Where to begin…
I am not immune from bouts of ABT. As I watched the game on DVR delay, purposefully cut off from the internet, I listened to Beth Mowins and Joey Galloway praising Tino Sunseri in the first quarter. The same Sunseri who started 2-7 on the first four possessions and looked dreadful. Prompting me to wish that Coach Paul Chryst would snap and bench him on senior day.
But he recovered to do a good job in a game that earned him Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors. Yes, a 21-39 for 227 yards and 2 TDs was enough in the second last weekend of the season to be the best offensive performance in the conference. That’s not saying a lot about the rest of the conference. His game also led to this actual headline on the the Star-Ledger website: Rutgers defense meets its match in Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri.
Heading into the game, I couldn’t help but hope Rutgers would be looking past Pitt. Thinking only about how they can win the Big East on Thursday against Louisville. That’s sure how it looked. Even as the players naturally denied such a thing had occurred.
“Guys were excited. Guys were prepared,” said linebacker Khaseem Greene. “At the end of the day, they just out-executed us.”
And for one of the few times this season, the offense, defense and special teams couldn’t bail out the other struggling units.
“They beat us. We didn’t execute. I can’t make any excuses,” Nova said.
The way this first quarter went. Offensive incompetence on both sides, but Rutgers getting slightly better field position with each punt. Well, it made me think a lot of the previous game between Rutgers and Pitt. In that game, on a cold day, both teams relied on defense (or dealt with some offensive incompetence) in the first half. Rutgers eventually capitalized on worse incompetence by Pitt to blow the game open in the second half.
Thankfully, this time the offensive incompetence was on the Rutgers side, and it happened earlier.
“I regret the whole game,” said the sophomore quarterback, who completed 18 of 37 for 157 yards and a touchdown. “I didn’t execute well enough.”
Nova spent much of his time fleeing the onslaught of Pitt linemen as Pitt surprised Rutgers, 27-6, yesterday in a Big East Conference matchup.
“They did a good job putting pressure on me,” he said. “They beat us up.”
The Rutgers O-line which had been doing a fine job of protecting Gary Nova this year, was overwhelmed today. They — well, they looked a lot like Pitt’s O-line against UConn a couple weeks ago. They gave no holes for the running game and the QB was under constant pressure to get rid of the ball.
In this 11th game, there has been so much other stuff that it is hard not to reference, flash to or fear will happen again. So when Pitt built a 14-0 lead and got the ball back with less than 2 minutes near midfield, I was flashing back to the poor work done. Especially the Louisville game when Pitt got too aggressive and ended up giving up points. So I was not feeling good when Pitt faced a 3d and 6 with a little over a minute and called a timeout. Afraid that Rutgers would just air it out before the half and get some penalties or that breakdown in the secondary that changes everything.
The aggressive playcalling by Chryst finally paid off, but I won’t lie and say that I thought it was a good plan when it was happening. Just burned by it too much this season.
If there is any doubt that Ray Graham gets up for playing Rutgers and his half-brother, the last two meetings should end that debate. He had 165 yards last year and 113 this year.
But really this game was about the Pitt defense showing up. After the UConn debacle, Coach Chryst actually questioned the desire and effort of the team. Questioning if they understood what it took to win. DC Dave Huxtable had the defense practicing without arms in an effort to get them to try and get back to fundamentals. It seemed to get their attention. Not to mention a little bit of pride probably being on the line in the home finale.
Probably most impressive was defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had seven unassisted tackles and a sack.
“He set the standard that he should play well,” Chryst said. “It’s pretty neat to be around a guy (that) when the bar is set high, he can achieve that level.”
The Panthers found a level of consistency that has been missing in many games, appearing to draw inspiration from a respected group of seniors playing their last home game.
Coach Chryst was due for a “neat” reference.
Yes, Rutgers may be a tad overrated. But given Pitt’s inconsistent performance, I don’t feel like judging. The Panthers played a solid game that still gives Pitt a chance at a 3d straight trip to Birmingham. Though, the bigger opportunity could be the Pinstripe Bowl against the Hoopies.
If it means perpetuating the 2-2-2-2-2-2 streak. So be it. At least get one more win.
Pitt at USF. 7pm on ESPN2. Why? Because there’s airspace to fill.