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September 4, 2010

In Rearview: Pitt-Utah

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Tactics — Chas @ 1:03 pm

Spent most of yesterday running errands and all things to clear Saturday for watching mis-matched football games.

It also meant being a little late to review what happened Thursday night. Since the media stuff is a bit stale, I’ll skip most of it.

By all means, be sure to read over the Zeise posts from after the game. Very informative from the view of someone who could see more of the field.

While I was pleasantly surprised with Vs. for actually having decent HD cameras for the game, there was a lot that wasn’t seen because of the the camera angles. To say nothing of the game calling.

I realize, my attention can be split from the liveblog, but I don’t recall word one about Dom DeCicco being out of the game and a re-aggravated groin pull (though, I don’t really recall much in the week leading up to the game about DeCicco having a groin issue). That does explain — at least a little — some of the struggles in the secondary.

Really, sideline reporters are generally useless, but Vs. took it to a new level by not eve bothering to use Soto to mention this. I now live in great fear that come the next Big East contract, Vs. will come in with the winning bid to get the rights to the games.

The box score reflects just the strangeness, very uneven play on both sides of the ball, and flat out missed opportunities.

Consider the Panthers forced three turnovers and blocked a punt inside the Utes’ 10 but scored only 10 points from them. The Panthers also had 23 plays in the red zone but scored two touchdowns and settled for three field goals — including one at the end of regulation when, trailing by three, they drove to the Utes’ 13 and then had to kick a tying field goal that forced overtime.

And perhaps most troublesome is that Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt admitted the Panthers played for the tie instead the win by never taking one more shot into the end zone on the last possession in regulation.

The critical decision and play came on third-and-10 from the Utah 14, Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri handed off to Dion Lewis, who ran for a yard and set up Dan Hutchins’ tying, 30-yard field goal.

And no, I’m not buying Coach Wannstedt’s excuse that the play was called because they thought Utah would blitz.

— Pitt dominated time of possession: 34:06 to 25:54.

— Outgained 405 to 266 and it happened in both passing and running.

— Created more turnovers than Utah 3-2, plus a blocked punt.

— Penalties were fairly even, Pitt 11-75 and Utah 12-99, reflecting some of the overall sloppiness.

Chris Gates sees the loss and missed opportunities as a reflection of too much conservative play-calling for most of the game. If that’s so, then prepare for more frustration, because I think the sad thing with the interception thrown by Sunseri at the start of OT only reinforced in Coach Wannstedt’s mind that you don’t take chances that close to the endzone.

I don’t think Coach Wannstedt and OC Cignetti were wrong to start slowly. They came out and had a couple short throws that were easy and could help Sunseri get over any jitters on the road. I think they definitely waited too long to open things up.

It was fairly obvious before the 1st quarter even ended that the running game was going to struggle. Between a defense stacked against the run and an O-line that was as soft inside as feared, Pitt needed to look downfield.

Instead, through three quarters, Pitt only had 14 passing attempts. In the 4th quarter, when there was no choice Pitt threw 13 times. That can’t happen. Not for most offenses. Especially not with an offense that has this kind of O-line.

It’s no wonder that the Utah papers were happily pumping the defense and pushing the fact that Dion Lewis was held in check by the Utes’ defense. Credit to them for not being completely deluded.

Utah’s defense and Pittsburgh’s inability to attack with balance made Dion Lewis look like an ordinary running back — not a Heisman Trophy candidate — on Thursday night.

Which was far more honest than Coach Wannstedt was.

“We were struggling a little bit early throwing the ball, and we know we have to balanced,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.

“… Every week they are going to make it very difficult on Dion. We just have to find a way, which we did in the second half, to make some plays in the passing game and balance it out.”

If by “we” you mean the coaches calling passing plays a little more than on 3d and long, then yes, “we” do.

Then there is the linebacking corp. As usual with a new position coach, there was raving about Bernard Clark. His energy, passion and all that. Unfortunately the way the linebackers actually played. Well

The linebackers had a mostly forgettable night The same kind of pass-coverage problems surfaced at times last season (the North Carolina State and Cincinnati games were obvious ones), and coverage problems popped up Thursday night as the Utes used a variety of short crossing routes and other underneath patterns to force the Panthers’ linebackers to cover, and they could not do it.

The Panthers’ linebackers are very good when they face traditional pro-style offenses but have been exposed by some spread offenses — such as Utah’s — and there are plenty of such offenses left on the schedule

I think I am more okay with the O-line struggles — they are expected and new — as opposed to the linebackers. They were supposed to have improved. More experience, etc.

I don’t want to seem as if I’m putting this all on the coaches. The players still have to make plays. They made the mistakes. They missed the opportunities. The coaches just did not do their best to put the players in the best position to win at times.

The players are staying together and no early finger-pointing.

“We faced adversity, and we responded,” Sunseri said. “We were able to put some points on the board. … We’ve just got to take this game and learn from it. It’s a tough loss right now. We’ve just got to be able to bounce back.”

Sunseri completed 16 of 28 attempts for 184 yards, one touchdown and one interception. They were respectable numbers for a quarterback making his first start in such a tough setting — Utah won its 18th consecutive home game.

“Tino did a great job,” said wide receiver Jon Baldwin, who caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. “Everybody was nervous, playing in a great atmosphere. You can’t say (anything bad) about how Tino played in the first half because everybody was playing the same way.”

Both teams did enough to win or lose. It wasn’t pretty by the end for either team. In the end, Utah did just a little bit more, so the last word goes to Utah.

“Hope you got your money’s worth,” Whittingham said about the dramatic finish. “Bottom line, we made one more play than the Pitt Panthers tonight.”

And you give the Utes credit for protecting things at home and ultimately having the win.

Wanny’s worst nightmare is to beat a team by more than about 4 points. His whole goal in life is that the game is close at the end of the game. Doesn’t matter if we are playing a high school. That’s why win or lose, all our games are close. He has got to be one of the worst college game day coaches ever. So congrats, Wanny. We had a chance to win the game in the 4th quarter, and that’s all that really matters.

Comment by Jon C 09.04.10 @ 1:42 pm

I agree- I think it’s pathetic how this clown plays to tie or plays to not lose. He has no faith in his players at all- and he has shown that repeatedly. It’s a slap in the face to these guys. It’s really sad to see- these guys deserve better than to have a coach with no respect for his own players

Comment by Dan35 09.04.10 @ 1:51 pm

You guys are both spot on, but so long as the recruits keep coming and he sells tickets, be prepared for the Earl Bruce era at Pitt (at Ohio State they called him ” ‘ol 8 and 3 Earl”. I guess Zeise is right, we need to get used to him because he is not about to change and he will get you 10 wins every now and then (unless he plays Brian Kelly or any other game day coach more than once a year).

Comment by wally 09.04.10 @ 2:06 pm

Tino was the proverbial deer in the headlights throughout the 1st half and every time Pitt approached the 10 yard line. In fact, people seem to forget how stymied he became in theries after the blovked punt. Also, in the play before the conservatibe handoff play to lewis, Tino threew the ball in the ground towards what appeared to an open Lewis on the sidelines.

Therfore, I refuse to make much out of the conservative call, and even think it was a prudent one. On the the 3rd down play, if you are not going to throw it in the endzone or near the goal line, then you mayas well hand it off .. and a throw into the endzone just may have been a little too risky who hadn’t made one positive play from that spot on the field in several previous tries.

Having said all of this, I believe Tino will do just fine as a game manager, and may even step up to win a game i necessary later in the season.

Comment by wbb 09.04.10 @ 2:09 pm

I base my comments not just on Thursday’s game, but every game where we play a team that we are better than but not superior to. WVU last year is a good example. Don’t try to score unless you absolutely have to. There is a reason Wanny has so many 4th quarter comebacks. He doesn’t try to score unless it is absolutely necessary.

Comment by Jon C 09.04.10 @ 3:14 pm

I thought Pitt made a spirited second half comeback and we should give credit to them for it. When Pitt loses, it is always Wanny’s fault in our eyes.
I am here to tell you that aside from playing for the tie (which JoPa would have done every time)Wanny cannot throw to, block or tackle anyone. The stats bear out the fact that Pitt appeared to be the better team on the field but had Pitt opened up in the first half, and Tino throws 1 or 2 picks or we have to punt from deep in our territory, the game would have been over by halftime. My greatest disappointment is the defensive line which got outplayed all night and not a single throw to Baldwin in the end zone.

Comment by Dan 72 09.04.10 @ 3:33 pm

Starting walkons on the “O” and “D” lines look like recruiting failures to me.

Comment by alcofan 09.04.10 @ 4:01 pm

Funny thing, if Coach goes for the endzone on the last drive and the pass is picked, I can hear the brew ha ha over how he should have played for the FG. (on the road) LOL
For some people whatever Coach does, he’s wrong. I think we all know what a great job Coach Wannstedt has done in promoting & recruiting for a place he loves. And he has PITT in a position to compete and win in EVERY game. That could not be said a few short years ago. I was frustrated as anyone with the loss, as I’ve seen many of them since the very frustrating Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State in 1984. Coach didn’t miss the first quarter FG attempt. Coach didn’t throw the pick on the first play of OT. (dreadful decision on first down, just throw the ball out of bounds or only where Shanahan could catch it). Utah outgained PITT 405 yards to 266(that is a substantial margin) and it seemed like Utah had PITT’s D on their heels most of the game. So in actuality, Coach put us in a position to win the game at the end when we had no right based on the stats and the flow of the game(24-13 with 8:21 left) to be even close. We got a blown coverage from Utah’s D on the 44 yd TD pass to Baldwin to cut it to 24-21(and Tino almost blew that) And we scored our only other TD after Utah fumbled a punt on the Utah 28. That’s a 28 yard drive folks after a turnover. We only averaged 2.3 yards per rushing attempt. That won’t cut it, especially when you have a Hynocerus at FB. (by the way he was in motion way too much and out of position to do much blocking) If Gaskins, Karabin & Jacobson can’t block, put in somebody that can. I’m sure Miami & ND’s D-Line will be as tough or tougher than Utah’s. Let’s not overlook New Hampshire,
they have a good D-2 program.

Comment by carolinapanther 09.04.10 @ 4:09 pm


Wow. You’re talking about a grand total of two out of 22 starters there, aren’t you?

Want to mention the All-American/Heisman Trophy candidate running back he plucked out of Schiano’s backyard and turned into the greatest catalyst for our ten-win season last year? Or the top-flight wideout he managed to keep home and away from programs whose offensive schemens may have served him a lot better?

Want to mention the two tackles he convinced to pass up more exposure in the Big Ten and SEC to come here?

Maybe the two NFL prototype defensive ends he found who each had virtually no interest from any other programs in Florida?

Maybe this will all ring a little hollow because Lewis, Baldwin, Romeus and Sheard didn’t exactly have strong games on Thursday night. But find me a college program in America that goes more than two or three years without starting a walk-on here or there.

Let’s not harp on that and make it sound like this entire roster is under-recruited. At the end of the day, you’re still trying to project how a kid you start watching at age 16 is going to develop three or four years down the road.

Comment by Stoosh 09.04.10 @ 4:34 pm

Only as strong as your weakest link.

Comment by alcofan 09.04.10 @ 5:43 pm

To not takes shots at the endzone in the final drive is pathetic! Take a shot or two and then kick the field goal. Trust your players!

Comment by Pittastic 09.04.10 @ 6:23 pm

Seems to me the root of so many negative comments about the game Thursday night is really a total lack of respect for the Utah program. Its as if many of you see them as a mid tier MAC team, a directional U! If you respect Utah’s program, you are not killing your cat over this loss…Also seems to me that many posters believe that DW calls EVERY offensive and defensive play…Its as if you think our OC and DC are just trained monkeys with no skills or mind of their own…How many of you that hate our offense know that last year (not sure about this year), there was only one other team running the true Pro-Set offense…and that team was: Alabama….If DW was playing not to lose, and the other coach of what is a very talented team was playing to win, why then did they manage the same results after four quarters of play?…For all of you that call for DW to be replaced, if that happens, let me be the first to introduce you to your new roommates in the Big East: Louisville and Syracuse!

Comment by HbgFrank 09.04.10 @ 9:21 pm

STOOSH,i bet the top 5 programs dont have a walk-on.

right on pittastic. right on. how about 3 fades to baldwin or shanny, then kick…

Comment by Pitt It Is 09.04.10 @ 9:26 pm

poor execution hbg.

Comment by Pitt It Is 09.04.10 @ 9:28 pm

Nestled at the base of the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains, just 40 minutes south of Salt Lake City is Utah County. Cameras

Comment by Cameras 09.05.10 @ 12:27 am

So what does Wanny do then? He sure makes a lot of money doing it. Wins and losses are his responsibility. Sorry but this crap got old a long time ago. I don’t think he should be replaced but it’s amazing he can’t accomplish more with all this talent.
Remember, Jamie Dixon doesn’t play either. He just wins games.

Comment by Jon C 09.05.10 @ 12:30 am

Yes, Jamie wins games, but not the big ones in the tournament. Xavier everyone? Wanny is perfect and as much as we all want this program to be be Alabama, USC, or Florida, we are not, and not many are.

I will say i was extremely disappointed with the performance of our vaunted DE’s Romeus and Sheard. Nowhere to be seen.

Commit to the Stoosh.

Comment by Pat 09.05.10 @ 12:58 am

Got to love the people calling for three fades to the the endzone then kick. Cavanaugh used to do just that and we ran him out of town for doing it.

I have no problem with the third down call. I would have done the same thing.

Pitt lost this game because of the missed field goal and the interception in overtime. Not because of Wannstedt.

When Pitt wins the Big East this year and goes to a BCS bowl, the people ripping on Wannstedt will be eating their words!

Dave Wannstedt = Best thing to happen to Pitt football since Johnny Majors took over the program back in ’73!!

Hail To Pitt!!

Comment by MNPittman 09.05.10 @ 11:43 am

I agree with alcofan, the perception of Wanny being an excellent recruiter has yet to be proved. Is he a GOOD recruiter? Yes. Really good. But top notch? Until he lands a stud QB and isn’t starting walk-ons he should not be over hyped.

Comment by Chuck Morris 09.05.10 @ 3:35 pm

It’s one game-Am very excited about the QB’s play in the 2nd half-Miami will be the true test as to how far Pitt has come!

Comment by Bruce F 09.05.10 @ 3:39 pm

actually that was the one of the good decisions Cavanaugh made MNPittman. He was run out of town because he ran the ball into the ground. Much like Cignetti did for the first 3 1/2 quarters. The lost the game because of the play calling not a missed field goal and interception. Those are the kind of things you expect from a young team. So you need to let them take some shots, make some big plays, and score some points.

Comment by Henry Hynoceros 09.05.10 @ 5:05 pm

Cav was not run out of town. He would still be here if that NFL job did not open up.

Comment by Chuck Morris 09.05.10 @ 5:27 pm

“The lost the game because of the play calling not a missed field goal and interception”

If they make the field goal they win the game. What part of that don’t you understand?

If it was up to people like you we would end up with another Hackett or Harris. And we would go back to the days of being blown off the field by teams like Utah.

Comment by MNPittman 09.05.10 @ 7:10 pm

I’m not anti Wannstedt in any sense of the word, think he’s the best guy for the program. I also loved what Cig did with the offense last year. I want these guys to stay. But the other night was a disaster in play calling, we need the Cignetti of last year back. It looked like a western PA high school game, power play after power play after power play. If you are blaming the game on one missed kick you missed watching the rest of the game. Do you really think it is a good game plan to run right at a team over and over again when you have an O-line that is one of the weak-spots on the team? Do you think it is a good game plan to ignore your best athlete for 7/8ths of the entire game? I don’t want another coach or offensive coordinator. I just want them to open up the play book and give the guys a chance to succeed, like they did last year with Stull. Conservative play calling, running the ball over and over again, leaves the team 0 margin for error. That’s fine if you have a ton of veterans at the QB spot, O-line/ other positions, but Pitt doesn’t. They need some freedom to make mistakes (because they will make them, they are young and inexperienced at spots. Open the playbook. That way people who think games are decided based on one play and one play only won’t sit around pinning the whole loss on a 20some year old kid who misses one of his 4 field goals or a QB for throwing a pick in his first game starting. I understand the math of 3 points winning the game, but there is was a lot more that could have been done to prevent it from being the deciding factor.

Comment by Henry Hynoceros 09.05.10 @ 8:00 pm

Tell you what–if Pitt beats New Hampshire by at least three TDs, I’ll believe they’re a capable program with a decent shot at the Big East title. If they squeak by New Hampshire, or find themselves behind at any stretch of the game, I predict they’ll be playing in a minor bowl game, prior to Christmas.

Comment by Lou 09.05.10 @ 11:22 pm

Does anyone know, for real, not speculation or guesses, who runs the offense as far as mindset. Does Wanny tell Frank, call the plays, but here is my general idea of how I want it done??? Does Wanny say, “it’s your baby, Frank, except for whether we go for it or punt?” I’m really not looking to rip on either, just wondering what the mechanics of that are and how it works.

Comment by Dan 09.06.10 @ 12:18 am

I wouldn’t expect anyone to really know exactly about Pitt, I mean, in general, pro or college, and I know there may be some differences at different places, but, in general………..

Comment by Dan 09.06.10 @ 12:19 am

Hynerceros – go back and look at the run/pass % between Cavanaugh and Cignetti…

The most Cav ran was in 2007 at 57% of the time – that was the year of a true FR QB and LeSean McCoy. Overall during Cav’s time at PITT he ran the ball 55% of the time…

Last season Cignetti ran the ball 58% of the time.

You’re spouting an urban myth – Cignetti has been a run first OC his whole career.

Comment by Reed 09.06.10 @ 7:12 am

Reed, you seem to know a bit. If you don’t, then what is your opinion. Were the first three quarters all Cignetti, Wanny telling Cignetti what he wanted, or, are they both on the same page???

Comment by Dan 09.06.10 @ 10:27 am

Percentages isn’t the point. It’s creativity, mixing it up, taking chances and keeping the defense guessing. That can all happen if you run the ball 58% of the time. Throwing a play action on first down is far different from throwing only on 3rd and long. Taking a shot deep doesn’t mean you can’t run 58% of the time. I’m fine with the identity being a running team, in fact I love that. But percentages is not my problem. I have no problem with a run based offense. Last season the 42% that were throws were mixed in at different times. They threw play actions before the 4th quarter, they took shots deep to Baldwin and Dickerson. Cavanaugh, did not do this even though his run pass percentage was similar to Cigs. Cavanaugh put the team in a bad position on downs 1 and 2 and was forced to throw by the down and distance. The difference between the OC’s was not in percentages it was in how they did it and how they mixed it up. Unfortunately on Thursday night they were far to similar in this regard.

Comment by Henry Hynoceros 09.06.10 @ 1:58 pm

pure insanity…

Comment by JR Ocon 09.06.10 @ 8:08 pm

If PITT would have thrown the ball around in the first half as some have suggested they would have been behind 34-13 (or more) at the 8 minute mark of the 4rth quarter rather than 24-13. I would imagine (and this is a stretch here I know) that Cig and Wanny know their players and their abilities better than any on this blog. Starting a first year QB with limited ability does not warrant coming out and flinging the ball around and Cig and Wanny knew it. PITT was in a position to win at the end against a very good team in a very hostile environment. And flinging the ball on 1rst ball in OT when they should have run it and at least got a FG showed the dangers of opening up an offense with a very inexperienced QB with limited ability. You should see this week what they think of Sunseri, if the offense remains conservative we’re going to be in trouble with Miami, ND and the rest of better BigEast teams. As they all will stack the box ala Utah and dare Sunseri to beat them.

Comment by carolinapanther 09.07.10 @ 6:47 am

Again, its not about flinging the ball around, just throwing on earlier downs once in a while and taking a shot with play action. It makes it infinitely harder for the defense. The run pass ratio could remain the same. And if that would put us down 34-13 as you say, then our QB has no business playing D1 football if he’s that bad. But he isn’t that bad (actually made some nice throws) and we probably would have been up 34-13 instead of down. So because Cig and Wanny spend more time with the team than anyone their decisions can never be questioned?

Comment by Henry Hynoceros 09.07.10 @ 7:36 am

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