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The Turning Point: Peterman’s Miss

There were many twists and turns in this game, but not many would have been necessary had Peterman not missed a big fourth down conversion.

Under nine minutes separated Pitt from a huge road win against North Carolina yesterday. They were up 13 points with about 8:45 remaining in the game. To that point, the defense had turned things around and were frustrating the Tar Heels. Now, we can debate whether North Carolina’s own play calling got in their own way or not, but some big sacks gave Pitt a chance to cement the game.

For the third straight possession, North Carolina came away with zero points and Pitt’s offense was tough to stop. Add to that the fact that the Heel’s defense had to be exhausted and it seemed like Pitt needed to just keep doing what they were doing, which was methodically drive down the field.

Matt Canada did what he had done all game to start the drive. He called Moss’ number for a gain of two and then used a jet sweep to Henderson for two more yards. Not ideal results, but those were the same calls they used before. Now, it was time for fifth-year senior, Nate Peterman to step up and make a play from his own 24-yard line. Peterman dropped back and had Tre Tipton open for the first and overshot him. Tipton was open, he had the first down, and Peterman just missed the throw.

We can debate Pitt’s play-calling on the next drive and then the fourth down plays on UNC’s last drive, but this one could have prevented a lot of that, considering the Heels won with two ticks left on the clock. Believe me, I vented a lot about the 4th and nine play that North Carolina converted, where a blitzing Avonte Maddox was yanked down by his facemask without any call, but if Peterman connects there, Pitt stands a great chance at being 3-1.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Pitt blows fourth quarter lead against North Carolina, loses 37-36

The Panthers defense gave up late points. Again.

Sort of becoming a theme, right?

Pitt’s defense again had a chance to close the door on an opponent for the second consecutive week and came up short again. This time, it was North Carolina defeating the Panthers, 37-36 on a last-second touchdown pass in a jumbled mess where the Tar Heels barely got the play off in time.

This one isn’t all on the defense, of course. Sure, they gave up an unreal three fourth down conversions on the final drive. Sure, they allowed more than 35 points for the second straight week. And, well, sure, they gave up two touchdowns in the final five and a half minutes. They deserve a lot of the blame. But they had help in this one as, after a brilliant game offensively, the Panthers again struggled on that side of the ball late.

Pitt’s offense had a chance to seal the game. A few of them, actually. But they could only muster a measly three points on their final four drives.

Not scoring was only one of the team’s sins. When you look back at how little time they ate off the clock, it was borderline criminal. The first of those was a three-and-out that took only 1:22 off the clock. Next, they scored a field goal, but at only 2:42. The last two were three-and-outs that both lasted less than 1:50. None of that will cut it, folks.

What I didn’t understand as well was the uber-conservative playcalling on that last drive, too. On that final drive, Pitt basically ran two straight forward runs with Conner before tossing a screen his way. It made little sense in reality given all of the success they had with the innovative plays earlier in the game.

Henderson, for the record, was running ragged over the Tar Heels. He had a whopping 107 yards on only nine carries. Conner did a nice two-way act again with 66 rushing yards and 64 passing yards. But if you’re pinning this all on Canada for not going to Henderson on that last drive, I’d encourage you to think again.

Now, I think Canada should have done more, but let’s look at those drives. This wasn’t merely a case of abandoning Henderson. They involved him on two plays on the first drive but couldn’t move the chains. They tried to get the ball to Henderson and Chawntez Moss on the next one resulting in a punt and they were shut down. The fact is that they used Henderson on those other two drives and they couldn’t pick up a first down. Going to Conner was fine by me, but I think the plays should have been a little less standard.

A big goat on those drives was quarterback Nathan Peterman. Peterman to that point had played a fine game but he badly missed on two big short third down passes. It’s frustrating because Pitt doesn’t need the world from him - just to convert on the short throws, avoid mistakes, and make one or two plays. He mostly did that all day except on those drives.

Fact is, there’s plenty of blame to go around offensively.

Defensively, I’m at a loss where Pitt goes from here. The book is clearly out that they can’t cover and I thought it was sort of ironic that, on the game’s final play from scrimmage, Ryan Lewis blatantly held the North Carolina receiver before giving up a touchdown, anyway. It’s sort of like the old adage in basketball - if you’re going to foul, at least stop the opponent from scoring.

The defense did its part earlier that half by limiting the Tar Heels to only seven points until the final six minutes but folded when you really needed them.

There were all sorts of problems in pass coverage. In particular, I called out several times on Twitter when Oluwaseun Idowu was exposed at linebacker. He couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer and while you don’t necessarily expect him to be able to, he really didn’t do a good job on him. He wasn’t only beaten, but on at least one occasion, he completely missed the assignment and on another play with a clean shot at the quarterback, whiffed on a wide open sack.

Losing Elijah Zeise for the season looks like an even more significant loss at this point. Idowu has had some nice moments at other times in the season, so I don’t want to be too harsh on him. And it’s easy to forget that he was just a walk-on before earning a scholarship this year. But he had a really, really tough day today.

Also in my doghouse was Terrish Webb, who struggled mightily. Several times Webb was beaten and a few more, he looked completely lost out there in which way to go, opting to leave a few guys uncovered. If there’s a reason to not give Reggie Mitchell a shot, I’m missing what that is. The Webb-Mitchell battle went right down to the last second at training camp and Webb has really had a tough time this year.

One guy that should be devoid of criticism is Ejuan Price. That guy was superhuman today, recording a safety, adding a sack or two, and he was constantly in the backfield despite being held. I know we’ve propped up Aaron Donald quite a bit since his senior year at Pitt, as we should have. But while Price might not quite be on that level, he’s really close, folks. I also thought he was held a few times today and he’s a very, very good player.

I wrote this during the game, but at some point, this becomes less about the talent you have and more about needing to have guys knowing what they need to do. And if they know what they need to do and are not capable of doing it, maybe you need to change how you’re doing them.

Anthony Dorsett, Jr., former Pitt player and obviously the son of Tony Dorsett, had a lot of pointed comments on Twitter today. You can go check out his account, but one thing he said is something we’ve heard before that was pretty significant:

RT @Hail_Pitt: Narduzzi' defense challenges you to pass on them. A great scheme when you have talent throughout the secondary #Pitt— ANTHONY DORSETT, JR. (@DORSETTJR) September 24, 2016

Pitt seems to be forcing their corners to try to stretch themselves and cover one on one. It’s clear they are unable to do that on a regular basis. That’s not a knock on those guys but we’re seeing time and again the struggles they’re having. Pitt’s system, as even Pat Narduzzi said earlier this week in his press conference, requires that those guys play one on one at times. Based on the number of times you’re seeing them out there on their own, it’s clear that either one of two things is happening.

Perhaps the safeties are missing assignments entirely. In that case, it’s something that needs to be coached better to know where they need to be. The other option is that Pitt’s coaching staff insists on playing that much one-on-one coverage and their corners simply aren’t talented enough to keep up. In that case, it’s a bit of stubbornness to not change the defense to give them more help.

It’s clear that in watching the past two games that they are going to struggle against any capable quarterback. Perhaps the way they’ve been playing will be enough to beat the weaker teams on the schedule. And sure, the counter argument could be that Pitt nearly won both games, anyway. But the fact is that they are giving up big chunks of yardage on a routine basis. And even against North Carolina, part of the reason they were able to slow the Tar Heels’ offense down earlier was because they were still trying to run the ball. If I’m any defense with any kind of a quarterback, I don’t know why you wouldn’t look at game film of the past two games and throw the ball 50 times.

I always hate trying to oversimplify things, but that’s where we’re at. Pitt’s offense has shown they can score points and Pitt’s defense has shown that they can’t stop teams from scoring. Sure, there are variances - the offense will struggle sometimes and the defense will shine. But overall, that’s where we are.

And if that’s where we are, we’re looking at another team very similar to the ones we’ve seen in the past.

Not great, not terrible, just sort of ... there.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

(Don't) Bet the Farm: Pitt-UNC Predictions

The Cardiac Hill staff makes their predictions for Pitt's 1st conference game of the year

While Pitt was not successful last week, the Cardiac Hill staff was mostly successful with only one writer getting the wrong pick.

This week, we're more optimistic. This is Pitt's first ACC game, and their second game in a row on the road. Pitt's lost every game to North Carolina since entering the ACC by about a touchdown. Most of the games have been very close, and the staff feels that this is the year the streak stops. James Conner has found success against UNC the first two years he played them, and Pitt is hoping it's enough to push them for a win this time.

Anson - Pitt (3-0)

Chris - Pitt (3-0)

Corey - North Carolina (3-0)

JD - Pitt (3-0)

Jim - Pitt (3-0)

Aron - Pitt (2-1)

Scott Barnes named as potential candidate for Oregon State job

The Pitt athletics director says he’s happy with the Panthers

Usually it’s coaches that Pitt has to be worried about other schools poaching.

Oregon State lost its athletics director, Todd Stansbury, who headed to Georgia Tech. One of the names mentioned to replace him? Pitt AD Scott Barnes.

Barnes is from the pacific northwest, but has no ties to Oregon State. He’s from nearby Washington and went to Fresno State in California. The closest anyone can come to a true link there is that Barnes hired current Oregon State football coach Gary Andersen when he was at Utah State. Seriously, that’s the link.

All of this stems from The Oregonian coming up with a list of potential ‘candidates’. But the articles I’ve read there seem to lay out more why Barnes would be a good fit - not that there’s been actual contact between the two side. They’ve had a few articles on the search and you can find them on their Oregon State page.

Barnes’ stance? As the Trib reported last night, he seems happy at Pitt:

“I was completely unaware of the article and speculation until it was just brought to my attention,” said Barnes, who is with the Pitt football team in Chapel Hill, N.C., where the Panthers meet North Carolina on Saturday. “Obviously, my full focus and energy has been directed at what we have going on at Pitt. “I don't think it is appropriate for me to talk about another institution's personnel search, but I can tell you my family and I feel very fortunate to be in Pittsburgh, and we are incredibly excited about our future here.”

That’s obviously the route that more people take when they are mentioned as a potential job candidate elsewhere - happy where I am without a hard denial in any interest. Frustrating for fans and former Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon did this for years.

Could it happen? Sure, I guess. But to me, the job down the road that Pitt fans should probably be more worried about regarding Barnes is Washington. He is from that state and was the Associate AD there. In addition, he was the AD at Eastern Washington immediately before that. For about ten years, he was at both schools before going to Utah State. Fortunately, Washington just hired an athletics director this year so hopefully won’t be looking for a while.

For Pitt, the loss of Barnes would be a setback. While many fans weren’t impressed with the Kevin Stallings hire for the basketball team, Barnes has made a lot of great moves. He’s already begun to improve the mess that has been the Olympic sports programs. Some have thrived in the past but some have been down for many years. He’s made a good commitment to improve those programs, has already brought in a few new hires, and has released the master plan where improving Pitt’s Director’s Cup standings was named as a priority.

He’s made football the clear priority and pumped a good bit of ACC money into things like facilities while giving coach Pat Narduzzi the resources to hire quality assistants. He understands that football is the moneymaker and needs to thrive for everything else to fall into place.

In addition to that, there was also the relaunch of the Pitt script brand across the board. Finally, known as a fundraising guru of sorts, Barnes has made a big push in increasing donations. As mentioned in the master plan, a big part of what he wants to do is re-engage alumni to help raise more money.

Pitt athletics seems like its on the right track and to suffer a loss of the AD at this point would be difficult.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Going Scouting: Marshall Thundering Herd

Get ready to tune in for Pitt’s next opponent, because Marshall isn’t someone we’ve seen a lot of lately.

For the second time in three weeks, Pitt will play an opponent for the first time in school history. Oklahoma State had not met the Panthers on the gridiron previously and now it’s Marshall’s turn. Despite being only a few hours down the road, Pitt and Marshall have never met in football. That will change one week from tonight, but before that happens, how can you get a look at the Thundering Herd?

Well, it just so happens, that if you get the CBS Sports Network (not CBS, but the CBS Sports Network), you can flip right to their game tonight, after Pitt is done tangling with North Carolina. Not only will you get a look, but it is an intriguing game, as well. Marshall will be at home, with an 8:00 p.m. kickoff, against the newest college football darling....Louisville!

Yup, you read that right: Louisville is traveling to Marshall. The Thundering Herd have a great history, but they did give up a lot of points in their lone loss to Akron, so Louisville could have some fun. At the same time, Louisville has Clemson one week from today and this is a big home game for Marshall, so could they catch the Cardinals in a trap game? Head coach Doc Holliday certainly hopes so and so does the home crowd at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Marshall has the ability to strike fear against power 5 teams and Pitt doesn’t want to get caught looking ahead next week. They will hope to learn from the Louisville game just what they will be in store for when the Herd comes to Heinz Field. You can find out early. Just tune in.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Pitt vs. North Carolina: How to Watch, Schedule, Game Information

Here’s the key information for today’s contest

Pitt opens ACC play today against North Carolina as they’ll travel on the road for an afternoon kickoff. The Panthers are hoping to rebound after last week’s loss against Oklahoma State and you can bet that both teams will be fighting hard to start conference play with a 1-0 record.

The Panthers’ defense will need to step up and put last week behind them. Unfortunately, the Tar Heels sport a pretty good offense and are multifaceted with strong passing and running games. In other words, slowing them down will be no easy task and Pitt will need to make sure their offense doesn’t stall out, either. This could be another one of those shootout games that Pitt has found itself in for the past two weeks, so hopefully they’ll be able to keep up again.

Here are the game details for today's contest against the Tar Heels:

Date: September 24, 2016

Time: 3:30 p.m.

Location: Chapel Hill, NC (Kenan Stadium)

TV: ESPNU (national telecast)

Radio: 93.7 FM The Fan

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Against the Odds: Pitt solid underdog to North Carolina

The Panthers head into another road matchup where they won’t be favored

For the second straight week, Pitt heads into a game where they won’t be favored.

The Panthers travel to North Carolina this weekend for their first ACC game and it’s expected to be a difficult one. Oddsmakers have Pitt as the clear underdog here so if they’re to win, it will look like an upset.

The line started out with the Panthers as seven-point underdogs and things haven’t budged, really. A couple of places have them at +6.5 but many still consider them +7.0.

I don’t think winning would be a colossal upset and I expect they’ll come to play. They have plenty of motivation after a disappointing ending to the Oklahoma State game and also since it’s a matchup between two teams that seemingly could win the Division. But on the road, Pitt clearly has their work cut out for them.

What do you think about the line? Too high/low or just right?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Tyler Boyd making early impact with Bengals

We all know about Pitt’s big name guys in the NFL - Lesean McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Donald, and Darrelle Revis, to name a few. It might not be too much longer before we can add another legitimate star.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd.

To be fair, Boyd isn’t a star yet. But only two games into his rookie season, he is already making an impact with his new team, the Cincinnati Bengals. Boyd was limited in his debut, but still caught two passes for 24 yards. He stepped things up against the Steelers last week, grabbing six catches for 78 yards. On the season, he ranks fifth among rookies in receptions and sixth in yardage.

Against Pittsburgh, he actually had the most catches and yards of any wide receiver on the team - even easily outperforming A.J. Green, who was limited to only two catches for 38 yards. He did have a fumble in the game, but even that looked pretty questionable.

What’s great to see is that Boyd is being targeted quite a bit, including eight times last week. He still has a ways to go, obviously, but at only two games into his career, he’s already off to a solid start to the season and is contributing early.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Vow to use James Conner more in passing game being kept

Three games into the season, the Pitt running back has already exceeded his career-bests in receiving

The plan to get Pitt running back James Conner more involved as a pass-catcher has long been discussed. After his monster year in 2014, there was talk of Conner becoming more of a receiving back for 2015. That effort, though, quickly went off the rails when he suffered an injury in the season opener and was gone for the year. This year, that talk returned.

And so far, it’s actually happening.

Through only three games, Conner has 281 rushing yards. That number, of course, is off of his 2014 pace when he ran for 1,765 yards. However, the running back also has nine catches for 105 yards.

Those numbers are astonishing when you consider what Conner has done as a receiver in his career. We’re barely into the season and he already has set career-bests in each of those categories. Even more shocking is that his nine catches already have equaled his past three years combined while the 105 yards have almost matched his three-year combined yardage (110).

Back when the talk resurfaced about Conner being more of a receiver this year, I mentioned that a 20-catch season would help his NFL Draft prospects by showing scouts he was a capable receiving back. Conner is actually on pace to nearly double that.

Also nice to see is that Conner has been used as a receiver near the goal line. Against Villanova and Penn State, he recorded a receiving touchdown in each game - the first ones of his career.

Further, Conner isn’t just catching bubble screen passes. As evidenced in the Oklahoma State game, he’s actually getting downfield a bit. This weekend against the Cowboys, he had a big catch and run going for 55 yards. Even if the pass wasn’t intended for him (it didn’t appear it was), he was still out on a passing route and was fortunate to catch the ball and make a big play out of it.

While his role in the passing game is great to see for Pitt’s offense, I’m also glad that it will benefit Conner. He’s just a more marketable draft pick if he shows he’s capable of catching passes and that will ultimately help his stock.

Conner isn’t the same rusher he was in 2014 when he was able to (excuse the pun) catch the nation off guard. His 4.5 yards-per-carry are down significantly from that season when he was at 5.9. He’s also on target to fall well short of his record 26 rushing touchdowns that year. But by adding the receiving dimension to his game, he’s becoming more of an all-purpose back, which is a good thing.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt’s Receiving Corps Must Step Up

It’s not breaking news, but with everyone looking at Nate Peterman, we decided to look at the players catching the ball.

We’ve talked a lot lately about how Pitt’s passing game needs to step up for the offense to be productive. The interesting thing is how successful they have been putting points on the board without much of a downfield threat. That won’t last forever and it has proved to be a problem at key moments of a game early on this year.

Obviously, there’s been a lot of focus on what quarterback Nathan Peterman needs to do and how the staff needs to trust him more. But the other side of that is the Panthers’ receivers.

Pitt hasn’t faced the best of defenses yet, but they will eventaully. And when they do, they must see what they have. With defenses already stacking the line and Dontez Ford out for a period of time, the coaching staff has to allow some players a chance to make plays. The receiving corps is very inexperienced to say the least.

If you want to find a security blanket, Pitt’s tight end, Scott Orndoff would probably be it and this is one of my frustrations. He’s pretty sure handed and a good athlete. He has 33 career catches and nine touchdowns. Those are nice numbers for someone who was behind J.P. Holtz for his first few years. He’s not going to be the second coming of Dorin Dickerson for Panther fans, but the Waynesburg native’s 6’5” and 255 pound-frame would give fits to defenders so I’m all for him being even more involved. He leads the team in receptions but I’d like to see him involved more downfield.

In addition to Orndoff, it’s starting to look like Quadree Henderson is developing into the top receiver. Henderson can score from anywhere on the field and he’s a candidate to be targeted a little more as well. He already has nine catches this season, has good hands, and is plenty capable of doing more.

Every team needs a downfield threat. Whether it’s a speed threat or a height threat, you need them. Pitt has both the speed and the height to make teams pay for covering one-on-one but hasn’t gone downfield enough. Jester Weah is a former track champion and has six catches for 123 yards. The question with Weah has always been his hands but you have to try to stretch the defense. He did that a bit with a long grab and score this weekend.

In addition to those guys, Pitt has a few more that are in the mix here. First, there’s true freshman, Aaron Mathews of Clairton. He’s a bit taller and is listed at either 6’4” or 6’5” for the most part. Either way, reports in camp determined he was not much fun for defensive backs. He’s still looking for his first catch, but Narduzzi said in his weekly press conference that he’s a guy we should see more of. Mathews doesn’t have to know everything in the playbook to go up for a jump ball. Take a shot.

Finally, there needs to be a security blanket in a group of receivers. Tyler Boyd was it for three seasons. He ran great routes and caught balls in traffic. I think Orndoff can provide some security, but a receiver helps too. I’ve heard way too much about Tre Tipton early last year and then again this season in training camp to not think he may have a knack for coming down with tough balls and taking hits. A week ago when Pitt was trailing Oklahoma State, they needed to get downfield to tie up the Cowboys. Tipton came down with three catches, on the last drive, and one of them was a very tough fourth down conversion.

Also in the mix is JUCO transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes. He has only one catch on the year but with Ford out, he could see a bit more time as well.

Pitt’s receiving corps is a virtual unknown and it’s understandable that we haven’t seen much from these guys aside from Henderson and Orndoff. But if the Panthers’ offense is to do more, at some point, they’ll need to trust the passing game a little more. Like Oklahoma State, North Carolina is capable of scoring a lot of points so we might see that sooner rather than later.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

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