A few topics from the game on Saturday that were probably debated with some heat.
I’ll start with the officiating since that is one of the more cut-and-dry things. I had no idea how bad the officiating was while at the game. Notre Dame still does not have a jumbotron so there are no replays. From our seats we had no angle on the phantom pass interference call on K’Wuan Williams. And we certainly couldn’t see that Notre Dame put two guys out there with the same uniform number.
The first inkling that the pass interference came on the drive back to Cleveland. We stopped for a coffee fix, as the drive back following a loss is always so very, very long. Some older Notre Dame fans saw us on the way out and after saying it was a good game, actually apologized for the call. Of course since we didn’t realize how bad the call was when it happened, and we were so mentally fried, Pauly P. and I really had no idea what they were talking about at that moment. We just acknowledged it, got back in the car and kept going.
Pauly P.: “What pass interference call?”
Me: “I — I have no idea. Maybe we will see it in the highlights later.”
And oh, god did I. Now that I’ve seen it. Ugh. A case where the official decided that something had to have happened even if he couldn’t see it.
As for the fact that Notre Dame had two players on the field during the 33-yard field goal attempt that could have salvaged the game for Pitt? It’s a dumb rule for a dumb rule that allows more than one player to wear the same number if they are on opposite sides of the ball. And it still should have been caught. Especially since it isn’t even the first time Notre Dame has screwed that up this season.
When Pitt’s Kevin Harper missed a 33-yard field goal in the second overtime that would have ended the game had it gone in, the Irish had Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown, both of whom wear No. 2, on the field together.
By rule, Notre Dame should have been penalized and the Panthers should have gotten a first down.
“No exception to [the rule],” coach Brian Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “It was a coaching mistake. … We’ve got to do a better job — an oversight that can’t happen.”
Kelly said he noticed the gaffe right after the play.
Pitt ended up kicking a field on its next drive to start the third overtime before Everett Golson rushed for the game-winning touchdown.
Notre Dame had been penalized for a similar mistake once earlier this season, when Dan McCarthy and Justin Ferguson, both No. 15, were on the kick return unit together in Week 2 against Purdue.
Can’t wait for the snappy apology from the Big East officials.
The most Chryst will get from the Big East is an apology, and he made clear that he didn’t single out either play as a reason for the loss.
“There were 200-something plays in that game,” Chryst said. “We had our opportunities to win that game and we didn’t. The biggest thing I think we can focus on is the things we can control.”
Odds are, they only apologize for the same number on the jersey gaffe. And Chryst is right that he can’t blame it on the officials missing that call. It would have given Pitt another chance — and probably would have won. But the penalty itself is for a technical error. It wasn’t because Notre Dame truly gained any advantage with two guys wearing the same number.
And for those that are convinced that this was simply Big East officiating incompetence, and all will be better in the ACC. Please. Please watch some ACC games to gain some perspective. Or simply Google “Ron Cherry” (or review this).
There are three parts to Coach Paul Chryst’s work Saturday. The preparation, game plan and game management.
More so than even the Virginia Tech game, the preparation and game plan against Notre Dame was his best yet. Pitt came out ready to play in both halfs. The first time we’ve seen that all year. The third quarter has been Pitt’s worst, and they controlled the quarter. The only regret from the 3d quarter was having 1st and goal from the 2, but having to settle for the field goal.
He kept Notre Dame off-guard with just enough passing, while Ray Graham made the game his stage.
Then came the 4th quarter…
There was the pass interference call that salvaged a drive when Pitt had them stopped on 4th and 4. At the same time, you could see the Pitt defense wearing down. And the Notre Dame team feeling the urgency on both sides of the ball.
And this quarter was where the inexperience of Chryst cost the team.
Let me make this point right away, so there is no confusion. I still have plenty of optimism for Paul Chryst as Pitt’s head coach. His player development this year is highly encouraging. His game planning has been solid. There are questions about recruiting, but it isn’t anything that can’t be adjusted as the coaching staff evolves. So this isn’t some panic declaration that, “Oh, my god we hired the wrong guy! Doomed! Doomed, I say!”
That said, there is a reason athletic directors have a general preference to hire guys with previous head coaching experience. To minimize the exposure to mistakes on the learning curve.
Three key things that Chryst didn’t recognize or ignored:
1. Offensive line wearing down.
2. Tino Sunseri’s propensity to hold the ball too long.
3. The clock needed to keep running.
In the first half, Sunseri was 10-12 and only sacked once. It was a clean half. Especially with Ray Graham running well. The third quarter saw more of that. Sunseri started off hitting 4-6 passes and another sack at the start of the second half.
Then he missed two straight throws from the 4 yard line and Pitt had to settle for the field goal to go up 20-6. On Pitt’s next two possessions, Ray Graham rushed the ball all of two times. Sunseri tried to throw six times — and was sacked twice. That’s some Andy Reid level foolishness there.
In addition, as the game is getting tight, you are putting a game manager QB out there to make plays. A QB with a bad history late in tight games, and holds the ball too long, behind a weakening O-line. While ignoring the amazing game being had by an outstanding running back. To say nothing of possibly changing things up style-wise on the ground with Rushel Shell.
Then came the mind-blowingly glaring stupidity after K’Wuan Williams got the endzone interception with under 4 minutes left.
Instead of grinding out the game on the ground, Pitt coach Paul Chryst opted to stay aggressive, passing on first down. The Panthers ended up going three-and-out on that drive, giving the ball back to Notre Dame with enough time for the Irish to put together a tying drive.
“You want to be smart, but aggressive,” Chryst said of the late playcalling. “The whole mindset the whole game was to go win this thing.”
That wasn’t “agressive.” That wasn’t “smart.” That was just dumb. For all the talk about playing to the strength of the team and the players, that wasn’t it. It was the arrogance of the coach thinking his playcalling was just that much smarter than the athletes and emotions on the other side of the ball.
Even with the O-line grinding down, you have to run the ball just to run the clock and at least force ND to use timeouts. The Irish are not exactly the quick strike offense. Plus, the defense needed some breather after that nearly 6 minute drive. Instead Chryst comes out throwing. Forcing a 2d and long, and dropping back — and Sunseri getting sacked.
Bad late game and bad clock management by Chryst. He thought like an offensive coordinator, not like the head coach. He didn’t manage his players. He did not think about their strengths and weaknesses in moments like that. He just called plays.
Even despite all of that, Pitt still nearly came away with the win. If only.
Well, Coach Chyrst now has to do more than get the Pitt team ready for Friday. He has to look at his own decisionmaking. There’s going to be be a hell of a lot more for him to learn.