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Pat Narduzzi says personnel changes could come at Pitt

After Pitt's secondary collapse against Oklahoma State a couple of games ago, Pat Narduzzi was asked if there would be any personnel changes coming. At the time, he said no.

However, it sounds as if the head coach is reconsidering after yet another disappointing game by the Panthers' pass defense.

"You might see one or two," Narduzzi said when asked if the Panthers coaches would be making any personnel changes. "I don't know if it will help things. There's always time to shake things up a little bit and we'll shake things up."

Narduzzi also made a point to say that he believes that the coaches have most of the right players on the field. But his admission that there could be changes coming means that they are at least open to trying a few different guys.

So where could Pitt be making some changes? I mean, if it's not the secondary, I don't know where it would be. One that stands out to me in particular is safety. Terrish Webb had a rough game against North Carolina and if you remember back to training camp, the safety spot opposite Jordan Whitehead was one that went right down to the wire with Webb and Reggie Mitchell, a former starter. Giving Mitchell a crack at the starting job might not be a terrible idea.

Then there's cornerback. Unfortunately, the team isn't as deep here with another known commodity available. Both Avonte Maddox and Ryan Lewis have struggled this year and some might argue that Maddox has been worse. Ironically, Maddox was/is the No. 1 guy out of camp and his job wasn't seen as up for grabs while Lewis was fighting to win his.

The problem is that there isn't a Mitchell-like opportunity here. Pitt could try to turn to one of its younger guys like Dane Jackson or Phillipie Motley, the two players listed behind Maddox and Lewis on the depth chart. But both are underclassmen, as are others such as freshmen Malik Henderson and Therran Coleman.

It's fine to clamor for changes, but part of the reason the Panthers have been hesitant to make moves there is simply because those guys are very, very green.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt lineman Dan Matha to make WWE/NXT television debut

An ex-football player is one of pro wrestling’s up and comers

I always expected that if I was writing about a former Pitt football player joining the WWE, it would be former defensive lineman Ty Ezell. Ezell always had WWE aspirations if the NFL didn’t work out and to date, it hasn’t.

But another former Panthers player looks like he’s not only in the WWE, but potentially on a track to becoming a key guy.

Offensive lineman Dan Matha.

Matha, you might recall, was a pretty solid recruit that came to Pitt over Michigan State and West Virginia, among others. Unfortunately with shoulder injuries eating into his career, he never played at Pitt despite being here for three years as a tackle. Matha eventually went to nearby IUP and starred at the D-II level. He got a look in the NFL, but never worked out there.

Seemingly, he dropped off the face of the earth. But Matha was already planning his next career in pro wrestling.

Matha is set to make his television debut in WWE’s NXT circuit in less than two weeks after a promo was run for him during this past Wednesday’s show. He’s been in some NXT matches at events but none televised that I’m aware of.

All of that might sound like nothing if you’ve not heard of it, but NXT is the company’s premier minor league system, if you will. It’s not found on cable TV but despite being only on the WWE Network, has a massive following. In other words, Matha will have many eyes on him in a very short amount of time.

Wrestling fans don’t know what to make of him, either. Many wrestlers toil for years before getting recognition from the WWE. Apparently after a short stint in the Ohio Valley Wrestling training school, he landed a WWE tryout and was quickly signed last fall.

In pro wrestling, that sort of thing doesn’t happen all the time. Wrestlers can be on the independent circuits for years and years without drawing any attention at all, let alone being signed. The WWE does have a penchant for taking athletes from football and giving them a shot, but as a whole, Matha has shot up the ladder much faster than is the norm.

Pittsburgh is known for producing some WWE talent, as this article cites. And not on their list was Matt Bloom, who played football at Pitt in the 1990s. Bloom (aka Tensai, A-Train, etc.) was also 6’7” like Matha and an offensive tackle for the Panthers before going on to a long career in pro wrestling.

Physically, the dude is jacked. Here’s Matha in action lifting, um, a lot of weight quite a few times. We’ll see how much he’s learned in the short time he’s been on the wrestling circuit pretty soon.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Weekly Kickoff: Pitt has chance to rebound vs. Marshall

The Panthers will look to snap a two-game losing streak

Pitt has come close to knocking off two quality teams on the road but lost in the final minutes against both Oklahoma State and North Carolina. Instead of being 4-0, the Panthers find themselves at 2-2 and desperately in need of a win.

They’ll get that chance against the Marshall Thundering Herd this weekend.

Pitt faces Marshall in a night kickoff this weekend as the team gets back to its home field. Seemingly, this is what the Panthers need to get back on track.

No, Marshall isn’t necessarily a gimme but it’s obviously a game that Pitt should win.

The Thundering Herd looked incredibly impressive with a 62-0 win over Morgan State. But since then, they’ve struggled badly. First came a 65-38 blowout loss to Akron. This past weekend, Marshall was routed 59-28 against Louisville.

The big thing here to watch is the status of quarterback Chase Litton. Litton dropped six touchdown passes against Morgan State then added four more against Akron before suffering concussion symptoms. He wasn’t healthy enough to play against Louisville on Saturday and his availability will be something to watch.

Pitt fans will likely be scared by some of those passing numbers and, well, given the state of the secondary, they probably should be. Litton is yet another quarterback they’ll face with the ability to sling the ball all over the field and not only put up 722 passing yards in those first two games but has those ten passing touchdowns. If he’s able to play this weekend, that could hurt.

For Marshall’s sake, they better hope he does go. His replacement, Garet Morrell, didn’t fare nearly as well this weekend. Sure, he was facing Louisville. But Morrell really struggled to do much of anything despite two touchdown passes. On the day, he was 9-21 for only 59 yards and an interception. You have to figure that even Pitt’s suspect secondary should be able to rebound well if it’s Morrell in the game.

While Marshall’s passing game will depend on which quarterback is in there, the running game looks to be solid. It’s a by-committee approach there with four guys carrying the load. Keion Davis, Hyleck Foster, Tony Pittman, and Anthony Anderson have combined for 119 carries and 465 rushing yards.

Defensively, the Thundering Herd have struggled. They shut out Morgan State, but allowed a whopping 124 points to Akron and Louisville. Marshall has had problems against both the run and the pass, but probably struggled a little more in the passing game, allowing nearly 800 yards in the air in both of those games.

It will be interesting to see if Pitt tries to air it out a bit more this week. Nathan Peterman has certainly shown some limitations but facing an opponent that’s been pretty bad in pass defense might mean the Panthers try to pass a little bit more. I’m not expecting a 300-yard game or anything but Peterman could do a bit more this weekend.

The past two weeks have been disappointing. But playing good teams on the road is never easy. A 2-2 record at this point with that schedule, while frustrating given that Pitt had last week’s game won, is entirely reasonable for a program still on the rise. But there’s no doubt that the Panthers need to rebound on Saturday and cannot afford a loss going up against Marshall at home.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

LSU fires Miles as football coach

LSU fired Les Miles as its head football coach Sunday, the school confirmed to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Cam Cameron also was fired as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will be introduced as interim coach on Monday, the school said.

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LSU, ranked No. 5 in the preseason Top 25, fell to 2-2 on Saturday night after an 18-13 loss at Auburn. It was the worst start for LSU since Miles took over as coach in 2005.

 “Decisions like this are never easy ones to make,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement. “Coach Miles has done a tremendous job here and he’s been a great ambassador for our University, which makes this even more difficult.”

Miles, who turns 63 in November, went 114-34 in 11 seasons at LSU and led the Tigers to the BCS national championship in 2007.

LSU (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) opened the season with a 16-14 loss to Wisconsin, the Tigers’ first defeat in a season opener since 2002. The Tigers beat Jacksonville State and Mississippi State before Saturday's loss at Auburn (2-2, 1-1). LSU hosts Missouri at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium. 

Orgeron was head coach at Mississippi from 2005 to 2007. He also served as interim head coach in 2013 at Southern California after Lane Kiffin was fired during that season, going 6-2.

Panther of the Game: Offensive Line

The offensive line paved the way for Pitt and gave them a real shot at winning a big conference road game.

Before we get to the Panther of the Game, I have to tell you that this was a very difficult decision yesterday. For a good while, I actually wanted to go with Nathan Peterman, but the last couple of series made me rethink that one. Quadree Henderson had another amazing game with over 100 yards rushing. Ejuan Price was a monster, but I feel like if I picked a defensive player, I would have to change all of my contact information and move. I think today we’ll go with a group; and that group was Pitt’s offensive line.

They had the bad snap and I believe one holding penalty on the day, but other than that, they played a pretty dominant game. Pitt kept the ball for over 40 minutes yesterday. They gave up two sacks and one was after the bad snap. The other was a one-yard loss on a Peterman scramble. Take away the snap, which lost 28 yards, and Pitt rushed for over 300 yards on the day.

It didn’t matter who carried the ball for Pitt yesterday. They simply churned out yardage. Henderson finished with over 100 yards. Conner knocked out 66 yards, while Moss had a nice 47 yards. Peterman and Hall recorded 19 yards each, and positive yardage from everyone on the day. 10 players, in all, carried the rock on the day. I think you also have to remember, that for the third week in a row, Pitt was facing a defense that dared them to throw the ball. Peterman also had plenty of time to throw the ball.

We can nitpick all day long about the bad snap, and maybe not opening holes on the last two series, but I feel like no matter who we picked yesterday, you could find something that wasn’t good on the day for them. It was one of those games, where it would have looked a lot better had Pitt held on for the win.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

The Turning Point: Peterman’s Miss

There were many twists and turns in this game, but not many would have been necessary had Peterman not missed a big fourth down conversion.

Under nine minutes separated Pitt from a huge road win against North Carolina yesterday. They were up 13 points with about 8:45 remaining in the game. To that point, the defense had turned things around and were frustrating the Tar Heels. Now, we can debate whether North Carolina’s own play calling got in their own way or not, but some big sacks gave Pitt a chance to cement the game.

For the third straight possession, North Carolina came away with zero points and Pitt’s offense was tough to stop. Add to that the fact that the Heel’s defense had to be exhausted and it seemed like Pitt needed to just keep doing what they were doing, which was methodically drive down the field.

Matt Canada did what he had done all game to start the drive. He called Moss’ number for a gain of two and then used a jet sweep to Henderson for two more yards. Not ideal results, but those were the same calls they used before. Now, it was time for fifth-year senior, Nate Peterman to step up and make a play from his own 24-yard line. Peterman dropped back and had Tre Tipton open for the first and overshot him. Tipton was open, he had the first down, and Peterman just missed the throw.

We can debate Pitt’s play-calling on the next drive and then the fourth down plays on UNC’s last drive, but this one could have prevented a lot of that, considering the Heels won with two ticks left on the clock. Believe me, I vented a lot about the 4th and nine play that North Carolina converted, where a blitzing Avonte Maddox was yanked down by his facemask without any call, but if Peterman connects there, Pitt stands a great chance at being 3-1.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Pitt blows fourth quarter lead against North Carolina, loses 37-36

The Panthers defense gave up late points. Again.

Sort of becoming a theme, right?

Pitt’s defense again had a chance to close the door on an opponent for the second consecutive week and came up short again. This time, it was North Carolina defeating the Panthers, 37-36 on a last-second touchdown pass in a jumbled mess where the Tar Heels barely got the play off in time.

This one isn’t all on the defense, of course. Sure, they gave up an unreal three fourth down conversions on the final drive. Sure, they allowed more than 35 points for the second straight week. And, well, sure, they gave up two touchdowns in the final five and a half minutes. They deserve a lot of the blame. But they had help in this one as, after a brilliant game offensively, the Panthers again struggled on that side of the ball late.

Pitt’s offense had a chance to seal the game. A few of them, actually. But they could only muster a measly three points on their final four drives.

Not scoring was only one of the team’s sins. When you look back at how little time they ate off the clock, it was borderline criminal. The first of those was a three-and-out that took only 1:22 off the clock. Next, they scored a field goal, but at only 2:42. The last two were three-and-outs that both lasted less than 1:50. None of that will cut it, folks.

What I didn’t understand as well was the uber-conservative playcalling on that last drive, too. On that final drive, Pitt basically ran two straight forward runs with Conner before tossing a screen his way. It made little sense in reality given all of the success they had with the innovative plays earlier in the game.

Henderson, for the record, was running ragged over the Tar Heels. He had a whopping 107 yards on only nine carries. Conner did a nice two-way act again with 66 rushing yards and 64 passing yards. But if you’re pinning this all on Canada for not going to Henderson on that last drive, I’d encourage you to think again.

Now, I think Canada should have done more, but let’s look at those drives. This wasn’t merely a case of abandoning Henderson. They involved him on two plays on the first drive but couldn’t move the chains. They tried to get the ball to Henderson and Chawntez Moss on the next one resulting in a punt and they were shut down. The fact is that they used Henderson on those other two drives and they couldn’t pick up a first down. Going to Conner was fine by me, but I think the plays should have been a little less standard.

A big goat on those drives was quarterback Nathan Peterman. Peterman to that point had played a fine game but he badly missed on two big short third down passes. It’s frustrating because Pitt doesn’t need the world from him - just to convert on the short throws, avoid mistakes, and make one or two plays. He mostly did that all day except on those drives.

Fact is, there’s plenty of blame to go around offensively.

Defensively, I’m at a loss where Pitt goes from here. The book is clearly out that they can’t cover and I thought it was sort of ironic that, on the game’s final play from scrimmage, Ryan Lewis blatantly held the North Carolina receiver before giving up a touchdown, anyway. It’s sort of like the old adage in basketball - if you’re going to foul, at least stop the opponent from scoring.

The defense did its part earlier that half by limiting the Tar Heels to only seven points until the final six minutes but folded when you really needed them.

There were all sorts of problems in pass coverage. In particular, I called out several times on Twitter when Oluwaseun Idowu was exposed at linebacker. He couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer and while you don’t necessarily expect him to be able to, he really didn’t do a good job on him. He wasn’t only beaten, but on at least one occasion, he completely missed the assignment and on another play with a clean shot at the quarterback, whiffed on a wide open sack.

Losing Elijah Zeise for the season looks like an even more significant loss at this point. Idowu has had some nice moments at other times in the season, so I don’t want to be too harsh on him. And it’s easy to forget that he was just a walk-on before earning a scholarship this year. But he had a really, really tough day today.

Also in my doghouse was Terrish Webb, who struggled mightily. Several times Webb was beaten and a few more, he looked completely lost out there in which way to go, opting to leave a few guys uncovered. If there’s a reason to not give Reggie Mitchell a shot, I’m missing what that is. The Webb-Mitchell battle went right down to the last second at training camp and Webb has really had a tough time this year.

One guy that should be devoid of criticism is Ejuan Price. That guy was superhuman today, recording a safety, adding a sack or two, and he was constantly in the backfield despite being held. I know we’ve propped up Aaron Donald quite a bit since his senior year at Pitt, as we should have. But while Price might not quite be on that level, he’s really close, folks. I also thought he was held a few times today and he’s a very, very good player.

I wrote this during the game, but at some point, this becomes less about the talent you have and more about needing to have guys knowing what they need to do. And if they know what they need to do and are not capable of doing it, maybe you need to change how you’re doing them.

Anthony Dorsett, Jr., former Pitt player and obviously the son of Tony Dorsett, had a lot of pointed comments on Twitter today. You can go check out his account, but one thing he said is something we’ve heard before that was pretty significant:

RT @Hail_Pitt: Narduzzi' defense challenges you to pass on them. A great scheme when you have talent throughout the secondary #Pitt— ANTHONY DORSETT, JR. (@DORSETTJR) September 24, 2016

Pitt seems to be forcing their corners to try to stretch themselves and cover one on one. It’s clear they are unable to do that on a regular basis. That’s not a knock on those guys but we’re seeing time and again the struggles they’re having. Pitt’s system, as even Pat Narduzzi said earlier this week in his press conference, requires that those guys play one on one at times. Based on the number of times you’re seeing them out there on their own, it’s clear that either one of two things is happening.

Perhaps the safeties are missing assignments entirely. In that case, it’s something that needs to be coached better to know where they need to be. The other option is that Pitt’s coaching staff insists on playing that much one-on-one coverage and their corners simply aren’t talented enough to keep up. In that case, it’s a bit of stubbornness to not change the defense to give them more help.

It’s clear that in watching the past two games that they are going to struggle against any capable quarterback. Perhaps the way they’ve been playing will be enough to beat the weaker teams on the schedule. And sure, the counter argument could be that Pitt nearly won both games, anyway. But the fact is that they are giving up big chunks of yardage on a routine basis. And even against North Carolina, part of the reason they were able to slow the Tar Heels’ offense down earlier was because they were still trying to run the ball. If I’m any defense with any kind of a quarterback, I don’t know why you wouldn’t look at game film of the past two games and throw the ball 50 times.

I always hate trying to oversimplify things, but that’s where we’re at. Pitt’s offense has shown they can score points and Pitt’s defense has shown that they can’t stop teams from scoring. Sure, there are variances - the offense will struggle sometimes and the defense will shine. But overall, that’s where we are.

And if that’s where we are, we’re looking at another team very similar to the ones we’ve seen in the past.

Not great, not terrible, just sort of ... there.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

(Don't) Bet the Farm: Pitt-UNC Predictions

The Cardiac Hill staff makes their predictions for Pitt's 1st conference game of the year

While Pitt was not successful last week, the Cardiac Hill staff was mostly successful with only one writer getting the wrong pick.

This week, we're more optimistic. This is Pitt's first ACC game, and their second game in a row on the road. Pitt's lost every game to North Carolina since entering the ACC by about a touchdown. Most of the games have been very close, and the staff feels that this is the year the streak stops. James Conner has found success against UNC the first two years he played them, and Pitt is hoping it's enough to push them for a win this time.

Anson - Pitt (3-0)

Chris - Pitt (3-0)

Corey - North Carolina (3-0)

JD - Pitt (3-0)

Jim - Pitt (3-0)

Aron - Pitt (2-1)

Scott Barnes named as potential candidate for Oregon State job

The Pitt athletics director says he’s happy with the Panthers

Usually it’s coaches that Pitt has to be worried about other schools poaching.

Oregon State lost its athletics director, Todd Stansbury, who headed to Georgia Tech. One of the names mentioned to replace him? Pitt AD Scott Barnes.

Barnes is from the pacific northwest, but has no ties to Oregon State. He’s from nearby Washington and went to Fresno State in California. The closest anyone can come to a true link there is that Barnes hired current Oregon State football coach Gary Andersen when he was at Utah State. Seriously, that’s the link.

All of this stems from The Oregonian coming up with a list of potential ‘candidates’. But the articles I’ve read there seem to lay out more why Barnes would be a good fit - not that there’s been actual contact between the two side. They’ve had a few articles on the search and you can find them on their Oregon State page.

Barnes’ stance? As the Trib reported last night, he seems happy at Pitt:

“I was completely unaware of the article and speculation until it was just brought to my attention,” said Barnes, who is with the Pitt football team in Chapel Hill, N.C., where the Panthers meet North Carolina on Saturday. “Obviously, my full focus and energy has been directed at what we have going on at Pitt. “I don't think it is appropriate for me to talk about another institution's personnel search, but I can tell you my family and I feel very fortunate to be in Pittsburgh, and we are incredibly excited about our future here.”

That’s obviously the route that more people take when they are mentioned as a potential job candidate elsewhere - happy where I am without a hard denial in any interest. Frustrating for fans and former Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon did this for years.

Could it happen? Sure, I guess. But to me, the job down the road that Pitt fans should probably be more worried about regarding Barnes is Washington. He is from that state and was the Associate AD there. In addition, he was the AD at Eastern Washington immediately before that. For about ten years, he was at both schools before going to Utah State. Fortunately, Washington just hired an athletics director this year so hopefully won’t be looking for a while.

For Pitt, the loss of Barnes would be a setback. While many fans weren’t impressed with the Kevin Stallings hire for the basketball team, Barnes has made a lot of great moves. He’s already begun to improve the mess that has been the Olympic sports programs. Some have thrived in the past but some have been down for many years. He’s made a good commitment to improve those programs, has already brought in a few new hires, and has released the master plan where improving Pitt’s Director’s Cup standings was named as a priority.

He’s made football the clear priority and pumped a good bit of ACC money into things like facilities while giving coach Pat Narduzzi the resources to hire quality assistants. He understands that football is the moneymaker and needs to thrive for everything else to fall into place.

In addition to that, there was also the relaunch of the Pitt script brand across the board. Finally, known as a fundraising guru of sorts, Barnes has made a big push in increasing donations. As mentioned in the master plan, a big part of what he wants to do is re-engage alumni to help raise more money.

Pitt athletics seems like its on the right track and to suffer a loss of the AD at this point would be difficult.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Going Scouting: Marshall Thundering Herd

Get ready to tune in for Pitt’s next opponent, because Marshall isn’t someone we’ve seen a lot of lately.

For the second time in three weeks, Pitt will play an opponent for the first time in school history. Oklahoma State had not met the Panthers on the gridiron previously and now it’s Marshall’s turn. Despite being only a few hours down the road, Pitt and Marshall have never met in football. That will change one week from tonight, but before that happens, how can you get a look at the Thundering Herd?

Well, it just so happens, that if you get the CBS Sports Network (not CBS, but the CBS Sports Network), you can flip right to their game tonight, after Pitt is done tangling with North Carolina. Not only will you get a look, but it is an intriguing game, as well. Marshall will be at home, with an 8:00 p.m. kickoff, against the newest college football darling....Louisville!

Yup, you read that right: Louisville is traveling to Marshall. The Thundering Herd have a great history, but they did give up a lot of points in their lone loss to Akron, so Louisville could have some fun. At the same time, Louisville has Clemson one week from today and this is a big home game for Marshall, so could they catch the Cardinals in a trap game? Head coach Doc Holliday certainly hopes so and so does the home crowd at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Marshall has the ability to strike fear against power 5 teams and Pitt doesn’t want to get caught looking ahead next week. They will hope to learn from the Louisville game just what they will be in store for when the Herd comes to Heinz Field. You can find out early. Just tune in.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

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