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2014 Pitt Recruiting Class Analysis

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Feb 6, 2014


Pitt Panthers 2014 ... Head Coach: Paul Chryst


Pitt Panthers

2013 Record: 7-6
9/2 Florida State L 41-13
9/7 OPEN DATE
9/14 New Mexico W 27-14
9/21 at Duke W 58-55
9/28 Virginia W 14-3
10/5 OPEN DATE
10/12 at Virginia Tech L 19-9
10/19 Old Dominion W 35-24
10/26 at Navy L 24-21
11/2 at Georgia Tech L 21-10
11/9 Notre Dame W 28-21
11/16 North Carolina L 34-27
11/23 at Syracuse W 17-16
11/29 Miami L 41-31
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
12/26 Bowling Green W 30-27


- The Entire 2014 Recruiting Class

Team Concerns For 2014: Pass protection. New season, same old dilemma for the Panthers. Pitt’s breaking in a new quarterback, who’ll be broken in body and spirit by October if the O-line can’t do a dramatically better job of protecting the pocket. The unit permitted 43 sacks in 2013, fourth most in the FBS, which makes it impossible for an offense to operate effectively. Hope comes from a maturity front wall welcoming back four starters, headed by honorable mention All-ACC G Matt Rotheram.

The 2014 Class Is Heavy On ... Running back. QB Adam Bertke is a tall passer for the near future, and the receiving corps is strong with several big, recruit-to-a-type targets, and Alex Bookser is an anchor of an offensive tackle who should become one of the teams’ key blockers. Chris James is a star running back with a limitless upside, and Qadree Ollison (big) and Dennis Briggs (fast) are interesting parts to the puzzle. The defense wasn’t totally ignored, but there aren’t a lot of things to get fired up about with the possible exception of safety Jalen Williams and corner Avonte Maddox.

2013 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 23. That Class Was Heavy On ... TraVon Chapman, and protecting him. While he might not be the best player in the class, Chapman might be the most important and the rest of the recruiting class is focused on beefing up the O line. If it's not Chapman, tackle prospect Dorian Johnson might be the best player in the haul, but Aaron Reese and Jaryd Jones-Smith are good prospects with great frames. It'll fly under the radar, but getting kicker Chris Blewitt and punter Ryan Winslow is big.

2012 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 45. That Class Was Heavy On ... Keeping Todd Graham’s recruits. New head coach Paul Chryst is behind and has to rally, but first he has to make sure the key recruits from the former head man – like superstar running back prospect Rushel Shell – are happy. Why did Chryst succeed as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator? Offensive linemen, but that’s going to be for the 2013 class. This year will mostly focus on simply getting the best players possible in an abbreviated recruiting cycle. 

2011 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 53. That Class Was Heavy On ... Running back. New head coach Todd Graham needs receivers to get his passing game going, and he’ll hope that Darius Patton is worth the hype with his 4.4 speed able to stretch the field. The secondary got plenty of help with corner Jason Frimpong and safety Rodrick Ryles two talented prospects, and linebackers Nicholas Grigsby and LaQuentin Smith should be dangerous linebackers once they hit the weight room. The big question is if top recruit Lafayette Pitts will be the team’s No. 1 lockdown corner or if he’ll stick at running back. Either way, the Panthers loaded up in the backfield with Malcolm Crockett and Corey Davis two shifty runners who fit the Panther mold.

2010 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 33. That Class Was Heavy On ... Defensive linemen. T.J. Clemmings is a superior end prospect with 6-6, 260-pound size and the potential to be thrown into the mix right away, but he's hardly the only good defensive lineman signed with tackle Aaron Donald and end Bryan Murphy keeping the shelves stocked. Across the board there isn't a lot of sure-thing star power, but this is a diverse class with several strong prospect; because of the sheer numbers a few of these players will be better than originally expected. The secondary could be just as loaded as the line.

2009 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 26. That Class Was Heavy On ... backs. How do you answer the departure of star LeSean McCoy to the NFL after his sophomore season? You sign four young backs, who’ll be in a position to contribute in a year or two. There’s a nice blend of skills in the group. Dion Lewis and Jason Douglas provide the dash. At 205 pounds, Kevin Adams will bring the punch if he doesn’t move to safety. Raymond Graham, who was also pursued by Rutgers and Maryland, has a chance to be the best of the group.

Little Caesars Bowl
Pitt 30, Bowling Green 27
Basically … Pitt’s Chris Blewitt broke a tie with just over a minute to play on a 39-yard field goal, and Aaron Donald and the Panther defense did its job to hang on for the win. Down 17-3, Bowling Green fought back with a 29-yard Alex Bayer touchdown catch late in the first half, and opened the second on a 94-yard BooBoo Gates kickoff return for a score on the way to a tie. The Panthers grabbed the lead back on a 28-yard Blewitt field goal and a five-yard Chad Voytik run, but Bowling Green wouldn’t go away with Ryan Burbrink scoring on a 15-yard catch for a 27-27 tie before Pitt’s final scoring drive. The Panthers got a school bowl record 229 rushing yards from James Conner and a 15-yard touchdown and Tyler Boyd scored on a 54-yard punt return to put Pitt up big in the first half.

- Rushing yards: Pitt 255 – Bowling Green 10
- Pitt RB James Conner ran 26 times for 229 yards and a score
- Pitt DT Aaron Donald made five tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss
- Pitt LB Ray Vinopal made a game-leading 11 tackles with a sack.
- Bowling Green CB BooBoo Gates made eight tackles with half a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss and returned four kickoffs for 165 yards and a score. - Bowling Green P Brian Schmiedebusch averaged 54.6 yards with two put inside the 20 on his five kicks.
- Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson completed 20-of-32 passes for 272 yards and two scores

Miami 41, at Pitt 31
Basically … Miami jumped up early and got out to a commanding 31-10 halftime lead highlighted by Stacy Coley touchdown catches from 32 and 34 yards out and took off on a scoring run from 73 yards away. Pitt tried to push back in the second half, getting to within ten on a 23-yard Rachid Ibrahim catch, but Asante Cleveland caught Stephen Morris’s third touchdown pass of the day on a five-yard play to put it well out of reach.
- Miami’s Stacy Coley caught three passes for 73 yards and two scores, and ran once for a 73-yard touchdown.
- Pitt RB Isaac Bennett ran 21 times for 141 yards and a score and caught a 19-yard pass.
- Pitt QB Tom Savage completed 24-of-43 passes for 281 yards and two scores with a pick.
- Miami WR Allen Hurns caught nine passes for 173 yards.

Pitt 17, at Syracuse 16
Basically … Pitt hung on with a well-timed timeout sniffing out a fake in the final minute as Syracuse lined up for a 53-yard field goal attempt. The Orange tried for the fourth down play instead and failed to give the Panthers the win. Pitt got a seven-yard Manasseh Garner touchdown catch in the second and a five-yard Isaac Bennett touchdown run in the third. Syracuse started out the scoring on a 36-yard Jerome Smith touchdown run, but Pitt’s Aaron Donald blocked the extra point – it would matter – and scored in the third on a 42-yard Alvin Cornelius catch.
- Pitt QB Tom Savage completed 28-of-41 passes for 218 yards and a score with a pick.
- Syracuse LB Cameron Lynch made 11 tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss. Durrell Eskridge made 12 tackles with a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.
- Pitt DT Aaron Donald made nine tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and a blocked extra point.
- Pitt finished with 21 rushing yards on 27 carries.

North Carolina 34, at Pitt 27
Basically … Ryan Switzer returned two punts for touchdowns taking one 65 yards back in the second and 61 yards away late in the fourth to give the Tar Heels the win. In a game of runs, North Carolina took a 27-3 lead helped by Marquise Williams scores from 16 yards and ten yards out, and sparked by the first Switzer punt return for a score. Pitt came roaring back with two Tom Savage touchdown passes including a 33-yarder to Devin Street, and with a two-yard James Connor run tying it up before Switzer’s game-winner.
- North Carolina QB Marquise Williams completed 15-of-27 passes for 173 yards and ran 15 times for a team-leading 79 yards and two scores.
- Pitt QB Tom Savage completed 23-of-38 passes for 313 yards and two scores.
- North Carolina outgained Pitt 149 rushing yards to 46, but Pitt had the ball for close to 37 minutes.
- Pitt RB James Conner ran 19 times for 102 yards and a touchdown.

at Pitt 28, Notre Dame 21
Basically … James Conner ran for two short scores, with his one-yarder in the fourth turning into the game-winner for the Panthers. Notre Dame turned the ball over three times with a few key late mistakes proving costly. Tommy Rees found DaVaris Daniels for a ten-yard score in the first, and he connected with TJ Jones in the third quarter from 80 yards out in the third. But Tom Savage threw two touchdown passes including a 63-yarder to Devin Street late in the third quarter to tie it at 21, and the defense did the rest.
- Pitt QB Tom Savage completed 22-of-35 passes for 243 yards and two scores.
- Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees completed 18-of-38 passes for 318 yards and two scores with two interceptions.
- Notre Dame WR TJ Jones caught six passes for 149 yards and a score, and he ran three times for 41 yards and a touchdown.
- The Panthers were outgained 451 yards to 355, but they were +3 in turnover margin.

at Georgia Tech 21, Pitt 10
Basically … David Sims ran for a 12-yard score and Robert Godhigh ran for scores from 35 and 11 yards out as Georgia Tech took the lead in the first quarter and never trailed. Pitt got a 44-yard Chris Blewitt field goal in the second and a 12-yard Tyler Boyd scoring catch in the third, but the Georgia Tech defense held firm the rest of the way and the rushing offense took over.
- Georgia Tech ran for 276 yards and outgained Pitt 360 yards to 228.
- The Georgia Tech defense registered five sacks with Jeremiah Attaochu coming up with two holding Pitt to -5 yards rushing.
- Tom Savage completed 25-of-37 passes for 233 yards and a score with a pick. Tyler Boyd caught 11 passes for 118 yards a touchdown.
- Georgia Tech RB David Sims ran 18 times for 94 yards and a touchdown.

at Navy 24, Pitt 21
Basically … Nate Sloan hit a 30-yard field goal as time ran out to give Navy the win. Pitt had a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter after Tom Savage threw two touchdown passes with a 12-yarder to Devin Street and a three-yarder to Tyler Boyd, but Navy kept fighting with a 58-yard touchdown catch from Marcus Thomas in the second quarter and with a two-yard Keenan Reynolds run late in the fourth. With the score tied, Navy forced a three and out, got the ball back after a horrible punt, and got down to the Pitt 13 to set up the game-winning field goal.
- Pitt controlled the game, Tom Savage hit 20-of-27 passes for 203 yards and two scores, and the defense did a nice job, but the team collapsed in the fourth quarter. The offensive line didn’t pound away like it should’ve, and the ground game came up with just 135 yards.
- This should’ve been the key win that springboarded the Panthers to a nice second half of the year, but now there’s a ton of work to do. There isn’t anything the team can count on, with North Carolina and a road game at Syracuse the easiest of the lot, but it might take an upset to go bowling.

at Pitt 35, Old Dominion 24
Basically … Pitt went on a 28-point midgame scoring run on three Isaac Bennett touchdown runs from 25, three and 16 yards out, and Manasseh Garner caught a 21-yard touchdown pass to overcome a 10-0 ODU lead. The Monarchs came back with 14 straight points highlighted by a 47-yard Blair Roberts touchdown catch, but up four in the fourth, Pitt put the game away on a five-yard Tom Savage run.
- Isaac Bennett is turning into a star. His 240 yards and three scores on 30 carries carried the Panthers, and while it was a good, strong game overall from the offense, the ten penalties and struggled against Taylor Heinicke and the ODU passing game made it too much of a fight. Pitt was outgained 405 yards to 370, but the Monarchs didn’t have an answer for Bennett.
- it’s going to be a fight. Nothing is going to come easy for the Panthers, but with the win they’re 4-2 going into a winnable game against Navy. They still need two more wins to become bowl eligible with several huge games to deal with, and there aren’t any layups. Beating the Midshipmen would take the pressure off in a big, big way over the final month.

at Virginia Tech 19, Pitt 9
Basically … Virginia Tech dominated defensively, but it settled for four Cody Journell field goals after starting out the scoring on a 27-yard Kalvin Cline touchdown catch early in the first. Pitt managed a 47-yard Chris Blewitt field goal late in the first half, but couldn’t get into the end zone until the final few minutes on a nine-yard Tom Savage run.
- It might not be pretty, and there might be way too many close calls, but Virginia Tech is now 6-1 and 3-0 in the ACC. The defense was fantastic against the Panther ground game, and while the offense sputtered and coughed a bit too much, it didn’t turn the ball over.
- Pitt finished with 23 rushing yards on 26 carries. The line gave up too many sacks which skewed the stats, but there wasn’t any push whatsoever for the Panther ground game. Isaac Bennett finished with just 31 yards on seven carries.
- Virginia Tech sophomore defensive end Dadi Nicolas was a terror, coming up with three sacks and tying for a team-leading seven tackles. He was unblockable at times for a defensive front that destroyed Pitt with eight sacks.
- Pitt has some legitimate all-star candidates, and they showed why. WR Devin Street came up with 104 yards on five catches, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald continued to be one of the nation’s best interior pass rushers with six tackles with two sacks and three tackles for loss.

at Pitt 14, Virginia 3
Basically … Virginia turned the ball over early, and Pitt took advantage with a six-yard James Conner touchdown run and a 15-yard Devin Street scoring grab. That was about it for the Panther offense, while Virginia didn’t do much better managing just 188 yards with a 32-yard Ian Frye field goal in the third.
- Pitt showed it could win really, really ugly, which it will probably have to do to get by Virginia Tech up next. Tom Savage completed just 13-of-31 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown with two picks, and there wasn’t much of a running game to help him out. Give Virginia credit for coming up with a solid pass rush.
- The Cavaliers destroyed the Pitt offensive line, generating seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss, led by a huge day from defensive tackle Brent Urban, who came up with seven tackles with four tackles for loss.
- After the Duke game, Pitt has now been through the ringer with several different types of performances. However, it would be nice to generate more than eight net yards rushing. That’s not going to happen against Virginia Tech.
- Virginia just kept messing up. It kept putting the ball on the ground, and while there were only two lost fumbles and just five penalties, it was an uneven effort from an offense that couldn’t find anything that worked right.

Pitt 58, at Duke 55
Basically … Just when it looked like Pitt was going to have an easy day, going up 27-7 on Tom Savage touchdown passes from 27 and 69 yards out to Tyler Boyd, and a 67-yarder to Devin Street, Duke turned it on. Jamison Crowder scored three times in the second quarter on a 62-yard pass, a seven-yard run, and an 82-yard punt return. And then it was Savage’s turn with three straight touchdown passes, including another to Boyd and another to Street, for a 51-28 lead, but Duke wasn’t done. Brandon Braxton kicked off an explosion late in the third quarter with a 75-yard touchdown catch, and Brandon Connette, who gave up a pick six to Anthony Gonzalez, ran for two scores and threw a six-yard touchdown pass to pull the Blue Devils to within three. Pitt ran out the clock after recovering the onside kick.
- Tom Savage was brilliant, but the offense couldn’t quite come through late to put the game away. On the day he completed 23-of-33 passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns, with Tyler Boyd catching eight passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns and Devin Street catching six passes for 166 yards for two scores.
- Duke has a do-it-all playmaker in quarterback Brandon Connette, who completed 21-of-32 passes for 323 yards and four scores, and ran for 101 yard and two touchdowns on 15 carries. However, his four interceptions, especially the late pick six, were disastrous.
- Savage isn’t afraid to push the ball down the field, and it helped that he got time to work. The O line also did a great job of blasting away for the ground game with James Conner running 26 times for 173 yards and a score. He gashed the Blue Devil linebacking corps.
- How’s this for an all-purpose yardage game? Duke’s Jamison Crowder caught seven passes for 141 yards and a score, returned three punts for 109 yards, and ran twice for 29 yards and a score.

at Pitt 49, New Mexico 27, Sept. 14
Basically … Pitt’s offense came out roaring with five first half touchdowns and a 42-6 lead early in the third quarter before letting off the gas. New Mexico got two touchdown runs from Cole Gautsche in the third quarter and a 20-yard scoring dash from Crusoe Gongbay, but the Panthers were never threatened. Tom Savage threw two touchdown passes for Pitt and James Conner, Tyler Boyd and Isaac Bennett each scored twice.
- That was exactly what the Pitt offense needed after the Florida State game. It came out hitting on all cylinders, putting the game away before the Lobos could blink.
- New Mexico has to close out drives with touchdowns when the defense isn’t coming up with stops. Two deep drives finished with Justus Adams short field goals, and Pitt responded with touchdowns.
- Pitt sort of let New Mexico run to crank down the clock in the second half. Crusoe Gongbay ran for 94 yards and a score, and quarterback Cole Gautsche ran for 50 yards and two scores, but the game was well in hand. There wasn’t any Lobo passing game for the Panthers to deal with.
- Pitt found a nice 1-2 punch in James Conner and Isaac Bennett, but it helped that the offensive line blasted away and controlled things from the start. New Mexico’s line was gashed.

Florida State 41, at Pitt 13, Sept. 2
Basically … Jameis Winston was even better than the hype, completing 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns to go along with a rushing score. Three of the scores went to tight end Nick O’Leary as the Seminoles spoiled Pitt’s ACC debut. Pitt scored first on an 80-yard opening drive, but only managed two Chris Blewitt field goals the rest of the way.
- All the talk will be about Winston’s performance, but the offensive line gave him more than enough time to work – for the most part. He was rarely under pressure, but when he was, he showed he could get free without too much of a problem.
- Devin Street came up with a nice day for the Panthers, doing Larry Fitzgerald proud on his jersey retirement day. Street caught six passes for 141 yards.
- The Seminoles aren’t going to get a pass rush from the ends like they did in the past few year, but corner Lamarcus Joyner managed to come up with nine tackles with two sacks.
- The Pitt running game will eventually work, just not against a team like FSU. Tyler Boyd and Isaac Bennett did what they could, and they should combine with James Conner to crank out big yards.

Spring Analysis

Why To Get Excited … at long last, there’s continuity on the sidelines. After enduring turmoil on the sidelines following the dismissal of Dave Wannstedt in 2010, the Panthers finally have a man with whom they can build around. Paul Chryst returns for his second season as the head coach, armed with a blueprint for guiding Pitt out of mediocrity.

Why To Be Grouchy … the O-line is still a liability in Western Pennsylvania. From a unit that’s had perennial problems in pass protection, solid veterans Ryan Turnley and Chris Jacobson must now be replaced on the interior. T Juantez Hollins is expected back from last year’s suspension, but Pitt still has a long way to go after ranking 102nd nationally in sacks yielded.

The Number One Thing To Work On Is … finding a replacement for Tino Sunseri behind center. Sunseri was a rock throughout his final season as a Panther. Lining up to replace him is a collection of unproven quarterbacks … and one with starting experience. The staff is eager to get a good look at former Rutgers hurler Tom Savage, whose last pass attempt was made all the way back in 2010.

Team Concerns For 2013: In the new world of the ACC, Pitt has to get more out of an offensive line that came up with a few shocking performances - Virginia Tech - but stunk overall. The pass protection was non-existent and the running game didn't work. Two starters have to be replaced up front, but figuring out the quarterback situation after losing Tino Sunseri is the first priority. The punting coverage team has to be stronger to help out veteran punter Matt Yoklic.

The 2013 Class Is Heavy On ... TraVon Chapman, and protecting him. While he might not be the best player in the class, Chapman might be the most important and the rest of the recruiting class is focused on beefing up the O line. If it's not Chapman, tackle prospect Dorian Johnson might be the best player in the haul, but Aaron Reese and Jaryd Jones-Smith are good prospects with great frames. It'll fly under the radar, but getting kicker Chris Blewitt and punter Ryan Winslow is big.

2012 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 45. That Class Was Heavy On ... Keeping Todd Graham’s recruits. New head coach Paul Chryst is behind and has to rally, but first he has to make sure the key recruits from the former head man – like superstar running back prospect Rushel Shell – are happy. Why did Chryst succeed as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator? Offensive linemen, but that’s going to be for the 2013 class. This year will mostly focus on simply getting the best players possible in an abbreviated recruiting cycle. 

2011 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 53. That Class Was Heavy On ... Running back. New head coach Todd Graham needs receivers to get his passing game going, and he’ll hope that Darius Patton is worth the hype with his 4.4 speed able to stretch the field. The secondary got plenty of help with corner Jason Frimpong and safety Rodrick Ryles two talented prospects, and linebackers Nicholas Grigsby and LaQuentin Smith should be dangerous linebackers once they hit the weight room. The big question is if top recruit Lafayette Pitts will be the team’s No. 1 lockdown corner or if he’ll stick at running back. Either way, the Panthers loaded up in the backfield with Malcolm Crockett and Corey Davis two shifty runners who fit the Panther mold.

2010 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 33. That Class Was Heavy On ... Defensive linemen. T.J. Clemmings is a superior end prospect with 6-6, 260-pound size and the potential to be thrown into the mix right away, but he's hardly the only good defensive lineman signed with tackle Aaron Donald and end Bryan Murphy keeping the shelves stocked. Across the board there isn't a lot of sure-thing star power, but this is a diverse class with several strong prospect; because of the sheer numbers a few of these players will be better than originally expected. The secondary could be just as loaded as the line.

2009 CFN Recruiting Ranking: 26. That Class Was Heavy On ... backs. How do you answer the departure of star LeSean McCoy to the NFL after his sophomore season? You sign four young backs, who’ll be in a position to contribute in a year or two. There’s a nice blend of skills in the group. Dion Lewis and Jason Douglas provide the dash. At 205 pounds, Kevin Adams will bring the punch if he doesn’t move to safety. Raymond Graham, who was also pursued by Rutgers and Maryland, has a chance to be the best of the group.


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