Okay, so that final visit to Nippert didn’t go so well. Next up on the farewell to Big East venues tour: the Rent.
Rentschler Field does not hold happy memories for Pitt and Pitt fans. It has been the scene of — and I say this with a lot less hyperbole than you may think — career defining losses for two Pitt coaches. Paul Chryst has already had his share this season, so it would be nice to avoid adding to the collection.
UConn isn’t good, but that has never stopped them from making life miserable for Pitt. To the surprise of few, Paul Pasqualoni has struggled to win and recruit at UConn. And the Husky fans, not particularly enamored with the hire two years ago, really dislike the situation at the present. Apathy and flat out ignoring the existence of football has quickly become the norm once more in Connecticut.
Into this depression steps Pitt on a Friday night game with the randomness of the Rod Gilmore zone possibly effecting reality.
Chryst wants to see the proof.
Before he accompanied his team to Connecticut for Friday’s game at Rentschler Field, Chryst was asked if the 29-26 loss in South Bend will make Pitt stronger. After all, the Panthers came within a missed field goal of upsetting an unbeaten Irish team in noisy Notre Dame Stadium.
“I am anxious to see if that cliche holds true,” Chryst said. “That, to me, is one of the storylines. Are we going to learn from that? Is that a one-time deal? Or, is that we are growing as a team?”
Will they take it one play at a time? Play down to their opponent? Take their frustrations out on UConn? Are they still hung-up on blowing the chance to beat Notre Dame? Not even their
hairdresser coach knows for sure.
One thing Pitt gets to play for: a bowl game.
“Yeah, but we’ve got to get this one [at UConn] to get six. This is big,” left guard Chris Jacobson said. “These seniors want to have an extra game with a bowl game, but we’ve got to get this one to get to six. Our whole focus this week is turning the page and playing UConn.”
Especially for the seniors, who have gone through three coaching changes in their time at Pitt, the opportunity to play one more game is more than enough motivation the rest of the way.
“I think that guys want to play one more game together,” center Ryan Turnley said. “We’ve been here for a while, we’ve been through a lot together. As long as it can last, we want to keep it going.”
Pitt coach Paul Chryst said that he doesn’t mention it often, but will occasionally remind players of the big-picture goals in what he called “State of the State” meetings, though he noted, “believe it or not, they’re not long meetings.”
Beating UConn would also be the official elimination of all hopes of a bowl game for UConn. Not that they had much hope at 3-6 with Louisville and Cinci to follow, but it’s always nice to be the official final nail in the coffin.
As for UConn and their problems. It starts on the offense (and dies painfully there).
The Huskies are 90th in the nation in third-down efficiency, at 36 percent.
Can you imagine how much more efficient they might be if quarterback Chandler Whitmer was upright a little more often?
It hasn’t happened much lately, particularly in the past two games, when Whitmer is either planted to the turf or running for his life.
Whitmer has been sacked 26 times. The offensive line’s No. 2 problem — behind opening holes — is protecting the quarterback when he goes back to pass, particularly on third down.
The blitz has worked at limiting an offense that is, well, limited. The blitz has been a monster against what is, for the most part, a young and inexperienced offensive line.
UConn is 100th out 0f 120 in 1-A in protecting the QB. Their O-line may actually be worse than Pitt’s since they also can’t run the ball.
In bits and pieces, Pasqualoni, in his second season, has mentioned issues that have a dogged a once-proud running game that is now wallowing at 116th in the nation among FBS teams, with an 82-yards-a-game average.
The passing game, 58th in the nation at 235.8 yards a game, is better than in past years. Still, the Huskies aren’t scoring enough to win games. They are 117th out of 120 schools in scoring, at 16.6 points a game. The latter is an embarrassing statistic at any level, and the persistent offensive struggles tell another story: they are a primary reason why UConn is just 8-13 in the Pasqualoni era.
“It’s been an accumulation of a bunch of little things,” Pasqualoni said of the running game. “The details … sometimes [we're] just not getting the execution that’s required. You can’t say it’s any one particular guy or any one particular position. I think we’ve all contributed to it in the run game.”
Paul Pasqualoni has forgotten more about football cliches and excuses than most of us will ever learn.
Poor third down efficiency that stall out drives despite a decent bit of yardage in the air. No running game. Guess what that does to scoring?
The numbers are staggering, not a secret, but worth pointing out. The 16.6 points the Huskies are averaging per game is the lowest in the Big East. Nationally, the number is 117th out of 120 FBS schools. The Huskies have only three touchdowns in the [four game] losing streak, the most recent in the second quarter of a 40-10 loss at Syracuse Oct. 19. The streak of consecutive quarters without a touchdown in the second half dates to the fourth quarter of the Sept. 29 game against Buffalo, so that’s nine quarters, not counting the overtime period against Temple on Oct. 13.
Thus that D will be a challenge for a Huskies offensive line that has had trouble protecting the quarterback (26 sacks this season) and has especially had trouble recognizing and picking up blitzes. The Huskies have struggled to move the ball on first and second down, so defenses have simply pinned their ears back and sent the house at quarterback Chandler Whitmer. When the running game can’t produce, the defense knows UConn has to throw, a position it has found itself in far too many times.
Defensively — other than being destroyed by Syracuse — they have been pretty good. They just don’t have any offense.
Pitt has no excuse not to take out UConn. Player disappointment over the ND loss or not. They simply cannot lose this game.