to be more aggressive," Douglas said. "Instead of playing it like, 'I'm trying to not give up a big play.' Because in that situation, they're going to throw the ball to the sticks and he's got to be tighter in his coverage in that situation."

- Douglas also isn't shy about giving his opinions on officiating. He likes to half-jokingly talk about how offensive players always get all the calls.
"In the Duke game, which, by the way, [Maddox] had good coverage and I told y'all before the game they push off and they let them get away with it," Douglas said. "That's what happened."
In the North Carolina game, Douglas said Maddox got "pillaged" on Switzer's screen pass that went for a touchdown. Skip to 3:21 in this video for the play, and it's hard to disagree with Douglas.

- Douglas was also effusive in his praise for safety-turned-cornerback-turned-safety Reggie Mitchell.
"I wish I had 10 Reggie Mitchells because he's smart, he's aggressive, he's got good ball skills, he's got knowledge," Douglas said.
As only a redshirt sophomore, Mitchell figures to be a pretty significant part of this Pitt secondary for years to come. He moved back to safety a few weeks back when Terrish Webb had season-ending surgery, and it looks like safety is the long-term position for him.
"To be honest with you, when we moved him back, he kind of exhaled," Douglas said. "Because that's where he envisions himself playing and it's different out there on the island. I think that he envisions himself as being a safety."

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