Three games into the season and Pitt's record is 1-2 and 0-1 in the Big East, about the record that most people expected of the Panthers heading into the 2012 season. As we all know though, Pitt lost a game it shouldn't have and dominated a team expected to do the same to the Panthers.
Paul Chryst's first three games as Pitt's head coach have stirred up a wide array of emotions from Pitt fans - from disbelief (losing to Youngstown State) to depression (losing to Cincy) to excitement (absolutely owning Virginia Tech). The first two games can't be ignored despite the shocker from Saturday - Pitt had troubles everywhere, at virtually every position outside of running back. But they seemed to right the ship against the Hokies and every position had success against a ranked opponent. There were questions of the coaching staff's decisions and game preparations after those first two games, but you won't and shouldn't be hearing any now. The staff prepared well for the Hokies and did what Chryst said he would do when he arrived - play to the team's strengths, play physical defense, and minimize mistakes.
Normally, I would hand out grades here and discuss what's going well, what's not, and what Pitt needs to do moving forward. But with the three games Pitt has had, that just doesn't seem right.
How good is this team exactly, though? Somewhere in the middle of what we saw on Saturday and what we saw the first two weeks. Pitt is going to be a tough out every time if they can get the kind of production out of their offense they got on Saturday. That, of course, is completely dependent on how well the offensive line blocks. They did an outstanding job on Saturday and hopefully that continues against Gardner-Webb on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the defense, which was downright horrible in the first two games, found new life against a quality opponent, forcing four turnovers and limited the Hokies to just 59 yards rushing after allowing nearly as much in the first play against Cincinnati. Big improvement? Obviously. And now that they have confidence after beating the Hokies, they should have no problem going forward.
There are a couple things to work on, however. Penalties continue to kill the Panthers, as they had 110 yards worth against the Hokies, including several false start penalties. Kicker Kevin Harper has been extremely inconsistent throughout his career and that showed up again during these first three weeks. And 3rd down continues to cause problems for the Panther offense, after Pitt was 5-17 on 3rd down on Saturday. The good thing though is that these issues can all be fixed.
Pitt's next three games are home vs. Gardner-Webb, at Syracuse, and home vs. Louisville. Pitt should go 2-1, beating Gardner-Webb and Syracuse while falling to the Cardinals, though it shouldn't surprise anyone for Pitt to go 3-0 after Syracuse looked unimpressive against Stony Brook and Louisville nearly choked away their game against North Carolina. And of course, 1-2 is even a possibility.
But the season is looking a lot better than it did a week ago and Pitt has to continue to build off of Saturday.