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After seeing their stock surge with impressive wins over VT and Gardner Webb, Pitt's value took a nosedive on Friday with an embarrassing loss to the Orange.
After the 55-point outburst against Gardner Webb, I thought this team had worked out all the kinks. The defense had shut down opponents for two straight weeks. Tino Sunseri and his receivers were having career seasons and only seemed to be getting better. It even seemed like Paul Chryst was going to break the bye week blues, and keep his team sharp over the off week. Unfortunately that wasn't the case on Friday as Pitt's offense sputtered in pathetic fashion, raising questions about the true identity of this team.
Bull (upward trending): Defense
One area on this team where there seems to be real intrinsic value is the defense. After working out some assignment problems following the opening loss, the defense has been consistently strong, Syracuse included.
Turned out, defense was the team’s strongest ally in the Carrier Dome: Syracuse’s offense didn’t score over the game’s final 55 minutes.
Pitt’s defense is ranked 22nd and 24th nationally in total and passing defense, respectively. The rushing defense, which allowed Syracuse three first downs on the game’s last sequence, is 49th out of 120 schools.
Knowing that Ryan Nassib is a strong passer, the defense probably spent a lot of time preparing to stop him, hence the sometimes spotty run defense. Overall, however, they held the dangerous Syracuse offense to a measly 14 points, all within the game's first five minutes. If that's not a tough defense, then I don't know what is. Dave Huxtable's unit once again did its part to win the game - the offense is where the problem falls.
Bear (downward trending): Offensive Line
It shouldn't have been hard for the offense to put up 15 points. Not after they piled on a combined 90 against the two previous opponents. Even with Sunseri throwing for 319 yards and no interceptions, the first team offense couldn't get anything going because of a horrendous performance by the offensive line.
Pitt’s line will come under deeper scrutiny this week after a spotty performance last week in a 14-13 loss at Syracuse.
• Quarterback Tino Sunseri was sacked five times.
• Pitt running backs averaged 2.1 yards per carry.
While this group has never been a genuine strength this year, they appeared to be getting much better between the Tech and Gardner Webb games. Then, all progress seemed to regress against the Orange on Friday. The running backs couldn't go anywhere (it seemed like Ray Graham was running backwards more than forwards) and numerous false start penalties stymied any momentum we had. If there's one area that's actually destroying value for this team, it's probably the offensive line.