It may not have been pretty (actually, check that, it DEFINITELY wasn't pretty) but Pitt did what it needed to do Saturday night. The Panthers got a win, and are going to a bowl game in Paul Chryst's first season and that's all that really matters now. As we await word of where, exactly, the Panthers will be headed this holiday season, let's look at a few quick points from tonight's game.
The Panthers are going bowling: I know, I already said that. But it really can't be overstated. At a end of a season that looked lost on more than one occasion, Pitt will be playing postseason football. No, it's not where anyone involved with the program wants to ultimately be, but it's a start. This team will get 15 more practices to adapt to Chryst's system, and most of the practice time will go towards younger guys with an eye towards next season. It's a springboard into offseason workouts that you only get with bowl eligibility. And, after two years of going to a bowl game with an interim coach, Pitt can actually spend these practices learning the same offense it's going to run next year. A novel concept, I know.
The defense did its job tonight: South Florida is admittedly a pretty terrible offensive team, especially with its third quarterback of the season under center, but four turnovers are four turnovers. The offense looked ugly early, and if the Bulls had been able to generate some offensive momentum of their own, Pitt could have fallen behind early. Instead, Pitt took advantage when South Florida made mistakes and provided a lift to the offense on the sideline. It also didn't hurt that Pitt was routinely starting drives in Bulls territory. Chryst admitted after the game that Pitt played "bad football" at times tonight (see: Tino Sunseri's sack for a 29-yard loss), but, when your defense is taking advantage of another team's mistakes, sometimes that's all you need.
The offense is starting to mold into shape: This isn't a comment on tonight's game, but more the season as a whole. With their work tonight, Sunseri went over 3,000 yards passing on the season and Ray Graham broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier. That's the first time in Pitt history that the team has had both in the same season. This offense still has a ways to go, and could improve greatly even by the bowl game, but it's starting to show signs of the balance that Chryst's Wisconsin teams did. Sustaining drives on a consistent basis is still an issue, but there has been definite progress since the beginning of the season. Also, Sunseri went another game without an interception, his ninth consecutive contest without one. Sunseri has had his bad moments this year, but two interceptions on the season is really hard to ignore. Even when he sometimes isn't making the throws that are there for him, he hasn't hurt his team with back-breaking interceptions, and that's a testament to Sunseri's mental development this year, as well as Chryst's and quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger's coaching this season.
Now, we wait. The bowl announcement will likely be tomorrow afternoon, so stay tuned. I'll be traveling back to Pittsburgh, but I'll make sure to keep updated on any developments, Birmingham or not. Follow me on Twitter @SWernerPG for the most up-to-date information.