Pitt teamed up on both sides of the ball for a dominant win over the Hokies (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Chances are if you were one of the 11% in our recent poll that said Pitt would win their game against Virginia Tech, you just weren't being honest with yourself. And not to make judgments, but you either just aren't very bright or you probably voted that way just to go against the grain. Pat took Pitt in our writer predictions, but as he tweeted earlier, there was no way he was picking against the Panthers for his first ever pick on the site.
All of that said, the players didn't buy into that and as I wrote in my brief recap over at SB Nation Pittsburgh, that's what matters.
How's this possible? Beats me. I've followed this team for 16 years now and have done so pretty closely for about ten of those seasons. I've seen a lot of things. Surprise wins in the Backyard Brawl. Losses to Ohio, Youngstown State, and Bowling Green. A 72-0 loss to Ohio State. 13-9. 12-0 over Penn State. But even with those surprises, I didn't see Pitt beating Virginia Tech as comfortably as they did.
First things first. The Hokies aren't as good as we all thought. I talked to plenty of Hokies fans this week who suggested that, but didn't really think Pitt could pose much of a challenge. But Virginia Tech clearly proved that the No. 13 ranking was a bit too lofty. The Panthers might be better than we expected, but they're not top 15 good. After a close win against what's not expected to be a great Georgia Tech team and a bad loss at Pitt, the Hokies have plenty of questions.
Now that that's out of the way, just what can we say about Pitt? There's one big thing to keep in mind here.
This was only one game.
Pitt has a long way to go and winning one nice game at home doesn't erase a loss to an FCS team and a conference blowout loss. We've still seen more bad than good out of the Panthers and Pitt has a long way to go before we can declare them as contenders for the Big East title. And I mean a long way.
All of that said, if you weren't impressed with what Pitt did today, there's not much I can say. The Panthers played better on both sides of the ball and the only area where they were beaten was special teams, giving up the long punt return and with Kevin Harper's missed field goals.
The offense was methodical and did just what it needed to - run the ball. The refreshing thing for me was great playcalling in my mind. Pitt needed to keep the ball on the ground and that's exactly what they did. There were timely pass plays called and I think the staff did what they needed to do - control the ball with a nice balance. Pitt's offense was on the field for nearly 2/3 of the game and when you combine that with the fact that, other than a Tino Sunseri interception, they did a good job of hanging onto the ball ... well, that along with four Hokie turnovers won the game. The numerous offensive line penalties weren't great and somewhere, Matt Rotheram is still getting an earful. But all in all, the unit was really solid.
The defense did its part, too. Forcing four turnovers, they did exactly what they needed to do in the first two games. Sure, they had no answer (and trust me, I mean no answer) for Marcus Davis, who was open plenty of times throughout the game, but again - all in all, you'll take it.
So, okay, Tino Sunseri. The thing that's most amusing is the small pocket of fans who refuse to give him credit. Kid comes out, throws for nearly 300 yards, has three touchdowns, completes 68% of his passes, and makes play after play. Yet, what do I hear on a post-game radio show? That he's a terrible quarterback who had a lucky game by some guy named Al. Seriously, I've got no problem with criticism lobbed his way when he plays poorly, but if we're being fair, he had an unbelievable day. Not every throw was on target, but most of them were. The interception was, in a word, awful. But if you don't think he had a good game today, you should just come out and say it - you're just not a good dude.
The big thing, of course, was the breakout game by Rushel Shell. Shell even looked better than Ray Graham today and with 157 yards, really carried the team. The development out of this is that Isaac Bennett, who had a monster spring and a solid camp, appears to be the odd man out. Ray Graham is going to continue to demand carries and Shell is now doing the same. Bennett had only a couple of carries and over the past two games, has only a total of seven carries. It's not even that he's done a bad job when in there, but Shell and Graham have just been too good.
What's next for him? He just needs to keep his head in the game and be ready. As we saw last year with Graham, injuries can happen at a moment's notice and he might be needed sooner rather than later. At worse, he should probably share some carries with Shell next season and since he's only a sophomore, still has a lot of football left.
Gardner-Webb up next and then a big conference game on the road against Syracuse. I really don't want to get too far ahead, but if they somehow get past those two games, that huge one at home against Louisville looms in the distance.
It's good to have a win under the belt.
How do you feel now about the Panthers?
Back on the bandwagon - Big East title, here we come (39 votes)
Much better - a big win to help us get back on track (290 votes)
A little better, but way too early to tell (140 votes)
Not much better - this team still isn't very good (15 votes)
484 total votes