Welcome to this week's version of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- and make no mistake when you give up 54 points to a pedestrian team like Rutgers, there is a whole lot more "Angel Eyes" (Bad for those who are not fans of Clint Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns) and "Tuco" (the Ugly, in case you've missed the greatest Western ever produced) than "Blondie" (well, in case you haven't figured it out, that's the Good)……
And someone sent me this little snippet which made me laugh (then of course once the reality of it set in it made me cry, ha, ha, ha):
"Dear Paul, instead of "Sweet Caroline" can you ask the Pitt marketing department to play that old song by the Foundations, "Build me up Buttercup," at the end of the third quarter so we as Pitt fans can sing "Why do you build me up (build me up) Wanny-cup baby, just to let me down (let me down)" and then at the chorus we can sing "So build me up (build me up) Wanny-cup (and then we'd all shout this part), PLEASE DON'T BREAK MY HEART" -- since that's what this team under this coach always seems to do. They build us up, they get us excited, they make us think they are turning it around and then they blow it and break all of our hearts. Could you please pass this on for me to the powers that be?"
It's e-mails from the fans like that one, the humorous ones, the ones that call me an idiot, heck, even the ones where you can tell the writer is so angry he's slobbering on his keyboard and typing in all caps -- those are the things that keep me laughing, keep my smiling and keep my sanity intact because, believe me, trying to figure this team out could often be classified as cruel and unusual punishment…
And the amazing thing is I've been covering this team for seven seasons now -- and before that I covered the end of the Don Nehlen era and the start of the Rich Rodriguez era at West Virginia, not to mention the Ron Dickerson-era of Temple football, for goodness sakes, and as much as I love the Owls, I thought I had seen it all by the time I was done with those few years. But I keep telling myself after every ridiculous or head-scratching thing that happens, "Now, I've seen it all". The problem is, just when I think I've seen it all -- Ron Dickerson taking three points off the board against Maryland to accept an offsides penalty which still left Temple with a fourth-and-2 and then going for the fourth down, not making it and then losing the game by three points, the Swinging Gate debacle, The Slide Play, the third-and-1 backwards pass against Toledo when a yard from your 240-pound quarterback doing a sneak play would have iced the game, taking the Heisman receiver off the field at the goal line in a bowl game, punting inside the 35, the onside kick to start a game which gave a bad offense a short field, the fake punt debacle at South Florida -- some how, some way this team pulls something even more mind-boggling out of the hat……..Like a fake field goal attempt when there was absolutely no reason to try it at that point in the game. Or worse, giving up 54 points to a team with a very average quarterback and no running game to speak of . Really, the only weapons they have that scare anyone are the two good receivers, which should have been easy to game plan out of the equation given the Scarlet Knights' lack of weapons around them.
Now then, let's get started on this week's Good, Bad and Ugly from the Rutgers game…….
The Good: The two best players on the field -- even though Pitt's secondary seemed determined to make Mike Teel, Mike ---freaking -- Teel look like Dan Marino on his best day -- were LeSean McCoy and Jonathan Baldwin. Dave Wannstedt can recruit, there is no question (and that's what is probably most frustrating to fans -- this team has good players) and these two are an example of that. McCoy is one of the top two or three running backs in the country, there is no doubt about that, and he has been rolling along. And Jonathan Baldwin has been special, just a spectacular talent who makes big plays and makes them look easy. Also, T.J. Porter had a nice day and that's a good development because he can make plays down the field. He is one of those receivers, like a Derek Kinder, who, if you throw it his way, he's almost 100 percent a lock to catch it. (I know, Kinder dropped on Saturday, but for the most part he has a great steady set of hands). I think that Bill Stull was on his way to having his best game, and the offensive line, for all the hits it took in the preseason, has really developed into a good unit. I think if Stull had stayed healthy Pitt would have been able to go up and down the field against Rutgers -- provided they were given a chance to by the guys calling the plays - because Pitt's offense is rounding into form. There is not a lot to gripe about with the offense, well, except for the period AFTER Stull went out, which we will get to a little later.
The Bad: Conor Lee, usually reliable, missed a field goal, which at the time could have been key play. He made up for it, however, with two others. The Panthers didn't put a lot of pressure on Teel for the entire first half, which is why it looked like he was in a 7 v 7 drill. Pitt was only 4 for 14 on third downs and punter Dave Brytus averaged only 39 yards a punt -- including a 28-yard stink bomb that gave the Scarlet Knights great field position. I also think we can safely say it is time to end the Aaron Berry returning punts thing. For one thing, from what we saw Saturday I think he could use more time at his corner spot --- though I still maintain he is a very good cover corner. But the other thing is, if the main reason he is back there is he catches the ball and is sure-handed -- well, against Navy and South Florida he muffed punts and got lucky to get them back -- then Saturday he made the key mistake of the game when he fumbled the ball. I think Berry is a good football player, I just don't see how he is still the best option back there, especially now that his confidence is shaken a bit.
The secondary had one of the worst days a Pitt unit has had since I have covered the team --- and that's saying a lot because I've seen it all -- 500-yard days by journeymen quarterbacks, 200-yard days by good, not great, running backs, Division I-AA teams scoring 38 and forcing overtime. But I have never seen a secondary look so lost and so powerless to do anything about it, as I did Saturday when Mike Teel -- yeah, Mike, well, you know the drill -- threw for six touchdown passes against them. Clearly something needs to change back there -- whether it is personnel, scheme or something else -- but this isn’t the first time they've given up big plays in the passing game ( Do you think Charlie Weis is chomping at the bit this week?) because this unit has been very disappointing and from what I see, likely won't get much better. And I don't think it is all on the players, because there is no reason Teel, you know, Mike --- well, you know -- should have been able to throw his third touchdown pass because, after Pitt got torched for the second long one, the plan should have changed. It didn't and he was allowed to throw three, four and then five before half-time. Simply amazing. Like I wrote earlier in this -- anyone who has watched Rutgers this year knows there are only two players on that offense who can hurt you -- the two receivers. And thus every team has played some sort of deep zone and forced Teel to make tight throws underneath -- which he is not very good at. And they also didn't worry about the play-action stuff because RUTGERS NO LONGER HAS RAY RICE and their running game scares nobody. Again, let's review -- a team with no run game is able to play-action pass you to death -- that tells me the defense was gearing up to stop what is a non-existent running game. And this much was unfortunately confirmed when you consider the coach said after the game he was expecting Rutgers to run the ball, not pass it. The fact that Elijah Fields can't get on the field on a day when the secondary is providing the least resistance possible is amazing to me. I don't know if the guy knows his assignments -- the party line as to why he is not on the field that much -- but I do know this -- he can't possibly be worse at covering receivers than what we saw on Saturday -- and lining up to do that doesn't require much thinking. Just when I think I've seen it all…….
The Ugly: Where do I begin? Pat Bostick threw an interception and will be criticized for it -- but he shouldn't. Yeah, maybe he could have tucked the ball and taken the sack and set up the field goal -- but this is a classic example of a play call putting a kid in a position to make a play he can't make. I can think of about five plays I'd shred with Pat Bostick at quarterback because they don't play to his strengths -- and a waggle (roll out, whatever you want to call it) left to pass the ball on the run is a pass he cannot make. Further, at that point, with LeSean McCoy in your backfield and a back-up quarterback, why is third-and-1 a passing down to begin with? Just an awful decision.
The fake field debacle may have been the most head-scratching, decision -- worse than the slide play by a lot - - I've seen since I've covered college football. And the explanation -- that they thought it was going to be a low-scoring defensive game and wanted to try and score some points because they thought points would be at a premium ---makes it even more head-scratching. If you truly believed it was going to be a 17-10 type of game -- wouldn't the smart play have been to send your 86-percent field goal kicker onto the field to attempt a 34-yarder and give you a 10-7 lead? And if you are going to go for it against a good team -- wouldn't you rather have the ball in the hands of Bill Stull or LeSean McCoy than a walk-on fifth-string quarterback who has never thrown a pass in a game? People often second-guess coaches and play Monday morning quarterback -- I understand it and really try not to do it because there is often a lot more to a play call or decision than meets the eye -- but this is not a second guess by any stretch . This is just using some common sense and simple logic. At that point in the game, at that point on the field, you had about three or four legitimate options and for some reason chose something that should have been about option No. 6.
Pitt was on a five-game winning streak, it was a reasonably nice day, the Panthers were ranked No. 17 and playing a conference game -- and only (no doubt a number that required a sharpened pencil to come up with) 51,000 fans bothered to show up. That, to me, is more of a reflection on just how far from credible this program is right now. I don't blame fans -- for the reasons we watched on Saturday -- because this program has a lot of work to do in order to rebuild that credibility. Fans want a winner, Pittsburgh wants to support a winner and if this team ever wins big it will be embraced by a lot of casual fans -- and that is why so many of these kinds of meltdowns over the past few years have taken their toll. I really commend guys like Steve Pederson and Chris Ferris and E.J. Borghetti for all of the effort they put in trying to sell this program because it is clear there is a lot of rebuilding to do with the fan base when it comes to giving people who aren’t die-hard fans, a reason to come to the games, and no amount of fan initiatives or songs can overcome what happens every time this team seems to be on the brink of something big.
But hey, getting back to the spirit of fun and games we have here -- and in honor of the fabulous e-mail suggestion about playing 'Build me up Buttercup', I'll leave you with a list of songs which, perhaps, Chris Ferris and company will take under consideration to be played at upcoming Pitt games given the Panthers propensity to break the hearts of their fans ...
"Heartbreaker" by Pat Benatar
"My Heart Will go On" by Celine Dion -- Otherwise known as the theme song from the movie "The Titanic"
Pitt's season theme song? ...
"Not Gon' Cry" by Mary J. Blige - - So fans can walk out after another disappointing loss singing: "I'm not gon' cry, I'm not gon' cry, I'm not gon' shed no tears, no, I'm not gon' cry, I'm not gon' cry because Pitt's not worth my tears….."
"Must have been love, but its over now" by Roxette -- Fans can sing "It must have been love, but we're over it now, We must have been good, but we lost it somehow; It must have been love, but it is over now, from the moment we kicked off, till the time had run out….."
"Every Rose has its Thorn" by Poison (you knew there'd be a Hair Band song in here somewhere….) -- Fans could sing "Was it something we said, or something we did, did our cheers not come out right? We tried not to hurt you, we tried, but I guess that's why the heart of every fan will be torn….."