For the first time in my life, I am jealous of West Virginia. I wasn’t jealous when they were nearly slated for a national championship in 2007. I wasn’t jealous when Pat White and Steve Slaton were on the Heisman "players-to-watch-lists" every season while Shady and Dion Lewis were left out. In this age of a promised "high-octane" offense, I am jealous.
West Virginia isn’t going to win a national championship this year. Big East? Maybe. Still, that isn’t why I’m envious of Mountaineer Nation. I’m jealous because they have a leader at quarterback. They have a guy that the team trusts and that's something that Pitt simply doesn't have right now.
Geno Smith is often criticized for some of the plays that he makes. He faces scrutiny for bad interceptions, overthrows, underthrows, and mental mistakes. Hiis overall stats don’t show that, though. With 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a Mountaineer, Geno has been quietly and efficiently leading his team to wins.
Even more than the stats, though, there's the leadership that he brings to the field. For the first time on Saturday, I sat down and watched an entire West Virginia game that was not against the Panthers. I watched every snap that Geno took, every throw he attempted. Against arguably the best defense in the country, he threw the ball 65 times. Sure, some of that was dictated by playing from behind, but Smith was throwing the ball early and often. They put their complete trust in Geno to go out and make plays.
Coaches and fans believed that to win the game, the best bet would be to allow their quarterback to sling the ball around and make as many plays as possible. Geno did just that. Completing nearly 60% of those passes, he threw for 463-yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions in the game, but both were in the first half. He made plays when he had to and really played the best game that I have ever watched him play. Best defense in the country and he torched them for over 460-yards - that's how a leader puts a team on his back and tries to will them to victory.
He was intense and focused on every down. He would turn to the sidelines to head coach Dana Holgorsen, looking for each play. The intensity was clearly visible in his eyes and you could see the guy was dialed in. The camera panned directly to his face before every play, his expression remaining unchanged despite incomplete passes, interceptions, and the game becoming out of reach. He still threw the ball around the field extremely well and did his best job at leading a team.
West Virginia never had much of a chance in this game. LSU is a true national championship contender with arguably one of the best defenses in college football’s recent history. They were stronger, faster, and more skilled than the team opposing them. Still, in this game, the reason was clear why West Virginia was able to hang with LSU for a bit - Geno Smith. It isn’t too often that I talk so highly of a player that I despise as a fan ... especially if he is a member of the team that I hate the most. Geno deserves the accolades, though. He played an incredible game and showed how he can lead a team the right way.
This became so important to me because at noon, I watched Tino Sunseri and our Panthers score 12 points against a mediocre Notre Dame team. This was a huge game for the program and it was a game that would get fans thinking maybe Pitt could win the Big East. No, it wasn't a Big East game, but a win over Notre Dame would clearly have been a morale booster.
They didn’t win, obviously. Instead, the Panthers scored only one touchdown in a losing effort. Really, though, is that much of an effort? A "high-octane" offense scoring only 12 points at home on national television? Hardly.
Now, there is plenty of blame to go around. Bad coaching decisions, bad quarterback play, a few defensive breakdowns, and horrible offensive line play all attributed to this loss. Arguments will be and have been made since the game ended and will continue until kickoff on Thursday against South Florida. All of those aside, we lost the game because we do not have a quarterback like Geno Smith.
All in all, Tino Sunseri played fine, he really did. There were, of course, the awful sacks, but he made some throws and threw no interceptions. Though he only threw for 165 yards, his completion percentage was over 73 percent. His 5.5-yard average, though, means that the people calling plays have no faith in his ability to air the ball out down field. They have no faith because they have no reason to believe in him. I personally don’t believe in him and neither do many of the fans in the stands. More importantly, I don't think the coaches do, either. When coaches stick up for their players in press conferences, they are doing that because they have to. Their true feelings show in the playcalling and Pittsburgh’s coaching staff is at a loss with Sunseri.
In 17 games as a starter, Tino hasn’t shown any significant improvement in his play or leadership qualities. Until he does, this team will be in disarray and won’t be going very far. Pitt already seems as if they are looking for another option at quarterback in walk-on freshman, Trey Anderson. Anderson played the entire third series on Saturday and will likely do the same Thursday. The plan is to do this for every game the rest of the season. If Anderson can play well and put some scoring drives together, look for the Panthers to give him a shot to take the reigns as they have allowed Tino to do in the past. Hopefully someone will because this carriage is starting to run off of the road ... fast.