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September 1, 2008

So Pitt piled up 393 yards yards of offense and held BGSU to 254 and lost. That gives Wannstedt the excuse that the turnovers were what did Pitt in. That’s a load of crap.

142 of Pitt’s total yards were in the 1st quarter. Pitt had 0 turnovers. They failed to capitalize on a BGSU turnover inside the BGSU 40 — 3 yards and a punt from the 34. Pitt also punted from the BGSU 35 when a drive stalled out.

Pitt finished a drive started just before the end of the 1st quarter with a TD. That was an additional 36 yards. So Pitt had 178 of their 393 total yards on offense in the first 19 minutes of the game and had 14 points to show for it.

As for the Pitt defense that held the “high powered” Falcons to only 254 yards. Of course the Falcons were lacking their starting tailback, who was suspended for the game, but that’s just quibbling. The numbers, though are skewed by a strong 1st quarter by the defense where BGSU was held to only 6 yards. That means BG had 248 yards the next 3 quarters to Pitt’s 251.

Pitt’s offense simply struggled against a less than solid BGSU defense. Delude yourself any way you want, but Pitt’s offense never was proactive. The playcalling was predictable and poorly executed. It panicked, but it sure wasn’t able to dictate anything.

In the second quarter, Pitt had it’s first turnover. At the BG 48. BG went 52 yards and scored to tie the game. BGSU had 125 yards of offense that quarter on just two drives.

Pitt had dominated time of possession nearly 2-1 in the first half (19:51 to 10:09). They had a yardage advantage of 234 to 131. Turnovers were equal. The score, however, was only 17-14 Pitt.

Here’s something that stood out in the 2nd quarter and continued into the 3d quarter. The Pitt defense let BGSU go 7-11 on 3d downs and 1-1 on 4th downs. Any shock that BGSU scored 20 points in those two quarters? The Pitt defense just could not get off the field.

As someone who cheered when Rhoads left, and argued that yards alone don’t tell the whole story, this game was more of the same. New DC Phil Bennett has preached the need to create turnovers. Pitt’s defense had at least two balls bounce out of their arms. BGSU actually put the ball on the turf two additional times but recovered their own mistakes. So, yeah, there are plenty of problems still on the defense.

I said before this season started that the time for excuses was done. That there could no longer be the inexcusable losses. You know what, it seems even the beat writers feel that way.

Enough with the excuses.

Pitt got outcoached and outplayed by Bowling Green Saturday. It’s that simple. Point the finger at who you will, whether it’s the coaches or the players, but it doesn’t change the final score:

Bowling Green 27, Pitt 17.

I can pinpoint pivotal plays in the game, which I’ll get to later, but this game was an obvious sign that Dave Wannstedt’s football philosophies aren’t in tune with the college game. With all due respect to Bowling Green, the Panthers were outmaneuvered by an inferior opponent.

The excuses from last year don’t even apply when Pitt’s experience was supposed to be one of the reasons they would be better.

It was the kind of offensive output that plagued the Panthers last season — but last season they had to play two freshmen quarterbacks.

That wasn’t the case Saturday, yet the offensive game plan was every bit as conservative as many last year, lacked imagination and, most importantly, failed to put any pressure on the Falcons’ defense.

For instance, the most explosive receiver in Pitt training camp was freshman Jonathan Baldwin, and he showed that again Saturday when he blew past the Falcons’ defense on a deep pass.

But Baldwin played sparingly and had only one other ball thrown his way.

Then there was Greg Cross, the athletic junior-college quarterback who was recruited to pump some life into the offense and be a change-of-pace player. He had a package of plays drawn up for him and is an exciting player and was expected to contribute.

Cross, and his spread-formation package, stayed on the sideline the entire game.

And McCoy, who clearly wasn’t on his game, rushed 23 times for 71 yards and also had a critical fumble. McCoy was replaced early in the game by LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is quicker, and Stephens-Howling produced 71 yards on only seven carries — but he only had one carry after the half.

But beyond the players, Panthers offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh didn’t have a great day either, as the offense was too predictable and didn’t take many shots down the field. That’s especially questionable play-calling considering Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon admitted they basically were daring the Panthers to throw the ball over the defense the entire game.

What does that say when beat writers who depend on access to do the stories seem willing to suggest there is some real frustration about Coach Wannstedt after only one game?

After calling Wannstedt “our coach” at Big East media day July 29, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson was silent Sunday. Pederson didn’t return phone calls seeking comment a day after No. 25 Pitt lost to Bowling Green, 27-17, at Heinz Field.

Wannstedt also is in danger of losing support from his players.

Whether it was a sign of disappointment or dissension, only LeSean McCoy knows. But the Pitt star sophomore tailback placed his displeasure with the way the Panthers ended the first half squarely on Wannstedt.

“We stick with our coach,” McCoy said when asked about Wannstedt’s decision to let about eight seconds tick away before calling a timeout to kick a field goal for a 17-14 halftime lead. “Whatever our coach calls, we try to execute. It would have been nice for us to get a touchdown, but we followed our leader, you know?”

What remains to be seen is whether the Panthers will continue to follow Wannstedt. The coach now returns to the hot seat after being rewarded with a three-year contract extension through 2012 last Dec. 1, hours before the Panthers stunned then-No. 2 West Virginia, 13-9.

There’s a bit of the conventional wisdom from Gorman that Pederson would be proactive on coaching changes, but I already made that counterpoint. And sure enough, Pederson is giving the always valuable “vote of confidence” in Wannstedt.

After previously saying Wannstedt had finally figured out the college game, it was back to basics.

Twice, the Panthers were inside the Falcons 35 facing a fourth down, and, on both occasions, Wannstedt chose to punt instead of go for it.

Then, the Panthers drove to the Falcons’ 20 with 37 seconds to play in the first half — and played for a field goal despite having two timeouts left (they used one to stop the clock after getting the first down).

Pitt then threw a short pass on first down, ran up the middle (setting up the field goal) for 1-yard on second and allowed 27 seconds to tick off the clock before Wannstedt called the final timeout and sent out Conor Lee to kick a field goal on third down as time expired, giving the Panthers a 17-14 lead.

Wannstedt explained that the play calling before the half was necessitated by the fact that he didn’t want the Panthers to make a mistake — throw an interception, take a sack, fumble the ball — and squander the opportunity for three points.

And, as for why he didn’t go for it at least once on fourth down, Wannstedt basically reverted to his time in the NFL and brought up the field-position game.

Even if Pitt goes 7-5, it won’t cut it this year for the fans. It means there was at least one more season with an inexcusable loss. The knock on Walt Harris as head coach was that he only beat the teams he should — and only rarely pulled the big win. Wannstedt, with one exception, has struggled with winning the ones he should.

Media Recap: BGSU-Pitt

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Wannstedt — Chas @ 12:47 am

There is only one way I know how to cope with this kind of disappointment. Bitter, caustic sarcasm.

Hey, I know you are expecting nothing but sky is falling stories for Pitt after the opening game. Well, I found one article that didn’t treat the game as a complete and utter debacle for Pitt.

Oh, wait, they were for the Falcons.

Not receiving much positive news lately, BG decided to create some for itself by dispatching nationally ranked Pittsburgh in the season opener yesterday at Heinz Field. The program’s on-field reputation was restored in a stunning 27-17 win, its first over a ranked opponent in five years.

“That bowl loss lingered,” BG coach Gregg Brandon said of Tulsa’s 56-point cake walk in the GMAC Bowl. “I get asked about that to this day. That’s done – I hope. That’s eight months of getting told we’re no good and we didn’t deserve to be there. To win on the road against a BCS program, I don’t care who it is in our league, it’s big.”

Brandon was understandably fired up. His team was supposed to lose by two touchdowns and was supposed to be too small to compete with the big boys. Basically, it was supposed to be a pay day, where his team gets beat, but his program benefits financially.

“Our kids relish these games,” Brandon said. “They thrive on being the underdogs and going on the road and having people jeering them in the pregame and telling them they can’t do this and they can’t do that. That’s the wrong thing to say to these guys.”

Because of Pitt’s No. 25 ranking, this was technically an upset. But was it really an upset? That will be determined in the upcoming weeks.

Oh, good god, even the pro-BGSU folk are essentially saying “over — {clap, clap} — rated” to Pitt. Unfortunately, there is no way to rebut it at this point.

But, hey, everyone feels bad.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed our football team is considering how much work and effort was put into the start of the season,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “I thought our players came out ready to play. But working hard just gives you a chance to win. It doesn’t guarantee anything.”

A strong crowd of 45,063 were on hand to see what the buzz surrounding the Pitt football program was all about.

And about that sight.

Once and for all, guys, this ain’t the NFL. It isn’t a field-position game, where any drive that ends with a kick is cause for celebration. It’s a scoring contest.

Twice in the first quarter, the Panthers punted from Bowling Green territory — once on fourth-and-7 from the 34; once on fourth-and-5 from the 35.

Wannstedt said he considered going for it both times but chose to punt because “we were playing the field-position game.”

That’s nice, but I’m guessing a lot of those first-time visitors to Heinz Field — the ones with the cut-rate season-ticket vouchers in their hands — were there to see a football game, not a field-position game.

So, um, is there any way to spin this positive?

Skulking away from a crypt of a locker room in their gray T-shirts with PROVE IT printed on the back, the Pitt Panthers had to marvel at what a short road it is from high expectations to low comedy.

In the moments after their humiliating, season-opening loss to Bowling Green of the Mac & Cheese Conference yesterday, a handful of standard issue explanations were proffered by Pitt coach Hot Seat Dave Wannstedt, but there was no point in oversimplifying anything.

Pitt stinks.

It’s not even September and already this team needs a new slogan for its laundry: DISPROVE IT.

I’m going to take that as a no.

Well, it’s symbolic of a new era at least.

The beginning of the end of the Dave Wannstedt era at Pitt may have taken place this afternoon at Heinz Field as Mid-American Conference opponent Bowling Green upset No. 25 Pitt, 27-17, before a crowd of 45,063.

Hmm. Maybe I should rephrase that. You know at least the coaching staff has changed the way they do things.

Boos rained on the Panthers as they left the field because Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh let most of the final 30 seconds run off the clock while playing for that field goal rather than going for a touchdown.

“We felt like we wanted points and we wanted to go in and feel good about it,” Wannstedt said. “We didn’t want to take a chance for a sack and we didn’t want to take a chance on a turnover, and I think any time you are in that situation and you have a chance to get three points you take the three points because, if you take a chance and throw a pass and it gets deflected or you turn it over or you take a sack, now you are not giving your team a chance to win.

“That was my thinking.”

Wait, the coaching staff was thinking?

“We felt like we were doing what we had to do to win the game,” said Wannstedt, who twice elected to punt from Bowling Green’s 35 in the first quarter. “Then, we made some mistakes. They gave us some unusual formations, which we knew they would do. We had a tough time adjusting. That was the difference in the game.”

The coaches knew they were going to change things up, but despite knowing about it couldn’t adjust to it. Apparently thinking means something different for the Pitt coaching staff than most normal people.

But you know, at least Coach Wannstedt is ready to acknowledge that the preparation was a problem and that the buck stops with him.

“I thought right before half that fumble really hurt us,” Wannstedt said. “Instead of being up, they got the ball back and scored to tie the game.”

Even a potential turnover hindered Pitt’s scoring output. With 34 seconds left in the first half, Pitt was facing third-and-9 from the Bowling Green 19-yard line.

Wannstedt elected to let the clock run down to 3 seconds and attempt a field goal rather than try for either a first down or a touchdown. He said after the game he wanted to come away with at least some points rather than commit a turnover or give up a sack.

Early in the fourth quarter, Cedric McGee tried to stretch out extra yardage after a catch early in the fourth quarter, but Kenny Lewis ripped the ball out and recovered the fumble. Lewis picked up the ball and returned it 65 yards for an apparent touchdown, but officials said the whistle had blown.

Pitt stopped the Falcons on the drive and regained possession on the ensuing punt,but Antonio Smith sacked Bill Stull and forced a fumble which Angelo Magnone recovered.

Two plays later, Tyler Sheehan sauntered untouched into the end zone on a quarterback keeper to give Bowling Green the lead for good.

“It was Bill Stull’s first full game and he was put in some bad situations,” Wannstedt said. “His inexperience showed some today and there’s not anything anybody can do about that.”

Oh. Yeah. Coaching. Game prep. Adjustments. Totally irrelevant. Nothing that could be done.

F is for Fifty-one. The number of pass attempts by Bill Stull, Pitt QB, in the loss to Bowling Green. LeSean McCoy looked bad in the second quarter, but of all the damning accusations to hurl Pitt’s way, the abandonment of the run in a tight game might be worst. Or, alternately, you could say this: Dave Wannstedt is your coach, and when you’re facing a crucial 3rd and 2, he will call a pass play, which will be incomplete, and then punt.

And you know the media is not backing away from actually believing things are different.

Look Inside >>
August 31, 2008

Well, at least it takes the pressure off of the rest of the season.

Can Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt blow it in the first week? The Panthers, a popular choice to be one of the most improved teams in the country, trailed Bowling Green 20-17 going into the fourth quarter. The Falcons are the favorites to win the MAC East. I expected Pitt’s defense to struggle against Bowling Green’s spread offense, especially after defensive coordinator Paul Rhoades left for Auburn. But the Falcons only had 245 yards of offense in the first three quarters. Pitt’s offense only mustered 290 yards offense, with star tailback LeSean McCoy gaining only 55 yards on his first 20 carries.

At least next week?

At Pittsburgh, the Panthers lost to Bowling Green 27-17 after spotting the Falcons a 14-0 lead. It is the Panthers’ ninth upset loss in coach Dave Wannstedt’s four seasons. Pitt’s game Saturday against Buffalo, like Bowling Green a contender in the Mid-American Conference, carries more import than it did before Saturday.

Thank goodness, Coach Wannstedt thrives under pressure. Why look how he had the team ready to meet the pressure and expectations to start the seas– oh, wait.

Well, at least Pitt still can say they didn’t truly dash expectations, hopes and dreams the way Clemson had theirs dashed.

How bad was it? Let’s just say Tommy Bowden wishes he were Rich Rodriguez or Dave Wannstedt right now.

Well, actually I’ll take that bet. Tommy’s got $2 million per and at least he’s likely to win more games than losing this year.

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