Is the negative experience of Saturday night starting to dissipate yet? No? Well tomorrow’s another day as they say in show business and they also say the show must go on. So even if we’d prefer the 2012 season to end right now as some PITT fans might, there will be more games. Its not me threatening you with this – blame Steve Pederson.
Tomorrow night PITT goes into Cincinnati coming off what can easily be termed the worst pure loss in its history because of the conference level of the YSU team being D-II quality. I say ‘pure loss’ because the 48-14 loss to Penn State when we had a shot at the NC game and the more recent come from behind loss to Cincy with a Big East championship BCS game on the line affected PITT’s season’s standings more than this YSU loss can. In reality the YSU loss means nothing in relation to the BE conference play. Psychologically though it was devastating.
So, the first and foremost thing PITT fans will want to see is how we’ll bounce back from something like that. I’m not calling for a win, you may have to be insane to do that, but I believe we’ll acquit ourselves better than we did last week. Put it this way, as disappointed as I was in the last game’s result I wasn’t shocked as I talked about it before the kickoff. Just as with that, I won’t be shocked if PITT wins tomorrow night either. I’d just never bet on it or publicly predict it.
We do have a few things going for us. Even if the six players are still suspended, Paul Chryst has said that hasn’t been determined yet, the shock of that action to the rest of the team is already over so there’s that one distraction gone. Some of the drastic problems we had last year didn’t show up. We gave up no sacks after being last in the nation in 2011 when we gave up 64. Sunseri had time to pass the ball which helped also. If he’s not being hurried there is less chance he’ll panic out there as we saw last season.
Our KO return man in Layfaette Pitts did very well in averaging 30 yards per return. Hubie Graham and Shanahan did well with their routes and catching the ball. There were other bright spots also but really they were overshadowed by the negative play we saw out there.
However, I’m not sure our OL did that well when you look and compare the play last week to the rest of the schedule we have yet to play. Granted no sacks given up is a good thing but we weren’t really opening holes in the run game. 4.6 ypc is nothing against a D-II team. We continue to do that we’ll not help out the passing game either.
What I think may assist with that lack of rushing production is Graham having a full game under his belt. He was very cautious out there and moving around a bit behind the LOS instead of going north-south. He did well under the circumstances but last season he was decisive as hell out there and because he’s still testing that leg he wasn’t on Saturday. I expect a better showing from both he and Bennett this game.
Street must improve his play; if not sit him down. He isn’t so good to the point where he can’t be benched. Play Brinson, Ifill or Felder in his place or perhaps even the true FR Wuestner. Put anyone out on the field but a player who continues to make mental errors, drop passes and fumble the ball.
Sunseri threw the ball 30 times on Saturday. For all the PITT fans who thought Chryst was going to handcuff him and rely strictly on our running game, think again. Lest we believe that the passes were called because we were behind that isn’t necessarily true. Chryst called 17 pass plays, over half the total of attempts, in the 1st half of the game when we were either tied or four points behind. He wasn’t playing catch-up football at that point.
Chryst will continue to call passing plays at a normal rate as our passing game executed pretty well all in all, at least Chryst thought so:
“I thought protection was pretty good, I thought guys made some plays, and there were some good runs after the catch,” coach Paul Chryst said. “There are some things we can absolutely build on in the passing game, and that’s a credit to the guys. They put in a lot of work, and you’d like to be able to see them do that in a game.”
Of course Sunseri could have played better in spots also. His problem of overthrowing receiver when they are wide open persists as does his inconsistency from pass to pass. He’ll throw behind a receiver coming out of the backfield on one play then later on throw a perfect 35 yard line drive between two defenders for a TD. It is maddening as hell wondering why he can’t pass like that all the time.
He completed 19 of 30 passes and a hidden stat is that 10 of those completions went for 1st down. We only had 11 1st downs total so our passing game was effective in that sense. His yards per attempt was 8.0 with a 12.6 yards per completion rate which are both fine. We also had a 54% 3rd down conversion rate which is pretty good also. I truly believe that given half a chance our offense would have produced on Saturday.
Our defense has to give the offense a chance to score points, that is fundamental. If you take away the two possessions that ended in PITT fumbles we scored on three of six series, 50%, which is actually very good. I’d say we would have had at least a FG if not for Graham’s fumble on our first drive also.
I just looked over our offensive play against BCS teams in 2011 and we had an average of 14 offensive series per game! Man, that can’t be over stressed; how the fact that our defense gave up four double digit play drives kept our offense off the field and unable to even attempt to make it a game. Here’s the real telling point though, those four long YSU drives accounted for a whopping 26 minutes of possession. That’s 6:30 per drive and you needn’t look further than that if you want a seminal cause for the loss.
How was YSU able to do that? We let them do it by giving the opponents a 70% 3rd & 4th down conversion rate. If we keep doing that we’ll never win another game. I think that if our defense had been able to get our offense its average 14 series per game against YSU we’d have won walking away. Of course, that didn’t happen.
To me these are the keys to tomorrow’s Cincy game; lowering that opponent’s conversion rate and getting the PITT offense on the field more often. I think if we can do that and give the offensive players a chance to actually play offense we’ll move the ball and score. Accomplish that and we could win this game regardless of how poorly we played last weekend.