Admit it. Unless you're from Rutgers, you're sick of seeing those ads touting that they played in the first college football game, too.
Seriously, though, I don't hate Rutgers. I have a hard time even disliking them when they're not playing Pitt. I think Greg Schiano's a pretty good coach and I respect them. That said, Pitt gave them a much-needed beatdown today as the team served notice to the rest of the Big East that they are a contender.
Rutgers head coach, Greg Schiano, probably said it best:
"We just got whooped today in all three phases. We struggled protecting the passer, we gave Pitt a short field to work with and besides our blocked punt for a touchdown we really didn’t do much on special teams. On defense we didn’t play the way that we are capable of. When that happens, it’s on me. We obviously didn’t get our football team ready to play today. I don’t think it was anything other than we didn’t execute and Pitt did. They’re a good football team and they are hitting their stride and we were unable to sustain that in the second half."
And in a week when Syracuse beat West Virginia in Morgantown and South Florida beat Cincinnati, he tried to keep his own team's hopes alive:
This team hit a very bad spot today, but this team will be back. In this league, anybody could beat anybody. It’s just going out and playing. We’ll be back."
For the second straight week, Pittsburgh rang up 40 points on a conference foe, beating the Scarlet Knights 41-21. Even though Pitt was clearly dominating the game, it took a little while for it to show up on the scoreboard as the game was tied at the half. Rutgers put on a clinic of how to stay in a game you really don't belong in. Pitt led Rutgers in passing and rushing, but that doesn't matter if you're out there making mistakes and the other team capitalizes.
Crucial turnovers? Check. Pitt was deep in Rutgers territory looking to score on its first possession when a tipped ball went for an interception. Rutgers also blocked a kick and recovered the ball in the end zone and forced a fumble late in the first half.
Score just enough points to stay in it? Check. The recovered block kick for a touchdown is kind of like a double whammy - the other team scores without having to put their offense on the field. Rutgers also put together a nice drive after Pitt's interception and went down the field to score a touchdown.
Hold the other team's offense in check? Check. Pitt scored two touchdowns in the first half, but Rutgers forced three turnovers and forced Pitt to punt three times doing just enough to keep the score tied.
I give a lot of credit to Rutgers, but the second half was clearly a different story. Eventually Pitt's talent broke through and once they limited the mistakes, was too much for the Scarlet Knights.
Start with the rushing game - Dion Lewis and Ray Graham again split the carries, but today was Lewis' day. He was clearly the better back and his 130 rushing yards gave him his first 100-yard game of the season. Lewis is starting to resemble the 2009 Lewis and while I still expect the carries to be split to a degree, you've got to wonder if Dave Wannstedt will lean towards Lewis if he's picking a lead runner.
Oh yeah, the passing game was on, too. For the second straight week, Tino Sunseri may have had his best career game. He was 21-27 for 307 yards, had three touchdowns, and that one tipped-ball interception. I mentioned this over on the recap at SB Nation Pittsburgh, but Tino is starting to get past being simply a 'good' quarterback and is moving into the 'very good' category. He's got a 3:1 TD/INT ratio and is, say it with me, getting better each week. He's fairly mobile and getting to be a really accurate passer. Seems like things turned around ever since that Miami game.
Of course there had to be someone to throw to, and while there were eight different receivers, one guy stood out: Jon Baldwin.
Last year it was the Notre Dame game in which Baldwin proved he was a world-class receiver - this year, it was the Rutgers game. Baldwin did about everything he could to show he's an NFL-caliber wideout. He had five catches for 139 yards and two of those catches were one-handed. Baldwin also caught a jump-ball type pass in the end zone for a touchdown. This guy could send his game film from only this week to NFL scouts and he'd be drafted high. I had some questions about his slow start earlier and was wondering if he'd be back next season, but I just don't see it. He's had some games where he wasn't great, but the potential is clearly there and I think by the end of his season, he'll have enough of a track record where he'll be a high draft pick.
That offense helped Pitt put up 41 points on a pretty highly-rated defense. But as I mentioned earlier this week, Rutgers hadn't exactly put up those numbers against great teams.
And when I rip the offensive playcalling, I've got to credit it when it's good - and today it was good. Frank Cignetti called for several play-action passes/rollouts and it seemed to work each time. The first, to TE Mike Cruz on the touchdown to tie the game at seven, another one to Hynoski on the 4th down play call, and then again on another touchdown to Cruz. Pitt totally did not go conservative and the offense looked better because of it.
Well, it didn't go conservative until the end of the first half when Wannstedt pulled, well, a Wannstedt.
Pit had the ball with about 40 seconds left deep in its own territory, but with a timeout. The usual boos began when Wannstedt merely tried to run out the clock with a Dion Lewis run (which he almost broke for a long gain, by the way). He must have heard the boos because he then called a time out to stop the clock. The only problem is that he let about ten seconds running off the clock, defeating the purpose. I've tried to defend Wannstedt more often than not, but this kind of stuff is indefensible. Man, just make up your mind. I don't care what the decision is, but that call today made it seem like he was trying to appease the crowd. You can't coach that way.
PItt's defense, on the other hand, was all over the field. The defensive line was a key to the gameand they stepped up big time. They constantly pressured Chas Dodd, sacking him seven times and getting after him a number of others. Jabaal Sheard and Brandon Lindsey combined for five of those sacks and it will be interesting to see what Pitt does with Lindsey after Greg Romeus comes back (which could be as early as next week against Louisville).
And holy offensive line, Batman. I thought Pitt's line was a mess, but Rutgers' looked pretty bad. On one play in the second quarter, Jabaal Sheard practically got to Dodd untouched. Defensive breakdowns happen and sometimes defenders are missed. The only problem is Sheard actually had a lineman in front of him - #71, Devin Watkis. Sheard gave him a somewhat-pedestrian move and essentially got to the QB untouched. You had to see it to believe it.
Pitt faces an improving Louisville team next week at home and will look to continue its run towards a Big East Championship. Could Pitt be the best team in the conference? It's not a given yet, but it's a possibility.