A big win for the Panthers on Friday. The team is now 8-3 and that’s a big step in the right direction. Fans are clamoring for a ninth win on Saturday and while that would be a huge step, I am probably in the minority in thinking there is not much pressure on Pitt to win at Connecticut. A win would be like icing on the cake but I don’t think a loss would change much for Pitt. There are some bowl implications but it seems, unless something changes, that WVU is still in the driver’s seat for El Paso and the Meineke Bowl people are lukewarm to the idea of having Pitt/ There don't seem to be many options for Pitt. The Panthers have had a good season to this point and can finally say they’ve turned the corner and are headed in the right direction.
With that in mind, here is Paul Zeise's Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the West Virginia game.
1.) My old boss at the NBA, and one of the greatest pure writers and editors I’ve ever known, Jan Hubbard, once wrote a book about the Chicago Bulls sixth NBA title (or maybe it was the fifth) during the Michael Jordan era and wrote something like (I’m paraphrasing) “it is becoming more and more difficult to describe the things that Jordan does. After all, how many different ways can you say the word ‘great’…”
I’m not comparing LeSean McCoy to Michael Jordan, but I am starting to face the same dilemma – I’m running out of ways to write “this guy is great”. I would have likely used some sort of line about “Superman” to describe Friday’s performance in my game story, except I had already used that line in my Notre Dame game story.
The kid is every bit as good as any player I have covered at Pitt, and that includes Antonio Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, Gerald Hayes, Darrelle Revis, Rod Rutherford – and anyone else you can name from this most recent era. He is a special player and what he did on Friday against West Virginia was quite ridiculous, especially when you consider how atrocious the quarterback played (and thus, there was no real threat of a passing game to take the focus off McCoy).
2.) No running back is able to do what McCoy did without at least some help from the offensive line. On Friday, particularly late, the Panthers offensive line mauled the Mountaineers defensive front. This has become a trend for this unit (which begs a shout out to Buddy Morris and company), they have developed into a very good run-blocking unit and they have proven they can run even when everyone on the other side of the ball knows they are trying to. They still struggle in pass protection some, though the quarterback's refusal to throw the ball away at times hurts their cause.
3.)Mick Williams deserves first-team All-Big East and some consideration for All-American honors. This guy is a dominant force who disrupts things even when he isn’t making a tackle. And it was pretty amazing to watch Pitt’s two defensive ends chasing down Pat White and making the plays that they did. Like McCoy, Scott McKillop has been so consistently good it becomes tough to find ways to describe him.
4.) The two outside linebackers, and two starting safeties – Greg Williams, Austin Ransom, Dom DeCicco and Eric Thatcher – and Jovani Chappel have been the subject of much criticism this year because they’ve all struggled at times and they’ve all had tough games. But Friday all five played very well, particularly Williams and Ransom, who both made several key tackles or plays. DeCicco continues to improve with experience and Thatcher shows glimpses of the dominant player we all thought he was becoming a few years ago before he was lost for the season with a broken ankle. He never seemed to fully recover from that, but Friday, he made some huge tackles, some big hits and some key knockdowns of passes.
5.) Nate Byham – We were starting to wonder if coaches remembered that this guy was the No. 1 rated tight end in the country coming out of the high school and we were also starting to believe rumors that his face had appeared on the side of a milk carton as a missing person – but they rediscovered one of their best and most underused weapons Friday and he made some big catches. Hopefully this is a preview of how much he’ll be involved in things next season because he is an excellent player.
6.) Special teams -- The coverage units were again very good, the kick-offs and punts kept Pitt in the game by keeping the field position in their favor, Aundre Wright was good returning kicks all day and T.J. Porter came up with a big punt return when the Panthers needed it most. These special teams units have become very good. As much criticism as Dave Wannstedt receives for some other things that go on, he deserves plenty of credit for turning these units into a real team strength as he is the special teams coordinator.
1.) Bill Stull had his worst game of the season. He threw two really bad interceptions and both were just terrible throws. He fumbled once, he missed Conredge Collins on a fourth-and-short, and he had one of the worst attempts at a quarterback draw we’ve ever seen. He has to be better. There is just no way around it. He wasn’t terribly accurate and, outside of an early touchdown throw to Derek Kinder, he didn’t do much to contribute to the win.
2.) By the same token, although the receivers played much better as a group than they did against Cincinnati, they still had a few drops, including a big one by T.J. Porter which would have given them a key first down. They need to get back to catching every catchable ball.
3.) Conor Lee missed a makeable field goal but Pitt overcame it and this guy has been so good he’s entitled to miss one or two. Still, when he does, it is a shock because he never misses…
4.) A false start by Jason Pinkston negated the two-point conversion pass to Jonathan Baldwin. Pitt is one of the least penalized teams in the country but this was a bad time to break that trend.
1.) Pat White is a great player and his 54-yard touchdown run was one of those plays that only a special player like him can pull off. That being said – ask yourself these questions -- how many Panthers took bad angles on that play? How many lost their containment? How many missed tackles because they took themselves out of the play? And how many quit on the play before it was actually over? Yes, I know, there appeared to be a clip/block in the back which was missed but the play would have been stopped for like a 15-yard gain if all 11 defenders were going hard from start to finish.
Also, Pitt should have been up at least 17-3 at the half – 17-0 when you consider the field goal West Virginia kicked was set up by a Bill Stull fumble – and wasn’t because of some very questionable play calls and even worse execution of said play calls. It didn’t cost Pitt the game, but it very well could have and has in the past and will in the future if it doesn’t get solved. Examples of the kinds of things that has cost them games…..
2.) Which was worse: The play call of a fade pass – especially given how hard McCoy was running and given how bad the quarterback has played in recent weeks and the fact that Pitt is now about 3-for-2,345 in fade pass attempts since Rod Rutherford was tossing them to Larry Fitzgerald – or the actual execution of that play (the one near the end of the half which was intercepted) ? My goodness, how many of these fade passes have actually connected over the past two seasons? Given the fact that they almost never do, why keep trying them? These quarterbacks have proven they can’t throw them, so why continue to try? My vote, however, is that the execution was worse than the play call itself because that may have been the worst pass we’ve seen from a Pitt quarterback in a long, long time. I can at least give the coaching staff a little pass in that, theoretically, the fade is a “safe” pass, designed to be a catch or an incomplete safely overthrown out of bounds and out of harms way -- but given the disaster it has been with these quarterbacks throwing it, is it a really a safe pass?
3.) Although Conor Lee missed that early field goal attempt, the reason it was a 40-yard attempt as opposed to a 37-yard attempt, or even less, was because someone decided it would be a good idea to try and run an end-around on third-and-goal from the 20. The Panthers lost three yards on that play and were lucky to not lose more as Aundre Wright made the first guy miss about six yards deep in the backfield before being run out of bounds for a three-yard loss. A reverse on third-and-goal from the 20? Seriously? At that point there should be two options – concede you aren’t going to score a touchdown and run a screen pass or just a straight running play to try and get a few more yards (more importantly a play that is not likely to be a negative play) and make the field goal closer or take a shot at the end zone. But the risk-reward factor of an end-around at that point on the field should have made that play option number 1,356 in terms of a sensible play to call in order to get better position for a field goal.
4.) Once you lose five yards due to a penalty – with more than eight minutes left, with all three time-outs – why not just kick the extra point to pull to within 15-14 as opposed to going for the two points from that point on the field in a game – and this is a recurring theme – where your quarterback hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. That does a few things for Pitt : 1.) If West Virginia scores another touchdown, Pitt is still within one score at 22-14. 2.) Pitt could still win with a field goal (as the Panthers could at 15-13) and 3.) If Pitt scored a touchdown to go ahead, which the Panthers did, the two point attempt (which failed obviously) would have been to make it a seven-point lead (and thus those Pat White Hail Mary’s at the end, if Pitt had made it, would have been to tie the game, not win it) and 4.) If WVU kicks a field goal to go up 18-14, Pitt could have taken a 3-point lead with a touchdown and extra point and that would mean a field goal by the Mountaineers at the end would only tie the game, not win it for them.
Again, Pitt had to go for two when Pitt scored to pull to within 15-13 from the 3-yard line, but once the ball got moved back to the 8, it was probably better to just take the point and move forward in the game. That point is debatable, however, and both sides have solid arguments. This point, however, is not really debatable: a quarterback draw from the 8? With Bill Stull? I can’t think of one reason why that play was called as it had no chance of working unless all 11 Mountaineers fell down and even then, one of them could have gotten up in time to make the tackle on Stull – regardless of who blocked or didn’t block who. There was an opening for the play – but does anyone really think Bill Stull was outrunning anyone to get the eight (actually given he was a few yards behind the line of scrimmage when he started to run, more like 10 or 11) yards needed to score?