It's midterm time at Pitt right now so, appropriately, it's time for midterm grades on the football team as well.
Is it wrong for me to consider this season dead in the water? We're only six games into the season, but Pitt already has three losses. Best case scenario is that Pitt finishes the season 9-3, which conceivably could still put the team in a crappy bowl if Rutgers somehow manages to win out because, well, that's what usually happens when a second-place team in the Big East (insert angry rant about Notre Dame stealing one of the Big East's bids because the conference needs them as a tie-in).
That won't happen, though. I hate to say it, but it's almost a certainty that Pitt loses to West Virginia this season. The realistic best case scenario in my opinion will be a 7-5 season, losing to WVU and another team in the mediocre Big East.
There's plenty of blame to go around and head coach Todd Graham deserves some of it. As much as he says that "this is as simple as it gets" when it comes to the offense, that's probably not entirely true. This may be a simpler version of his spread offense, but it isn't as simple as it gets in general. It's not that Graham necessarily deserves blame for trying to install a new offense - it's that the team has been completely unprepared at times this season.
And in talking about the blame, the players obviously need to take their fair share. These players were meant to run almost the exact opposite offense currently being implemented. But these same players were also studs in high school and shouldn't look as if they had never played the game before at times.
Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to take a look at the offense halfway through the season. The second part of this 'midterm report' will look at the defense.
At quarterback, we are at a complete and utter loss. Starting with the backup, Trey Anderson has only been in this offense for a few months and is about as raw as it gets. He's also pretty short and struggles to see over the line. He didn't look good in the game against Rutgers, but it's difficult to be too upset with him so far just because he's so inexperienced.
Tino Sunseri, on the other hand, has officially swung and missed for the last time. He isn't good enough to take this team anywhere regardless of the coach of players around him. Last season, Jon Baldwin appeared to quit on routes at times because Tino just couldn't hit him. Albeit an awful gesture by Baldwin, I'm starting to understand his frustration. Tino can't throw short, can't throw long, and can't hit the in-between routes. He's just not very good at this point. I really don't care about his statistics right now, I care about wins and leadership. Leadership stems from success and others following you, not just the ability to talk in front of a crowd and having everyone's attention. And, unfortunately for Tino, he's had little success.
The problem with Tino is that he doesn't look much improved as a player since last season. Maybe he has just topped out when it comes to ability or maybe he simply can't get this offense to click. Either way, he is a big problem right now.
The offensive line has been banged up and has had its ups and downs. When they're playing well, they block adequately for Tino and sometimes is able to make a better throw. There are also bigger holes for Ray and he generally takes advantage of them. But when they don't block as well, Tino gets nervous and gets sacked even though he (sometimes) has enough time to make a throw. Ray also is forced to get more creative and while he's able to make something out of a play more often than not, there are times he simply has no chance to do much of anything.
On the receivers, since Coach Graham had mentioned some of the sloppy route running, I've actually started to notice it a little more myself. There are times when we see more "looping" routes rather than planting and turning. Dropped passes have hurt, too, in some occasions. Neither of those things help the team or Sunseri, who needs receivers to step up when he makes an accurate throw.
Overall, I blame the players a bit more than the coaching staff. In the end, coaches can only do so much and the players have to execute. Coach Graham has made it pretty clear that when things go wrong it comes down to the execution on the field. I don't blame him for kind of putting the blame on his players, since that's absolutely true.
When divvying up the blame among the players on offense, the offensive line deserves a significant amount of criticism. Sure, injuries were a problem, but that still doesn't exclude them from blame. The unit still needs to play better regardless of who is in there. And Tino obviously is a huge part of why this offense isn't working. He doesn't fit as well as Coach Graham had thought and he just isn't nearly as good as he needs to be.
Coaching: I really do love what this new offense is trying to be. Even if it hasn't been implemented correctly, I still am hopeful for it. Grade: B-
Quarterback: Tino has not played well at all and looks very out of place. Bad throws, bad reads, bad fumbles, and bad awareness in the pocket have all attributed to his performance thus far. Grade: C-
Running Backs: Ray Graham is one of the best all-purpose backs in the country and has played amazing to this point. Zach Brown has also played well when he has gotten carries. Grade: A
Receivers and Tight Ends: Mike Shanahan and Devin Street just aren't as good as I had thought they would be. Shanahan is slow and has some drops and Street is still raw with decent speed. Cameron Saddler and Ronald Jones have stepped up and played well. Hubie Graham looks like a sure catch almost every time the ball is thrown his way. The play of those latter three players helped pull this grade up quite a bit. Grade: C+
Offensive Line: I had to give the offensive line the same grade as Tino because they cause a lot of his problems. Sporadic in their ability to run and pass block, the line has also been pretty banged up. Their play will set the bar for the rest of the season. Grade: C-
Offensive Average: The offense landed at a 2.43 GPA which equates to the given grade. I do feel as if it is appropriate because they have had a few decent games and a few really bad ones. Ray Graham pulled their GPA up a large amount and the play of the smaller receivers and Hubie Graham helped also. This team has the talent to put on a much more productive on-field product. Grade: C+
In Part II of the midterm report, I'll give my percentages for where I believe that the blame lies on this team and also the grades for the defense, and special teams. I will also factor in the grades from coaching, offense, defense, and special teams in order to give a total grade for the midway point of the season.
Be sure to check back for Part II.