Friday, January 2, 2009

Pitt Football Report Card

Now that I've had a few days to cool off and stick a few pins in my Matt Cavanaugh Voo Doo doll, I thought I'd try to take a more rational and logical look back at the 2008 Pitt season, and figured that, since it is a college team and all, what better way to do so than through the use of a report card.

Let me say that I tried to view this season from the perspective I would have at the beginning of the season if you had told me all of these things would happen, as that seemed the only fair way of doing it, so don't slaughter me if you think I'm too generous with a few of my grades (read: Quarterback) or too harsh with other grades because of expectations that changed throughout the season.

I also tried to weight each game roughly the same, with same added importance for the important Big East games and the bowl game, which is why Bill Stull didn't get an F-minus. I mean, after all, how fired up at the beginning of the season would most Pitt fans have been if you had told them their beloved Panther football team would go 9-4 and reach the Sun Bowl? I know I would have taken that in a heart beat.

Yeah we all know just how miserably Bill Stull played this season, and it's pretty safe to say that he didn't even meet the low standards that were set for him by most Pitt fans before this year even started. Stull didn't appear to make much progress during the season, and I'm not sure I can really buy the whole "he's by far the best QB on the roster" line much longer. He was a definite disappointment, with really only a couple good games on the books, and he was a constant worry for Pitt fans. I also wanted to add, though, that I don't think he is being put at all in a position to succeed by Offensive Coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, so I took that into consideration.
Final Grade: C-

Running Back
LeSean McCoy came into the season with mile-high expectations, and for the most part he met or exceeded them. He developed an impeccable nose for the goal line that few in the country can match and that was definitely needed considering the trouble the pasing game had with throwing a fade pattern. He had some early issues in the season against inferior MAC opponents, and also surprisingly struggled against Louisville. These types of things made me believe he probably could use a little more time and work before he is ready to be an everyday NFLer, but this is just some minor nitpicking. The guy is simply spectacular. Senior LaRod Stephens-Howling probably wasn't used as much as he should've been this season, yet again, and a late season injury helped derail his year, too.
Final Grade: A-

Not a ton to go on, as Wanny and Cavanaugh mostly used senior Conredge Collins as a blocker only. I've long thought Connie could be a solid short-yardage option, especially given how often teams would gear in on Shady. It's hard to really grade him on the limited work as a ballcarrier, but it's hard to argue with most of the results he produced as a blocker.
Final Grade: B

Wide Receiver
Not surprisingly, senior Derek Kinder clearly lost a step or four after tearing his ACL last season, and was nowhere near the impact player he was in 2006, which is a real shame. He played better as the season went along, but he was no longer a top receiving threat. I was disappointed by the seasons turned in by T.J. Porter and Oderick Turner. Turner's playing time was severly cut down by the arrival of Jonathan Baldwin, which says a lot about the coaching staff's feelings about Turner. He has a ton of talent, but there are some serious work ethic questions here. Porter had something of a breakout season a year ago, leading the team in receptions, but dropped to just 25 receptions this season, and while he did produce some big plays, he was mostly an afterthought in Pitt's bizarre passing schemes. Jonathan Baldwin of course burst onto the scene, but he really fell off hard the last few games of the season. In the final 4 games, he caught just 3 passes for 44 yards, and I think he has a long way to go and a lot of work to do before he becomes a dominant receiver, though certainly I was encouraged by what I saw this year. Lastly, I was surprised early in the season to see Cedric McGee getting the playing time he did (23 catches this season!) but I thought he was a good possession, role type player, and also noticed him as a sound run blocker on the edge.
Final Grade: B-

Tight End
I will go to my grave pleading for Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson to get more attention in the passing game, especially given Dickerson's athleticism against overmatched linebackers and Byham's perfect fit as a security blanket for our struggling QB, but I can't grade them on how well the offense SHOULD use them. So I'll work with what I've got. Byham did nothing to damage his rep as a good, sure-handed possession guy, and I thought Dickerson showed excellent flashes of ability and was more than capable in adjusting to yet another new position.
Final Grade: B+

Offensive Tackle
I wanted to break down each the O-Line a little more closely than as a whole unit, hence the grades for the 3 different types of positions. I thought tackles Jason Pinkston and Joe Thomas performed far above expectations, especially given Thomas' pre-season job security issues and Pinkston's inexperience. They had issues at times, sure, but thought both showed serious promise.
Final Grade: B+

Offensive Guard
Until CJ Davis was force to switch positions at midseason, I thought this was among the best units on the entire team. Davis was an All Big East player, and John Malecki was excellent in his first year switching over from the D-Line. Dom Williams was OK as the replacement, but that injury seriously hurt this unit's effectiveness, and unfortunately, their letter grade.
Final Grade: B

Robb Houser was a nice addition as a transfer player, and did a good job until breaking his leg and ending his season. CJ Davis was the real surprise, as he was excellent in my mind after making a tough switch over from guard.
Final Grade: A-

Defensive End
Two youngsters, Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, both turned in excellent seasons, and I personally think they are both headed for very bright careers. Sheard was surprisingly the more disruptive of the two for most of the season, and Romeus' freakish athleticism and speed off the edge made for one dynamic duo. Their backups, Tony Tucker, Tyler Tkach, and Justin Hargrove all were sound if not spectacular, but with those two starters, not much was needed from them either.
Final Grade: A-

Defensive Tackle
Combining the play of the ends with this unit gave the Panthers one of the strongest D-Lines in the country. The play of starters Mick Williams and Rashaad Duncan was visible in just about every game, and Gus Mustakas has to be one of the best backup DT's in college football. This unit is filled with serious difference makers.
Final Grade: A

Outside Linebackers
This was one of the toughest grades for me to give. On the one hand, there's no denying that the play of the OLB's was a weakness in several early season games, but on the other hand you also have to factor in that both starters were lost for the season very early on and there was almost no depth behind them. Greg Williams has excellent athleticism and could turn into a big time difference-maker with some more experience. I thought Austin Ransom did an admirable job considering how little experience he had before the season at the position, but was noticeably out of position at times, and was clearly raw. I was disappointed in the complete lack of progress made by Pitt's other young linebackers besides Williams. Guys like Brandon Lindsay, Tristan Roberts, and Nate Nix all had a golden opportunity to get more playing time, and while I wasn't surprised Ransom was the first replacement to get an opportunity, I was surprised he held onto the job and wasn't overtaken by any of these three.
Final Grade: C+

Middle Linebacker
I mean what more can be said about Scott McKillop? I thought for sure losing HB Blades was going to kill this defense last season, and McKillop more than proved me wrong. If anything, he's better than Blades was during their respective senior years.
Final Grade:

Probably the biggest position of weakness, besides the QB, on the roster. Aaron Berry was supposed to develop into an NFL prospect this year and one of several youngsters (Jovanni Chappel, Ricky Gary, Irvan Brown, and Buddy Jackson) was supposed to step into the other starting spot and the rest would create depth. Instead, Berry flopped and was a weakness more often than not and Chappel may have emerged as the starter, but he left a lot to be desired and lost significant playing time to the other guys as the season wore on.
Final Grade: D

Eric Thatcher continued his solid if unspectacular work as the strong safety. Thatcher is a solid hitter and a bit of a feared threat in the defensive backfield. He did a nice job in coverage and was solid when brought up against the run. He still is mostly the same player he was a year ago. I was disappointed early on by the play of Dom DeCicco, who clearly was playing when he definitely shouldn't have been in some early games. However, he really grew into the free safety position as the season went along, and gets my vote as the most improved player in-season. With his excellent size and speed and developing skills as a ball hawk, DeCicco now looks to have a bright future.
Final Grade: B

I grouped Conor Lee, Dave Brytus, and Luke Briggs into one group because it seemed silly to give them their own grades. Lee was nothing short of spectacular as a field goal kicker, and I was surprised by his range in the Sun Bowl. Dave Brytus was nothing special as a punter, but rarely made game-altering shanks, which I suppose counts for something. As for Briggs, well I never quite saw the reason for him being the kickoff specialist. He really isn't that good of a kickoff man, and I found it hard to believe that Lee could boot field goals from 50 yards or so yet was unable to nail a kickoff inside the 10, which is about the best Briggs usually did.
Final Grade: B+

Special Teams
Not a position, but I needed to address the work done by Wanny's special teamers this season. Guys like Andrew Taglianetti, Greg Romeus, and others were huge in their incredible ability to block punts and kicks, the types of things that can make a big difference in college football. The coverage units were also pretty solid, and while the return game was never anything amazing, they were mostly solid once Aaron Berry was stripped of his punt return duties.
Final Grade: B+

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