Despite a 3-0 start, one of the things that was a problem area for Pitt has been the play of the secondary. Through those first three games, just about everything was going right for the Panthers. Even the lack of a passing game could be somewhat explained away by the lack of need to throw instead of run. The play of the defensive backs, however, was something that looked like it could be an issue.
Ugly play in the secondary was not only evident in the game against Iowa, but a glaring weakness. Those problems, though, were also seen earlier this year in the form of giving up big plays. While the unit showed no such problems against Delaware, Boston College gave them some trouble with a 48-yard touchdown pass. The defensive backs also gave up big plays against FIU, including a 57-yard touchdown pass.
Things got even worse against Iowa on Saturday.
Pitt received an early break when the defensive backs were burned by an Iowa receiver but the ball bounced off of his hands and went to Lafayette Pitts, who intercepted it. The Panthers, though, weren't so lucky the rest of the way.
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock connected on a 44-yard strike and later in the series, the defensive backs were again napping when Iowa went for it on 4th down and connecting on a short touchdown pass from two yards out to a wide open receiver. In the second half, Iowa brought in backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, but Pitt still gave up the big play, as he connected on a 62-yard bomb on the way to Iowa's second score. Add in a bad pass interference penalty by Reggie Mitchell, and the unit just had all sorts of problems.
Pitt's big issue right now is that all kinds of guys are making mistakes. Mitchell was beaten badly on that aforementioned FIU strike and Pitts has been beaten more times than I care to count. In addition, true freshman reserve Avonte Maddox came in to the Iowa game and was toasted as well on one of the long throws. The corners are a mess right now.
Part of the issue here is the depth. Pitt took a hit when Jahmahl Pardner left the program, Titus Howard was suspended and Trenton Coles transferred before the season. Those were three guys expected to contend for starting jobs and while it looked like Coles was passed up on the depth chart, having him around to give the Panthers another option would be nice. In addition, the unit also had to replace two starters from last year, K'Waun Williams and Jason Hendricks.
Coach Troy Douglas is really going to have all eyes on him going forward as the unit's struggles heavily contributed to this loss. And the ugly thing is that Pitt has yet to face a great quarterback (though, Beathard certainly played well in the second half of the Iowa game). When that happens, things could get really ugly.
None of this is to suggest that the struggles on Saturday were all the fault of the secondary. The offense laid a big fat egg in the second half, scoring a total of three points. In addition, the secondary can only be as good as the defensive line sometimes. If they can't get any pressure as was the case on Saturday, that only makes them more vulnerable. The two things are really interconnected to a degree and even the best defensive backs will struggle if opposing quarterbacks have all day to throw. Still, some of the poor play has been attributed to receivers flat out beating guys down the field and that just can't happen as much as it has been.
There is time to make adjustments and Pitt will no doubt try some different things. With the lack of depth and some young guys playing key roles, I'm just not sure it will be fixed this year.
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