Big Lead Sports Bar

11/13/2006

The Lost Art of Defense Part I: The Pitt Career High Panthers

I watched three football games this weekend: Pitt at UConn, San Diego at Cincy, and the Steelers-Saints game. If I ever saw a frightening display of the state of defense at the two highest levels of football, it was this trifecta. I'll recap in a convenient, three-part series.
ACT ONE: PITT AT UCONN
Pitt, who has been favored in each and every one of their games this season, traveled to Connecticut to face off against the 3-5 Huskies on Saturday afternoon. Pitt has been left out of the BCS discussion, but they at least had something to play for: a win equalled a probable bowl appearance. Yes, it would be another crap bowl game that no one would care about, but it would give this team a much-needed extra month of practice and prep, as well as a nice milestone for the Wanny Era.
The Panthers quickly fell behind on an early field goal, but rebounded and built up a 31-17 lead going into the fourth quarter. After a punt left UConn on their own 2 yard line with 12:10 left in the game, the Huskies drove 98 yards to pull within seven with 7:53 left. Pitt putzed around on offense for a few minutes, then UConn reclaimed possession with 3:14 to go and down a TD. Predictably, the Huskies travelled the necessary 77 yards, capping the drive with a D.J. Hernandez-to-Danny Murray touchdown with just three seconds left. Tie ballgame, OT pending.
When a team collapses like Pitt did, that usually does not bode well for momentum entering overtime. Sure enough, UConn struck first, when Hernandez hit Brandon Young with an 11-yard TD pass. Pitt got the ball for their shot, moved it to the 1 yard line, and punched it in with fullback Conredge Collins on 4th down. Tie ballgame, 2nd OT pending.
Pitt took the ball right back, with Tyler Palko hitting Derek Kinder for 24 yards on the first play of the drive, with a Larod Stephens-Howling touchdown run to follow. UConn needed just four plays to answer that score. What they did next was one of the gutsiest calls in college football all year. Coach Randy Edsall opted for a two-point conversion instead of the instead of the PAT. Hernandez was flushed out of the pocket, eluded the Pitt defenders, and went in for the score. Game over, Pitt loses, Pitt loses.
This was a tough, tough game to swallow for Pitt fans. I know Pitt is banged up, especially on the defensive line. I know Pitt is young, with bright-eyed freshmen and sophs littering the field. But every team has injuries this time of year. Look at Louisville: they lost Michael Bush (for the season)AND Brian Brohm (for a few weeks) and didn't miss a beat, with the possible exception of Bush in the Rutgers game. If anyone had an excuse to tank, they did. If Pitt wants to blame injuries, that only exposes the fact that they have little quality depth. And if they want to blame youth, that excuse won't fly either, at least in this game. UConn had numerous freshmen and sophomores in the game at any given point. And how about these lines:
DJ Hernandez, UConn QB (SOPH): 20/29, 164 yards, 4 TD passing; 17 carries, 130 yards rushing
Donald Brown II, UConn RB (FRESH): 43 carries, 205 yards, 2 TD; 4 catches, 26 yards, 1 TD
What was really disappointing was the "Martyball" style in which Pitt lost this game. When you play to not lose, odds are you usually lose. Stephens-Howling ran for 154 yards, but the announcers could not believe how many of those yards came in the first half. Why so surprised...UConn knew the run was coming! Pitt simply could not close this game out. It was pathetic on so many levels.
The performance by Paul Rhoads' "defense" was laughable. I no longer call this team the "Pitt Panthers". I call them the "Pitt Career High Panthers". Because it seems everyone who plays against them has a career high day. This is not a new trend...anyone remember Julius Jones' Notre Dame school record 262 yards rushing against Pitt in 2003? Or Kevin Jones' Virginia Tech school record 241 yards rushing less than a month later? Or Pat White's Big East QB single-game rushing record of 220 yards (in addition to Steve Slaton's 179 yards rushing) in the Backyard Brawl last year? How about Ray Rice's 225 yards in the Rutgers game just weeks ago? I shouldn't count that...I mean, he was 7 yards short of the school record!
So Pitt gave up not one, but TWO career days on Saturday. Hernandez had thrown for 27, 57, and 67 yards in his last three starts...against Pitt: 164 yards, 4 TDs. Hernandez's rushing stats in those games: 30 yards, 29 yards, -11 yards...against Pitt: 130 yards.
Brown has had two 100+ yard games this season. In his other five games, his totals were 8 yards, 30 yards, 29 yards, 15 yards, 23 yards...against Pitt: 205 yards.
They truly are the Pitt "Career High" Panthers. How Paul Rhoads still has a job is beyond me. He has been the one constant throughout the years of drubbing from running backs (and now QBs) from coast-to-coast.
This team just gave up 504 yards of offense to a 3-5 UConn Huskies team. It should go without saying, but at this point, the WVU and Louisville games look downright terrifying. You could see NCAA Division I records fall. And worst of all, we get a national ESPN audience on Thursday night to put this team on display.
I know you have to give a coach time to win (as I always like to point out in the Willingham-Weis Notre Dame situation), but Pitt sure makes it difficult to build any enthusiasm for their program in the interim. In the Wannstedt Era, Pitt has defeated this lineup of opponents: Cincinnati (twice), Syracuse (twice), Virginia, South Florida, Central Florida, UConn, The Citadel, Youngstown State, and Toledo. Not exactly a quality resume, to say the least. When a victory over a 4-6 Virginia team is your signature victory so far, that speaks volumes about how far your program has to go.
But now, I'd like to hear from the readers: HOW MANY POINTS WILL PITT SURRENDER IN THE NEXT TWO GAMES?

5 comments:

sshisheng said...

Good points, man is sucks to be a ...Panther footbal fan.

Cecil from Cecil Twp. said...

The Team I Have Refused to Mention Until Next August (T.I.H.R.M.U.N.A.) will surrender 120+ points combined in losses to WVU and L-Ville.

However, since the WVU and L-Ville defenses remind no one of the 1985 Bears, TIHRMUNA will lose in 61-42 fashion.

As for Paul Rhodes, do you remember the halcyon days of 2002, when he was referred to as "The Genuis?"

What a bunch of crap! This guy is clueless! You can pin 2-3 losses per season squarely on his shoulders.

Genius...

It is officially basketball season as far as I'm concerned.

Way to go Panthers - don't take no shit from Western Michigan!

Steeltown Mike said...

I was going to say 104 total points, not quite 120. Cecil has a point about there not being enough defense on either Loyvull or WVU: there won't be enough time for them to score an average of 60 points each. If both of these games were on the road, though, I'd say Pitt would give them all the time in the world with 'untimely' turnovers. Still, the next two games are going to be Ug. Lee.

Dennis said...

Rhodes' inability to make adjustments both week to week and in game are not something any coordinator in a power conference (yeah yeah the Big East is still one of them) should be able to keep his job over.

worstavid said...

How could Pitt not allow at least 110 points in these two games when they were already shredded by the vaunted UConn offense. Heck, they made their quarterback look like a reincarnation of Fran Tarkenton!