Big Lead Sports Bar

12/05/2009

HOW QUICKLY THINGS CHANGE

Not so long ago, the Pitt Panthers were 9-1, ranked in the Top 10, and looking at the possibility of a BCS bowl game and the massive payday that goes with it. A nationally-televised win against Notre Dame had Wannymania running wild. Fake mustaches were quickly replacing Polamalu wigs as the accessory of choice among Pittsburgh football fans. And just like that, it's all gone. Gone.

Saturday's loss to Cincinnati was a microcosm of Pitt's season: things look incredibly promising, and in the blink of an eye, you're wondering where and when it all went wrong. Instead of celebrating the second BCS appearance in school history, we're left wondering where to place this on the ever-growing list of crushing moments in Pittsburgh sports history.

To say this was a bad couple of days for the Pitt athletic department is the understatement of understatements. First, Foge Fazio loses his fight with cancer. A truly sad moment for Pitt Nation. Then, the Panther basketball team, so dominant for the better part of a decade, is part of the worst first half in the shot-clock era, and against New Hampshire, no less. To complete the hat trick of misery, the Panthers gifted us with a 21-point blown first half lead at home in losing the Big East Championship. After this, I may start a petition to move all championship games away from Heinz Field, because they usually don't end well (with one obvious exception).

Fingers are being pointed in all directions. Dave Wannstedt. Frank Cignetti. The refs. The holder. The secondary. The quarterback. Special teams. It's a natural reaction. When a sure thing combusts in such dramatic fashion, it's preferable to correct the problem, so it doesn't happen again. But the sheer volume of possible scapegoats should prove only that this was a team loss. It's not any one of these individuals' fault. But collectively, this is more than enough to explain how the Panthers cost themselves a conference championship, millions of dollars, and a month of national media hype. In the end, the Panthers beat themselves as much as Cincinnati beat them. With a list that long, do you really deserve to win a championship game?

I feel bad for the players. I feel bad for Dave Wannstedt. I feel bad for the school. But the fact of the matter is that Pitt was the third-best team in the Big East this season. They couldn't beat Cincinnati and they couldn't beat West Virginia. Sure, they were close games, but winning and losing is strictly black and white. There is no gray area in college football. There are no ties.

The result on Saturday might have been just a tad easier to swallow if this team wasn't so close to breaking through this season. But that just complicated things. When you look at Pitt's three losses this year, you can only shake your head in disbelief. A blown lead against NC State. One long Noel Devine run against WVU. A missed PAT against Cincinnati. Each loss was more devastating and disappointing than the next.

Pitt had numerous great moments on Saturday. Dion Lewis was mentioned in the same breath as Barry Sanders (even if it was Matt Millen doing the mentioning). Jonathan Baldwin continued to amaze the country with his knack for the big play. And Heinz Field rocked for a Pitt game like it's rarely rocked in the past. No doubt about it, this program is definitely headed in the right direction. Unfortunately for everyone emotionally involved with the Panthers, they're in the midst of some serious growing pains. After all, learning how to take the next step is no small task.

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27 comments:

Adam said...

Gotta love the Villanova hoodie in the background.

Dallas Mike said...

To borrow a line from Dennis Green, "They are who we thought they were". Mondesi summed it up very well by stating that Pitt is nothing more than the 3rd best team in the Big East. From the perspective of someone who has watched nearly every game since 1980, this game epitomized Pitt football for the last 25+ years. The Panthers simply found a way to lose. Looking at the bigger picture, what is troubling is that after 19 seasons playing in the Big East conference, this team has a lone Big East title; one that was shared 4 ways and backed into with a 4-2 record after perennial powers Miami and Virginia Tech left the conference. Conversely, Cincinnati, a one time also ran from C-USA entered the Big East in 2005 and has 2 titles and an undefeated season. Yet, people still want to be patient and give Wannstedt the time to "build the program". Are these the same people that are convinced the Pirates are just rebuilding? This season the talent level was perceived to be strong enough to warrant a preseason conferece championship prediction from the Big East media, yet this team achieved the same 9-win ceiling that got Walt Harris run out of town. It should be noted that Wannstedt is the special teams coach and made his mark coaching the defensive side of the ball, but beyond the mistakes today, what has given anyone the impression that this is the person to move Pitt beyond mediocrity? First Chicago, then Miami, now Pitt; Wannstedt's track record speaks for itself. Without Jimmy Johnson where would Dave Wannstedt be? Probably coaching Baldwin high school. But in college football, you get what you pay for and it appears that Wannstedt has recruited admirably despite the X's and O's. But after 5 seasons under his belt, the Panthers have managed a Sun Bowl birth and possibly a Meineke Car Care bid. Now that Wannstedt is responsible for the entire roster of recruits, it is time to utilize the talent and coach them up without excuses. Otherwise the same refrain of "get 'em next year" will be the rallying cry.

Someone Somewhere said...

Eh, Pitt is a few breaks from being 12-0. I know that's not the case, and maybe superior coaching would have them at 12-0...but they are a whole hell of a lot closer than they were even 2 years ago with another stud freshman tailback. Then, there was optimism about a 5-freaking-win season just because they outplayed WVU (but also because their kicker missed a few kicks...back to that bad break thing I was talking about). Sure it sucks to lose those last two, but it's also pretty encouraging when your losses are by 7, 3 and 1 point(s). No one has been or will be able to slow down Cincinnati this year. Pike was 22/44 and doubled his interception total today. Not many teams go undefeated or even have 1 loss...9-3 isn't so bad.

BurressWithButterflyWings said...

Special Teams was awful, the defense couldn't make any stops, and the Big East got their undefeated team with the same tactics they employed in 2007.

All in all, Marty Gillyard was the difference in this game. But some of the people on here can't tell me that the officials didn't do their best to insure Cinci was going to win. The PI in the end zone of their first TD was a joke considering the ball bounced twice. The PF on the Cinci WR when he was 3 of 4 yards from the sideline was another joke, and then a PF on DeCicco was another joke call to give Cinci another 1st and Goal. Yet when Lewis was tackled by his facemask and a flag was thrown, they had a nice little conference to decide that picking it up was better for the outcome.

BURGH08 said...

This is also a type of game you can't just 'point fingers' at one facet. That said, I'll be happy to have Bill Stull play one more game in a Pitt uniform and watch him go on to a great career in social work. Or volunteer high school coaching. Or a sweat shop that writes '330' on eyeblack patches.

Give him credit for improving his game enough to help this team through the season, but in the big games 'Rudy' gets exposed.

Cecil from Cecil Twp. said...

No one but defensive coaches ever talk about what happens when a defensive player drops an interception.

Gruder (#55) lets a deflected ball go right through his arms on Cincy's second drive. The result = 3 points.

Berry (#17), one of the worst CB's to ever strap on a helmet, allows a ball to go right through his arms two plays before a Cincy TD in the fourth qtr. The result = 8 points (got the 2-pointer).

How about the "Holley Drive?" That kid starts by hitting a ballcarrier who ran out of bounds, lines up offsides on a play that would have caused a 3rd and goal from the 2yd line, and then covers NO ONE on the 2-point play.

I don't blame Wanny. Wanny didn't miss tackle after tackle in kick coverage. He didn'tmake the mistakes of Berry or Holley. He put a good team on the field that failed to execute at a few critical points.

HipHopLaw.com said...

Pitt didn't actually lose any money by losing the game, as the post states. Big East schools put their bowl earnings into a pot and divide them evenly among each program.

the nigerian nightmare said...

The bitching about the PF's is unreal. DiCicco's hit was clearly helmet on helmet. The late hit that I've heard so many Pitt fans claim was '3 yards in bounds' is ridiculous as well. Watch the replay, not the Heinz Field replay, the TV replay. He was clearly out of bounds. Was it close? Yes. Could it have not been called? Yes. Was he still hit out of bounds? Yes.

ashamanajsv said...

From a Michigan State fan, I'll tell you right now, y'all need to immediately lay off the close-loss moral victory crap. After three years of .500 football with only three losses of more than a touchdown, I assure you, this stuff gets old. The steelers' losses this year aren't helping either.

johnny said...

HipHopLaw,

You are incorrect. The game cost them millions. Money is pooled, but the teams with the better bowl games (BCS, and to a lesser extent Gator/Sun) get a greater share.

Nigerian Nightmare is correct on his grander point. Blaming the refs or saying that a screwjob was on is bullcrap.

Pitt blew a 21 point lead, the secondary got scorched and defense couldn't get off the field when it mattered, Dion played great, but probably had should have been spelled more for Graham in the 3rd and early 4th quarter, the passing game consisted of Cig saying, "F*ck it. We'll chuck the ball downfield to Baldwin." And, the special teams gave up nearly 300 yards in returns.

That's what lost the game.

ernie mccrackens said...
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Dan said...

johnny,

The money is paid out evenly to all big east teams after travel expenses are paid out.

As for the game, I never felt like we going to lose the whole time. It's heartbreaking. But they lost to a great team at least.

jmarinara said...

Last year, Pitt came out flat against Bowling Green, had an awful day against Rutgers, and simply was beat by a better Cincy. I tip my cap, those were clean wins.

Pitt walked into North Carolina and got exposed. They didn't play well, NC State played just good enough. I tip my cap. Clean win for them. WVU showed up and Pitt didn't. I tip my cap to them, it was clean win.

But when you are calling a PI on a ball clearly over thrown and out of bounds . . . when you are calling a DEAD BALL PF late hit on an incomplete pass that hadn't hit the ground yet . . . when you are calling a late hit on Pitt for hitting a guy as he was going out of bounds, but not against cincy in the same situation . . .when Dion Lewis is wearing his helmet backwards, you throw the flag, and then pick it up. . .

Well then, you are a bad officiating crew.

I don't know if there is a Big East conspiracy, or if they just had a bad day. But the fact that the officials made the difference in that game is absolutely undeniable.

For every mistake Pitt made, Cincy evened the score with a mistake of their own. We both missed extra points. We gave up big return yardage, but they let Dion Lewis rack up 194 freakin' yards, most of which came after it was clear the Panthers were going to ride the Dion Lewis train that whole game. In my opinion, it was the most evenly played game I have seen in a long time, and the score shows that.

Something had to make the difference, and the only place were Cincy had a distinct advantage was they got some very questionable calls.

For me, what makes this loss the most heartbreaking, the most crushing defeat in Pitt Football history is the fact that they played well enough to win and deserved to win, yet didn't because of things beyond their control.

Also, you cincy fans are bigger a-holes than WVU fans. I was at this years backyard brawl and you people might be have less class than those backward redneck morons. That is saying something. The taunting after the game, the chanting in our stadium parking lots, the making fun of players and Pitt fans. When you're in someone else's stadium, come quietly, cheer for your team, leave quietly. Don't act like a bunch of west virginia-like douche bags.

I want the Bearcats head on a platter next year. I want them more than I want WVU, PSU, and Notre Dame. I want to wipe the field with them and prove to their typical Cincinnati moronic fans what a fraud this team is. Bring it on.

Before 45-44 (which is what this game will forever be referred to as) it was laughable and clearly a media fabrication that this was a rivalry. Not anymore. This isn't over Bearcats, Pitt is going to remember this. Underclassmen like Baldwin, Grahm, and Lewis are going to remember this loss, remember how your fans acted, remember how you were gift wrapped a win by refs. You better bring a lunch next year.

And as a fan, I can't wait. 2010 is payback. I'm looking at you too WVU.

jmarinara said...
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jmarinara said...
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Clint Pitts said...

And obsession with a university that hasn't played you in 9 years defines part of yours. No one even brought up PSU here. There's no reason to because this column was about a huge game for Pitt football team and we haven't played in 2 weeks.

Every fan base has a piece that whines and blames something when their team doesn't reach expectations just like is going on with you guys right now, the same way we did after Iowa, OSU and undefeated years when we didn't get any hardware. It's not just PSU fans.

I wish PSU could have played Nebraska in 1994 but I wasn't alive for any of the other controversies so I really don't care. If I had a dartboard, I would probably go with Ray Lewis or Brutus Buckeye.

jmarinara said...

Good point Clint. . . I'm just mad, I guess, for the reasons I detailed in my first comment.

I thought I was reading snide comments above from PSU fans gloating, but upon further review, that might have been a large assumption. It didn't help that Adam was the first to comment. (No offense Adam)

Clint, you and the rest of PSU nation have my apologies. You are right about this not really involving you guys, and I was wrong to make such a comment. I'll delete my comment.

Good luck in your bowl game.

Clint Pitts said...

No problem. I just hope we don't get a BCS game tonight. We don't deserve it. I wish we could play because I think we're pretty even but it looks like LSU.

Amazing that so many points got scored on a terrible field and Dion Lewis proved he can be a feature back at the pro level in a few years.

the nigerian nightmare said...

I'll gladly take the Captial One for PSU Clint......as you said we obviously did not deserve a BCS bowl. Also, I love the matchup against LSU. It's really a no-lose situation for us. Everyone expects LSU to blow us out, and if we lose its just the same old Big 10 sucks stuff we've been hearing the last few years. If we pull out a win though, that's a huge win for the program over a very good team that 2/3 of their losses came against the #1 and #2 teams in the country (at the time).

Adam said...

jmarinara,
I wasn't being "snide" in my first comment, nor was I "gloating". I just got a kick out of the irony in the 'nove hoodie in the background.

Adam said...

And to all you Pitt fans,
Come back from the ledge. This wasn't Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. It was the Big East Championship. Whoopdeedoo. Penn State lost the Big 10 championship when we lost to Ohio St., and I don't consider that nearly the unmitigated disaster Game 7 or some of the AFC title losses were.

And even if Pitt had won, what would they have? A trophy and a trip to New Orleans to get destroyed by an angry Tebow. And even if Pitt did manage to beat Tebow, would it really feel like if the Bucs had won the NLCS or if the Steelers had played in the Super Bowl some of those years?

I don't think so.

BCS bowls are "bigger" because the networks like to play them up, but as a Penn State fan, I'm more excited for our Capital One matchup than I would have been to play Georgia Tech in the Orange.

Don't cry to hard, and I don't say that in a sarcastic way. The BCS isn't that big a deal.

johnny said...

@Adam,

I answer your rhetorical questions in the affirmative. While I have a rooting interest in pro Pittsburgh teams, my bond to my alma mater, where I spent years living and countless hours, learning, and generally developing as a human being, means more.

I'm sure not all alumni feel this way, but this one does.

So, yes, the Sugar Bowl would have meant more than another Super Bowl.

That said, I'm not ready to jump off the ledge or anything. Just saying that it would have meant a lot to me and I hope that we get to that proverbial "next level" sooner rather than later.

the nigerian nightmare said...

I agree with Johnny. As we all know I am no Pitt supporter, but I would parallel the would've been Pitt/UF matchup with the points I made on the PSU/LSU matchup. Everyone would've expected UF to romp all over Pitt, so if they lost no big deal. But if Pitt would've pulled off that upset, I can't even fathom how big of a victory that win would be for their program (obviously a much bigger win than a potential PSU upset of LSU would be). So really this loss stings in that it took away would could've been a top 5 all-time program victory if not arguably their biggest win in school history. Actually I'd like to hear Pitt fan reaction on that last statement. If Pitt had gone to the Sugar Bowl and upset UF, would you consider it the biggest single win in Pitt football history? I know they have NC's under their belt, but those are more full season victories (especially pre-BCS era).

Adam said...

First Johnny,
I guess I understand where you're coming from but to me, this Sugar Bowl isn't THAT Sugar Bowl, if you know what I mean.

The 1977, 1980, 1981, 1991, and 1996 Fiesta Bowls just aren't what the 1986 Fiesta Bowl is to us Penn State fans, and I think the same would have been true had we made the Fiesta Bowl this year. Would it have been nice? I suppose, but missing out on it doesn't really hurt too much because there isn't a national championship on the line.

I guess it's more about Pitt getting to the "next level", like you said, but perhaps they need to master the one they're at first? If I'm a Pitt fan, I'm just happy to string together any bowl wins I can get, and I don't get that sense from the fan base. Is the Meineke Car Care Bowl sexy? No, but it's a bowl, and it's a chance to end the season on a winning note and tell a recruit "we've got this thing going in the right direction".

NN,
Pitt, like Penn State, has won a National Championship. No BCS win will ever be bigger than that IMO. If Penn State had played the Tebows and beat them, it'd have been a big win I suppose, but...I'm not THAT worked up about it I suppose.

Steve said...

Ahh, and this is exactly why I don't watch college football. Maybe some of you who watch all the time are blind to it -- like NBA faithful who never see the travel calls that would happen ever 10 seconds in a game called by the rule book -- but the officiating in college football is obviously crooked and I'm not even talking about the no-face mask call. I'm sorry, I mean the call and then no call. Only in college football do you see flags come flying out "after" the play. Maybe I'm wrong and it's fixed in the pros too and they just do a better job of making it less obvious.

Louis Lipps is my homeboy said...

Wow, a guy in a Villanova hoodie hangs out with Bearcat fans.

Representatives from both kicks to the testicles that the Panthers have received in the last year.

Cecil from Cecil Twp. said...

Lou - how you been?