Know Your Foe-Pitt

Tony Greco of PantherDigest gives his thoughts on the Pitt matchup...

What was the general perception of Utah after last years season opener in salt lake city?
Utah, outside of Notre Dame, was looked at as the marquee opponent for the 2010 season. There was a lot of optimism surrounding last year's Pitt team, and a lot of people expected Pitt to start its march in to Salt Lake City and impress the nation with an impressive road win. That didn't happen, and the loss to Utah was the beginning of Pitt's trail to a mediocre season. Some feel with the high expectations Pitt had entering that game, that it was the beginning of the end for Dave Wannstedt, who was dismissed at the end of the regular season.

how much does last years matchup influence the perception of Pitt fans heading into this years matchup?
Completely different. There was some feeling a win, on the road, on Thursday night, at a nationally-ranked team in Utah would really be a way for Pitt to take this next step into becoming an elite program. That didn't happen. Instead, with both teams off to a slow--and in Pitt's case--a disappointing start from this perspective, the hype surrounding this year's matchup compared to last year's game is like night and day.

What the hell happened to PITT against Rutgers last weekend after dominating USF? Injuries, just bad QB play?
Bad quarterback play, bad offensive line play and just a general lack of focus. You could tell as the game went on that Rutgers was playing with way more passion and desire. Pitt was going through the motions. In other words, they got outplayed in every facet of the game. Though the Panthers had two key starters out--Lucas Nix and Todd Thomas--neither of them would have made a difference. It was one of the most disappointing losses this team has had in recent years.

4. Did it look like they just let down and can get it back against the Utes or are they going to be struggling the rest of the season?
That's the general perception around the team this week. Head coach Todd Graham has said all week that they've had some pretty spirited practices. It's questionable, though. Pitt played well in stretches against Notre Dame and Iowa, but could not finish out the game. That was one common theme we had seen in the first four games--that they couldn't finish out a game. Against USF, they did, which left everyone to think that all problems were solved. Clearly, against Rutgers, this team proved that there are a lot of problems that exist. As a result of the inconsistent tone we've seen from this team this season, it's not likely the last time we'll see Pitt have a letdown.

Any guys besides Graham to look out for?
If I'm coaching against Pitt, I look at Ray Graham, and I say 'lets put our focus on him, because no one else can hurt us.' Graham's performance last week summed it up best--six sacks allowed, four interceptions and poor field position. Still, he somehow manages to run for 165 yards behind a patchwork offensive line. If there was even one player on offense who could consistently jump out and be a threat, or make plays the way he does, Pitt could make it challenging. That's what makes Graham's play all the more impressive--he continues to put up big numbers with little help from the rest of the offense, and all the attention keyed on him.

How effective is Sunseri using his legs? Is he a threat to pick up a first down in third and long situations with his feet?
I wouldn't say Sunseri is a running quarterback, but he proved against USF--when he makes the right decision--he knows how to use his legs. Pay attention to when he rolls outside the pocket, or is pressed outside the pocket. That's when he makes big runs, but it's only when he makes the right decision. He still has a tendency to try to make that tough throw, or throw the ball away--showing that he's still transitioning into the new offense.

Utah doesn't have the biggest corners. How will the big receivers for Pitt be used to maximize that mismatch?
If that's the case, this should be an ideal matchup for the Utah corners. Mike Shanahan (6-5) might present the biggest challenge. He looks like a typical possession receiver, but they're trying to establish him as a deep threat at times. It hasn't succeeded halfway in to the season. Devin Street is more of a threat with his speed and if he gets in open space. Cameron Saddler, at 5-7, has that same tendency. We've seen the receivers have a lot of drops, contributing into a lack of a passing game. If the receivers were more consistent, and you knew that one of them was going to be the go-to guy, there would be some cause for concern. Their lack of size shouldn't affect them too much in this game.

Is Graham really that good, or should we give me credit to the offensive line?
Great point. He is that good, and better. Greg Schiano made a comparison to Barry Sanders during the Big East teleconference, prior to Rutgers' 34-10 win. It hit me after the game that maybe there was more to that. I thought about Sanders, and remembered that in his days with the Detroit Lions, they always had a marginal offensive line at best--yet he somehow found a way to make big runs. I often wondered what his career numbers would have been like if he would have had Emmitt Smitth's line. Last week, the offensive line got blown up. Rutgers blitzed nearly every time, and they didn't know how to react. Not only did they not know how to react, there was no adjustment made either. They allowed six sacks and are allowing the most of any team in Division I--27. Yet, that same line has paved the way for Graham to be the nation's no. 2 rusher behind Oregon's LaMichael James. It doesn't add up. If you've seen any of Pitt's games this season, a lot of what Graham does is all on his own--which makes him even more special of a player.

What concerns does the Pitt team have about Utah? Who is the one guy they're watching out for?
Interestingly, Todd Graham thinks/knows that Utah is going to come out with a blitzing scheme. Kyle Whittingham is a defensive-minded coach, and if he saw last week's Rutgers game, you'd have to think that Utah has a chance to blitz almost every play. He added that while Utah hasn't shown blitz much this week, he feels their linebackers have a tendency to be. He also mentioned the 'big back' on offense, as a concern, referring to Tauni Vaukapuna. He also senses a challenge with Norm Chow calling the offensive plays. He said when he was a high school coach, Chow came to his high school as a speaker.

Score prediction?
I really can see this game going either way. I know Utah has a new starter in Jon Hays at quarterback, but just to refresh--Iowa had a breakout game from James Vandenberg in Week Three, and they lost 34-10 last week to a team led by a true freshman quarterback making his first start. Both teams have issues with turnovers and have some concerns at their respective quarterback position. I see a 27-24 or 24-20 game; something like that, for either side.

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