Well, this wasn’t the way the beginning of the Paul Chryst era was supposed to start, was it? With a Division I-AA opponent coming to Heinz Field, the Panthers were supposed to generate some good momentum heading into the Big East opener Thursday night at Cincinnati.
Instead, there are tons of questions following a 31-17 loss. The most discouraging thing for Pitt fans after this day had to be the manner in which the Panthers fell.
They couldn’t stop Youngstown State’s offense. They shot themselves in the foot on offense. And to put a cherry on top, Chryst made a controversial call midway through the third quarter that played a big role in the outcome.
But first, the stats. They certainly tell the tale. YSU gained 381 yards. The Penguins converted 11 of 16 opportunities. They pretty much did whatever they wished against Pitt’s defense, which starts just one senior.
Pitt gained 369 yards, but Tino Sunseri overthrew open receivers on a few occasions and Ray Graham had a big fumble on the first drive of the game. YSU capitalized on the turnover, scored a touchdown and seized momentum right off the bat.
“Starting with myself, we have to take ownership of this,” Chryst said. “We have to become a better team, and I think we can. It’s certainly not the way anyone would want to start the season, but it’s in our hands now to see how we’re going to go forward. I believe this group can go forward and will go forward.”
Senior safety Andrew Taglianetti, the only senior starter on the defense, said the game was a “wake-up call.”
“We have a lot of younger guys playing,” he said. “This is a shot in the mouth. I think it’s a good wake-up call. I think it will really test the character of this team. This is where older guys like me have to step up. Hopefully, we can get that across to the younger guys.”
Chryst's controversial call came with six minutes to go in the third quarter. Trailing, 21-10, he decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the YSU 21. Isaac Bennett was stopped, and the Penguins went right down the field and scored to make it 28-10.
Chryst said the decision was made because his defense was having such a hard time getting stops.
One positive to come out of the game was the performance of Ray Graham, who gained 71 yards on 14 carries 10 months after major knee surgery.
“I’m quickly getting back to the old Ray Graham,” he said after the game.
Graham said his knee felt fine.