Well it was a big victory for the Panthers, one that I’m sure had to be satisfying for the players and the coaches after the criticism they had to endure last week after the Rutgers debacle. There was a lot of things that broke Pitt’s way in that game and a lot of things Pitt did well. The Panthers are now bowl eligible but still need to find one more win in order to make sure they get to the postseason.
That being said, let’s get to this week’s version of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The Good: LeSean McCoy is starting to creep into Larry Fitzgerald territory in terms of the best player Pitt has had since I have been covering the team. I don’t know if he is quite there yet, but he is getting there fast. His performance Saturday at Notre Dame was unbelievable and two plays – the run he made to set up the winning field goal and that PlayStation like screen pass he caught in one of the overtimes to put Pitt back into striking distance to score – were both big-time plays under pressure. I’ve heard a lot about a lot of running backs in the country, I’m telling you this much right now, No. 25 for Pitt is the best of them all because he can do it all – run with power, run to the outside, catch the ball and make plays, and once he gets rolling it is off to the races.
Conor Lee – I haven’t seen every kicker in the country but if there is a more reliable one than Lee, I’d love to know who it is. Lee was 5-for-5 at Notre Dame and he’s made like 100 consecutive extra points.
Jonathan Baldwin – Baldwin only had two catches, but his presence on the field clearly makes teams think about where he is at and that opens some things up for a lot of other guys to do stuff. Also, Oderick Turner has received plenty of criticism, but he made a few big plays for Pitt on Saturday as well.
The defense – After getting torched by Rutgers, the defense made amends for itself. That was a good offense – with three big-time receivers – that Pitt played against and frankly the Panthers stood up held them to not much. The one touchdown was a gift from Pat Bostick and they held Notre Dame to field goal attempts in four consecutive overtimes.
The offensive line – There was not one center-quarterback exchange problem despite a new center and quarterback and C.J. Davis and Dom Williams played well. I don’t recall one single obvious break down and the one sack I can think of came when the right tackle got beat, not the interior. I thought the Bandit/Dime package stuff – which WHERE THE HECK WAS THAT LAST WEEK – was very effective and Elijah Fields and Andrew Taglianetti played very well the entire game in coverage.
Mick Williams -- I know Scott McKillop is an All-American linebacker and he should be. He has been very, very good, very consistent and he is clearly going to have a very nice career in the NFL. He deserves all the accolades he is getting – but the best player on this defense might just be Mick Williams. The guy makes so many plays that don’t show up in the box score because he is a defensive tackle – like his diving knock down of a screen pass, like the fact that Pitt can play that dime stuff because when they go to a three-man line he occupies three players and allows the Panthers ends to get one-on-one matchups. Mick is a big-time player, as is Rashaad Duncan and both guys get very little love from anyone because they are in a thankless position. Another tackle, Myles Caragein, played very well in relief of Tommie Duhart who didn’t make the trip because of an ankle injury.
Pat Bostick – It was not a thing of beauty but there is something to be said for a guy who keeps getting up, who keeps fighting, who keeps trying to make a play and finally does. Bostick wasn’t great, but he did enough things well to give Pitt a chance to win.
The Wildcat – Welcome back, you looked great – where the heck have you been all these weeks? And why does it take a quarterback injury to pull one of your best weapons out of the bag?
Second-half coaching – You have to give the staff a lot of credit for making a few changes, for scrapping some of the stuff they did in the first half and for handing the game to their best player – LeSean McCoy – and telling him to win it. They also made the decision to live or die with Pat Bostick and he repaid them for their faith in him.
THE BAD: The dime package stuff should always be kept close because the Panthers corners have really had a hard time in one-on-one coverage recently. Aaron Berry has not been nearly as bad as some people think but he’s given up a few plays and needs to clean it up. The other side, however, whether it has been Jovani Chappel, Ricky Gary or whoever they put out there, needs help.
Pre-snap penalties – Yes, I know there was a new quarterback and a new center, but there was still a little too much confusion and frankly some of it was caused by the quarterback shuffle that was going on in the first half.
Pat Bostick – Yes, I know he was in The Good, but he also made far too many bad throws, missed too many receivers and missed an easy touchdown when he overthrew Baldwin on a play-action pass. I’m not sure how it is possible to consistently overthrow a 6-5 guy with a 42-inch vertical, but Bostick pulled it off Saturday. He also missed Nate Byham on a touchdown pass and he threw three interceptions.
Tristan Roberts – It is SCOOP and then SCORE. He missed an easy touchdown on the blocked punt because he tried to do the score part before he did the scoop part.
THE UGLY: First half strategy – I get it, have Kevan Smith come in on first down and throw the ball deep to Baldwin because he has a stronger arm than Bostick. Of course, the pass was so far off the mark it never had a chance, but it was a good thought and that should have been the only play Smith was in the game. But it wasn’t, in fact, as Pitt takes over at the 25 or whatever after a blocked punt and Smith went back in and let him throw it twice? That made no sense, particularly since his one throw was nearly a pick six and his second one he turned the wrong way and got sacked. There was no reason to put him in there at that point in the game.
Those decisions to play quarterback shuffle early probably hurt Pitt’s chances to get at least one touchdown out of that great early field position.
But that wasn’t the most head-scratching thing. That came right before the half after Notre Dame had just scored. People will blame Pat Bostick (or a non-call on a pass interference penalty) for the interception that led to Notre Dame’s second touchdown and a 17-3 half-time lead, but if ever there was a situation that called for conservative play calling it was that. Pitt was only down 10-3, Pat Bostick has a propensity to throw some balls up for grabs, there was only a minute left and after McCoy ran for 10-yards on first down to get to the 30, it was pretty clear Notre Dame was not going to try and stop the clock – a few running plays kills the clock and you go in only down 10-3. Amazingly, they had a similar situation at home against Bowling Green and opted to run the clock down and kick a field goal instead of risking a pass into the endzone. Again, didn’t risk a pass into the endzone at home with a starter in a game against an inferior opponent, but did risk a pass – with a back-up who throws picks, in your own half of the field?
This was an example of over thinking things and trying too hard to be tricky. In the second half, as I wrote earlier, the strategy became very simple – scrap all the silly stuff and play to Pat Bostick’s strengths and give Notre Dame a healthy dose of LeSean McCoy – and it worked very well and the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for that.