LATEST ON THE RUNNING BACKS
One of the main focuses of this team right now, is the use of the running backs. During Monday's press conference, Dave Wannstedt insisted he will still use both running backs. Dion Lewis had his best game of the season, even though it was a marginal 63 yards on 13 carries. Lewis gained 30 of those yards on a 4th-and-1, which ended up being a key play on Tino Sunseri's 4-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"I though that Dion did some good things," Wannstedt said. "Dion has played well. He was banged up against Miami in the fourth quarter. He didn't play the next week against FIU. He had a good week of practice. He obviously is a heck of a running back for us."
Ray Graham carried the ball just eight times for 44 yards--a far cry from his 29 carries the week before against Florida International. Even though Pitt beat Florida International 44-17, it was a 16-10 game in the early goings of the fourth quarter. Needing a first down deep in its own territory, Graham caught a 15-yard pass where he stretched out to get the first down, after the initial contact. Despite being in a similar situation the following week against Notre Dame, Graham was not used with the game on the line--despite having experience being under pressure.
However, Wannstedt did acknowledged the need to get Graham more involved.
"Ray has played really well," Wannstedt said. "I've got to acknowledge that. Ray has probably made a few more big plays than Dion."
But, if Graham is used, it will be on the intent on using both running backs.
"We're going to need them both," Wannstedt said. "The plan is to use them both. Do you sit back and second-guess, and say you want to get Ray more carries? We want to get them both more carries, ideally. We do recognize what Ray is doing. Ray's playing outstanding football right now. Dion played better against Notre Dame than maybe he did in his first couple games. We also recognize that, and know that we're going to need them both.
"The way this thing has kind of evolved, I see us using them both. I can't sit here and say ‘we're going to play one guy most of the game.' I don't see that happening."
After Cameron Saddler waved off two punts deep in Pitt territory--which set Pitt up at its own 10, and later at its own 6 in the fourth quarter, Wannstedt acknowledged that after talking with Saddler yesterday and watching the film, Saddler could have made a fair catch on the play.
"Cam and I talked about it (Sunday)," Wannstedt said. "There were two of them, that he brought to my attention. I think that no one works harder at it, and that no one is more conscientious than Cam. Cam has been great in practice.
"The way you coach those returners, you tell them that they have to make the decision. Most coaches say that they can never be wrong. Whatever decision you make, we have to live with. If it's not a good enough decision then you put somebody else in there. Cam has been great in practice. He had the one miscue against Miami. Could we have fielded a couple of them? Yes. And if we could do it over again he would be the first one to say, and he has, ‘we should go up there and fair catch the ball.' That's a decision that's made, and you live with it."
WHERE THIS TEAM SITS AFTER 2-3
Though it has been one of the more challenging non-conference schedules in recent years, which included road games at tough venues such as Utah and Notre Dame, Wannstedt said there's no silver lining in that, and that the team needs to be ready to improve by Saturday.
In other words, no sugar coating on some of the mistakes such as penalties and special teams errors that have plagued the team thus far.
"I've been in these meetings, and I've done it before where we've put a drape over the first half of the season," Wannstedt said. "I've done all that stuff. I'm not so sure where we're at right now, and how we're trying to figure out how we're doing what, we can't forget what cost us from winning the Notre Dame game. It would kind of be like it didn't happen. If you got a real mature team, you can kind of pay it over, and say, ‘That's not us. Lets move on.' We're not there right now. We've got some challenges."
THE FAKE PUNT
In addition to the confusion caused by Pitt's punt return game and its offensive playcalling inside the 10--both times in the fourth quarter--Pitt's third quarter fake punt was addressed on Monday. Wannstedt confirmed, it was indeed a fake punt.
On Pitt's first series of the second half, punter Dan Hutchins got what looked like a good snap, but he took off and ran. It looked like either a miscommunication, or a poor attempt at a fake punt.
"We had the look that we wanted," Wannstedt said. "We don't execute it. We go back, and we work on those things."
The previous week against Florida International, and in other games this year, Hutchins has been rolling out to his right, then punting. Apparently, the fake punt is part of that same plan. Hutchins has the option to roll out. If he sees something he likes, he can take off and run. It was a 4th-and-3, and Hutchins was stopped for a loss of 1. Notre Dame answered with a 50-yard field goal, taking a convincing 20-3 lead.
"We were running it like a sweep," Wannstedt said. "It's really a kick or run option, on Hutch's part too. Half the time when we run that, people don't even know that we're running it. He just goes and kicks the ball. Everybody thinks that it was a roll-kick. He has the option to go anytime.
"The guy jumped underneath our lead-blocker and made the play. We had the right look initially. We just didn't execute it."
Wannstedt praised the work of K'Waun Williams, Tristan Roberts and Buddy Jackson, for their work on defense, coming off the bench. Williams came up with a pass deflection, and a tackle on Kyle Rudolph, which forced a third down on both occasions.
After Ricky Gary gave up Notre Dame's first touchdown of the game--a touchdown pass to Michael Floyd in the first half, Jackson came in and blanketed Floyd on Notre Dame's next redzone series. Tristan Roberts came in for Greg Williams on two occasions, and finished with four tackles. In one instance in the second half, Roberts made a tackle on Kyle Rudolph after Williams missed wrapping up Michael Floyd, which resulted in Floyd converting a first down.
"K'Waun Williams did a heck of a job for us, he made two big third-down tackles," Wannstedt said. "Greg Williams got banged up a little bit. Tristan Roberts came in and made some plays. We'll see where he fits. Buddy Jackson did okay. He's doing a really good job. I have to give him credit. In the last couple of weeks he's doing a heck of a job on kickoff coverage, punt coverage and now that we have him on the kickoff return. Besides mixing him in on some of our defensive packages, he's really picked it up from a performance standpoint."
Though he praised these three players, Wannstedt added that there's no impending personnel changes.
"We're still looking at things," Wannstedt said. "We'll talk about some of those things."
GETTING READY FOR SYRACUSE
Syracuse is coming off its first-ever win over South Florida, is 4-1 overall, and off to a 1-0 start in conference play. The Orange has not been 4-1 since 1999, and is looking to go 2-0 in conference play for the first time since 2001.
"This is a huge week for us," Wannstedt said. "Syracuse right now is playing with a lot of confidence. Pitt-Syracuse games have always been very physical games. They have always been very tough and tight games. We expect that between the noise, the dome and everything that goes into this rivalry, it's going to be a battle — a 60-minute football game."