Here we are in week six, coming up on the halfway point of the 2011 season. There are still a lot of questions surrounding this team and while some fans may think they have been answered, that is surely debatable.
To recap: We beat our two creampuffs, Buffalo and Maine to start out the season in rather easy fashion. Both teams scored 4th quarter points against us and in both games the offense got off to a pretty sluggish start in the 1st half. It isn’t a reach to say that PITT underachieved in those games based on the pre-season hype surrounding the new offense being installed by Todd Graham. Buffalo: 35-16 & Maine: 35-29 wins.
In our third game against Iowa we started out like gangbusters with our offense showing some real cohesiveness by scoring 24 points, against a decent BCS team, through the 3rd quarter. That’s when the wheels fell off both offensively and defensively. Iowa passed their way back into the game and took a 27-24 lead. In a complete turnaround our offense couldn’t get a single first down and was shutout over the last 12 minutes of play. 31-27 loss.
At home against Notre Dame we reverted back to stumbling around on offense, scoring six points by the half and six more in the 3rd quarter and … you guessed it… skunking the 4th quarter with no points. Our defense came to play finally and we held ND to 15 points, certainly enough to win had our offense not stunk out the joint. 15-12 loss.
Last week we opened Big East play and had, by far, our best game of the season against 14th ranked USF. The offense finally played as advertised with Ray Graham getting his second 200+ rushing game and Tino Sunseri playing QB as it should be played in this system. Sunseri hit the medium passes well and, more importantly, exercised his option to run based on his pre and post snap reads. That opened up more lanes for Graham as the game went on. The offense was a good thing to watch and a great thing to have shown on national TV.
Our defense played very well against USF also, limiting them to 17 points with, in a change of pace, zero points in the second half. We ran the No-Huddle to effect, averaged 18 seconds between placement to snap over 91 offensive plays, and thus completely wore down the opponent’s defense, allowing us to roll up 24 points over the last two quarters of play. That offense finally operated as is drawn up.
So, are we at a turning point here halfway through the season? We have shown no consistency whatsoever on a weekly basis and, save the USF game, even on a half or quarterly basis in the individual games. It really has been a “best of times, worst of times” type year so far.
This week we play another BE opponent when we travel to Rutgers. While RU has a decent 3-1 record they have huge glaring weaknesses, most notably their rushing offense which, at 177th in the NCAA, has had games where they have rushed for +1 and +5 yards. I had to look at that twice. Their defense is pretty stout thought in only giving up 17 ppg. RU scores at just about the same clip as PITT at 31 ppg.
It is obvious that we need a win here to go up to 2-0 in BE play. But more importantly for PITT fans, and in turn the local and national media, we need to carry over the strong play we saw last Thursday. If we do it goes a long way in easing the minds who are still not completely sold on Graham’s offense and convincing those who are holding back on declaring the defense capable of winning games by themselves.
That is understandable as the two close games we’ve had against good opponents went the other way – where we couldn’t hold a lead and our offense didn’t answer the call when we were behind.
Which will we see on Saturday? The good PITT team who won so convincingly against USF or the team that played in fits and starts against our first four opponents?