It's probably too early to say Pitt turned its season around tonight, but with a 21-16 win against Virginia Tech, they're at least headed in the right direction.
I figured Pitt would come out playing with a chip on their shoulder and they did. But first half mistakes really hurt the team, making the game closer than it probably should have been.
In the first quarter and on Virginia Tech's 22-yard line, a penalty backed them up out of field goal range. In the beginning of the second quarter, Pitt got down to the Virginia Tech's 34, but Chad Voytik, who was really up and down (more on him in a separate post), took a horrible sack to again knock them out of field goal range. Voytik also started fumbled the ball away in Pitt's first drive of the game and threw a costly interception before halftime that the Hokies turned into a field goal.
Pitt just had a difficult time getting out of their own way.
Still, the offensive playcalling was far better than anyone could really expect. It was absolutely fair to hammer Paul Chryst and company for the somewhat predictable offenses we've seen a lot of this year, but just as they got criticism then, they deserve credit here.
Pitt did just about everything they could on offense. A trick play that resulted in a Tyler Boyd pass to quarterback Chad Voytik. Several designed runs by Voytik - more than we typically see, I thought. A deep ball to Tyler Boyd that resulted in a touchdown and a few other deep shots. A shovel play to James Conner from Voytik that was nearly broken for a big gain. Overall, I thought the offensive game plan was really strong.
The defense, another maligned group, really did their job as well. There was the breakdown in the secondary that resulted in a long pass play and ensuing field goal, but the defense had a good night. A really good night, in fact. Some of that can be attributed to Hokie quarterback Michael Brewer, who wasn't that great. But Virginia Tech still came in with a 4-2 record and was a team that was beating others with him, so Pitt has to get credit. There was more pressure on the quarterback and tighter coverage in the secondary.
Ironically, one thing that Pitt appeared to have an advantage in was the kicking game. But Chris Blewitt missed his only attempt (his first on the year) and Virginia Tech made all three of theirs, so ... I mean, so much for that.
I won't speak for our writers that picked Pitt to win the game, but Pitt not only won but looked like a better team. To me, the game wasn't as close as the final score indicated and Pitt never trailed. The Panthers had to sweat it out after Blewitt's missed field goal and giving up a late touchdown. But over the course of the game, I just think Pitt looked like the better team. They had more total yards, their defense played a better game, and, more importantly (and this was really the difference in the game), they got touchdowns instead of having to settle for field goals. If the game is on the road, maybe there's a different result. But the Panthers looked like the superior team tonight.
The win is a signature one for Pitt and Chryst - don't let the fact that Virginia Tech is unranked fool you. Coming in, all four of Virginia Tech's wins were comfortable ones - including at Ohio State. Their only losses were to East Carolina (now a ranked team) and to 5-1 Georgia Tech. The Hokies are a good team and this is no doubt a quality win for Pitt.
To say that the team's season is now all of a sudden back on track, however, would be foolish. A win tonight doesn't suddenly erase the second half collapse against Iowa or the shocking loss to Akron. In fact, it's pretty easy to be disgruntled by the fact that Pitt could very easily be 6-1. In addition, there are still problems - too many penalties (seven for 70 yards) and a lackluster passing game among them. But as I started off saying, the team is at least headed back in the right direction after losing their past three games. Now it's up to them to build some momentum.