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Tyler Boyd making early impact with Bengals

We all know about Pitt’s big name guys in the NFL - Lesean McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Donald, and Darrelle Revis, to name a few. It might not be too much longer before we can add another legitimate star.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd.

To be fair, Boyd isn’t a star yet. But only two games into his rookie season, he is already making an impact with his new team, the Cincinnati Bengals. Boyd was limited in his debut, but still caught two passes for 24 yards. He stepped things up against the Steelers last week, grabbing six catches for 78 yards. On the season, he ranks fifth among rookies in receptions and sixth in yardage.

Against Pittsburgh, he actually had the most catches and yards of any wide receiver on the team - even easily outperforming A.J. Green, who was limited to only two catches for 38 yards. He did have a fumble in the game, but even that looked pretty questionable.

What’s great to see is that Boyd is being targeted quite a bit, including eight times last week. He still has a ways to go, obviously, but at only two games into his career, he’s already off to a solid start to the season and is contributing early.

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.

Vow to use James Conner more in passing game being kept

Three games into the season, the Pitt running back has already exceeded his career-bests in receiving

The plan to get Pitt running back James Conner more involved as a pass-catcher has long been discussed. After his monster year in 2014, there was talk of Conner becoming more of a receiving back for 2015. That effort, though, quickly went off the rails when he suffered an injury in the season opener and was gone for the year. This year, that talk returned.

And so far, it’s actually happening.

Through only three games, Conner has 281 rushing yards. That number, of course, is off of his 2014 pace when he ran for 1,765 yards. However, the running back also has nine catches for 105 yards.

Those numbers are astonishing when you consider what Conner has done as a receiver in his career. We’re barely into the season and he already has set career-bests in each of those categories. Even more shocking is that his nine catches already have equaled his past three years combined while the 105 yards have almost matched his three-year combined yardage (110).

Back when the talk resurfaced about Conner being more of a receiver this year, I mentioned that a 20-catch season would help his NFL Draft prospects by showing scouts he was a capable receiving back. Conner is actually on pace to nearly double that.

Also nice to see is that Conner has been used as a receiver near the goal line. Against Villanova and Penn State, he recorded a receiving touchdown in each game - the first ones of his career.

Further, Conner isn’t just catching bubble screen passes. As evidenced in the Oklahoma State game, he’s actually getting downfield a bit. This weekend against the Cowboys, he had a big catch and run going for 55 yards. Even if the pass wasn’t intended for him (it didn’t appear it was), he was still out on a passing route and was fortunate to catch the ball and make a big play out of it.

While his role in the passing game is great to see for Pitt’s offense, I’m also glad that it will benefit Conner. He’s just a more marketable draft pick if he shows he’s capable of catching passes and that will ultimately help his stock.

Conner isn’t the same rusher he was in 2014 when he was able to (excuse the pun) catch the nation off guard. His 4.5 yards-per-carry are down significantly from that season when he was at 5.9. He’s also on target to fall well short of his record 26 rushing touchdowns that year. But by adding the receiving dimension to his game, he’s becoming more of an all-purpose back, which is a good thing.

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’s Receiving Corps Must Step Up

It’s not breaking news, but with everyone looking at Nate Peterman, we decided to look at the players catching the ball.

We’ve talked a lot lately about how Pitt’s passing game needs to step up for the offense to be productive. The interesting thing is how successful they have been putting points on the board without much of a downfield threat. That won’t last forever and it has proved to be a problem at key moments of a game early on this year.

Obviously, there’s been a lot of focus on what quarterback Nathan Peterman needs to do and how the staff needs to trust him more. But the other side of that is the Panthers’ receivers.

Pitt hasn’t faced the best of defenses yet, but they will eventaully. And when they do, they must see what they have. With defenses already stacking the line and Dontez Ford out for a period of time, the coaching staff has to allow some players a chance to make plays. The receiving corps is very inexperienced to say the least.

If you want to find a security blanket, Pitt’s tight end, Scott Orndoff would probably be it and this is one of my frustrations. He’s pretty sure handed and a good athlete. He has 33 career catches and nine touchdowns. Those are nice numbers for someone who was behind J.P. Holtz for his first few years. He’s not going to be the second coming of Dorin Dickerson for Panther fans, but the Waynesburg native’s 6’5” and 255 pound-frame would give fits to defenders so I’m all for him being even more involved. He leads the team in receptions but I’d like to see him involved more downfield.

In addition to Orndoff, it’s starting to look like Quadree Henderson is developing into the top receiver. Henderson can score from anywhere on the field and he’s a candidate to be targeted a little more as well. He already has nine catches this season, has good hands, and is plenty capable of doing more.

Every team needs a downfield threat. Whether it’s a speed threat or a height threat, you need them. Pitt has both the speed and the height to make teams pay for covering one-on-one but hasn’t gone downfield enough. Jester Weah is a former track champion and has six catches for 123 yards. The question with Weah has always been his hands but you have to try to stretch the defense. He did that a bit with a long grab and score this weekend.

In addition to those guys, Pitt has a few more that are in the mix here. First, there’s true freshman, Aaron Mathews of Clairton. He’s a bit taller and is listed at either 6’4” or 6’5” for the most part. Either way, reports in camp determined he was not much fun for defensive backs. He’s still looking for his first catch, but Narduzzi said in his weekly press conference that he’s a guy we should see more of. Mathews doesn’t have to know everything in the playbook to go up for a jump ball. Take a shot.

Finally, there needs to be a security blanket in a group of receivers. Tyler Boyd was it for three seasons. He ran great routes and caught balls in traffic. I think Orndoff can provide some security, but a receiver helps too. I’ve heard way too much about Tre Tipton early last year and then again this season in training camp to not think he may have a knack for coming down with tough balls and taking hits. A week ago when Pitt was trailing Oklahoma State, they needed to get downfield to tie up the Cowboys. Tipton came down with three catches, on the last drive, and one of them was a very tough fourth down conversion.

Also in the mix is JUCO transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes. He has only one catch on the year but with Ford out, he could see a bit more time as well.

Pitt’s receiving corps is a virtual unknown and it’s understandable that we haven’t seen much from these guys aside from Henderson and Orndoff. But if the Panthers’ offense is to do more, at some point, they’ll need to trust the passing game a little more. Like Oklahoma State, North Carolina is capable of scoring a lot of points so we might see that sooner rather than later.

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

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (S2 Ep5)

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss the Pitt loss at Oklahoma State and the loss of recruit Donovan Jeter.

In this brand new episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss the Pitt loss at Oklahoma State and the loss of recruit Donovan Jeter. Plus they preview North Carolina and answer the Three Rivers Pack of Questions along with choosing a Panther of the Week.

Don’t forget to leave your comments for us here or on Twitter @CoreyECohen and @JimHammett. And please subscribe to the podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes.

Pitt at North Carolina: Breaking Down the Two-Deep

Looking at Pitt’s depth chart for the North Carolina game

QB - 1. Nate Peterman 2. Manny Stocker

Nate Peterman made some big throws in the Oklahoma State game. His 237 passing yards was his second highest total ever as the Pitt quarterback. Still, he wasn’t overly accurate with a 48.3% completion was problematic at times. Peterman did show the actual ability to hit some passes and make plays, which he wasn’t able to do against Penn State.

RB - 1. James Conner 2. Chawntez Moss OR Darrin Hall OR Qadree Ollison

James Conner had another good showing last week, and looks to be about on par with where he was in 2014. Conner has been strong with the ball, showing good bursts in space, and the same physical player he has always been. Conner came down with a spectacular 55 yard catch, and has been showing receiving abilities all season long. Pitt will look to control tempo again this week, and Conner’s play will be vital to that.

We did not see much of Qadree Ollison, but he did bring down one catch for eight yards in his only touch against the Cowboys. Darrin Hall was in the mix slightly, but didn’t break many big runs. We got our first look at Chawntez Moss carrying the ball, with two carries for eight yards. Pitt will need another back besides Conner on Saturday, and the competition for those snaps is ongoing apparently.

FB - 1. George Aston 2. Jaymar Parrish

This is a change to the first three depth charts. Pitt was listing three different starting wide receivers and no fullback, but now we officially see Aston as a starter. He had one catch for 12 yards and a negative one yard run against Oklahoma State. He also got his hand on the one blocked punt. Aston is a good football player, and will see the field quite a bit on Saturday.

WR - 1. Quadree Henderson Jester Weah 2. Aaron Mathews OR Zach Challingsworth Tre Tipton OR Rafael Araujo-Lopes

Jester Weah had two catches on Saturday against Oklahoma State, but they were big ones. Weah had a 60 yard touchdown just before halftime to bring Pitt to within a touchdown. He had another nice catch on the sideline for a first down. Weah is a weapon, and he’s starting to show some of that raw ability we’ve heard about for years now.

Quadree Henderson is third nationally in all-purpose yardage per game. The leader is Christian McCaffrey for context purposes. So yes, Quadree Henderson is really, really good. Henderson had 95 rushing yards and two scores plus two catches for 31 yards. Pitt will continue to find ways to get him the ball, as he’s starting to become a weapon that Pitt has never really had in the past.

Araujo-Lopes and Tipton both got some looks this past weekend. Lopes is going to be used in a Henderson type role it seems, as he carried some jet sweeps. Tipton looks like he can be a nice option in the slot for this team. There’s room to grow for these younger guys with Dontez Ford out for an extended period of time.

TE - 1. Scott Orndoff 2. Jaymar Parrish

Scott Orndoff had a quiet afternoon in Stillwater with just one catch for five yards. His ten receptions still lead the team to this point however. I look for Pitt’s offense to evolve throughout the season, and Orndoff should be a constant. I expect him to get the ball more this weekend.

LT - 1. Adam Bisnowaty 2. Aaron Reese

LG - 1. Dorian Johnson 2. Carson Baker

C - 1. Alex Officer 2. Connor Dintino

RG - 1. Alex Bookser 2. John Guy

RT - 1. Brian O’Neill 2. Jaryd Jones-Smith

Pitt’s offensive line helped pave the way for 527 total yards. Pitt also controlled the time of possession battle 37:50 to 22:10. They really did their job, and the result was more on the defense than the offense. I think the pass protection could have been better at times. Nobody is perfect, but this line has been good the past two weeks. It almost seems silly how concerned everyone was after their play against Villanova.

DE - 1. Ejuan Price Rori Blair 2. James Folston Allen Edwards 3. Rashad Weaver

The defense surrendered a ton of yards and points. Still, Ejuan Price found a way to shine. He was named the ACC Defensive Linemen of the Week after posting four tackles for loss, two sacks, and another forced fumble. The forced fumble led to a defensive touchdown. He’s among the national leaders in all three of those categories.

DT - 1. Shakir Soto 2. Amir Watts OR Keyshon Camp

Shakir Soto had three tackles on Saturday. Amir Watts got some reps, but did not get into the box score. Pitt limited Oklahoma State to 3.1 yards per carry, and have been good against the run. The pass rush was almost nonexistent besides Ejuan Price, and that needs to change.

NT - 1. Tyrique Jarrett 2. Shane Roy OR Mike Herndon

Jarrett’s effectiveness was limited against a spread passing team like Oklahoma State. He posted just one tackle, and play a lot less than he did in the first two weeks. Shane Roy got some work, and did recover a fumble and had a pair of tackles.

Money Linebacker - 1. Mike Caprara 2. Saleem Brightwell

Mike Caprara came down with two tackles for loss, one of which was a sack on Saturday. He’s been coming down with some big plays this season. Pitt may need a sack, or a fumble recovery type of play from him this weekend.

Mike Linebacker - 1. Matt Galambos 2. Quintin Wirginis

Matt Galambos was able to secure a loose ball and score a defensive touchdown for the Panther defense in the second half. Him and Wirginis combined for six tackles on Saturday against Oklahoma State. They draw a tough task with a strong running game from UNC this Saturday.

Star Linebacker - 1. Seun Idowu 2. Bam Bradley

Idowu had six tackles, and one for loss against the Cowboys. Bam Bradley also had a tackle for loss and made some plays on special teams.

Cornerback - 1. Avonte Maddox Ryan Lewis 2. Dane Jackson Phillipie Motley

Not much to say here, they got burnt last week. They need to be better individually, and the coaches may need to send more safety help in these one on one situations. Saturday was on coaching and the players, no way around it. They got torched most of the day.

Strong Safety - 1. Jordan Whitehead 2. Dennis Briggs

Jordan Whitehead has been really good since he’s stepped foot on campus, but Saturday was a game he would probably like to forget. He missed the chances to make some plays. I don’t have any concerns with him overall, he’ll be better. He continues to get looks offensively, and he’s been good in that role as expected.

Free Safety - 1. Terrish Webb 2. Reggie Mitchell

This past week, the corners drew a lot of flak from the fan. The prior week against Penn State it was the free safeties. I’m not sure if they were any better this week, but it seemed like they made some plays. I think the corners just stole the attention of most of us for all the wrong reasons. However, if you give up that many passing yards, nobody in the secondary or entire defense was doing too much.

Kicker - Chris Blewitt Punter - Ryan Winslow Long Snapper - Pat Quirin

Chris Blewitt made his first kick of the year, which is a big deal actually. They need him on track, and now hopefully he is.

Kick Returner/Punt Returner - 1. Quadree Henderson 2. Avonte Maddox

Henderson didn’t have much of a chance to make plays on special teams, but made up for it on offense.

Ejuan Price named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week

The Pitt defensive end picked up a weekly honor for his play against Oklahoma State

The Pitt defense got quite a bit of criticism this past weekend after Oklahoma State topped the Panthers with a total of 45 points. But the conference recognized at least one player on that side of the ball that had a big game.

Defensive end Ejuan Price was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week after a monster effort against the Cowboys. Price had six tackles, four of which were for losses, including two sacks. Price also forced the fumble that Pitt recovered and returned for a score.

Just a mammoth effort for Price who is quietly having a huge year. He now has three forced fumbles on the year and his 1.0 forced fumble per game leads the nation. He’s also fourth in the country in sacks per game (1.5) and tackles for losses per contest (2.5).

After a big season last year, it’s good to see Price maintain that pace.

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-Marshall slated for night kickoff

The Panthers will host the Thundering Herd at Heinz Field in a rare night game

Pitt fans have gotten accustomed to afternoon games over the years, but on Monday, it was announced that they have a night game headed their way.

The Panthers’ game against Marshall is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff time. Obviously it’s not a huge opponent, but still gives fans a rare evening contest.

If you’re not heading to the game, you’ll be able to see it on ESPN3. Locally, it will be broadcast on ROOT Sports.

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 opens ACC play vs. North Carolina

The Panthers travel on the road to face the Tar Heels

After in-state rival Penn State and a difficult road game against Oklahoma State, you’d like to think Pitt can have some time to catch its breath. No such luck this week as the Panthers have another challenging game next. This weekend’s contest against the Tar Heels is difficult for a few reasons.

First, it’s the third consecutive ‘tough’ game for the team. Teams/coaches won’t publicly downplay opponents very often and will tell you that every game is a big one. But to play three tough opponents all in a row just isn’t all that easy.

Then there’s the fact that it’s another road game. On paper, you might feel decent about this game but getting it at home would feel better.

Next, it’s the first ACC game of the year and while it would have been nice to defeat the Cowboys, the conference games are on a completely different level in terms of importance. Pitt’s ultimate goal is to win the ACC and they can’t reach the title game without winning the conference battles.

Finally, when you consider that this one is against North Carolina, a favorite for the Division no less, Pitt will need all kinds of help if they want to win the Division should they lose this one. You might be able to stay in the hunt for a Division title if you lose one of the lesser games. But, in general, you need to beat the better teams in the head-to-head matchups.

In other words, this is a very big game.

Like Pitt, the Tar Heels have been tested already. Their sole loss came to a Top 20 Georgia team, 33-24 and North Carolina also faced P5 team Illinois in a 48-23 blowout win on the road. This weekend was another easy win against James Madison, as the Tar Heels doubled them up, 56-28.

Playing North Carolina, Pitt will face another solid passing attack. Marquise Williams and his back-to-back 3,000-yard passing seasons is thankfully graduated, but the Tar Heels have still passed the ball capably with new quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky is not only a junior, but one with some experience, attempting about 150 passes over the past couple of years. On the season, he already has 853 yards including a huge day against James Madison this weekend with 432 yards. Trubisky also has avoided costly mistakes with eight total touchdowns and zero interceptions.

And by the way, Trubisky can run it a bit as well. He already has a 39-yard run on the season and two rushing touchdowns.

Of course, the Tar Heels are incredibly strong in the backfield, too. There, they’ll have to contend with Elijah Hood, who piled up nearly 1,500 yards on the ground last season, good for third in the ACC. He’s not had a huge start to the year, but still has 266 yards and four touchdowns. Even if Pitt’s secondary plays better this week, the defense can’t afford to relax in the running game and will need to shut down Hood.

In the ‘That guy’s still there?’ category is Pitt killer Ryan Switzer, who’s always managed big games against the Panthers. As a freshman, he returned two punts for touchdowns. Two years ago, he had a big catch and long touchdown. Last year, he piled up 126 passing yards and a touchdown. That dude loves playing Pitt and it would be surprising if he didn’t have at least one big time play.

So, how can Pitt win?

Defensively, North Carolina has been pretty tough on passing games but a little vulnerable against opposing running backs. They gave up 222 yards to Georgia star Nick Chubb. James Madison’s top two backs went for nearly 200 yards on the ground. And Illinois’ top back, Ke’Shawn Vaughn had 116 yards and a score against them. ESPN noted after their most recent game against James Madison that they’re a little banged up on the defensive line.

Seemingly, there’s an opening for Pitt’s stable of running backs so James Conner and company might be able to have a nice day.

Pitt’s defense also continues to force some turnovers and that’s encouraging. If they can win the takeaway battle, that would be a big help.

On the surface, this has the look of a difficult game to win. And Pitt’s secondary issues from this past weekend will make it even harder to feel optimistic here. But if the running game is strong and the Panthers can force a turnover or two, they can give themselves a chance to win it.

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 defense has near record day against Oklahoma State

The Panthers’ defense struggled against the Cowboys and almost found themselves in the record books

Pitt’s defense, particularly the secondary, didn’t have a good game yesterday against Oklahoma State. But how bad was it? In doing my routine post-game stuff today, there was this nugget from Chris Peak:

#Pitt's defense gave up 640 yards today. Single-game record is 675 (VT in 1993). Most recent 600-yard game was GT in 2014 (612)— Chris Peak (@PantherLair) September 18, 2016

To be honest, I hadn’t given much thought to just how bad the defense performed from a historical standpoint. But that they were only 35 yards from an all-time Pitt record is obviously a little more proof that those guys struggled almost beyond any reasonable comprehension.

Fortunately, they did tighten things up a little in the second half and at least keep the Cowboys out of the end zone less often. But 640 yards still shows they had a pretty rough day overall.

Ironically, while there were problems with the offense, too, that unit had their best day in terms of yardage in three years:

#Pitts's 527 yards of total offense tonight were the Panthers' most in a regulation game since they had 598 vs. Duke in 2013.— Chris Peak (@PantherLair) September 18, 2016

As I said before, I thought some of the playcalling was sort of bland and things could have been better to be sure. But they also had their moments and did a few things out there. Watching the postgame press conference this morning, even Pat Narduzzi basically said what a lot of us have been thinking - you score 38 points and it should be enough in most instances.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case yesterday. Pitt has plenty to clean up on both sides of the ball if they’re going to beat North Carolina next weekend.

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.

Panther of the Game: James Conner

In what is becoming a theme, James Conner edged out Quadree Henderson for Panther of the game

This is starting to become a weekly theme with having to choose either Quadree Henderson or James Conner for Panther of the Week. This week we go with Conner in Pitt’s 45-38 shootout loss to Oklahoma State. It was not an easy call, but I’ll go with Conner due to a good chunk of Henderson’s yardage faking out the ESPN cameraman while Conner had to slug it out in between the tackles.

Henderson ended the game with two catches for 31 yards and 95 yards on the ground while hitting pay dirt twice. Conner hit the end zone once, but also chalked up 111 yards on the ground and hit for 60 extra in the air. The receiving yards included a 55-yard, over the shoulder catch early, with a Cowboy defender draped all over him that was seemingly on a play not even designed for him.

Conner continues to amaze all of us with his determination and getting back to where he was when he last hit the field. It is great to see he and Henderson contributing so much and winning this award. However, if Pitt wants to be successful this season, another player is going to have to step up and make it more than a two-person race every week.

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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