Bat signal!

July 28, 2015 by Mike Casazza

The ACC football coaches are parading through ESPN at the start of this week, and Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had his turn today.

Make that Pat Narduzzi, Pitt coach for a minute, Connecticut native, Rhode Island graduate and conduit for his newly hired athletic director.

Narduzzi started college (playing for his father Bill at Youngstown State) in 1985. He graduated from URI in 1989. In the entire time he’s been a college player and coach, Pitt and Penn State have played 12 times and not since 2000. Twelve times in 31 years and not once in the past 15. That line, which is a brief state-of-the-union address on the conversations happening (or not) between WVU and Pitt, is rubbish, and I bet Penn State would agree. It was the Nittany Lions and Joe Paterno who moved to discontinue the series (Penn State had a different, less equitable scheduling split in mind; Paterno never really let go of Pitt joining the Big East and abandoning his proposed conference of all eastern schools).

But this is what happens when a defensive coordinator goes on the offensive.

And this is what happens when an offensive coordinator goes on the offensive.

2015 in 15: Part 9

July 28, 2015 by Mike Casazza

It’s not the greatest schedule in school history, but it has its pluses and minuses … and more of the former than the latter.

2015 in 15: Part 8

July 27, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Let’s have a word about select players who are new to the program or new to playing time.

2015 in 15: Part 7

July 26, 2015 by Mike Casazza

It’s a momentous season for a marquee program in south Florida.

2015 in 15: Part 6

July 25, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Good luck finding a team that endured what West Virginia endured last season. That’s the bad news. The good news? It just has to change in 2015. (If you’d like to know more about the topic, let me point you here.)

2015 in 15: Part 5

July 24, 2015 by Mike Casazza

WVU has an impact newcomer on the offensive line, and the Mountaineers have more answers than questions up front.

(P.S. I’m off for the next eight days. Odd timing, but I haven’t been contracted. Parts 6-13 are done and ready.)

Versatility is (good) news to Smallwood

July 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

We’ve been talking about Wendell Smallwood and his Charles Sims role for 20 months now, going all the way back to the final game of the 2013 season when I just had to ask, “Hey, Dana. Is Wendell basically Sims?

It seems now’s the time for Smallwood, because the offense could very well revolve around him like it did Sims two seasons ago, and that was the scenario many observers crafted and explored at the Big 12’s media days earlier this week. He’s a modular part of a modular offense. Versatility is his calling card. “I never used the word until I got to college, but yeah, I used to love catching the ball, running the ball, lining up in the slot and doing a lot of things,’’ Smallwood said. “Once I got to school, Dana just made me do more of them. He’s kind of made it all up for me.’’

But stop right there for a second: Smallwood was in Dallas. A year earlier, he was behind bars.

Did Smallwood do anything wrong? Well, yes, by merely discussing witness tampering with a man accused of murder. That alone left a black mark on his reputation, even if it was just talk. But it also taught him a lesson.

“I think mentally it humbled me. I learned from it, I know that,’’ Smallwood said. “I’ve got to watch who I hang around with, watch my friends, just stay around good people, around players. Just not wander off. It made me a better man.’’

There was a point, Smallwood said, when things were so bad and he seemed so backed into a corner that it didn’t look like there were many ways out. In the middle of all of this, his teammates were getting ready for camp. Some of the best ones were in Dallas. For however brief a time, the thought crossed his mind that, hey, it’s over for me.

“Yeah, it did,’’ Smallwood said, as he sat about as far away from a jail cell as one could possibly get, in a swank hotel in Dallas as one of just a handful of players selected to represent their schools at media days. “Fortunately, the school gave me another chance and God gave me another chance. I’m just happy to be here.’’

2015 in 15: Part 4

July 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Today we take one step closer to the start of the 2015 season by taking a step back and looking at the quarterback position.

‘He’ll leave you with a memory’

July 23, 2015 by Mike Casazza

Find me three scarier, more destructive, more avoidable defensive players than the Shawn Oakman, Eric Striker, Karl Joseph trio the Big 12 will flaunt this season. They’re uniquely intimidating.

Oakman is “a Transformer,” according to Striker, a 6-foot-9, 280-pound defensive end who is in your head before he’s in the backfield. Remember when we tried to comprehend Kevin White’s silly pre-WVU box jump?

Oakman did 36 inches while holding 70-pound dumb bells.

He’s a real-life meme.

The wonderfully named Striker is no less arresting, though he goes about his business in a much different style. He’s smaller, but he’s unstoppable coming off the edge. “He’s probably one of the best I’ve ever seen in terms of being able to rush up the field and get around the tackle very fast,” WVU center Tyler Orlosky said.

He compensates for his lack of size and he complements his speed with an utter lack of fear.

Striker’s still walking and breathing, so I’m not certain I believe that, but then again, that’s Striker.

But if we’re discussing fear, let’s discuss Joseph.

Read the rest of this entry »

The keystones

July 22, 2015 by Mike Casazza

West Virginia’s Tyler Orlosky figures to be in the middle of a lot of action this fall, and for good reason. People inside the Puskar Center say no one’s had a better offseason than him. He’s perhaps the strongest player on the roster. He’s connected with Skyler Howard and he’s settled into a leadership role that might have been harder to embrace when he was younger and around older players.

And he’s good. I mean, touted-by-pundits good. He’s revered-by-peers good. Ask Texas Tech center Jared Kaster

“It’s a lot of pressure to put on someone to make the calls and know the front and signal all that stuff, but he’s just good, man. You can tell from watching him,” Kaster said. “He’s very good technique-wise. You can tell he’s smart, but it’s more about his technique. He’s a really good player with really good hands.”