If there is one thing Pitt fans should be aware after the past weeks, it is that past words will be thrown back in your face. It doesn’t matter if it was seven to eight years ago or seven to eight months. Chancellor Nordenberg’s statements after the ACC raid of the Big East in 2003 and 04 were constantly being cited and referenced last week after Pitt and Syracuse announced they were going to the ACC.
Now, after the loss to Notre Dame, the statements from Coach Todd Graham about winning and high octane offense are tossed back. Both papers had their columnists take the obvious shots. Referencing the high octane, sputtering, not matching the hype.
Not unexpected. Predictable, even.
Joe Starkey at the Trib:
I could be mistaken, but of all the bold predictions Graham made when he was hired, I don’t remember him saying quarterback Tino Sunseri would have more punts (six) than touchdown passes (four) through four games.
Before we really dig into the Panthers’ low-octane, 15-12 loss, however, let us note an overriding truth: It will be forgotten fast if they beat visiting USF on Thursday in the Big East opener.
The conference is all that matters — and Sunseri promises a different offense come Thursday.
“We’re so close we can touch it,” he said. “We’re inches away from busting it open. Best believe we’re going to come back firing Thursday.”
You had to know, despite Graham’s promises, that Pitt would sputter early in the season as it attempted to master a radically different offense. But not like this.
And Ron Cook from the P-G:
But that doesn’t change the fact that the beginning of the Graham era is off to a bad start. His team hasn’t delivered anything close to what he promised before the season, especially not a high-octane, speed-speed-speed, explosive power, blah-blah-blah offense.
For the second consecutive game, Pitt blew a fourth-quarter lead. The loss in Iowa, after Pitt led, 27-10, with 12 minutes left, was on the defense. Not this loss to Notre Dame. If there’s anything good to take from the game, it’s that the defense played much better. It held terrific Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd to four catches for 27 yards. It forced a fumble on a sack by safety Andrew Taglianetti and had an interception by safety Jason Hendricks. It gave up only a 79-yard touchdown run to tailback Jonas Gray in the second quarter, thanks to missed tackles by Hendricks and linebacker Tristan Roberts, and an 11-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
Hey, it happens.
“Defensively, that’s the fewest amount of mistakes we’ve made,” Graham said. “We played well enough to win the game defensively.”
Too bad the offense didn’t.
Too bad the Pitt coach wasn’t good enough.
Graham said Pitt is a “disciplined” team. It’s hard to see it. A disciplined team doesn’t take five false-start penalties, including three on guard Lucas Nix, one on a first-and-10 play at the Notre Dame 11.
Graham had quarterback Tino Sunseri pooch-punt on fourth-and-4 from the Notre Dame 35 late in the second quarter. It isn’t the first time he has had Sunseri do it inside the opponent’s 40. Remember how many of us pummeled Wannstedt for being so conservative? Graham is supposed to be an offensive genius with a “high-octane” offense. And he punts there? I keep waiting to see the Pitt offense get in the left lane and put the hammer down. Silly me.
Easy shots to take? Yeah. Justified. Probably.
My reaction to these pieces was wondering if Wannstedt took this much abuse in his first season from the media? Honestly, I didn’t think he had. I started compiling possible reasons in my head as for why. Local guy vs. guy from Texas. Way too much bravado, coming back to bite him. Stereotyping about the changing marketplace with more sports talk and reactions that creates more negativity.
The fact is, however, that I have over 8 years of archives from this site. A kind of instant snapshot at any point during that time of Pitt’s history and actual reactions. It makes it easier to debunk even my own crackpot, revisionist theories.
The wayback machine takes us to October 2005, after losing to Rutgers and a 1-4 start that included a pasting by ND, a ridiculous loss to Ohio and an even more eye-gouge inducing loss to Nebraska.
In the first quarter, around 8:30 pm, Rod Gilmore started talking about how the Pittsburgh press has been all over the coaching staff for the slow start. Say what? Now the national media has been on Coach Wannstedt — very hard since the Nebraska loss — but the local press has been more than kind.
That ended with the Rutgers loss.
Why look, it’s Joe Starkey again:
Maybe things will change. Maybe Wannstedt will be like West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, who suffered through a miserable first season that included a loss to Temple before turning things around.
At the moment, this fiasco is just not defensible. It’s one thing for Wannstedt to lose some games as he transitions to his system, and, eventually, to his players. It’s quite another to lose to Ohio and Rutgers in the same month (Rodriguez, by the way, beat Ohio and Rutgers his first year, the latter by an 80-7 score).
What’s more disturbing is Wannstedt’s tendency to distance himself from the mess.
At the least, you expected Pitt to hit people this season. That’s what the propaganda machines were spewing, something about a return to physical football.
Last night, the Panthers were smacked around like raquetballs.
And Ron Cook…
I also knew there would be a period of adjustment for Wannstedt. There almost always is for a new coach. It’s hard to win with your system when you have to play with the previous coach’s players. And it’s not as if Walt Harris left a lot of quality offensive and defensive linemen.
But, never in my wildest imagination, did I envision Pitt getting beat by Rutgers, which always has been a sure victory on its schedule, even in the dark days of Johnny Majors II and Paul Hackett.
Or that Pitt would be 1-4 at this point and staring hard at the possibility of 1-10.
Or that there would be so many questions so soon about Wannstedt being the right man for the Pitt job.
So, yeah, about the same time. Worse record and one more game played, but the media was not going much easier on Wannstedt.
The biggest difference between then and now: Wannstedt only promised smashmouth football and a return to physical play — not winning right away.
Graham stated the goal was to win immediately and do so in an aggressive, attacking manner.