So much for my belief that the entire Pitt performance would hinge on the O-line. Instead, a defense that has played very well the last three games — at least after spotting a team the easy opening march down the field before figuring out what they were doing — never got it together.
Part of it was simply a hobbled K’Wuan Williams being abused because the Pitt defense never tried to give him any help. Why? Because dammit the scheme is fine. All is well. If he was well enough to play, he could cover in the man-to-man secondary.
Williams left the Syracuse game early with a knee injury and was questionable to play this past week as recently as Thursday. Chryst, though, said he wouldn’t have put Williams out there if he wasn’t ready to play.
“You can do a lot of things call-wise, but in the end there are going to be some times when they’re one-on-one and I’d take [K'Waun] again,” Chryst said. “They made some plays and I give them credit for that.”
Teddy Bridgewater was 7-10, 172 yards in the second half.
But it was more than a well-executed passing attack. The run offense of Louisville kept Pitt’s defense honest. It wasn’t amazing — nearly 45% of their rushing yardage game on just two runs — but it was effective and they got into the endzone on the ground.
Louisville was the better team. You may feel that Pitt could have won that game. I certainly do. You aren’t going to win when you are beaten in every phase of the game. That’s what happened to Pitt.
Louisville’s offense was better. Their defense did more. Their special teams was more consistent. And the coaching — and adjustments in particular — was decisively better.
I happen to agree with Chryst to have gone for it on 4th and 1 near the end of the half. I like being aggressive, and in the previous series it looked like the defense had things figured out. Forcing Louisville into a 3-and-out. The play-call though, was idiotic. Everyone knew the run was coming. Even with the O-line run-blocking better, straight up the middle wasn’t going to work. Let Shell run a little outside. Somewhere where there might be a little space.
Sure enough, the O-line couldn’t even push forward. Instead, they went backwards. Shell literally stopped, in what can only be called shock, as the O-linemen fell at his feet as he took the handoff.
The bigger problem for me with the way Chryst called the game was the lack of urgency. With a little more than half a quarter left and Pitt down 10 points and starting inside their own 30. There was no rush to get plays in to the huddle. Especially when they were moving the ball and you could see that Louisville was looking confused. Instead the plays were not coming in quickly from the sideline. The Louisville team had time to regroup. It may have been a longshot to pull out the win, but there still felt like there was a chance. It took nearly five minutes to go 51 yards and stall out the drive.
That lack of urgency. Of getting plays called. That essentially forced the decision to go for it on 4th and 8, rather than try a 40-yard field goal. There was just under five minutes left at that point, and there wasn’t much reason to trust the Pitt defense to get Louisville off the field quickly. The defense in this case played sneaky trick of letting them score another TD in just 2:28.
I’m not saying that Pitt had to go no-huddle. But Pitt was taking its time. Guys were standing around waiting for the offense to give the play to Sunseri. Letting Louisville make substitutions when it was clear they were starting to struggle. The play clock was regularly getting down to single digits — with the clock still moving. Just no excuse for that.
The second half also saw Louisville outcoach Pitt in terms of making adjustments. They saw that K’wuan Williams wasn’t able to keep up with the receivers. That they could beat the Pitt corners, and that the safeties weren’t in position to help. They exploited that with 3 passes of 25+ yards in their first two possessions of the second half to flip the 21-17 Pitt lead to a 31-21 advantage.
There is definite improvement on this team at positions. The players are definitely learning and getting better. I am not down on Coach Chryst for the long-term. But in-game, it is clear that he is struggling with things. Expected to some extent with a first-time head coach, but really frustrating to watch.