Sam Werner: We're about 15 minutes away from starting, but feel free to leave your questions now for this week's Pitt football chat.
Pitt13to9: What is the word on Todd Thomas?
Sam Werner: Nothing official yet. I expect we'll hear something from Paul Chryst during his final media briefing this afternoon. Thomas returned to practice for the first time last week, and earlier this week Chryst seemed optimistic that he would be ready to go against Gardner-Webb. I wouldn't be surprised to see them slowly work him into the rotation to get him re-acclimated to game speed.
The Big Easy: After Shell ran for 157 yards against VT, has there been any indication from the coaching staff on how Pitt will distribute the carries going forward?
Sam Werner: I still expect Ray Graham to be the No. 1 back, but Shell will certainly get his touches. You saw a 50/50 split vs. VT, but I think that may have been mostly a product of the fact that Pitt was running the ball a lot to salt away the game. In a closer game, Graham will still probably be the guy they want out there. Chryst said it's a game-by-game thing, so if Shell is feeling it (like he was Saturday) they'll keep feeding him. As a freshman, he'll probably be a bit more up-and-down than Graham, but they can still ride the hot streaks. Isaac Bennett, I think, figures in more as a 3rd-down/passing situations back, at least that was his role Saturday.
TacoFromTheSouthHills: Who can take your trash out? Stomp it down for you? Shake the plastic bag and do the twisty thingy, too?
Sam Werner: The garbage man can, sir. The garbage man can.
Pitt13to9: Any word on ticket sales for this game?
Sam Werner: Nothing official, though a brief perusal of Pitt's ticket website shows that fans can still buy groups of eight tickets together in the upper deck around midfield, or lower level in the end zones. Obviously, facing a I-AA team, this game won't have the same atmosphere as Virginia Tech. I would think the win over the Hokies will help a bit, particularly with student attendance.
RickinMA: Have you seen any practices this week? If so, please comment on the level on intensity.
Sam Werner: We've been able to watch two practices this week, but only the first 30 minutes of each one. Those 30 minutes consist mostly of riveting punt coverage work. That said, I think the intensity, for what it's worth, has been on a relatively even keel throughout camp and early in the season. One thing Paul Chryst preaches is consistency, and that goes right along with it. He doesn't want his team to drastically change its approach after a bad loss or a big win. That said, you can tell the players are a little more upbeat in interviews this week. The monkey of two straight losses is off their backs, and the work they put in this offseason finally paid off on Saturday.
The Big Easy: I don't know anything about Gardner-Webb. Is there any reason to be worried about a letdown game following the big win? What are they like?
Sam Werner: To put it bluntly, no. Youngstown State was a quality I-AA team. Gardner-Webb is not. The Runnin' Bulldogs (at least they have an awesome nickname) are 0-3, and have been outscored 119-38 by the likes of Wofford, Richmond and Samford.
BuffaloBurgh: Chances we see a Pitt QB not named Sunseri take a snap?
Sam Werner: If you do, it will be Trey Anderson. That, actually, wouldn't surprise me too much. If Pitt gets up big and early in this game (which they should) and Tino's leg is still feeling any repercussions whatsoever from that hit last week, it might make sense to take him out and let Anderson get some game reps in mop-up duty. You won't see Chad Voytik, though. At this point, the staff clearly wants to keep the redshirt on him.
letshang50: Do you think the VT game was an aberration? Or were the first 2? I just can't forget how God awful they looked the first 2 weeks.
Sam Werner: Like most things, the answer is somewhere in between. I don't think Pitt is as bad as they showed in the first two games. I think you saw Saturday that the mistakes Pitt made in the first two games were mostly a product of people not being where they were supposed to be. They weren't getting just flat-out beat by Youngstown State and Cincinnati. A lot of those mental problems were corrected against Virginia Tech, and you saw the results. That said, the Virginia Tech game was a case of everything going right for Pitt. They won't be able to rely on Logan Thomas throwing passes 15 yards past his closest receiver every week. In the end, I think this Pitt team is still right around where we pegged them in the preseason, probably middle of the pack in the Big East.
df51: Is there a strategy from the coaching staff to use Shell in the 2nd, 3rd quarters in order to allow Graham to come in later in the game with fresh legs on a tired opposing defense?
Sam Werner: Generally, yes. Though I don't think it's broken down by running back. They'll run Graham in the middle of the game if he's feeling good then, and then mix Shell in during the fourth quarter when he's the fresher back. You saw Saturday that Shell was the one out there for the beginning of Pitt's game-sealing fourth-quarter touchdown drive. He was the one that was fresher at the time, so the staff went with him. Shell said he did notice as the game went on that VT's defense wasn't being as physical with him as the game wore on, so in that sense the idea worked.
The Big Easy: Looking ahead in the schedule, and after seeing them last week, do you think we can expect a bowl team this year?
Sam Werner: It's a bit early to be asking that, especially given how the team looked in the first two games. Tentatively, I would say yes. This team looks right now like it might be right on the fringe of bowl eligibility. A couple of way-too-early projections had them going to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, which goes to the sixth-place Big East team. I'll feel better about this team's bowl chances once they win a couple of Big East games.
RickinMA: Bill parcells said you are what your record says. In the VT game Pitt did have some favorable bounces. However it was evident they won the battle at the line of scrimmage. Should we see steady improvement from the lines?
Sam Werner: I think so. The two concerns along both lines were inexperience and depth. You can see the inexperience question is starting to resolve itself, as the young guys playing on both the offensive and defensive lines have gotten better with two games of experience. Those guys, like Tyrone Ezell, Devin Cook, Cory King, etc., will get better as the season goes on. Depth, though, is still a concern. If one of the starters gets hurt, it will likely be a freshman or a guy with virtually no playing time coming in to replace him.
letshang50: I know Coach Chryst is an even keel guy, but did you notice perhaps a sense of relief amongst him or the coaching staff to after finally getting off the snide?
Sam Werner: No doubt. I think it was more a sense of validation. These guys knew what they were doing the first two weeks (at least they thought they did) but the results just weren't there. The Virginia Tech game proved something they knew all along, that this team could be a pretty good football team.
Guest: Do you think Cam Saddler has had a disappointing Pitt career?
Sam Werner: To an extent, I guess you could say that. He's a guy who I think was hurt by the numerous coaching changes because of the role he plays in the offense. You could see last year that it looked like he might finally be fitting into a role, when he fractured his sternum in the middle of October and lost the rest of the season. He still has a long way to go to prove himself this season, and Sunseri is definitely looking for him out on the field. Behind Devin Street, Saddler actually had the most third-down targets against Virginia Tech. He'll definitely get some more action as the season moves forward, and we'll see if he can make something of it.
Aaron: What is your prediction for Saturday?
Sam Werner: Sort of sill to do predictions for games like this, but I do think Pitt is going to roll. Let's go ahead and say... Pitt 48, GW 13, with Pitt running the ball a lot in the second half.
Sam Werner: Alright, that's all for this week, folks. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to join next week, same time, same place.