After a bye week, we're back with another edition of Coachspeak - the top ten quotes from Paul Chryst's weekly press conference as he looks ahead to Syracuse. Chryst's quotes are in bold and my comments follow.
10. On what the team tried to accomplish over their open week:
... "Doing some ‘good against good’ and trying to maintain playing and adjusting, so that we don’t have a big adjustment to the speed of the game."
9. On if you can keep momentum going in an open week:
"I don’t think you necessarily can or try to. The bye came at a time where you say ‘Alright, it’s an opportunity to get better.’ It wasn’t all perfect the last two games, so I hope we’re getting better and not just trying to ride that wave."
Coming out of a bye, I'm always interested to see how teams respond. I think that no matter who you are, it takes a little bit of time to get adjusted back into the speed of the game as Chryst says. I've got to imagine that one of the hardest jobs of a coach is managing the bye week. Trying to get guys rest, trying to keep guys hungry, and practice hard while staying healthy.
8. "Our guys know about them and I think they are well coached and have good players and we’ve got to play well Friday night."
The key to this is that 'Our guys know about them.' We'll see. Pitt's coaches should really be under the microscope this week after the bye because this is a very winnable game. If Pitt comes out aggressive from the beginning and wins the game, the coaches' messages got through. But if the Panthers come out flat and look like they're going through the motions expecting an easy win, then the coaching staff didn't do their job.
7. "Yesterday we started our Syracuse prep and in my opinion we’re getting ready to play a good Syracuse team. Offensively, it starts with their quarterback..."
More on this later, but Nassib's having a great year. If Syracuse beats Pitt, I'm pretty confident in saying that Nassib will have a big game.
6. On what he expects out of the match-up with Syracuse:
"Looking at their record — a lot of us want different records — but they’re a good football team"
I covered this in my Monday game preview, but Syracuse looks like a better team than their record. If Pitt is judging them based on their record, they could be in for a long night. I'm not all that sure that Syracuse is a good team since they have only one win - and that was a fairly close one over FCS Stony Brook. But I'm certainly willing to concede they may not be that bad and are certainly better than their record.
5. On if there is any special preparation they’ll do for playing in the Carrier Dome:
"...I’ve been fortunate to play there before and know that the crowd noise can be real and you have to address that. Nowadays at any stadium you have to respect that. You’ve just got to go play and adjust to whatever comes your way."
So what will the crowd be like? Who can tell. But with it being a Friday night game in prime time, it could draw a nice crowd that's a bit more raucous than usual. I absolutely hate playing road games on weeknights.
4. On if the history of the Syracuse rivalry is evident to the current players:
"... There is a lot of respect in our room for Syracuse. How it matches up in the grand scale of rivalries? I don’t think it really matters to this group or this generation of kids, not just this team."
Quick, raise your hand if you consider Pitt-Syracuse a rivalry in football. Sorry, but I just don't see it. Part of it has to do with Syracuse not being so good for the past decade or so, but there are other reasons. Pitt hasn't been very good in some of those years, either. Pitt's also had the Backyard Brawl rivalry up until this season and, to a lesser degree, you could even argue they've had a small rivalry with Cincinnati. Personally, I think the move to the ACC will actually boost the rivalry just because they'll be familiar faces to each other.
3. On Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib’s biggest strengths:
"He shows pretty good anticipation which helps show defensively what they’re going to do. He’s confident in what he’s doing and where he wants to go with the ball. He shows toughness to me and even in the end of the game situations, there is some confidence..."
If Nassib shines anywhere, it appears to be the end of games. In the fourth quarter this year, the Syracuse quarterback has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions (On the season, he has ten touchdowns to five picks). That's particularly impressive when you consider that Syracuse has had to play catchup most of this season and he could easily be forced into making bad mistakes. That just hasn't happened, though, and as the game's gone on, he's actually played better.
2. On if Syracuse’s passing stats are a product of the game plan or that they’ve been trailing in some of their games:
“It would be different certainly in the fourth quarter but I also think that’s their direction and it looks pretty natural. I imagine they’re saying, ‘Who is our best player?’ And it’s a pretty good plan — find their best player and put it in his hands. Really in the throw game more than in the run game, and they’ve got a guy who can make good decisions. I think it’s probably more who they are than necessarily the circumstances of the game. Certainly, if it’s a close game and you’re trying to work the clock you get more rush attempts but I think the fact that they are pretty balanced, shows that they’re good at both.”
This is a bit of a jumbled answer, but I think Chryst is a bit off here. Syracuse may be able to do both, but they're definitely more of a passing team. Syracuse ranks in the bottom third of the FBS in rushing (148 yards per game), but is tenth in passing with 341 yards a contest. They've had to play catchup as I've alluded to before, but this is really more of a passing team. Pitt's focus needs to be on stopping Nassib at all costs.
1. On if the game plan will be more pass or run oriented against Syracuse:
"...We certainly always go in to games wanting to be balanced and then you also just have to play with what’s working and kind of counteract how they’re trying to defend you. Don’t just go in saying we’re going to run the ball or that we’re going to throw it."
Don't laugh, but Chryst is actually right in that Pitt can be balanced. Tino Sunseri has been much better than season and the Panthers have a legitimate passing attack. I don't know that I want the team relying on the pass more than the run, but with Sunseri playing well, the Panthers can mix it up quite a bit and still feel confident. The Panthers have actually (statistically, anyway) been a better passing team so far this year than a rushing team. Pitt ranks 26th in the nation in passing and 43rd in rushing.
I don't think most of us would have anticipated that at the beginning of the season.