On Thursday night, the Steelers lost their opening-month quarterback to a knee injury and the Pitt Panthers lost in excruciating, overtime fashion after a ferocious comeback at Utah. I don't think Debbie Downer herself could've written a more upsetting script for the Pittsburgh sports fan.
Friday-morning quarterbacks are all giving their two cents on why the Panthers lost, trying to put a face to the defeat. The leading candidates seem to be (drum roll...) the coaching staff, a familiar target in the aftermath of a Pitt loss. That being said, the Panthers were much too conservative in digging a 24-13 fourth quarter hole that could have (and should have) been much worse if not for the Utes shooting themselves in the foot.
Dion Lewis was running right into a waiting defense for most of the evening, and was held to a measly three yards per carry on 25 totes of the rock. Jon Baldwin touched the ball only five times, one of them a critical 44-yard touchdown reception. Cam Saddler was limited to three touches. As you can see, I'm not exactly thrilled with the distribution of the ball on offense. But Tino Sunseri can only run what Frank Cignetti tells him to run, which is why he was in the hated Game Manager mode until quarter four. He didn't grow up in that quarter, which is what most people are saying; he was merely allowed to finally do his job.
While it would've been nice for the Panthers to pull this one out, they were equally deserving of the loss. They were sloppy, with 12 penalties, a lost fumble, and Sunseri's back-breaking INT in overtime. Their pass defense was tortured by DeVonte Christopher, who had a line of 8-155-1, and Jereme Brooks (5-87-2). The Pitt O-line could not open up anything for their running backs, who were held to 82 yards on 36 carries (2.3 per). And the offense clearly did not take advantage of Utah's three turnovers like they should have.
All the miscues aside, which were sort of expected with this being their first game, the Panthers still showed me enough to think they will be a very good team in 2010. Don't forget the atmosphere in which this game was played: long road trip to a different time zone/altitude, very good opponent, tough place to play, hostile crowd, new QB, no Ray Graham...this is not going to be the standard situation for your average Big East contest. I think the Panthers will be just fine with a few tweaks and a little more experience, so don't everyone jump off the bandwagon just yet.
A few notes:
-Next week, Pitt hosts New Hampshire at Heinz Field, with gametime set for 1 PM. The Wildcats were 10-3 last season.
-Pitt had a throng of fans at an outdoor game-watching party at the Pete, but my goodness, did Versus go overboard in their cuts back to Pittsburgh! Did we get a final count for the evening? I think it approached 5,000.
-Does anyone enjoy the icing-the-kicker timeout? Can we please get rid of that rule at the pro and college level already?
-Anyone else enjoy the irony of a guy named Shaky Smithson fumbling twice?
-Image of the night: Versus analyst Eric Crouch's hair
Mondesi's House: The Director's Cut (more links, commentary, etc): twitter.com/mondesishouse