Sam Werner's Pitt football chat transcript: 9.5.13

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SDWC: Will New Mexico be a challenge to Pitt?

Sam Werner: If New Mexico is any sort of challenge for Pitt, the Panthers are in much, much worse shape than we thought. The Lobos lost 21-13 in week one to UTSA, a team playing just its third year of I-A football. Under Bob Davie, New Mexico actually had a decent rushing attack last season, led by Kasey Carrier and QB Cole Gautsche. They were virtually incapable of moving the ball through the air, though, and went 4-9. There's no real reason to think this year's team will be demonstrably better, and if Pitt wants to hold onto any hope of being a bowl team, they should beat New Mexico comfortably.

John In South Carolina: Based on what I saw at the FSU game, I continue to have hope for this Pitt team going 7-5. Next game should be a win. The two games after that are also winnable so we can be 3-1 after four games. What are your thoughts?

Sam Werner: I, oddly enough, am slightly more optimistic about Pitt's long-term prospects this season than I was before the game Monday night. While Savage's two interceptions were really, really bad reads and throws, he also showed a lot of good stuff. Similarly, I liked what I saw out of Tyler Boyd and James Conner enough to answer some questions on offense. The defense will have to get sorted out, but I think Paul Chryst knows that.
I do think the next three games are critical if Pitt is going to make a bowl game. Next week should be a lay-up, but games against Duke and Virginia are more of the toss-up variety. The Blue Devils and Cavaliers are two teams that Pitt will likely be competing against towards the bottom of the Coastal Division, and going 2-0 against them would go a long way towards solidifying a middle-of-the-pack position in their first year in the ACC. Also, if they get to 3-1 through four games, they need just three more wins (Old Dominion, Navy and Syracuse?) to get to six wins and bowl eligibility.

SDWC: How should Tyler Boyd be used more effectively moving forward in the season?

Sam Werner: Paul Chryst said on the ACC coaches call yesterday that he felt confident that Boyd could be used effectively "within the parameters of the offense." I think that basically means we won't be seeing him used out of the Wildcat or extensively out of the backfield. That said, they spent a lot of time in camp working on those receiver end-arounds that we saw Boyd run for great success Monday night. I also wouldn't be surprised if they worked in some screen plays as well to get him the ball with a chance to make some plays. I think the next major step for Boyd is establishing himself as a presence in the receiving game, which can also help take some pressure off Devin Street.

Your Favorite Panera Employee: Your thoughts on the atmosphere of the game?

Sam Werner: Haha, how's it going JD? I was pretty impressed by the atmosphere down at Heinz Monday night. The student section turned out and wasn't driven away by pregame rain storms. I thought the crowd brought it for the first five minutes of the game, and if either a) Pitt had recovered the fumble on the ensuing kickoff or b) Savage didn't throw the interception and Pitt had gone up 14-0, it would've been even better.
But the Savage pick(s), combined with Jameis Winston tearing the Pitt defense apart, really took the air out of the crowd big time. I think the biggest downside is that you probably had a good number of casual fans (both general public and students) that went to the game and came away with the attitude of "same old Pitt, getting blown out on the big stage." Had Pitt played well and won, some of those fans might have come back for, say, a 12:30 kickoff against New Mexico.

SDWC: Did Todd Thomas see any action against FSU?

Sam Werner: He did, but it was fairly limited. He got mostly goal-line and situational work. That'll be something to watch over the bye week because, given how poorly Pitt's linebackers played Monday night, I find it hard to believe that Thomas won't get more playing time going forward. He needs to "earn the staff's trust back" or whatever you want to call it, but you can't deny his natural athleticism would be a help for this defense.

PittIsIt: What was the defensive strategy for the FSU game? Was the problem the strategy or execution?

Sam Werner: It was a little bit of both. I know a lot of people were upset at the lack of press coverage played on Florida State's receivers, and I think that's valid, to an extent. I think cornerback is one position where Pitt does have the talent, with Lafayette Pitts and K'Waun Williams, to match up with just about anyone in the ACC. It would've been interesting to see what they could've done pressed up against the Seminole receivers. That said, I would almost guarantee that FSU would have burned Pitt deep once or twice if they were playing more aggressive in coverage.
Given that was the way Pitt wanted to play it, it put a little bit more coverage responsibilities on the linebackers to play the deep crossing routes and, to put it mildly, they did not do a great job of that. That's how you end up with Winston completing a 3rd-and-17 pass to a wide open receiver.

Pitt is #1: Sam, obviously Pitt's last two opponents were tough. However, both games were blowouts. Allowing a freshman to complete 25 of 27 passes is incredible...regardless of his pedigree. Is Matt House already on the hot seat?

Sam Werner: And both times, the Panthers had trouble dealing with more athletic, faster teams.
House isn't on the hot seat, though. I don't think Chryst is the type of coach that would fire someone on his staff midseason, and he wants to give House -- a guy that he hired -- a chance to succeed. It's also not totally fair to judge House on one game. Everyone wanted Dave Huxtable run out of town after the Cincinnati game last year, and that defense ended up being pretty good.

Dan the Man: Is Chryst helping House with the defense?

Sam Werner: Typically, no. Chryst usually spends most of his time in practice working with the offense and quarterbacks, given his pedigree. It'll be interesting to see in practice next week if he maybe takes a slightly more active role in coaching the defense.

Jude: How would you grade the offensive line in the first game? I thought they did a good job and by midseason could be a strength of the team.

Sam Werner: Given the level of competition they were facing, I'd agree. I thought the line was good (not great) against Florida State's pass rush. They only gave up three sacks, and one was on a missed assignment by a running back and another was on Savage for not getting the ball out quicker.
This is probably the second-best defensive line Pitt will face all season behind Notre Dame, and I thought they did all right. And, I agree that they should only get better as guys adjust to new roles and positions.

Pitt2002: Do you think Pitt will struggle with other mobile quarterbacks or is this just a case of an exceptional player making Pitt's D look ineffective?

Sam Werner: Until they prove otherwise, mobile quarterbacks are going to be a concern for Pitt. Even going back to last year when they let Buffalo quarterback Alex Zordych make that game closer than it probably should have been, they have had a tough time containing mobile quarterbacks. Which isn't good because, counting the triple-option teams they play, Pitt's gonna play a whole lot of them this year. I don't think New Mexico will pose that much of a test just because of how out-matched the Lobos are, but Duke quarterback Anthony Boone in a couple of weeks could provide a good test to see where this defense is at.

DanW: The soft coverage was bad, but more worrisome were the completely blown coverages, particularly on the tight end and on crossing routes. Do you think these can be addressed with the personnel Pitt has?

Sam Werner: Absolutely, since they did it last year. Remember how bad the defense was against Youngstown State and Cincinnati? Then it came together in the weeks following that (though it sputtered at times against teams like UConn)
I do think having a bye in week two (rather than a short week like they had last year) will help the coaching staff get up the defense up to speed more quickly than they did last year.

Neddy: With the LB struggles against FSU, what should we expect vs the Lobos? Bam - Gordon - Thomas?

Sam Werner: Too soon to tell, especially with regard to Thomas. If he does come back, I wouldn't be surprised if they shifted Gonzalez back over to the Sam linebacker spot where he played last year. But I will say I actually liked what I saw from Bam Bradley on Monday. He could end up being a pretty good player.

Chris: From what you have heard, did the game on Monday have an overall positive effect on the recruits that attended?

Sam Werner: From what I have gathered, yes. Even though the game wasn't the greatest, recruits liked the atmosphere and crowd at Heinz for a big game. The Pitt touchdown early even gave them a taste of what Heinz Field can be like when Pitt is winning a big game.

JB: We were seeing Isaac Bennett at 100%, or something less?

Sam Werner: I would say probably a bit less than 100 percent. Also, he only got nine carries, so he never really got in a rhythm running the ball. I think he and Conner will share the reps moving forward, but Chryst said after the game he didn't get the running backs as many carries overall as he would've liked.

Guest: What benefit do you get playing a 5th yr Senior in Savage? This program's goal shouldn't be going to the Pinstripe Bowl.

Sam Werner: No, but the team's goal for this year should be winning games. Savage at quarterback gives them the best chance to win games this year.

DanW: The offense seemed to use the fullback a lot (mostly Parrish) for not having one listed as a starter. Were you surprised by that?

Sam Werner: Not totally. I think there's no fullback on the depth chart just because guys like Parrish and Garner are a little more versatile than traditional fullbacks. They can line up in the backfield, but also line up in the tight end spot sometimes to block or go out for passes.

Guest: Did you know there were that many FSU fans in Western PA? Pretty strong turnout by the opponent, we aren't used to seeing that many visiting fans unless WVU or ND are in town. Do you expect a lot of visitors for the remaining ACC games?

Sam Werner: I would think so. Pitt is a new road trip for ACC fans, and it's a great city to spend a weekend in. If I were a fan of, say, Virginia or North Carolina, I would definitely make the trip up here for the weekend. It's a new experience and an actual city, rather than just a college campus.

JB: Sam, call me a uniform geek if you must, but did anyone else notice (or mention) the return of stripes to the PITT helmet for the first time since the days of the PITT script?

Sam Werner: Oh they were all abuzz on Twitter before the game. Count me in favor of the stripes.

DanW: I see K. K. Mosley-Smith is still listed on the Pitt roster. Is there any update on his suspension status?

Sam Werner: Sorry, brief disconnection there.
Mosley-Smith is suspended for the season.
But, I should note that he appears to have a really good attitude from watching him in practice. It'd be easy for him to sort of check out in a year he isn't playing, but he's taking part in drills and is usually the first guy on the sideline trying to get the defense pumped up during 11-on-11s.

Stuffzstaysinchicago: What is the most difficult game left in the season for Pitt?

Sam Werner: The easy answer is Notre Dame, but that game's at Heinz Field and Pitt has traditionally played the Irish close every year.
I think at Virginia Tech and at Georgia Tech are going to be tough. The Hokies lost to Alabama this week, but that's hardly a knock on them. I think they're better this year and Pitt will have to play really, really well to win down in Blacksburg.

Sam Werner: All right, folks. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining and make sure to follow me on Twitter @SWernerPG for the latest Pitt football news.

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