Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Pitt With the Oakland Zoo

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Remember how I have all those Pitt friends? Well one I met on Twitter just happens to be the VP of the Oakland Zoo, the perfect person to give us a realistic look at what Cuse is going up against on Friday night.

Since there was no media opp this week, I was determined to get someone to talk to me because I'm lonely and need my fill of football in a bye week. Therefore, I reached into my bag of Pitt contacts and found the perfect person. I met JD Schroeder, a Red Shirt Senior and VP of the Oakland Zoo, via twitter and he was more than happy to break down the upcoming game with the Panthers.

Pitt lost to Youngstown State and hammered V-Tech? Please explain to us how in your opening weeks you were more inconsistent than Cuse.

Youngstown State was probably when the 2 years of coaching chaos (4 coaches in 2 seasons) finally came back to haunt us. Our players were learning yet another new system, and Youngstown State was returning a very experienced team, especially on offense. And Pitt wasn't just beat, but destroyed. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did between turnovers, getting no run game established, and weak quarterback play. Pitt just never had a chance. There were signs of improvement at Cincinnati, but Pitt's inability to score again hampered them. Rather inexplicably it seems Pitt finally just had the system "click" against Virginia Tech. Quarterback Tino Sunseri probably had the best game of his career, making good decisions and getting the ball to where the receivers could make plays. It was shocking, honestly. Fans simply couldn't believe it. Everyone but the special teams played fantastically.

Just how good/bad is Tino Sunseri looking so far? And does he really matter with Ray Graham?

This was the mood going into Vtech with Tino Sunseri: If the game gets out of hand, put in the true freshman quarterback Chad Voytik who didn't come close to beating out Tino in camp. Tino seemed to be on the same path as last year: making bad decisions, have no deep throwing ability, and just not having the system down at all. Something magical happened in the 9 days between Cinci and Vtech, however. Since then, Tino has made great decisions, thrown beautiful down field passes, and simply run the offense well. Coach Chryst did a great job of simplifying things down, and the offense has really responded well to it. Fans definitely have some (keyword being some) confidence with Tino at the helm, now.

In regards to Ray Graham ( who still isn't quite "back" yet), he has been part of essentially a 3 headed animal in the backfield for Pitt with true freshman Rushel Shell and sophomore Isaac Bennett. While they didn't run well at all against Gardner-Webb, they simply ran over Virginia Tech. Graham is more of a finesse runner while Shell and Bennett will run you over. They've been able to establish the run game well enough to take pressure off Tino and open up the passing game.

When I previewed this game in the preseason, Pitt's strength on defense was the secondary. Is that still a safe assumption?

This is a tougher question to answer. It's not clear if the secondary was getting burned in the first few games because the defensive line was getting no pressure whatsoever, or if they really weren't skilled. RS Frosh Lafayette Pitts and Junior K'Wuan Williams have been effective the past two games, though. The safety position between Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks have combined for 4 picks the last 2 games as well. It's definitely helping that the defensive line and linebackers are finally getting pressure on opposing QBs.

If there is one sure fire way to beat Pitt, what is it? Because Doug Marrone could use that intel.

One way to beat Pitt is on special teams. They gave up a punt return against Vtech that gave them some life, and senior kicker Kevin Harper has been anything but consistent getting the ball through the goal posts. Forcing Pitt into FG's is not a bad idea. Getting pressure on Tino may force him into old habits and bad decisions, but that's been the way to beat Pitt the past 3 seasons, honestly. If Cuse's offensive line can give Nassib some time, he could wear down the secondary like Cinci did.

Finally, how's 2013 in the ACC look/feel to your football program? We're already prepping the loss column for a heavy workload.

Before the V-Tech game (seeing a trend here?), we were pretty much resigning to the fact that'd it be a while before we could compete in the ACC. While we still feel like Pitt will be behind some of the programs like FSU, VTech, Miami, and Clemson for a while, fans are confident we can hang with the new conference. Coach Chryst has some great recruits looking at Pitt for 2013 and 2014, and is building a great foundation for what he wants to do. If he can get a few great players to sprinkle in with what will be experienced talent down the line, Pitt might just be able to contend.

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