We had lots of good coverage this week on the Cincinnati game. A few of the points I made in the Cincinnati game preview unfortunately came true tonight.
The good news was that Pitt kept it close. I wrote in Friday's preview that they key to the game would be to keep the Bearcats to field goals instead of giving up touchdowns. That happened and, well, Pitt had a chance to win.
Then came the point about playing from behind that was somewhat buried:
The Panthers' offense put up those big numbers with little pressure to do so. They proved they can play, but we've also seen how they've fared when they needed late drives. In the games against Iowa and Notre Dame, needing to put up points late, the team failed miserably.
This point was also made to a degree by Danny Kanell during the broadcast. Kanell (who, as evidenced by the Q&A he did with us a few weeks ago, is a bright guy) mentioned how easily Pitt's points flowed earlier in the game, but were MIA in crunch time. The bottom line is that Pitt is not a come-from-behind type of team. Offensively, everything seems to come harder for them under pressure. They were able to get into position for the long-range field goal at the end, but after that early second-half touchdown, couldn't put up a single point the rest of the way.
Flat out disappointing.
Another thing that I pointed out this week (along with Jon in his preview) is that Pitt needed to keep Collaros at bay. Mission accomplished as the defense forced him into two picks and he had a very pedestrian game.
One thing that really hurt was that Cincinnati did what UConn didn't - they took away Pitt's short pass. There were several times when Pitt was able to turn a short pass into a nice gain, but the Bearcats defense also stopped the play several times for short or no gains. I think that, maybe more than anything, was the big reason for the lack of offensive consistency in the second half. As I wrote in the post-game report over at SB Nation Pittsburgh, despite playing from behind for a big chunk of the half and throwing the ball often, Sunseri threw for only 94 yards in the second half.
Missing Ray Graham hurt, obviously. Pitt's two backs, Zach Brown and the now non-redshirted Issac Bennett, teamed up for 80 yards on 17 carries.
So where's this leave us? While the Big East championship is probably out of reach, it's not a complete given just yet. Surprisingly enough, Pitt still has a shot at it, though they need a few things to break their way.Most importantly, they need to win out ... and based on the (in)consistency we've seen this year, that seems unlikely. But work with me, here.
They then need to hope for Cincinnati to lose not one, but two of their four remaining games against West Virginia, Rutgers, Syracuse, and UConn. That could then create some confusion in the rankings if several teams are left with two losses and it would then go to head-to-head matchups. I'm not getting into that at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, but you get the idea.
The obvious thing is that Pitt is not only a long shot to win the Big East, but still has a lot of work to do to even get to bowl eligibility. They need to win two of their final three games against Syracuse, Louisville, and West Virginia (the latter two will be on the road). That's no guarantee, and a bowl would be a nice way to end out what has been a pretty forgettable season.
I've found myself being increasingly apathetic about this team right now. Maybe it's getting older or maybe it's gearing up for basketball season. At 4-5 this obviously hasn't gone as planned and what's the use in being upset at it at this point? The team isn't going to be able to fix the problems they have this season and while they've played well at times, have been wildly inconsistent.
Lost in all of this is that the team didn't lay a complete egg tonight as they did in games against Utah or Rutgers. They kept the No. 11 offense in the country to 26 points and were within a field goal of going to overtime. I get that Sunseri was awful in the second-half (and I'm not getting into a debate of good Tino (1st half) vs. bad Tino (2nd half) tonight), but the team simply fell a few play short.
Sometimes that happens.