Pitt football squeaks by in annual report card


After the end of the Pitt football season, The Pitt News sports staff met and decided on how… After the end of the Pitt football season, The Pitt News sports staff met and decided on how well each individual unit of the Panthers, coaches and players, performed throughout the year. Each position was given a letter grade based on year-long performance.

Coaching – D

We know that we aren’t supposed to judge a coach until he is three years in and “has his guys” in his program. We’re going to do it anyway.

Part of coaching is working with what you have. We’d all like to start at a job with all pieces in place, but that isn’t how it works in coaching. Dave Wannstedt inherited a program with the majority of its starters back. It was a team that won a share of the Big East title in 2004 and went to a BCS bowl. He could have been stuck with a lot worse than the 2005 Pitt Panthers.

Therefore, we don’t have to be satisfied with the results. There haven’t been enough game-day adjustments for fans to be satisfied with 5-6 and 6-6 seasons. The bottom line is that Pitt has underachieved and has been out-coached since Wannstedt got here, exemplified best by the team’s first losing Big East record this century and Pitt’s inability to compete with any team with a winning record. Some of his coordinators, namely Paul Rhoads and his defense, are also to blame, but as the head man, Wannstedt takes the grade.

His reform isn’t done just yet, but given what he inherited, Wannstedt hasn’t done what many had hoped for. -Geoff Dutelle, Senior Staff Writer

Quarterbacks – A-

Despite the Panthers’ inconsistency, Tyler Palko showed much improvement from 2005. Despite occasional lapses, for the most part the outgoing senior showed a lot more confidence. When chased out of the pocket, Palko’s throws were shorter and more accurate than previous years.

Palko threw for 25 touchdowns against only nine picks and, for a while, led the nation in passing efficiency, which ended up at 163.3. Had it not been for several key dropped passes late in the season, Palko’s numbers would be higher. He did everything he could to end his Pitt career on a high note.

And don’t forget Bill Stull going 6-8 for 69 yards and a touchdown while playing in four games. -Dave Siegal, Staff Writer

Backfield – B

When things go well for the Pitt backfield, they go really well (see the Syracuse, Central Florida and UConn games). When times are tough, well, they are pretty tough (see the rest of the schedule).

Wannstedt made a commitment last year to LaRod Stephens-Howling, a speedy, lightning-in-a-bottle back who can bust any carry into an 80-yard score. What comes with a small back, though, are questions of durability, consistency and pass blocking. When Pitt ran the ball, it did so very well. But when things didn’t go right, Stephens-Howling was nowhere to be found. The inconsistency has also plagued a team that clearly throws the ball better than it runs it.

Ultimately, Wannstedt needs to re-tool the running game. He insists on a smash mouth brand of football, but that doesn’t appear consistent with what the top teams in the country are doing. The idea is nice, but the personnel aren’t right, and the team hasn’t made the necessary adjustments to turn out a credible run game each week. -Geoff Dutelle, Senior Staff Writer

Offensive Line – D

What more can be said about the Pitt offensive line that wasn’t said throughout the season? Many have claimed that the O-line was the root of Pitt’s inability to consistently establish a power-run game. The unit was sluggish, inexperienced and unable to protect quarterback Tyler Palko from a decent pass rush. When senior right guard John Simonitis went down early on, freshman Joe Thomas was thrown into the fire. Thomas is talented, but visibly struggled throughout the year.

Joe Villani and C.J. Davis were undoubtedly the best, but the squad was too shallow to produce week in and week out. And just for symbolism, on the last offensive play of the year against Louisville, Palko was sacked. The O-line needs work – a lot of it. -Pat Mitsch, Assistant Sports Editor

Wide Receivers – B-

Derek Kinder led the receiving corps this year, finishing with 57 catches and 847 yards. His production dropped off steadily toward the end of the year, however. After averaging 123 yards per game in the Panthers’ first three contests, he averaged only 64 yards in their five-game losing streak at the end of the season, which may be because quarterback Tyler Palko was consistently pressured.

Oderick Turner showed flashes of brilliance this season as well. Turner turned in a strong campaign with 660 yards on 44 catches, but he seemed to disappear at crucial moments of the game, and his run blocking was a liability.

Sophomore Marcel Pestano came on towards the end of the season and finished with 424 yards on just 28 catches. The Panthers will need him to be a more consistent threat next season. -Andrew Chikes, Staff Writer

Tight Ends – B

Pitt’s positive tight end production went largely under the radar this year, which is a shame considering the promise the young unit has. The most publicity any tight end got this year was when Darrell Strong decided to flip South Florida fans the bird, which got him suspended.

Senior Steve Buches was poised enough to show the talented freshman Nate Byham the right way to do things, but Buches was largely underused in the passing game this year. With Buches gone, Byham will grow into a starting role, leaping over Strong, who was inconsistent all year. By far, Byham was the largest positive from this unit. -Pat Mitsch, Assistant Sports Editor

Defensive Line – C-

In Pitt’s six wins, it looked like the Panthers’ defensive line came out possessed, stifling their opponents’ arsenal. However, this season is judged by the games that were crucial, and the defense’s inability to stop the run and third-down plays contributed to the disappointment of 2006.

The unit was seemingly never able to generate a pass rush or even contain a mobile quarterback, which the Panthers saw a lot of throughout the year. The front four seemed like Swiss cheese to formidable teams. -Dave Siegal, Staff Writer

Secondary – B-

A year ago, Dave Wannstedt dared the opposition to throw on his secondary. Teams embraced the challenge with long passes, knifing through Pitt’s secondary like imitation butter.

This year, Pitt opponents haven’t had to worry too much about the Panthers’ secondary – they were too busy running through the porous front line.

Pitt’s secondary, aside from Darrelle Revis, is lacking in talent, and that showed when teams actually decided to throw the ball. The only true “passing” team Pitt faced all season was Louisville. The Cardinals’ Brian Brohm threw for 337 yards and four scores to key the victory, finding receivers all over the field.

The week before, Pat White, a quarterback known for his running, not passing abilities, threw for 204 yards and two scores, including several long plays. That’s two opportunities and two bad showings. Revis brings the grade up a bit because he forces offenses to simply throw away from him, but the rest of the unit needs work. -Geoff Dutelle, Senior Staff Writer

Linebackers – B-

This year, the unquestioned leader of the Panther defense was H.B. Blades. The senior led the Big East in tackles, and along with Clint Session, anchored the linebacking core. A few linebackers who should suit up for the Panthers next year are sophomores Tommie Campbell, who finished fifth on the team in tackles, and Scott McKillop, who saw game action in all twelve games this year.

The linebackers were part of the speedy defense, but unfortunately, their speed was often used trying to catch up with opposing players. The Pitt linebackers had trouble defending plays such as the quarterback option and the play action, which lead to quarterbacks like Michigan State’s Drew Stanton, UConn’s D.J. Hernandez and West Virginia’s Pat White running all over the Panthers. -Adam Littman, Staff Writer

Special Teams – A

This unit has definitely hit the books and worked to completely improve its overall grade after last season’s D+. Special teams proved to be the one area in which the Panthers did not struggle, as they remained consistent throughout the whole season.

One of the season’s highlights was junior transfer Lowell Robinson’s 97-yard kickoff return touchdown on the opening kick at Central Florida. In his first season at Pitt, Robinson proved to be a key player for the Panthers, not only leading the Big East in yards per kick return but managing to record an astounding 861 all purpose yards – 725 coming from kickoff returns for the season. With all this said and done, Robinson has also been deservedly named as a semifinalist for the inaugural Randy Moss Return Man Award.

Further, kicker Conor Lee ended his stellar season 12 of 14 on field goal attempts, and Adam Graessle, a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award that names the best punter in college football, also averaged 42.0 yards a punt. Although the Panthers special teams was 1-3 on onside kick attempts they held their opponents in this category to 0-1. -Carron Mitchell, For The Pitt News

Overall – C-