TKP: Going into the game, the Panthers have struggled very noticeably. Not only the Thursday night loss to Cincinnati, but the opening weekend loss to Youngstown State. In your opinion, where is the fan base on this team? Have they already given up? What will the atmosphere be like when the Hokies walk into Heinz Field?
Pitt Blather: It's hard not to write off the season despite only two games in. It's one thing to lose to a 1-AA team. It's something else to have never led and lost by 14 points. Even Cal and Colorado managed to lose in squeakers to 1-AA teams this year. Pitt was just a mess. The Cinci game did little to show that this was an aberration.
I honestly don't know what kind of atmosphere will be there since I don't know how many people will show up at this point. On the one hand, it is VT and all the fond memories of the final few years of VT playing Pitt in the Big East. On the other hand, it's a nooner and a demoralized and bummed fanbase. Is it possible for a crowd atmosphere to be bitterly sarcastic? Or will that just be me?
TKP: Paul Chryst obviously came in to a tough situation, with the sudden and sleazy departure of Todd Graham fresh in the minds of Panther players and fans. What impressions has he left on you through the preseason and the first two games? Do you think he has the tools to find success?
Pitt Blather: Before that storm-delayed, 6:30 kickoff on August 31 there was lots of positive feelings towards Paul Chryst. That he was a real football coach. Not a gladhander. Not a salesman. Just a football coach. A coach's coach. A football coach's football coach who coached football and was all about coaching football... I was going to go on about a lunchpail, but then remembered the crowd for which this is intended, and I assume there would be a trademark infringement.
Let's just say that the first two games have shaken the confidence a wee bit. It has been disturbing to put it mildly. The team -- especially the defense -- came out completely unprepared in both games. Few first-time head coaches don't make mistakes in their first season, but his biggest issue seems to be getting the team mentally prepared to actually go out and play. My feeling is that he hasn't quite shaken the coordinator out of himself yet. Still too concerned with the little things you teach individually to players and units and not on getting through to the entire team.
That said, I do believe he's the guy. That he will figure things out and move this program in the right direction. Admittedly, any Pitt fan that doesn't want to hate-fuck the team, has to feel that way. After the last couple years, the program can't really take another coaching change for a while.
TKP: Personally, I think Ray Graham is terrifying. Dude runs like a man. Are there any other players on the Panther offense that Hokie fans should be worried about?
Pitt Blather: I'm hoping that Pitt has Walt Harris, Rod Rutherford and Lousaka Polite on the sideline for this game to really scare Hokie fans into thinking its the early 2000s.
Really the depth at the running back is something special. Isaac Bennett is a bruiser of a back. Rushel Shell is already showing flashes of how good he will be. Just a shame that there is no real O-line to give them running room inside. But if any of them can get around the corner, you have reason to be afraid.
I'd love to tell you the receivers are a threat, but that would require having a QB who can hit them far enough downfield to make it so.
Surprisingly, they didn't see much action in the Cinci game, but the TEs are really solid. Since I'm assuming that there will be a lot of blitzing and attacking against the Pitt O-line and Sunseri (and really, why wouldn't you), they have a chance to make things miserable. Assuming Sunseri can actually get the ball to them.
TKP: Tino Sunseri seems to be the Sean Glennon of the Pitt team (aka the most reviled man on campus). Is that the case? Do you think he has deserved the criticism?
Pitt Blather: Seems? Seems? Nay, it is. I know not seems.
I thought it was bad last year. But if it was possible, it's even worse this year with the level of vitriol that is felt and directed at Sunseri. It is at a level that for many, not only is it impossible for them to admit when he does something positive, there are some actually trying to blame him for the defense doing poorly.
There is an outright refusal to accept that he is really the best option at QB. I call it ABT (Anyone But Tino). The fact that now three head coaches -- of very different offensive philosophies -- who have had the job for longer than a month, have all felt Sunseri was still the best option is irrelevant. There has to be something else. Something dark and involving conspiracies and star chambers that explains it.
It can't simply be that the talent at the QB at Pitt has sucked, or is just a very green freshman not yet ready.
Having said that. Yeah, 95% percent of the disdain for Sunseri has been fairly earned.
TKP: Switching to defense, where does Pitt both succeed and struggle? In better terms, what would the Hokies have to do to succeed?
Pitt Blather: Go straight at the defense. As bad as the offense has been, the reason Pitt has not had a chance in either game is because the defense is a hot mess. Here are some numbers to set you salivating:
- 65 points allowed
- 8-8 on scoring opportunities in the red zone
- 845 yards in total offense
- 382 passing yards
- 463 rushing yards
- 1 sack
- 0 interceptions
- 0 fumbles
Not able to stop the run. Nor the pass. No pressure up front. No turnovers. Um, I think there's some drool on the right side of your mouth.
We knew the linebackers were going to struggle. The two best LBs are out for with injuries. After that it's patchwork. Not pretty.
The disappointment has come on the D-line. Aaron Donald is good, but he's facing constant double-teams and not able to break them. Why? Because he's gotten no help from the rest of the line. We'll see if the latest reshuffling on the line will help.
The inability of being able to put any pressure on the QB has meant the secondary is performing worse than it should. There is a little bit of a struggle going on as they are definitely adjusting to playing straight man-coverage as opposed to more of zone back there. But it also means that the QB has all the time to wait for a receiver to get free -- which eventually happens.
Logan Thomas should have a game that the VT SID will use as his highlight reel.
TKP: What will have to go right for Pitt to upset Tech on Saturday?
Pitt Blather: Haven't you been reading the answers to the previous questions? There's no hope. NONE!
Well, starting on the defense, something has to click up-front. There has to be some actual defensive pressure and a possibility of stopping the run. VT could help in that regard by overcommitting to the run. Letting Pitt stack the box and stall out drives.
On the offense, obviously Ray Graham and the rest of the backs would have to run wild. It would also take the O-line playing completely unlike the way it has played so far. Opening holes. Run blocking. Some actual pass protection would be nice.
If Sunseri had the kind of game he had against USF last year, that would probably give Pitt a chance.
TKP: In a less game-specific question, what is the general feeling about Pitt joining the ACC? And what sort of team should the rest of the conference be expecting over the next few years?
Pitt Blather: When it happened, relief. All the uncertainty. Having to deal with the horrid Big East structure finally over. Now it is just anticipation. It isn't heading for where Pitt always should have been -- which when it happened for VT a decade ago, was how many VT fans likened it. But it is going to conference that is the best fit. From athletics to academics. It's staying East Coast. Where Pitt wants to recruit.
As for what kind of team? Hell, right now we don't even know.
TKP: Final question, what is your prediction for the game?
Pitt Blather: Oh, I don't expect this to be pretty. Pitt's at home rather than on the road, so slightly better than the Cinci humiliation. I'll say VT wins 33-13.
I hate myself for typing that.