Yesterday was rough. We learned a lot about the team. Some fears were realized, some new questions arose, and overall we saw how good FSU is. I knew Jameis Winston was good, but I didn’t expect him to have the best game of any BCS QB. Winston had a better game than Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, and Tajh Boyd. Only Boyd played a BCS opponent in Week 1 so he arguably had a better game since he beat Georgia. Even still, Winston leads FBS in passer rating after Week 1. He’s also top 11 in yards, touchdowns, and yards per attempt. Insane.
There are a lot of justifiable complaints about the defense yesterday. Something you can’t account for is a QB who does not miss a single throw. Were guys open? Yes. But never in a million years did I expect to see a freshman QB starting his first game to play like that. Winston replaced EJ Manuel, a 1st round pick. Go ahead, look through Manuel’s game logs. I challenge you to find a better game than Winston just had. That includes opponents like Savannah State, Murray State, etc. The defense sucked yesterday, but they weren’t Savannah State bad.
That’s enough Winston praise. I want to start off with what went right yesterday. One of the complaints many Pitt fans have had about Chryst is recruiting. Yesterday, we saw 11 true freshmen in the first 17 minutes. When I started listing off players that were goats yesterday, none of them were the freshmen. Anthony Gonzalez was lost in coverage and got benched for Todd Thomas in the 3rd quarter. Heck, the entire LB corps was awful. There’s no reason FSU TE Nick O’Leary should’ve been wide open all game long. Ray Vinopal and Jason Hendricks were slow in coverage all night. Aaron Donald had Winston in his grasp thrice and only brought him down once. DEs were useless in the pass rush.
Yet those 11 freshmen didn’t look out of place at all. I’ll go over Tyler Boyd more later, but not only did he belong, I’d argue he was the 2nd best player on the field yesterday. Paul Chryst can build an offense around Boyd. James Conner showed a lot in his first game. Jaymar Parrish impressed me with his blocking and added a nice catch too. Scott Orndoff got open for what should’ve been a huge play had Savage put more air under the ball. It’s tough to see missed assignments on defense, but when I had “WTF” moments on D, they weren’t normally the freshmen.
I think there are a lot of talented 1st and 2nd year players on this team and by the end of the season I’d expect 9 or 10 1st and 2nd year players will be starters or backups who see a lot of playing time. That’s a big positive for the future.
I’ll start with Tom Savage. He definitely had a subpar game. We saw flashes of his talent. His first throw to Devin Street on 3rd down was something we haven’t seen a Pitt QB do in a long time. He threaded the needle into double coverage. That throw gave him a ton of confidence. It led to a touchdown and a successful start to the second drive. Then, the interception shot his confidence.
I actually don’t think it was a bad interception. If I read the defense correctly, FSU DB Jalen Ramsey was covering Manasseh Garner. He looked back at the perfect time to see the throw. It was just a great play by Ramsey. Sometimes, the defense makes a play. You could see his shaken confidence after that unfortunately. On the ensuing drive, he nearly threw an interception in the end zone when he forced the ball to Street on 3rd down. After the FG, FSU had a dominating 14 play 78 yard touchdown drive.
Savage’s interception late in the 2nd quarter was the game ender. It was a good read and a bad throw. Orndoff was open. Savage needed to put some air under the ball and let Scott run after it. He gunned it. You’ll notice Orndoff tried to stop and come back. He was slow to adjust, but he shouldn’t have to. A QB needs to know that if you miss that throw, it needs to be an overthrow. If you overthrow Orndoff, it’s an incomplete pass and it’s only 3rd down. Unless you’re Jameis Winston, you’ll throw incomplete passes and that would’ve been an acceptable one. Savage’s overall accuracy wasn’t that bad. Excluding his last four passes (forced them to try and score late), he was 15/24. Take away his bad interception on the throw to Orndoff and his near pick mentioned earlier, he wasn’t that bad.
After that, the defense caved again and the game was pretty much over. I’m very eager to see how Savage does against New Mexico. I think an inferior opponent will really benefit him. QBs are very confidence driven. You could tell Savage’s confidence was shaken by the first interception and a great game on September 14th will do wonders for his season. It looks like the secondary will get a huge break too. Just look at New Mexico’s passing stats.
I will argue that the WRs and TEs/H-Backs had a great game. Street was the real deal and Tyler Boyd exceeded what was already lofty expectations. I think the gameplan on Boyd was to keep it simple and see how he handles the big stage. It’s safe to say with a catch that made ESPN’s top 10 plays (#7), 3 rushes for 54 yards, and a kick return he almost took to the house, Boyd is ready for an expanded role. Street and Boyd combined for 221 yards from scrimmage. Add in Boyd’s return yardage and 2 players accounted for nearly 300 total yards. WR was a question mark headed into the season. As long as these two stay healthy, there won’t be any issues.
At TE/H-Back, it looked like outside runs were very effective. I didn’t log each run, but that seemed to be the trend. When outside runs are working, TEs are doing their job. Parrish is more of a FB and Garner is more of a TE, but the combo of the two along with Holtz and Orndoff at the traditional TE spot was superb. I think this group was under-used, but a lot of that had to do with the massive differential in time of possession (roughly 10 minute FSU advantage). FSU had nearly a 2:1 advantage in the 2nd quarter when they put the game away.
The OL definitely struggled. Savage was sacked three times and officially hurried seven more times. Several of those times were unblocked rushers. Not that unblocked rushers are good, but in terms of upside, that’s a mental error, not a physical one. It’s much better to see mental errors. Those are coachable and fixable. If your OL is losing without mental errors consistently…that’s when you get really scared. We will not see a DL as athletic as FSU the rest of the season. Two of the sacks were by a DB, Lamarcus Joyner. The other came from a future 1st round pick, Timmy Jernigan.
At times we saw the OL’s ability to give Savage time and to open some running lanes, especially for Conner. Other times they struggled. Inconsistency was inevitable for this inexperienced group. I saw enough though that I have a lot of faith in their ability to consistently win against the next 6 opponents (New Mexico, Duke, Virginia, VT, Old Dominion and Navy). Hueber will coach ‘em up.
RB is actually my biggest concern going forward on the offense. Bennett did not look good. I’m guessing his knee is still bothering him because he showed no explosion. At least that’s what I’m hoping. He missed a lot practice this summer and did not look anywhere near as good as he did in the spring. Conner impressed, but who knows if he can carry the full load? Crockett is obviously buried on the depth chart given that Ibrahim had a carry and he did not. There’s a huge hole for a freshman RB in 2014, Shai McKenzie.
Overall, the slow start was not a surprise, but the two interceptions and horrific defensive play killed any chance the offense had to get into a groove. The inability of the defense to get off the field in the 2nd quarter was the real killer in this game. Pitt was never going to win, but if the defense even holds FSU to FGs and Savage gets some air under the second interception, the final score ends up a lot more respectable and the offense gets a much better shot at getting into a groove in the second half. There were a lot of coachable moments and I think the right players are in place to respond well. Prepare for New Mexico, dominate, then hit the reset button and start anew in the ACC.
I have two requests from yinz. First, does anyone have a way of sending me the ESPN telecast? I’m an idiot and I forgot to DVR it. Second, I have Sprint for my cell phone carrier (I need unlimited data) and my signal was so awful at Heinz that I couldn’t tweet or text. Any advice on how to get better signal without getting a different carrier? It’s not a phone issue, I have a Galaxy S4.
On a slightly off topic sidenote, WVU fans are pathetic. Sitting next to me in 219 were two WVU fans incognito there to root against Pitt. The one had clearly not bathed. Behind us? A group of WVU fans who bought FSU gear to root against Pitt. Really? I guess when you barely beat William and Mary you need to find solace in your former rival, who wants nothing to do with you anymore, losing.