Pitt13to9: How healthy is Shane Gordon right now?
Sam Werner: Chryst said Wednesday that he'd be on the trip and even had a chance to start tonight. He served well in an emergency role against Notre Dame for one play, and has progressed nicely in practice this week. Chryst said he and Joe Trebitz were still splitting first team reps in practice just so they're careful how they work Gordon back into the lineup. Given how long he has been out, I would be somewhat surprised if he actually does start tonight, but I think he'll work his way in for a decent number of snaps.
Dean Hood: When Dave "Wanny" Wannstedt gets fired from the bills, should pitt make him their D Coordinator or Special Teams coach?
Sam Werner: Um, no. I think that would be a pretty bad idea for both parties.
Pitt13to9: How has the team reacted to Tino's comments?
Sam Werner: Seems like they've handled it fairly well. While it certainly wasn't a smart thing for Tino to say, most of these guys have been teammates for three or four years now, so their relationships are built on more than just one postgame comment. Chryst said Monday that he planned to talk to Sunseri about it this week, and made it very clear that he disagreed with Sunseri's assessment of why Pitt lost the Notre Dame game. I'm sure he'll make sure that it isn't an issue moving forward.
Sweet Caroline: Do you get a different vibe from this team or might tonight be another Pitt letdown after a big game?
Sam Werner: That's the million-dollar question. I did get a sense after the game that, even though Pitt lost, a lightbulb seemed to click on for some of the guys in terms of just showing what this team is capable of. While everyone was certainly disappointed with the way the game turned out, the prevailing attitude seemed to be more of "Hey, we just showed we can play with anyone in the country" as opposed to moping over a heartbreaking triple overtime loss. Pitt needs to use last week's game as a model for how to play tonight, but not let it get in their heads all night long.
P1ttpanthers: Is there any concern with the lack of depth and only one higher end prospects for the 2013 class? Seems like past years were much more top heavy if not deeper.
Sam Werner: Well Pitt still has two very, very high-end prospects in play with Robert Foster and Dorian Johnson. Both of those guys will take their officials visits to Pitt next weekend. While I don't necessarily expect both (or either) to commit on the spot, Pitt has a good chance to show them why they should consider Pitt. I think the Panthers will be in it until the end with both guys, so this visit could be a big factor.
As far as depth, the only position I would be a little concerned with right now is offensive line. Pitt only has two offensive linemen currently committed in the 2013 class (Johnson would make three). I know Chryst and his staff have done a good job developing offensive linemen at Wisconsin, but that's a position where, to some extent, you just flat-out need numbers.
Sweet Caroline: How is the ACC coastal looking now? Who do you think will win that division next year? How do you think Pitt will fair?
Sam Werner: Right now, Duke controls its own destiny to go to the ACC championship game in the Coastal. Yes, I'm serious. If the Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech and Miami, they will go to the ACC championship game. In football.
That tells you pretty much all you need to know about the state of the ACC Coastal this year. I don't think it'll be a long-term problem, though. Miami could be decent if it gets its defense figured out, and there's no way Frank Beamer will have back-to-back disappointing seasons at Virginia Tech. It's a little to early to prognosticate how Pitt will do next season (we don't even know who the Panthers' QB is going to be). If it's a down year for a bunch of teams like it is this year, they could win it. But if Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech bounces back to be a top-15 team, most likely I'd see Pitt finishing around third in the division.
pittman: Did coach Chryst comment on any of Mike Shannahan's drops?
Sam Werner: He did not, and honestly, that's not something I would be very concerned about. Sure, they came at crucial times, but Shanahan's a guy who has made some big catches over his career. Drops are just the sort of thing that happen sometimes.
JeffB: Why was Coach Chryst seemingly reluctant to use Rushel Shell on Saturday? Yes, Graham had the "hot hand" early, but down the stretch when teams were wearing out, wouldn't a fresh Shell been a good weapon to use?
Sam Werner: Chryst actually said Wednesday that he "didn't feel good" about Shell getting only one carry. I do think it was mostly wanting to stick with Graham because he showed the hot hand early, but, looking back, it seems like Chryst does wish he had found some more situations to use Shell, especially as a between-the-tackles, kill-the-clock kind of running back.
I also think that, especially late in the fourth quarter, he wanted to have the more experienced guy out there. The running backs had to help out a lot in pass protection and especially as Notre Dame's defensive line started getting more pressure, Shell, as a freshman, could have been a liability.
That said, I think we'll see plenty of Rushel Shell tonight. I'd be surprised if we don't.
Sweet Caroline: Which camp do you fall in? Get as many 5 stars as you can regardless, or get guys to fit your system.
Sam Werner: Guys who fit your system, no doubt. And that's the camp this staff falls into as well. They are very specific in the type of player they're targeting, with regards to both on- and off-field traits. The staff wants to find guys that fit what they're trying to do and, more importantly, guys they can develop. That's what worked for them at Wisconsin and, ultimately, that's what they think will work here at Pitt.
Now, that doesn't mean they won't take any highly-rated players. Chryst would be doing cartwheels if Robert Foster and Dorian Johnson committed tomorrow.
Sweet Caroline: What is up with the lack of success at UConn? It's not like it's Death Valley or any really intimidating place to play!
Sam Werner: What? You don't think Rentschler Field on a Friday night would strike fear in the heart of Nick Saban?
I think part of it is playing these weeknight games, in November, at a smaller stadium. It's just sort of a weird environment that requires a little more internal motivation. Anyone can get pumped up for playing in front of 80,000 people at Notre Dame Stadium. But how do you get excited to play in front of 35,000 people on a Friday night in Hartford, Connecticut? Players have to know how to motivate themselves and get just as ready to play as they were last week, and I think that can be challenging going into a less hyped-up environment.
Dokish_Is_A_Hack: There have been a lot of recent articles discussing Chip Kelly from Oregon using basic math principles from a software package called Zeus for aggressive play calls (going for it on 4th down, 2 point conversions, onside kicks, etc). Coach Chryst appears to take an aggresive approach which is refreshing to say the least. Do you know if Coach Chryst follows the same type of mathematics philospohy of football?
Sam Werner: Every coach has some sort of playsheet or system that they use to decide when to go for two, and also some fourth downs. I think Chryst is a little more of a "gut feeling" kind of guy when it comes to deciding when to go for it on fourth down, for instance. A lot of intangibles like momentum also come into play, but, in general, I would agree that he has shown some more aggressive tendencies when he decides when to go for it.
NorthHillsPaul: Regarding that missed FG at Notre Dame, were you surprised they didn't try to kick it on 3rd down? That would have allowed them to just fall on the ball when that high snap occurred.
Sam Werner: Maybe a little, but I think that it was more important to get some more yards, hopefully get a first down and give Harper and easier kick to make. Especially since they had just 3rd and 2, a first down would have been a much greater reward than kicking on third down, even with the safety net of an extra down.
Sweet Caroline: Do you think this team will win out? What bowl?(If any?)
Sam Werner: If they play like they did Saturday, I certainly think that's a possibility. The Rutgers game looks a whole lot less intimidating with their loss to Kent State. If Pitt does win out, there's a slight chance they could jump up to third in the conference and earn a bid to the Belk Bowl.
More likely, though, they'd finish fourth and probably be heading for the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City. The only danger is if Syracuse becomes bowl eligible, the Pinstripe Bowl would love to grab them and their massive New York alumni base. That means Pitt could be going back to....you guessed it....Birmingham.
Pitt13to9: A little off topic, but what are your thoughts on the USC ball deflating situation? No way some ball boy just decided to do that on his own...right?
Sam Werner: That does seem like sort of an unlikely story, especially given Lane Kiffin's history of pulling shady moves like that.
Dokish_Is_A_Hack: Did University of Pittsburgh receive any word from the Big East offices regarding the plethora of bad calls in the Pitt-Nd game? Like a worthless apology? Did Coach Chryst comment on the two Number "2" players on the FG attempt or the terrible Pass Interference call?
Sam Werner: Haven't heard anything, but the most that Pitt will get back is an apology. Chryst commented on both, and basically said that those are just things that can happen during games that teams have to overcome sometimes. He said there were 200-something plays in that game, and Pitt had plenty of other chances to get the win.
RickinMA: Why can't Pitt finish games; lack of depth, mental toughness, play calling?
Sam Werner: I think you can sort of lump all of those, plus some other factors, under the umbrella of just "learning how to win." This is a team that just hasn't won many close games over the last few years, and you have to win a couple of them to truly learn what it takes from all aspects of the players and the coaching staff. Now, I also think, Notre Dame, on the other hand, looked like a team in the fourth quarter Saturday that expected to win even when they were down and looked out of it. That's where I think Pitt needs to get to.
Pitt13to9: Am I the only one that saw Louis Nix III blatantly punch JP Holtz in the head a couple of plays before the missed FG with no penalty?
Sam Werner: It was the play before the field goal and, yes, I saw it too. Should have been a personal foul on Nix.
JeffB: Great to see JP Holtz get involved a little on Saturday, but in general, Coach Chryst doesn't tend to target the TE very often. Is that a conscience decision, or does it just sort of play out that way?
Sam Werner: He says it just sort of plays out that way. I think part of it is Holtz being a freshman and still fine-tuning aspects of his game like route-running. Also, given Pitt's struggles containing the pass rush off the edge this season, the tight ends have to stay in and help in pass protection more than I think Chryst would ideally like, which obviously prevents them from going out in the passing game.
JeffB: Is Coach Chryst more fiery in the locker room and on the practice field than he is in his press conferences and the Paul Chryst Show on radio?
Sam Werner: A little bit, yes, but he's just not really a "fire and brimstone" kind of guy. He's more about how guys approach practice and making sure they're staying consistent with their approach every day. Now, he's not afraid to yell at someone if they're screwing up the same thing over and over again. His assistants also can get pretty vocal with guys in practice, as well.
Sam Werner: Alright, that'll do it for this week's Pitt football chat. We'll be back to Thursday next week for a bye week edition. Remember, tonight's game is an 8 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2. Thanks for joining!