So Pitt lost earlier today to Notre Dame. This was my first game in person this year as things came up preventing me from getting to the first two. It's always harder to do these types of recaps without the benefit of watching on TV instead. And trust me, I'm not one to rewatch the game on TV afterwards, so this is all I got.
Hard to explain, but I'm not feeling much anger after this game. Maybe it's getting older, maybe it's the fact that I wasn't expecting a win. It would have been great to see Pitt pull this one out, but the fact that they didn't doesn't have me up in arms. The Iowa loss was disastrous because they were up big, but this one, not so much.
After that Iowa game, too, it's fair to say my expectations changed. Pitt proved after that one that they won't be a great team this year. That was confirmed today. To me, Pitt looks like a team capable of being very good, but has plenty of holes to make them nothing more than an average football team. That may hurt, but this team just doesn't do enough on a consistent basis.
Want a way to sum up today's defeat? Pitt simply fell a few plays short. You could make the argument that Pitt was the better team. They didn't turn the ball over and forced two on defense. Pitt's defense was also much improved over last week's fiasco. But in the end, Notre Dame simply made more plays when they needed to down the stretch - both on offense and defense. And for that, they deserved to win the game.
The most frustrating thing was obviously the long touchdown run by Jonas Gray. Pitt did a decent job against starter Cierre Wood, but the tackling on the 79-yard run by Gray was atrocious. Two players flat out missed tackles and at least one guy took a poor angle in getting to him. The part that really gets you mad is that Gray's a really average back. He's a senior backup and, as I wrote in the recap at SB Nation Pittsburgh, this was his first career touchdown.
On the offensive side, there's going to be more pressure to bench Tino. To a degree, I get that - and if it happens, there won't be any argument from me. He had another very average day. He's gotten to be more accurate and today he completed nearly 75% of his passes. But he rarely connects on long passes (though the long throw to Street should have been caught) and other than scrambling, which he's able to do pretty effectively, actually, he rarely goes out and makes plays. Again, he didn't cost Pitt the game, but he didn't go out and win it, either.
Then, there were the sacks.
Some of them were Tino's fault, no doubt. But there was one in particular when three Irish defenders were in the backfield within a second or two - just not much he can do about that and that's on the line. And speaking of the line, man, that was ugly. The false start penalties took a lot of air out of drives and there simply weren't many holes for Ray Graham to run through today.
At this point, I'm more than willing to see what Trey Anderson can do. Unlike most people, I don't think Tino's totally inept and I'm not convinced Anderson will be much better. But what I do think we'll see out Anderson is less sacks and a bit more ability to scramble.
The thing, though, is that Pitt is basically out of time to experiment. If we were going to see Anderson, today was a good day to do it. Now, Pitt is headed into its most important game of the season (by far), playing South Florida at home on Thursday.
If the Panthers are going to win the conference, this game is basically a must-win. USF is expected to contend for the title and it's not likely that they'll lose many more games and/or that Pitt will run the table. Pitt needs to beat the Bulls on Thursday if the Big East title is their goal as a loss to them basically means Pitt is 1 1/2 games behind USF since they'd own the tiebreaker. And as I've written before, it's much less damaging to lose to a bad team that has no shot at winning the conference than it is to lose to a good team. So as bad as Tino looks, I'm not sure next week is the time to experiment since they really haven't gotten Anderson many reps.
And I wouldn't be doing a game recap justice if I didn't mention what is quickly turning into a pet peeve of mine with Todd Graham. Graham has a lovefest with calling timeouts for some odd reason. And we saw that doing that can cost you a chance to win at the end of a game. Without them, Notre Dame was able to bleed the clock down and Pitt never got the ball back. I absolutely hate calling timeouts for that reason - particularly in the second half. I realize there are key moments in a game where the other team might line up in a formation that catches you off-guard, but there are times when you've just got to be ready. The prime example was when Pitt had a 3rd and 1 and called a time out. They then proceeded to run a simple quarterback sneak. Sure, they picked up a first down, but that's a call you can make without burning a TO. We used to get on Dave Wannstedt for his poor clock management skills and Graham, in my opinion, can be just as bad with wasting timeouts early in halves.
Big game on Thursday against USF. It's basically now or never for Pitt for this season.