That Pitt lost to Iowa tonight in a 27-24 heartbreaker wasn't surprising. And if you've been following the program for more than a minute and a half, neither was the fashion.
I silently gave all kinds of credit to quarterbackfor leading the Panthers to a game-tying drive. Sadly, with even under a minute left, there was too much time still on the clock. Things started with a nice return for Iowa to get them to their 30. Then came several scrambles by quarterback and, voila, Iowa found themselves around the Pitt 40.
Most fans would not be frightened by the prospect of kicking a 57-yard field goal. For Pitt fans, it would have been a surprise had the kicker not made the kick. And ... the rest is history.
Lots to digest, so let's get to it.
You give credit where it's due to Iowa. You hate to lose a game like that, but that's what happens in sports. For the most part, I think Pitt did what it could. There were a few gaffes, though, that didn't help things.
First, there were the two early interceptions by quarterback Nate Peterman. The second one was particularly awful as Pitt was inside the Iowa 10-yard line and threatening to score. Not getting any points there, well, cost the team. I also wasn't fond of much of the offensive play calling in the game as was demonstrated on Twitter and in the gamethread.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney mixed in several awful calls, such as a halfback toss, burying the ball back five yards from the line of scrimmage on a 3rd and 1, resulting in a punt. There was an odd 3rd and 4 run up the middle when the team had no running game all night long. There were the continual screen passes that Iowa figured out that went for minimal gains. What took the cake for me, however, was the decision to not go for it on 4th down in Iowa territory.
With the ball at the Iowa 42-yard line, Pitt opted for a punt when they needed only a few inches. That proved costly as'nailed' a 27-yard punt and the Hawkeyes marched downfield for a touchdown.
I said it at the time, but it bears repeating. I am not typically one of those guys that says the head coach should always go for it on 4th and short. In fact, I was brutally critical of two Paul Chryst decisions to do that before halftime in games against Notre Dame and Rutgers in the past as the team failed to get a first down on both occasions. But this was really the perfect time to attempt it since Pitt was in Iowa territory and, more importantly, had not done very much offensively to that point in the game. They were only going to have so many opportunities and, on the road in a tough environment, you really have to take some chances. That was a swing and a miss for head coach Pat Narduzzi, in my opinion.
So with that said, what else stuck out to me?
The biggest problem Pitt had was the inability to run the ball with a dud of a performance totaling a meager 55 yards. I mentioned this in the Q&A I did with SB Nation's Iowa site, but the Panthers really couldn't afford to make their quarterbacks go out and win the game. To his credit, Peterman did lead Pitt on that final drive. But realistically, he andaren't going to win a ton of games with their arms. The passing game was a mixed bag tonight and the team needed more for that without a running game. The Panthers are going to find things very difficult if they can't run the ball any better than they did tonight. The good thing is that, in facing Iowa's top ten run defense, that may be the toughest one they see this year. But they really need to get better there.
Speaking of the running game, I think we're all seeing that replacingis not as easy as many of us thought. I was one that felt the committee of running backs Pitt has (which, by the way, includes two four-star recruits and a guy that ran for 207 yards in the opener) would be able to replace a lot of his production. But it's difficult to imagine Conner not being able to do more than the backs did in the past two games. This isn't something that can be placed on the offensive line, in my opinion. That group has given really adequate pass protection and is playing well despite some injuries - they are doing their job.
Along those lines, it's interesting to see where the rotation stands after tonight. Darrin Hall started tonight and got the bulk of the carries.and both played and, while they have had some injury issues, it's weird to see the true freshman in there starting since the other two guys were well enough to play. The backfield is very much a question mark right now.
One good thing, to me, was the play of the defense and, again, the special teams. Pitt, of course, got the big punt block return for a touchdown. And the defense was very active and made several key stops. They have a ways to go still, but you can see the pieces coming into place.looks very impressive at cornerback and while the ups and downs continued, Jordan Whitehead and (who had an interception) look good.
The safety thing looks odd now as Pitt will have a question oncegets back onto the field. We don't know when that will be, but imagine either he or Webb on the bench. Webb has played very well and Mitchell, going into the season, was considered by some to be the leader of the defense. Moving Whitehead to safety continues to look like a curious decision since, as I said at the time, Pitt was more set on safety than they were at corner. A secondary of Whitehead, Maddox, Webb, and Mitchell would have a lot of potential. You certainly can't try to move him to corner now, so it will be interesting to see what Pitt does going forward once Mitchell gets back in there.
Overall, though, I'm pleased with the defense. There were also some really big hits tonight and that group is playing with some fire. Really like what they are doing and things should be even better in a couple of years once some of the Narduzzi recruits are in the mix and the younger guys get a little older. They are giving up points - 37 to Youngstown State and 27 tonight. But I also think some of that has been the product of being on the field too much. When the offense controlled the clock against Akron, they nearly pitched a shutout.
Finally, I wanted to touch on the quarterback situation. The early picks by Peterman were bad - there's no question about it. And as I said earlier this week, I have very real concerns about his ability to take care of the ball since his interception rate was about twice as high as that of Chad Voytik. All of that being said, he really settled down after that and, I thought, played well. He finished 20-29 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. His last drive was extremely impressive, too. The play that most impressed me was findingon the 4th and long in Iowa territory. I was convinced (and said so on Twitter) that they needed to go to there, but Peterman made a great throw to the tight end and he just looked very composed after the early picks. That's not to say he was perfect, but he was very good after the interceptions.
Another thing I liked is that he spread the ball around a little tonight. I wrote about the tight ends being utilized a little more and they had four catches (including the big Holtz grab) and another touchdown tonight.caught only a couple of balls, but there were a lot of screens/short dumps to the running backs. Boyd had ten catches but at the end of the day, when you don't have a running game, he has to be a big part of what they do.
With that in mind, I think it's time to end the quarterback debate and give him the job unless he struggles. I still have deep concerns about his turnover rate, which hasn't been good over the course of his career. But at this point in time, I'd be fine with him going forward as the starter. Narduzzi, Chaney, and whoever else might be involved in the decision needs to commit to him from here on out - and I think they should. Again, if he struggles and you need to go back to Voytik, I'd be fine with that. But the plan to play both guys should be over.
Overall, it's difficult to be upset with the way the team played. I thought some of the coaching decisions were odd and the finish, of course, was a major facepalm. But there were some good things that came out of tonight and I think that will help the team going forward.