It seemed like a lot of fans didn't care about the BBVA Compass Bowl Game. Heck, I was one of them and didn't even expect to be around for the game. But as evidenced by all the fights/shoving, both teams clearly cared.
Pitt came out and played hard, played well. They needed to run the ball well and control Randall Cobb - and they did both. The Panthers had some sustained drives, and Dion Lewis ran for 102 yards and a touchdown. Ray Graham added another 90, and all together, Pitt ended up with more than 260 yards on the ground.
Oh yeah, and the defense played pretty well, too. Pitt played without Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard, and Myles Caragein, but still managed to hold a top 25 offense to only ten points. Sure the Wildcats were playing without quarterback Mike Hartline, but his backup Morgan Newton didn't play bad. Newton threw for more than 200 yards, completed about 60% of his passes, and did not have an interception.
Pitt also did a good job on Kentucky's do-everything man, All-American Randall Cobb. Cobb had some nice returns and also a few plays that showed his speed, but he only ended up with about 85 total receiving and rushing yards. Not bad, but about 30 yards under his average. I'm sure if you told interim coach Phil Bennett that Pitt could limit Cobb to only 85 yards and no touchdowns, he would have taken it in a heartbeat.
Speaking of Bennett, he was understandably pleased with the outcome:
Bennett was soaked with a cooler with a little more than 1 minute remaining.
"We've got good kids," Bennett said. "They've been through a lot. I'm just proud of them and I know Dave Wannstedt is."
A good way for him to go out. He was one of the few stable forces around these kids over the past month and it was nice to see him rewarded for that.
Now look, I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you that this one game saved Pitt's season. Or that Pitt had a successful year. But, 8-5 is far from the end of the world. We can all sit around and argue that Pitt 'coulda, woulda, shoulda', but the bottom line is that eight wins is far from a horrible season. In the beginning of the Wannstedt era, we saw some pretty bad teams. There are far worse things than going 8-5 and I'll just leave it at that.
Next year's Pitt team is going to look a lot different. But to be honest, I expect Pitt to have a decent year, regardless of the coach they bring in. Tino Sunseri will be a year older and a year better. Dion Lewis may be gone to the NFL, but Ray Graham is a pretty good replacement. Jon Baldwin will be gone on offense, but there were few times that the team could really utilize him effectively anyway. Pitt will be losing a big deep threat, obviously, but Mike Shanahan and Devin Street should be okay. Plus, there's Todd Thomas who could emerge as an excellent receiver down the line if he stays in that position. The defense is losing Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus, but as we saw today, the defensive line can still make plays and has some pretty good players coming back, including surprise Brandon Lindsey.