Welcome to the Louisville edition of Pitt’s Good, Bad and Ugly. And frankly, if you win a game 41-7 there isn’t much Angel Eyes or Tuco and a whole lot of Blondie….
But first, let me ask these questions – rhetorically of course……
When Pitt beat barely beat Iowa, we were told over and over by many of the fans of that university in the center part of the state that it was meaningless because – and I can only quote the love letters I received on a daily basis from fans of said university, who by the way claim they no longer care about Pitt, yet sure seem to spend a lot of time trying to discredit everything the Panthers do – Iowa, you see, is a “mediocre, at best, Big Ten team ” or my personal favorite “Iowa is a team which will struggle to win one game in the Big Ten, they might beat Indiana." And that brings me to my question: If Iowa is a mediocre Big Ten team (which this year is sort of like stating the obvious since all 11 of them are mediocre or worse) not worthy of consideration and not worthy of being considered a quality win – what does that make Penn State now that, you know, Iowa beat Penn State?
And further, using the same equation used by the more delusional of the 100,000 fans hailing from large metropolitan areas like, oh I don’t know, Bald Eagle and Bellefonte – if the logical equation of “Penn State > Oregon State and Oregon State > USC therefore Penn State > USC” applies, does that mean by extension the equation “Pitt > Iowa and Iowa > Penn State therefore Pitt > Penn State” also applies?
Just wondering……Ok let’s get started:
The defensive line came ready to play and really controlled the game. The two starting defensive tackles, Mick Williams and Rashaad Duncan, both should be All Big East players. They are really good. The ends – Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus – look like they are both starting to become football players, as opposed to just standout athletes who happen to be playing football. That line makes a lot of things possible and even middle linebacker Scott McKillop said it after the game – they make his job a lot easier. I thought this unit really took Louisville’s offense out of rhythm early and dominated the second half.
Two defensive scores – this is something Phil Bennett had talked about when he came in here as the defensive coordinator --- generating turnovers and turning them into points. Pitt hasn’t done a lot of that – those were the first two defensive scores of the season – but if the Panthers can make creating turnovers a trend, they have a great chance to go from being a good defense to being a great defense. McKillop’s interception was just a smart play by one of the smartest football players Pitt has had in a long time (McKillop is a good student as well, but in smart, I mean as in football smarts and understanding defense and understanding the game.)
Special teams coverage – I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Pitt has improved greatly in the areas of covering punts and kicks. This has helped the Panthers win the all-important “field position game” and has kept the defense out of bad situations. Louisville averaged only 13 yards per kick-off return and 3 yards per punt return.
Conor Lee – It seems like this guy is on this list every week but deservedly so. The fact that he wasn’t even among the Groza Semifinalists tells me that award is meaningless because there aren't 20 better kickers in the country (you’d be hard pressed to find five). The guy is money in the bank and he’ll give Pitt an advantage in any close game down the stretch (and my sense is that all three will be close). He was 7-for-7 on his kicks Saturday (5-for-5 extra points and 2-for-2 field goals).
Matt Cavanaugh/Dave Wannstedt – Few people have been under as much fire as these two the past few seasons and especially in the wake of the Bowling Green debacle. But it seems like Wannstedt’s plans to rebuild the offensive and defensive lines and build a team around winning the war in the trenches is paying off. Cavanaugh’s game plan Saturday – as a counter to Louisville’s decision to sell out to stop LeSean McCoy – was excellent – and it was executed well. The screens, the dumps, the reverses, the Wildcats – everything Pitt did kept Louisville off balance and the Panthers proved they can score even if McCoy is bottled up. A year ago, if McCoy had only 39 yards or whatever, Pitt might not have scored a point.
Offensive line – Louisville’s front four is very good but Pitt’s offensive line gave quarterback Bill Stull enough time to make plays and blocked a lot of the reverses and Wildcat plays very well. Yes, Pitt didn’t run the ball well, but Louisville’s defense completely sold out to stop the running game.
Receivers – Oderick Turner seems like he has figured out that freshman Baldwin kid is slowly but surely taking away his playing time because he’s played his best two games of the year the past two weeks. He’s made some tough catches, he made a nice touchdown catch, he is blocking. Derek Kinder, Cedric McGee and TJ Porter aren’t burners but they always seem to get open and they always catch it when you throw it to them. And what more could be said about Baldwin?
Specialty players – Andrew Taglianetti, Aundre Wright, Elijah Fields, Lucas Briggs – these guys all play certain specific roles and all of them performed extremely well when called upon Saturday.
Clint Session – OK, I know he plays for the Colts now but he’s one of my all-time favorite players to cover and he played a heckuva game yesterday against the Steelers, particularly on special teams (though he did take a bad angle and miss the sack on the Steelers Flea Flicker touchdown). The guy is an unbelievable athlete, a great guy and he is one of the best interviews of all time as well.
Possession time – How do you put a game safely away? Simple, you have a 17-point half-time lead and hold the ball for nearly 20 minutes during the second half.
Efficiency – Pitt allowed zero sacks, did not turn the ball over and was 4-for-4 in red zone scoring.
- Not much, actually, except for the fact that Pitt gave up another easy touchdown on a long passing play – 30 yards from Hunter Cantwell to Troy Pascley. There was nobody even close to being there to make a play. The number of wide open receptions down the field given up by this team is alarming.
- Pitt was only 3-of-15 on third downs, which is an amazing statistic considering they scored 41 points and held the ball for nearly 34 minutes.
- I know Louisville sold out to stop the run, but the Panthers still have to do better than 2.6 yards per rush even when they are facing a stacked front. Teams are going to try and take the run away and the way you break their spirit is by still running on them.
Getting back to the secondary – the long touchdowns are alarming but what is more alarming is this: After nearly every big pass play there are at least two or three secondary members out there on the field pointing at each other and waving their arms as if to say “I thought you were taking that guy” – it seems like utter confusion back there. And that’s not a good thing. And frankly, they only gave up the one big touchdown but Louisville had plenty of opportunities early to make big plays and Hunter Cantwell made bad passes. This secondary is becoming an Achilles heel for the Panthers and some issues back there need to get solved. They won’t survive if they continue to give up big plays in the passing game. This is the third game in a row that there have been opposing receivers open for big plays all over the field.