Well, that was fun, right?
Pitt was competitive against Oklahoma State, but ultimately fell to the Cowboys on the road on Saturday in a 45-38 shootout.
The Panthers scored plenty of points. The problem? That whole defense thing. Most notably, it was the secondary, which was thrashed and the team’s glaring problem. More on that in a bit.
There was, of course, a massive weather delay. It was initially said to expect to last about 30 minutes but that stretched on to about two hours. I have to say that, as I followed along on WatchESPN, the game lost all kinds of importance for me and I had a difficult time paying attention. When play did resume, Oklahoma State ended up winning it on a long pass play (shocker!) near the end of the game and Pitt ran out of time on their final drive before a Nathan Peterman interception officially ended things.
So, this whole time of possession thing is sort of a misleading stat, right? Pitt strives to win that battle and many times, it’s indicative of the final score. That wasn’t the case today. Pitt dominated Oklahoma State in that area, holding the ball for nearly 38 minutes to the Cowboys’ 22. But part of the problem with that stat is that Oklahoma State often scored quickly.
Like, um, when they unleashed a 91-yard bomb on the very first play from scrimmage.
There were a few other storylines other than the Panthers’ imploding secondary. James Conner had a solid day, going for 111 yards on the ground and adding 60 yards on two catches. Quadree Henderson continued to prove he is a budding dual-threat star with 95 rushing yards, 31 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. Nathan Peterman had 237 passing yards, which is one of his bigger totals.
But all of that pales in comparison to the real issue, which is the Pitt secondary.
I said in the preview that the Pitt secondary would be tested and, well, they didn’t pass. We saw glimpses of issues last week against Penn State when, despite getting good pressure during the game, Pitt still gave up over 300 yards to an inexperienced quarterback. But today was a complete disaster. Mason Rudolph torched the Pitt defense to the tune of 540 yards and slung the ball all over the field. Now, keep this in mind - he was only 26-46 on the day and was actually fairly inaccurate much of the time. A more accurate guy perhaps ends up with 650 yards or so. Just a really ugly situation. Wide receiver James Washington was the biggest beneficiary with 296 receiving yards on only nine catches.
Pitt’s secondary really didn’t have any answers all day and the problem is, it might not get any better. Avonte Maddox was continuously picked on and Ryan Lewis had his problems as well. There also wasn’t a lot of great safety help, either, and you’d often see guys one on one down the field, which shouldn’t be happening with that sort of frequency. The defensive backs were routinely beaten and often, on deep throws.
The problem is for Pitt is that I don’t see where the improvement comes from. Damar Hamlin’s status is completely unknown at this point and even when Pitt brought in other guys like Dane Jackson and Phillipie Motley, the unit still struggled. The Panthers do have top recruit Paris Ford coming in next year but he and Hamlin will still need work. It might not be until 2018 when you see a significantly better secondary without a transfer or something.
Now, the good news is that Pitt won’t always be facing such a good passing attack. Still, that problem showed just why the Panthers aren’t going to be invincible. They just need more talent there. They’re a decent team right now, but games like this proved why they’re not yet great.
Another point of frustration for me was some of the offensive playcalling. When Quadree Henderson did get his hands on the ball, he was very good and made things happen. Sadly, that didn’t happen enough - especially in a game that was a complete shootout.
I was a little taken aback by some of the offensive playcalling. There was a 3rd and 3, for example, which screams for something like a sweep with Henderson or a quick slant inside. Instead, Pitt tried some variation of a rollout with Peterman before a failed 10-15 yard attempt downfield or something like that. Also a few too many straight runs up the middle and I was relieved to hear that it wasn’t only me when even the play-by-play guy mentioned something about the basic nature of the offense after a play.
But Pitt scored 38 points, so they obviously did plenty of good things on offense and that wasn’t the real/biggest problem today.
Overall, I just have a really hard time being too upset about this game. Would have been nice to win it, but is also wasn’t at all expected. Pitt also has a bigger game in the grand scheme of things next weekend against North Carolina since it’s a conference matchup. And the Panthers still went into a road game against what was a Top 25 team and took them to the final minutes of the game. I thought the team gave a solid effort today but the secondary was just exposed too much.