It was a good week for reporters seeking interviews after Pitt practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Players Zach Brown, Andrew Taglianetti, Max Gruder, Tino Sunseri and Chas Alecxih and four coaches, including offensive and defensive coordinators Calvin Magee and Keith Patterson, line coach Spencer Leftwich and the head man Todd Graham, spoke for 79 minutes and 33 seconds, according to the counter on my digital recorder.
I do appreciate the access and help from Pitt’s sports information department.
(I would have liked to have spoken to two players battling injuries — linemen Lucas Nix and Ryan Turnley — but rules are rules.)
Still, you would think after all that conversation I would have definitive answers to these key questions:
– Will Pitt beat Cincinnati on Saturday?
– Will Nix’s knee injury allow him to play?
I’m still scratching my head.
Best guesses: No and no.
First the game:
Cincinnati (6-1) is ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll this week, higher than West Virginia, and the Bearcats will arrive in town Friday with two outstanding senior playmakers — quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead — and the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense, run game and run defense.
When he’s not on crutches, Ray Graham is a better running back than Pead, but former backup Zach Brown will make his first start of the season for Pitt. One of the reasons I gave Pitt a chance to win the Big East was the presence of Graham, the conference’s best player. He’s gone now, so I’m not nearly as optimistic.
Pead, by the way, is fourth in the nation among active rushers in career yards per carry (6.47). I can see him gashing Pitt’s defense just enough times to help Cincinnati win a close game.
Also, Collaros is a better quarterback than Sunseri for, at least, this reason — Collaros gets more from each completion. He is averaging 12.3 yards to Sunseri’s 10.7.
Pitt just doesn’t complete enough deep passes. It gets nice yards after the catch, but the throws that stretch a defense and take pressure off the running game just aren’t there often enough.
I think Ray Graham was a magician to rush for 958 yards before his season-ending knee injury, considering the obstacles of a hobbled offensive line and an inconsistent passing game.
The Nix question is baffling.
I went back and listened to the key quote of the week from coach Todd Graham in which he suggested that Nix said he was ready to play.
Here is what Graham said:
“I really think that we have an opportunity to get him back. That’s what he’s told me, which that’s the first time he’s told me that. So, I feel good about him being back.”
Graham sounded optimistic, and I really think he believed at that point (Monday) that Nix would play. But he never said Nix definitely will play. He just said Nix told him there was an OPPORTUNITY he would return to the starting lineup.
And Leftwich added Wednesday that there is a plan in place if Nix can’t play — another key point.
Graham said Nix did take 50 percent of the snaps Tuesday, which is a good sign, but a better one would be if he took all the snaps.
I’m not saying Nix will miss another game. (We’re only allowed to watch so much practice, so it’s tough to really know; but I’ve been told he practiced well.) I’m just saying there is no guarantee that he will be in the starting lineup.
That was no insignificant knee injury that Nix suffered four games ago. If he plays, it will be the kind of courageous act that can carry a team a long way.