Sam Werner's Pitt football chat transcript: 11.22.13

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1:56
 
Sam Werner: 
Welcome to this week's Pitt football chat. We'll get started at noon but feel free to leave your questions now!
12:01
 
Comment From Pantherhornet 
How important is winning this game, or next week, and going to a bowl game to Pitt this year?
12:04
 
Sam Werner: 
It's absolutely critical that Pitt gets to a bowl game this year, no way around it. At this point, it doesn't really matter how they do it. The difference between 6-6 and 7-5 is mostly cosmetic, and I don't think a win against a reeling Miami squad would be the same signature victory it would have been two months ago (Duke looks like the best win on Pitt's schedule right now, as insane as that is).
Pitt probably won't end up going to a very desirable bowl game. Destinations like Shreveport or Detroit seem most likely, but it would give the Panthers 15 extra practices to get a jump on spring ball for next year. Especially on a team that is young and is in the process of turning over a good deal of its roster, those 15 practices are key. Remember last bowl season was when TJ Clemmings first made the switch to right tackle, and he has started every game there this season (and played pretty well, at that). I don't know if there are any position changes in the offing, necessarily, but that bowl season would be huge for younger guys who will have to play a key role next year.
12:05
 
Comment From Jim 
Sam, any indication as to Pitt bringing in a 5th yr senior or JC QB for next year?
12:08
 
Sam Werner: 
No direct rumblings that I have heard, though it would not totally surprise me. The quarterback situation does get pretty thin next year, with only Chad Voytik and the two freshmen (Wade Freebeck and Adam Bertke) as realistic options. Neither Freebeck or Bertke will be here in spring ball, either, which leaves Pitt with just Voytik and Trey Anderson on the roster. Ultimately, I think the starting battle for next season will come down to Voytik and Freebeck, but that won't happen until summer.
That said, there aren't any 5th-year guys on the radar that would be able to step in and play right away, and Chryst does not have a history of going the JuCo route. Most likely, I think they'll maybe add a walk-on to have another body in spring, then let Voytik and Freebeck battle it out in the summer and fall.
12:09
 
Comment From Gary@NorthernVirginia 
Hi Sam. I appreciate your great coverage of Pitt football. I've been following them since the time of Paul Martha, and have seen some great things. I have hopes for the current regime, but they seem, as they did under Wanny, to consistently underachieve. Do you think they'll break through?
12:12
 
Sam Werner: 
First off, appreciate the kind words, Gary.
As for your question, I think they are moving in the right direction. The problem this year, as it was last year, is how consistently Pitt is able to put together four good quarters of football on any given Saturday. You'll see flashes here and there of what they can look like when they put it all together, and the results are pretty impressive (this year, the Notre Dame win). But against North Carolina, it was more sporadic, which is what Pitt has been over the last few years. I think that will subside eventually as the staff develops some stability within the program because, remember, these seniors are still the kids who went through all the coaching turmoil. The next step Pitt has to take is simply knowing what kind of team it is going to look like from one Saturday to the next.
12:12
 
Comment From Jim 
Since Pitt is a stepping stone job, do you ever forsee this program being anything other than mediocre?
12:18
 
Sam Werner: 
I mean, every job in college is a stepping stone job in some respect. Oregon and Stanford saw their guys leave to go pro, and they're doing all right.
Now, Pitt definitely isn't on that level, but if it truly is a "stepping-stone job," i.e. more prestigious programs are coming after their coaches, that means that the Pitt coaches are being successful...so they'd be more than mediocre.
Putting it in terms of this staff, if a blue-blood program ever wants to come after Paul Chryst, that means he has done very well for himself at Pitt and the team is winning. Sure, it'd be too bad for them to lose him, but look at a program like Cincinnati, which has lost several coaches (Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly, Butch Jones) but still puts together consistent winning seasons.
12:18
 
Comment From Gary@NorthernVirginia 
Tom Savage is by no means a finished product, but after two years off, I've been impressed by what I see. Any buzz from the pro's on him?
12:19
 
Sam Werner: 
There is some NFL interest in Savage, and it wouldn't surprise me to see a team take a late-round flyer on him in the draft. He's big, has a strong arm, and I think that a lot of NFL GMs and coaches will think that some of his inconsistency this year is because of the time off. They'll think that if they get him in their system they can mold him into a good pro quarterback, and they may be right.
12:19
 
Comment From JMPitt 
Why does HCPC hate answering questions about injuries so much? lol
12:20
 
Sam Werner: 
I honestly have no idea. Pitt has to submit an injury report to the ACC and to its opponent for league games (like this week), but Chryst still refuses to divulge anything to the media. Even though Syracuse already knows what guys are hurt this week.
12:21
 
Comment From Thegreat8 
Would monte Nicholson be next years Tyler Boyd for the defense
12:22
 
Sam Werner: 
I think it'd be tough to expect any freshman to match Boyd's production level this year, which has been insane, but Nicholson would definitely be walking into a situation where he could play right away. Jason Hendricks is set to graduate, leaving spot open at safety. Terrish Webb has played some last year, but I think Nicholson is talented enough to give him (or even Ray Vinopal) a run for their money. Even if he wouldn't start, it'd be tough to keep him off the field.
12:22
 
Comment From JMPitt 
Did Parnder or Banks get on the field much last week? If Howard and Coles can't go against Cuse, do they remain the backups?
12:23
 
Sam Werner: 
Pardner actually started the game because of a "coach's decision" to keep Lafayette Pitts off the defense in the first quarter (read into that what you will).
They remain the backups if Coles and Howard can't play, but I think the more likely scenario would be what Pitt did last week, where in nickel packages they moved Jason Hendricks down into coverage and put Terrish Webb at the safety spot.
12:23
 
Comment From SDWC 
Who in your opinion should be the feature back and who should be the secondary guys who comes in for a series here and there? It doesn't seem to me like the coaches can make up their minds.
12:25
 
Sam Werner: 
James Conner has definitely been the more productive back when he has been healthy this year, but I don't think the staff operates under the premise that they need a "feature back." Chryst used a bevy of running backs when he was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin and, while Pitt's guys certainly aren't as good as that group, he's fine using that approach here. It keeps players fresh at the end of the game, though possibly at the expense of letting them get in a rhythm.
I think the staff starts off giving both Conner and Isaac Bennett equal reps, then goes from there based on who's running better. So far this year, that has usually been Conner.
12:25
 
Comment From Guest 
What does Inoke Breckterfield really bring to this staff? He sure isn't bring in top notch recruits from the west
12:26
 
Sam Werner: 
Well, he's coaching Aaron Donald this year. So he's doing something right.
I do think that we may be in for a defensive staff shakeup in the offseason. There are a lot of guys with overlapping roles right now and some areas that you could argue aren't getting enough attention. Even if it's just a restructuring of position titles, I think we'll see at least a little change when the season's done.
12:27
 
Comment From Pitt fan in NJ 
What are the three keys to Pitt turning around this mediocre program? I'm tired of the coaching changes that are not producing results. If other programs can be consistently very good, why not Pitt?
12:29
 
Sam Werner: 
I mean, the biggest key for making Pitt's program what it used to be is re-establishing Western Pennsylvania as the major pipeline for elite college talent it was in the '70s, but there are a number of socioeconomic reasons that's not going to happen.
I still think the biggest thing Pitt needs now is just some stability at the top. The jury's still out on whether or not Chryst is going to be a highly successful coach, but just having him here for a few years should go a long way towards bringing a more successful Pitt team.
12:29
 
Comment From Guest 
Why can Pitt never capitalize on a big win and continue the momentum? It is irritating to hear that they weren't ready to play immediately or didn't come out with any fire
12:31
 
Sam Werner: 
Well I think it goes back to what I was saying before about how Pitt is a team that isn't at the level yet where they play with consistency from a game-to-game or even drive-to-dive basis. I don't know what the answer is (if I did, I'd be coaching) but I think they need to somehow get better at approaching every game, every drive, every play, the exact same way. Players admitted that they got pumped up for the Notre Dame game, and look how that turned out.
I don't totally buy that they "came out with no fire" against UNC, though, because, if you recall, Pitt drove the ball at will on its first two drives (one ended in a field goal, one ended in a fumble) and forced a quick three-and-out in the first quarter. It was after that that things kind of collapsed.
12:32
 
Comment From SDWC 
Those extra practices are overrated. Pitt has gone to bowls several years in a row and they're not getting any better. Of course without the practices they could be getting worse I guess.
12:32
 
Sam Werner: 
The extra practices mean nothing if you're changing the coaching staff every year, which Pitt has basically been doing. With the same staff, they are incredibly valuable.
12:32
 
Comment From Duke Silver 
Of all the true freshman playing this year which one, other than Conner or Boyd or Galambos or Blewitt, do you expect to make the biggest difference for Pitt next year?
12:33
 
Sam Werner: 
That's a good question, and I would have to point to Dorian Johnson, who will probably be a starter on the offensive line next season. Exactly where is still to be determined, but getting him experience this year should help in the long run.
I'd also choose Titus Howard, who could be in line for a starting cornerback job next year.
12:34
 
Comment From Tom Tupa 
Sam, any news on your mom meeting any more celebrities?
12:34
 
Sam Werner: 
No, but it is her birthday today! So happy birthday mom!
12:34
 
Comment From DokishIsAhack 
Hi Sam- Nice job on your coverage this year. Just curious what your thoughts were on the 4th and 1 call at the end of the game against North Carolina? A columnist from a different newspaper seemed to blast the call. I thought that the call was fine and just poor execution. Coono was averaging 5+ and they only needed one lousy yard!
12:36
 
Sam Werner: 
I think you're in sort of a lose-lose situation with that. They obviously had to go for it, and North Carolina loaded up to stop the run. Since the play failed, it's easy to say, "Oh they should have thrown the ball, North Carolina knew what was coming." But if they throw the ball and it doesn't work (for whatever reason, dropped pass, mistiming, etc.), the argument would be, "Why don't you run the ball? Conner was averaging seven yards a carry!"
Ultimately, I think it was the right call. North Carolina knew it was coming, but if you want to win a football game, you should be able to get one yard on the ground even if your opponent knows that's what you're doing.
12:37
 
Sam Werner: 
All right, guys, unfortunately that's all the time I have for today. Still have a drive up to Syracuse ahead of me. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @SWernerPG for the latest updates and for any questions you have

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