Ray Graham had a modest day against Notre Dame (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
I wrote immediately following Saturday's game that it was hard to feel too upset about this game. I always get less concerned about winning non-conference games, anyway, but this one had me particularly apathetic. Would have been nice to win, but I'm not sure I feel any different about Pitt as I did before. Solid team that has a chance to do some things, but will fall short of being great this year.
That doesn't mean Todd Graham's failed or that his system can't work. It simply means that Pitt has a lot of work to do and this is going to take some time - longer than most of us really cared to admit.
There are those, obviously, that are hoping for more. Joe Starkey of the Trib is one of them:
Last year, Todd Graham beat Notre Dame with Tulsa. This year, he couldn't beat Notre Dame with Pitt.
I get Starkey's point, but he's probably a little off base with that statement. First, Notre Dame could be better this year and in 2010, they were only 7-5 in the regular season. Second, Tulsa (painful as this is to say) was probably a better team than Pitt last year. They won ten games and beat Notre Dame, while Pitt lost to the Irish last season.
But his point is taken. 12 points at home? That's pretty sad for an offense that aims to put up 35-40 points a game.Todd Graham continued to place much of the blame at the feet of quarterback Tino Sunseri:
"We are getting sacked on quick-gain passes," Graham said. "We have to eliminate that."
With the nation's second-leading receiver failing to make a catch after Notre Dame's opening drive, it was the 6-foot-6, 249-pound Eifert snaring clutch receptions in the middle of the field and exploiting the Panthers' underneath coverage on the Irish's game-winning, fourth-quarter drive.
He caught four passes on the possession, including a 3-yard touchdown in double coverage in the front of the end zone, and followed it up with a two-point conversion grab for the final points in his team's 15-12 victory Saturday at Heinz Field.
"They were rolling the coverage to Floyd, so that allowed a lot of other guys to step and make plays," said Eifert, who caught a career-high eight passes for 75 yards from quarterback Tommy Rees.
''I think what we did more than anything else is we went back to some of our basics. Probably 10 or 15 plays, they were some of our base plays,'' Kelly said.
That's the thing - Pitt's got no 'go to' plays, it appears. When Pitt needs to move the chains, there's no play that they can hang their hats on and know it will work more often than not. Even in 3rd and short situations, Ray Graham's not been guaranteed to pick up needed yardage on the ground. The players are still getting familiar with the offense and it shows.
"I didn't know that guy was that quick -- or strong," said Pitt safety Jason Hendricks, who had Gray in his grasp but could not bring him to the ground. "He's got a little shiftiness to him, too, but his speed was amazing."
Unfortunately for Pitt, the biggest game of the season is coming up and there's not much time to catch their breath:
"The big thing is going to be the short week and forgetting about this. Conference play is the big thing. We’re going to focus on that and with the short week, we’re really going to have to get going."
Todd Graham added:
"We’ve lost two close games back-to-back. I’ve got all the confidence in the world. Our focus is to go to work and figure out a way to beat South Florida and be 1-0 in the Big East."
This game is obviously far more important than the Notre Dame game on Saturday. Lose and while Pitt may not be completely out of the Big East race, it will be extremely difficult to win the conference. A win would mean beating possibly the best team in the conference and make things significantly easier. It would also, as Starkey pointed out, change the current feelings about the team.
The bottom line is that Pitt's faced three decent opponents. To go 0-3 in those games won't exactly instill a lot of confidence among fans the rest of the way.