Tag:Jabaal Sheard
Posted on: February 23, 2011 12:31 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Baylor

Posted by Tom Fornelli

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice. So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers. Today, we look at Baylor, who opens its practice on February 28.


Spring Practice Question: Can Baylor's defense catch up to its offense?

A lot of things went well for Baylor in 2010. With Robert Griffin III back for an entire season and the offense firing on all cylinders. The Bears rode their offense to a 7-6 record and the school's first bowl appearance since the 1994 Alamo Bowl. In other words, under Art Briles, it seems as if Baylor is headed in the right direction.

There's still quite a bit of work left to do, however. Yes, Baylor had a winning season, but at one point the Bears were 7-2 before losing their final four games of the season. In those final four losses, Baylor gave up an average of 47.0 points per game, which is precisely where the problem lies. Yes, Baylor was able to post 31.2 points a game on offense in 2010, but the defense gave up an average of 30.5. 

Not exactly the best formula for success. In fact, teams scored over 40 points against Baylor six times in thirteen games. It's hard to win consistently that way, which is why the focus for Baylor this spring will be on improving the defense. That's where the team's new defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, comes in. Bennett comes to Waco after spending the last three seasons at Pitt, where he was the defensive coordinator for one of the best defenses in the Big East.

Of course, the offenses of the Big East and the offenses of the Big 12 aren't really comparable, and that adjustment will be Bennett's biggest challenge.

As will be overhauling a secondary which was a problem area for the Bears in 2010. Both of the team's starting safeties, Tim Atchison and Byron Landor, have left which means two new starters in 2011. The good news is that Briles has brought in some talent in his first two recruiting classes. Ahmad Dixon and Prince Kent were two highly-touted recruits in the class of 2010, and both will have their shot at living up to their potential this season. 

Bennett has said that he plans on running a 4-3 defense in Waco, but considering the recruiting success that Baylor has had in the secondary the last few seasons, and the passing offenses of the Big 12, you do have to wonder if it'll be more of a 4-2-5 scheme when it's all said and done. Of course, if a young defensive line that will feature two sophomores in Terrance Lloyd and Gary Mason Jr. on the ends, can mature and get better at pressuring the quarterback, then a 4-3 may stick.

Will Bennett be able to mold Lloyd and Mason into the type of pass-rushers he had at Pitt? If he can help these guys become a Jabaal Sheard or a Greg Romeus, it would be a huge boost to the team's defense.

After all, Bennett doesn't have to turn this unit into a defense that is only giving up 10 points a game. The offense is going to score a lot of points for Baylor in 2011, but if the defense can start holding teams to about 24 points per game, then Baylor is going to rack up quite a few wins in 2011 and get back to another bowl game.

The work begins next week.
Posted on: January 7, 2011 1:09 pm
 

CBS Bowl Bonanza: BBVA Compass Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Basics: Pitt (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6), 12 p.m. EST, Jan. 8, Birmingham, Ala.

Why You Should Watch: It's your final chance to spend a Saturday afternoon watching college football. Isn't that reason enough? If it's not, well, frankly, a matchup between a unexciting Pitt squad of questionable motivation (following the ouster of Dave Wannstedt) and a .500 Kentucky team that slumped badly down the stretch probably won't get your pulse racing. But the Wildcats' receiver/returner/Wildcat (as in the formation) quarterback Randall Cobb is one of the most underrated and explosive players in the country, and there's also the chance that Pitt preseason All-American running back Dion Lewis could pick up where he left off in his late-season (as in, final game) breakout and go bananas again.

But mostly, as we said, it's the last-chance saloon for weekend college football. Drink up while you can.

Keys to Victory for Pitt: The first -- and probably most important one -- is simply for the Panthers to show up. Pitt has already endured one of the most disappointing seasons in the country, an insanely tumultuous offseason that's featured Wannstedt's firing, Mike Haywood's hiring, then Haywood's firing, and Wannstedt waffling until this week on whether he'd bother to come to Birmingham or not. Pitt's morale and focus probably wasn't great even before the coaching drama; though interim head coach Phil Bennett has head coaching experience and is as respected as anyone on staff, it's still anyone's guess what kind of mindset the Panthers will bring to their (admittedly lower-rent) bowl.

But if the Panthers are locked in, they've got the tools to make life very hard on the Wildcats. Offensively, Lewis appears to be back in form after his early-season struggles, receiver Jonathan Baldwin's size will present some serious matchup problems for the Kentucky corners, and the young (and often inconsistent) offensive line should benefit from the extra practice time. Defensively, though the Panthers will miss injured defensive end Jabaal Sheard, Bennett's charges finished a quiet ninth in the country in total defense, and should have little difficulty stopping a 'Cat passing attack minus starting suspended starting quarterback Mike Hartline. On paper, the Panthers ought to be the favorites.

But emotion regularly makes a hash of what "ought" to happen on paper in football, and what kind of emotion Pitt will play with is very much a question right now.

Keys to Victory for Kentucky: The Wildcat's first problem is obvious: Hartline's absence through suspension for a public intoxication arrest. That leaves sophomore Morgan Newton at the helm of the offense; while he hasn't played this season (only seven passes attempted), Newton's freshman season saw him complete 55.6 percent of his 135 passes for only 5.2 yards per attempt. He's likely to be a little sharper with another year under his belt and the extra bowl practice to prepare, but he'll also have to deal with a Pitt pass rush that's been one of the country's best the past couple of seasons (even without Sheard). Newton must play under control, and the Wildcat offensive line -- in a bit of good news for Kentucky, one that's allowed only 15 sacks all season, second-best in the SEC -- must give him time, or the Wildcat passing attack will be dead-on-arrival.

If Newton is on point and the line does give him time, the Wildcats have the weapons to put plenty of points on the board; Cobb, running back Derrick Locke, and 6'5" receiver Chris Matthews would all start for a lot of teams a lot higher-ranked than Kentucky. They may need them, since aside from revelatory first-team All-SEC linebacker Danny Trevathan (the conference's leader in tackles), few Wildcats stood out on defense this season either in rush defense -- where the 'Cats gave up 170 yards a game -- or pass defense, where the 'Cats ranked 81st by giving up 7.4 yards an attempt.

Of course, as unthreatening as Pitt's offense has been at times, the game promises to be tight and low-scoring regardless. Which is where Cobb comes in: one big special teams return or huge play out of the backfield could decide the game, and the Panthers don't appear to have a similar weapon.

The BBVA Compass Bowl is like: the small-town gas station off the Interstate that the sign says is your last opportunity to fill up for 73 miles or so. You stop because, hey, better get some gas. But maybe there's also a souvenir inside, a little Randall Cobb or Dion Lewis-shaped figurine, that you'll want to keep and remember during the long Saturday football-less road ahead.


Posted on: January 3, 2011 12:30 pm
 

Wannstedt won't coach bowl game

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Here's how messed up the coaching situation has been at Pitt over the last few weeks.  After basically forcing Dave Wannstedt to resign following the season, the school then hired Mike Haywood to take over the program.  Haywood had the job for an entire fourteen days before getting arrested for domestic assault and consequently being dismissed from the job, setting the coaching search wheels in motion once more.

Well, did you know that Pitt still has a bowl game to play?  Yeah, its the BBVA Compass Bowl and it's only a few days away.  Did you also know that up until this morning, Pitt had no idea who would actually be coaching the team in that bowl game?

Dave Wannstedt informed his staff this morning that he won't be coaching the team against Kentucky, which means that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will handle the head coaching duties in the game.

Seriously, the Panthers are giving UConn a run for the money in the "Worst 2011 Ever" contest.  Making matters worse for the Panthers is that they also found out on Monday that senior defensive tackle Jabaal Sheard just had surgery and won't be available to play against Kentucky.

The worst news it that the game is still five days away.  Who knows what else can happen before then?




 
 
 
 
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