Nik: Has HCPC shown any frustration or lack of faith in Kevin Harper during practice or the games? I'm getting concerned that Kevin's inconsistency will cost us a close game.
Sam Werner: If he has, I haven't seen it. Harper is the best guy Pitt has this season, so the only thing Chryst can really do is try to keep his confidence high despite some early-season inconsistencies. Kickers are strange animals, and can turn things around quickly. The last thing you want is a guy losing his confidence, because that could ruin him forever. I think Harper is a talented kicker, but just needs to make a few kicks in a row to get in a sort of rhythm and figure out some consistency. Kicking in a dome this week should, theoretically, help.
JackShaler: Do you think that Tom Savage will take over at QB next year?
Sam Werner: He'll definitely be in the mix. Next year will likely be a three-man race between Savage, Chad Voytik and incoming freshman Tra'von Chapman. I think Savage, given his experience, might have the upper hand, but you never know exactly what exactly the coaching staff will be looking for. If he does get the job, I do think he could provide a nice bridge between Sunseri and Voytik or Chapman when they're ready to take over as the next long-term quarterback.
James: How do you think Pitt's secondary matches up against Syracuse's receivers?
Sam Werner: I think this is going to be the matchup that decides the game. Pitt plays pretty much exclusively man-to-man on defense, so it'll be up to K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts to shut down Marcus Sales and company. Pitts and Williams both talked this week about not getting caught on double-moves by these guys. Syracuse likes to run a lot of short stuff, but the cornerbacks have to be careful not to bite too hard, or else they could get beat for a long one deep. This could end up with a lot of maddening 5- to 8-yard completions from Nassib, but it's better than the alternative, a 60-yard touchdown pass.
SDWC: Do you see Dan Mason getting more into the mix, or was his appearance just a token "feel good story" against a lesser opponent?
Sam Werner: I think that's yet to be seen. Given the severity of the injury, he's definitely facing an uphill battle. He had some pretty serious nerve damage, and that won't even heal 100 percent. Right now, he's definitely not 100 percent back to where he was before the injury, and he may not ever get there.
That said, what this guy accomplished so far is unbelievable. Literally. Pitt trainer Rob Blanc told me he couldn't believe what he was seeing when he watched Mason against Gardner-Webb. Given everything he's done so far, I wouldn't count anything out for this guy.
Reggiano: How do you see Coach Chryst coming along as a recruiter?
Sam Werner: I think he's doing pretty well. Obviously, one of his focuses is keeping the elite WPIAL guys at home, but he has also extended into New Jersey, as you saw with Reggie Green's commitment this week.
The biggest thing with this staff is that they're pretty good at identifying guys they want, then going after them hard. They won't offer every four-star kid just for the sake of offering him. They know what kind of guys they want, and that's who they recruit. It may not be the "sexiest" form of recruiting, but that's what worked for them at Wisconsin and I think that's the best way to approach things at Pitt as well.
Of course, they are still very much in it with the big fish, including Dorian Johnson and Robert Foster. If they get those two guys, and fill out the class with solid guys that fit the program, I don't think you could ask for much more from Chryst and his staff.
Reggiano: Does the Pitt admin. seem more likely to schedule future series with WVU or PSU at this point?
Sam Werner: Definitely Penn State. There seems to be some mutual interest there in making that more than just a one-time contract. With Notre Dame ceasing to be an annual opponent whenever the Irish start their ACC rotation, I think Penn State could fill that void nicely.
With West Virginia, I just don't get a sense that either side is working really hard to revive that rivalry, at least on the football field. Not saying it won't happen, but it doesn't appear to be a priority at this point.
Nik: Is there something up with Tags? He was all over the place the last few years, making big plays and blocking kicks and now it seems like he's struggling to find the field.
Sam Werner: He came close to blocking a kick against Gardner-Webb, but pulled up to avoid getting a penalty. I think it's really a case of a lot of talent ahead of him. Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks have both been outstanding this season, so there's no reason to take them off the field. Taglianetti has taken over the nickelback role from the injured Jahmahl Pardner, so I expect he'll see the field more than he did in the first three games as the season goes on.
He did joke earlier this week that he's aware of how many blocks he needs to set the NCAA record (I don't remember off the top of my head, but I think it's four more).
79-83: whats rushel shell's status? why did he miss time this week?
Sam Werner: Chryst said yesterday that he expects Shell to play this weekend. He was just a little banged up in practice this week, but it didn't seem to be anything serious.
Guest: Is this the week ray graham takes the bulk of the load, or will even distribution be the story?
Sam Werner: I think a lot of that depends on how healthy Shell really is. Obviously, if he's banged up, the carries will skew more towards Graham.
But, honestly, I don't think the coaching staff even really knows what the carry distribution will be like tomorrow night. They seem to have a "ride the hot hand" mentality. Against Virginia Tech, that was clearly Shell. Against Gardner-Webb, it was Graham. Both will get their touches early, and whichever guy seems to be in a better rhythm will be the one that gets the ball, spelled by the other guy when he needs a break.
I'll be keeping an eye out for how they use Isaac Bennett in this game, too. So far, he's been mostly a third-down/passing situations back, but they may try and use him in a more traditional role this week.
79-83: How big of an impact do you think todd thomas will have this week?
Sam Werner: Depends on how healthy he is. He certainly brings a new dimension to the linebacking corps with his athleticism. He's probably Pitt's best linebacker in coverage, but also isn't afraid to get physical to stop the run. If and when he gets back to 100 percent, he should make a big difference on the defense, just because having that versatility allows Pitt to be more creative with how and when they bring pressure on the quarterback.
SDWC: Were you surprised by the 11 AM start time announcement for Louisville? I understand the ESPN contract and all, but you have no other north shore sporting events that weekend , they could have played that game any time they wanted.
Sam Werner: I was just as surprised as everyone else when I saw that start time. I didn't even know 11 a.m. was a possibility.
The reason doesn't have anything to do with Pitt, homecoming, North Shore stuff, etc. It's my understanding that the Texas A&M/Louisiana Tech game was originally scheduled for Week 1, but got postponed because of a hurricane. That game shifted to this week, meaning ESPNU now has to broadcast four games instead of the usual three. So instead of noon/3:30/7:30, they're doing 11/2:30/6/9:15. It's not ideal, but Paul Chryst had six 11 am kickoffs at Wisconsin over the past two years, so I don't think it'll matter on the field. Hopefully Pitt fans will show up and make it feel like a big game in the stands, as well.
Guest: Will DB Cullen Christian see action this week?
Sam Werner: He should, yes. With Pardner out, Christian is listed as the backup for both cornerback spots. Given the amount of passes Pitt seems poised to face tomorrow, I think they'll need to rotate him in to keep Pitts and Williams fresh.
Nik: Just as a college football fan and not necessarily as the Pitt beat writer, what do you think of the trend of games becoming all offense and no defense track meets? Does Pitt have a chance of competing with their pro-style philosophy if that trend becomes standard?
Sam Werner: Well as a college football fan, last week's West Virginia/Baylor game was certainly entertaining to watch.
As far as winning, though, let's see when an all-offense team actually wins a national championship. I think Nick Saban will tell you that you can compete running a pro-style offense just fine.
Jesus H. Chryst: Do you think Tino's strong play will continue?
Sam Werner: That's the million-dollar question. Tino can be his own worst enemy at times, but the last two games he has been spot on. It's tough to say whether or not that trend will continue, but if it does, that bodes very, very well for Pitt the rest of the season. We've seen guys with so-so careers put it all together their senior seasons, and Tino could be on his way to doing that. We'll know more around 10 p.m. tomorrow night.
Guest: Jamie Dixon pretty much makes up the basketball schedule. Who is in charge of coming up with non conference opponents for football?
Sam Werner: That would be Steve Pederson, the athletic director.
Sam Werner: Alright, unfortunately that's all the time I have for now. You guys came strong with the questions this week, and I really appreciate it. I'd love to stay a little longer, but I do have to hit the road to Syracuse.
Thanks again for stopping by, and I'll see you again next week.
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