Brian: With the 3 big name recruits on official visits this weekend, who would be the biggest priority for Pitt? At first glance I would say Johnson as O-line is a huge area of need, but we've seen in the past how a dynamic receiver can really open things up for the offense.
Sam Werner: For my money, give me a stud offensive lineman over pretty much any other position. Average skill players can look elite behind a powerful line, while it's hard to get a five-star receiver the ball if the quarterback doesn't have time to throw it. For Pitt, ideally they'd nab both Johnson and Foster (though I don't think either will commit this weekend). But, of those two (and Tyler Boyd is more of a long-shot), I would take Johnson ahead of Foster. Especially in the offense that Paul Chryst wants to run, run-first with controlling the line of scrimmage, getting as many quality offensive linemen as you can is priority No. 1. With that, the skill players will follow.
Tom Turkey: Another lost season in 2012; what is the outlook for QB next season at Pitt? Who do you think is favored to start?
Sam Werner: At this point, I'd have to say Tom Savage is the odds-on favorite to get the job in 2012. He's big and has some physical skills that not many other quarterbacks do. More importantly, he's a veteran guy, which is something that Chryst values greatly at the quarterback position. I would be surprised, though, if we have a clear No. 1 starter before fall camp. Voytik will get his shot to win the job, and we'll see how much he learned backing up Sunseri this year. Tra Chapman is enrolling in January and, while he's a special talent and could be the guy long-term, I would say a redshirt season is most likely for him.
Amo: Why does the team perform so bad on the road?
Sam Werner: I'm not sure I would call taking the No. 3 team in the country to triple-overtime in one of college football's most famous stadiums performing badly, but let's go with it.
I think the biggest problem for Pitt in the games they've dropped this season has just been their consistent mental preparation. Against Syracuse, they gave up an early touchdown drive and had an early fumble recovery for a touchdown. Against Connecticut, it looked like it took until halftime for all the players to mentally get to the stadium. I know it's a let-down playing on Friday night in East Hartford the week after playing in front of 80,000 people at Notre Dame Stadium, but that's college football. Chryst said Monday that he thought Pitt needs a culture change, and that's it. The Panthers have gotten up for big games this season (see: Virginia Tech, Notre Dame), but have struggled to take care of business in games where the stakes may not have been as high. The mentality they took into South Bend needs to be the one they have every week, no matter the opponent, and that just isn't the case right now.
jonnamtv: With this week off, what should Pitt work on in preparation for the last two games in order to, hopefully, become bowl eligible?
Sam Werner: I think there are a couple of things there. First, they need to get healthy. Hopefully we'll get an update today on Jason Hendricks and Hubie Graham's status going forward, but even other guys who just have bumps and bruises need to use this week to rest up and get well.
Beyond that, they need to spend these two weeks just focusing on that Rutgers game. If they can beat Rutgers, the finale at South Florida becomes a playoff of sorts and, as I just said, Pitt has performed well this season when there's a lot riding on a particular game.
Amo: Would Foster and Johnson start next year if they committed?
Sam Werner: Foster might not start, but he would certainly get plenty of playing time his first year on campus. The receiver position is one where a lot of talent can make up for inexperience to a certain extent, and Foster is too talented to keep off the field. Given Rushel Shell's playing time this year (though we'll get to that in a second), Chryst has shown that he has no qualms about playing freshmen if they're the best guy at the position, and Foster certainly would be one of Pitt's best receivers as soon as he gets here.
Johnson is a bit of a different story. I think he would probably redshirt, though it depends on what Pitt's depth chart looks like on the offensive line at that point. With linemen, it's almost always better to have them sit a year because, even for the most talented ones, their fifth year is going to be far, far better than their first year. If none of the current returnees step up for Pitt next year, though, Johnson may be in place to get the nod.
Guest: I am cognizant of Ray Graham's talents and his senior leadership; however, why has Shell been barely utilized the past several games?
Sam Werner: I think it has mostly been the way both games played out. Against Notre Dame, Graham ripped off a 55-yarder on his first touch, and had probably the best game of his career. Still, Chryst said afterwards that he "didn't feel good" about Shell only getting one carry against the Irish.
Last week, Pitt got down big so quickly, that there just weren't that many carries to go around. Graham is still a more complete back in terms of his route running and pass protection, so he's likely to get a little more playing time in passing situations.
That said, I know the staff would like to get Shell more involved, so that could be a focal point for the bye week.
bigEZmtv: Should Pitt go 6-6, and be bowl eligible, where do you suppose they will end up?
Sam Werner: I hope Pitt fans didn't see everything they wanted to in Birmingham over the last two years, because it looks like that may be the destination again if the Panthers win out and reach a bowl game. The big swing was when Syracuse defeated Louisville last week, which puts the Orange in position to snag a bowl bid. With them eligible, the Pinstripe Bowl (Pitt's previous likely destination) will run not walk to get the Orange and their massive NYC alumni base. That means Pitt is heading back to the BVABRWOJARA Bowl and Birmingham.
Of course, that's all conditional on Pitt getting two more wins.
Amo: Did anyone ever confront Paul Chryst about giving up at the end of the first half against UCONN?
Sam Werner: I think Chryst was trying to make something happen, but Sunseri getting sacked on that first down really sort of limited what they could do.
In general, I do think clock management is one area of being a head coach that Chryst is figuring out as he goes along. It seems like every week he's faced with a "go for it/don't go for it" situation at the end of the half, and is still getting down what his thought process is. The one that puzzled me the most was against Notre Dame, when Pitt faced fourth down around midfield late in the half, ran the clock down, but then went for it anyways. It didn't come back to bite them because Notre Dame missed the field goal, but that one didn't make a lot of sense to me.
TacoFromTheSouthHills: What about us brain dead slobs?
Sam Werner: You'll be given cushy jobs!
DMeagle: Given his success at Wisconsin, why is Paul Chryst such a let down for our beloved panthers?
Sam Werner: I think it's way too early to throw around the word "letdown." It usually takes around three years for a coach to truly show whether he has it or not. It'll take some time for Chryst to truly install his system and establish his culture within the program. This team is still feeling the effects of all the coaching turbulence, so just Chryst being around for a few years should be a positive influence on the program.
Sam Werner: Any quick hitters before I sign off?
Jeff: Do you think we will see a freshman start at QB next season?
Sam Werner: No. I think Tom Savage is the odds-on favorite now, though Chad Voytik (I suppose he is a redshirt freshman) will probably be No. 2. I think Chapman will redshirt.
Amo: When will Blewitt take over for Harper? :)
Sam Werner: Since Harper is a redshirt senior, next year.
Jeff: And how "good" is Savage...an upgrade from Sunseri?
Sam Werner: Physically, he's much bigger than Tino. We haven't gotten to see much of him in practice so it's tough to totally assess. But he is taller.
Sam Werner: All right, folks. That's it for this week's chat. Same time, same place next week.
First Published November 15, 2012 1:00 AM