The Bearcats open their 2012 football season Thursday night. Their opponent the Pitt Panthers played in week 1 and infamously dropped a tough one to the Youngstown State Penguins. Clearly the Panthers walked away from that game with more questions than when they first stepped onto the field. Most of these questions I could normally answer via stats and data but quite frankly there just isn’t enough sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions. A good proxy would be to check out some numbers from the 2011 season but there’s been so much turnover at Pitt in this past offseason (new coaching staff, uncertainty at runningback, etc.) that it wouldn’t make sense, either.
So with limited resources at my disposal I sought help from someone who has been following and writing about his favorite college team for years. He had been running the Pitt Script Blog but recently got called up to the majors and is a primary contributor to the SB Nation blog Cardiac Hill. I am of course speaking about Bryan who is extremely active in the Twitterverse if you are interested in anything and everything Pitt Panthers. Today we can be thankful that he took the time to answer a few of my questions so we can all get our learning on about what’s facing the Bearcats on the Thursday night.
Bearcats Nation: So.. what the hell happened against Youngstown State?
Bryan: I refuse to answer this question on the grounds that by doing so would be admitting that such an unspeakable travesty actually took place. Hypothetically, if Pitt were to lose to a FCS school, much like Youngstown State, I would say it was because they were physically manhandled in the trenches. Hypothetically, of course.
BN: Watching the game against the Penguins I noticed Pitt ran the ball pretty darn well, which worries me. How confident are you in the one-two punch of Ray Graham and Isaac Bennett?
B: In the ability of these two, I have all the confidence in the world. Ray Graham had a good showing for his first game since blowing out his knee against UConn midseason last year. His best run of the game was a play that was going nowhere until he improvised and bounced it outside when his intended hole never developed. He did fumble on just his 4th carry of the game, hopefully just some rust from not taking much contact.
BN: How would you rate the performance of the offensive line?
B: Adequate. The run game had an average day and they also allowed Tino Sunseri to remain upright, a luxury he did not have last season. Coach Chryst said “Some good that we have to build on and some bad that we have to clean up. It’s kind of a standard answer, but it really is the truth. There were some good things, I thought across the board I could pick out five or six plays for each lineman that in my head I could say that was pretty good or that was pretty impressive.”
BN: How is Tino Sunseri doing adjusting to a new offense for the gazillionth time?
B: Tino is entering his third season as a starter, under his third head coach, third offensive coordinator, third quarterbacks coach, and third system. Many seasoned veterans in the NFL have been through less coaching turnovers that this kid. That being said, Tino did well in the new system. At this point, he is what he is…a game manager. He still struggles with his accuracy on the deep ball, and isn’t great going through his reads…but if you let him, he can move the ball downfield 5-10 yards at a time. For the most part against YSU, he did just that. Unfortunately, he couldn’t lead them into the endzone often enough.
BN: I feel like I should have a reason to fear the receiving trio of Devin Street, Mike Shanahan, and Hubie Graham purely because of their height. Tell me I’m not crazy.
B: I don’t believe you are crazy…they are a good bunch of receivers. Street will still have a mental lapse now and again, but the kid has speed. Mike Shanahan is a solid possession receiver with great hands, and an athletic tight end like Graham will always be a dangerous weapon in a Paul Chryst offense.
BN: What are your thoughts on the Panther’s defense?
B: What defense? They allowed four touchdown drives of 70+ yards and three drives of 10+ plays. Yes, the front seven were missing many key players due to injury and suspension, but even the secondary, the believed strength of the defense, appeared vulnerable and couldn’t make stops at key moments.
BN: If you were a Cincinnati coach, which area or position group of Pitt’s offense and defense would you try to exploit?
B: The quarterback via the wide receivers (if they’re covered, Tino will most likely struggle) and the linebackers (that talent simply isn’t there right now.
BN: How do you think this game unfolds?
B: (Hopefully) with the return DE Shayne Hale and DT Tyrone Ezell, the defensive line should be in a better position to put pressure on the offensive line and Legaux and force mistakes. The optimist in me is hoping the Bearcats will have a few struggles of their own in their season opener, allowing the Panthers to win the Paddlewheel Trophy for the final time…24-17.
Nice. In spite of his predicted outcome, hats off to Bryan for actually getting through my well known long-winded questions. Like I mentioned I have little to go on heading into this game so these answers from someone who has been following this team closely in the offseason were paramount to understanding this opponent better. Remember, for anything and everything Pitt Panthers be sure to check out Cardiac Hill and follow Bryan on Twitter for the latest on the team or to send over a little friendly (or blood-lustingly obscene) smack talk.