The line for the Pitt-Oklahoma State game today had the Cowboys favored by about 14 points. That, as we found out, was overly generous to the Panthers. Pitt was beaten badly by Oklahoma State, suffering the worst loss in the Pat Narduzzi era, falling 59-21 at home.
The game was frustrating from a variety of reasons. Mostly, it was just that Pitt was so inept in virtually everything they did. The greatest offenses were the tackling and the inability to get off the field on third downs, but there just wasn't much that the team did right in any facet of the game.
Pitt forced Oklahoma State into a couple of big 3rd downs early in the game and you got a pretty good sense of what kind of a game it would be. One was when the Cowboys were pinned deep into their own territory and ran the ball on 3rd and long, seemingly just trying to gain some room for punting. Several missed tackles later and they had a first down. They marched down the field for a touchdown after another third and long was converted following a stop, but an ensuing Dane Jackson pass interference call that kept the drive going.
Another key third down had Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph scrambling desperately and evading would be tacklers. He converted a long pass play for a touchdown when several Panthers should have taken him down. Pitt got behind early and once it was 28-0 early in the second quarter, fans had already started heading for the exits. 16 minutes into the game.
The tackling was probably the worst I've seen it in a Narduzzi game. I can't even count how many plays where there was at least one (and in many cases, more than that) missed tackle. If there's a focal point in practice this week, I don't know how it's not that.
3rd down was an issue all first half. By my count, Oklahoma State was an astounding 10-10 in the first half on third down, scoring touchdowns on its first seven drives. Pitt settled down a little in the second half giving up ten points, but Rudolph and, I'm guessing other starters, were yanked. When it counted, Pitt couldn't get a stop to save their lives and Oklahoma State scored at will.
Beyond those two problem areas, Pitt's secondary was also torched by the Cowboys for the second straight season. Today, they gave up 497 passing yards and five passing scores. Four players had at least 100 receiving yards, which was, as ESPN pointed out, the first time that's happened in 12 years.
So the defense was bad. Unfortunately, unlike last year, the offense was bad, too.
Pitt scored 21 points and seven of those came on a botched punt where Pitt recovered the ball in the end zone. The offense was responsible for only 14 points and really didn't look good today.
Starting with the running game, there just wasn't much there. Chawntez Moss had the most carries but was largely ineffective with 36 yards on only 12 carries. He did have a long run but it got called back by a holding call on Mike Herndon. Herndon was also whistled for a false start and didn't have a great game. Quadree Ollison had only seven carries for six yards and no back had a good day, really.
The big highlight on offense was we saw the insertion of Ben DiNucci into the game after Max Browne failed to get anything going. Browne, as he has been, wasn't the worst quarterback in the world (7-10 for 60 yards) but again brought no spark to the offense and did nothing to really warrant staying in the game. He missed a deep shot to a wide open Jester Weah but he was generally his immobile self. No big plays, no big mistakes, just kind of ... there.
I made the case that Browne deserved at least one more start this week. He got that and, well, I've seen enough. He just isn't going to go out and make plays that a team needs in order to win. Certainly not enough of them, anyway. People have compared him to Tino Sunseri but Tino would at least make throws. He threw for almost 3,300 yards in his final year. For as maligned as he was, he wasn't throwing for 100 or 150 yards a game. Pitt moved the ball in the air with him and they just haven't done that with Browne. Through Pitt's first three games, Browne hasn't even averaged 100 yards. Some of that is on the playcalling but Browne also has to be able to make more throws.
Ben DiNucci, on the other hand, wasn't great but made plays both with his arm and with his legs. He was 13-25 for 228 yards passing and had a few nice runs as well as a touchdown pass. Like Browne earlier this season, he was also hampered by some drops. Ruben Flowers, who was once a really highly-touted recruit, had a terrible drop, which would have gone for a touchdown, if I recall. Someone else had a bad drop, too, and those were only the ones I recall before I left about midway in the third quarter. DiNucci had two interceptions but, to be honest, those things are going to happen to a guy playing the first few games of his career. He at least got Pitt in position to score some points. Rafael Araujo-Lopes was a big target of his and he led receivers with six catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Pat Narduzzi said after the game that he wasn't sure what he would do at quarterback but if I'm him, I go with DiNucci now. With three starters, I think Browne was given an adequate shot and he just didn't do enough today. Pitt is beyond the point of having a guy out there that can simply avoid mistakes. They need someone to make plays and DiNucci gives them the best chance of doing that.
I think part of the hesitation in playing DiNucci is two-fold. First, he's no lock to be the starter next season. If he was, I think it would be easier to play him and let him get experience when Pitt, hopefully, is a little better. The other issue here is that, while the Panthers haven't looked good all year, we're still not into ACC season. That starts next week when Pitt travels to Georgia Tech. Sure, it doesn't look like they will contend in the Coastal. But, keep in mind that Pitt has also looked bad while playing two top ten teams. There probably isn't an opponent in the Coastal as tough as the two teams Pitt just faced and that should be a point of emphasis when it comes to fans that are inclined to pack it in for the year.
The season is not over by any means and you don't make a change at this point just to get DiNucci reps. If he's going to play, he has to be the best guy. I just happen to believe that he is, in fact, the better guy right now, so I'd play him.
Next up for Pitt will be a game against Georgia Tech on the road. The good news is that they barely throw the ball. The bad? Trying to tackle guys in their complicated running game. And after today, it's hard to feel too optimistic about doing that effectively.