Pitt Falls Short in Valiant Effort
The Pitt Panthers fought the #2 V-Tech Hokies tooth and nail, before succumbing 37-34 in a barnburner of a game that I attended in Blacksburg, VA.
After the game, I went into the concourse and waited for my 2 buddies from The 'Burgh, who were seated 3 sections over. As bad luck would have it, the place we agreed to meet at, was right next to ramp leading down to the stadium exit. As throngs of V-Tech fans poured from the bleachers and onto this concourse and ramp, I -- as seemingly the only Pitt guy standing around -- sullenly awaited the cascade of derisive jeers and ridicule that I expected the Tech fans to throw in my direction. Instead, I got a sore arm and a sore back. From Tech fans lobbing trash at me? No. Actually, it was from Tech fans, coming up to me and personally shaking my hand, or slapping me on the back, with sincere words of "Great game today", "You guys played hard today", "Glad you wore your team colors to show support", and so forth. I ain't never seen nuthin' like it. Here I was, glumly standing around after a heart-breaking defeat, and prepared for the worst, and I've got Tech fans coming up to me and shaking my hand as though I was the offensive coordinator for the Panther offense. Unbelievable.
My only 2 gripes with this loss, were the continued woes of the Pitt kicking game, and the run defense.
Some day, Walt Harris is going to realize the importance of the kicking game, and get a real punter and a real placekicker -- ON SCHOLARSHIP, no less -- to adequately perform these chores. You cannot beat a Top 10 team when you punt a ball 4 measly yards from deep in your own territory, and then follow it up with a similar punt of about 17 yards. You cannot beat a Top 10 team when you kick the ball off after a big score, and the ball travels all the way to the opponent's 30-yard line, and they begin their drive at about their 43. In all 3 of these cases, Tech benefited from golden field position & scored either a TD or a FG.
The run defense was downright shameful. Don't get me wrong -- Tech has big boys up front, and Suggs is a superb back. But when Vick left the game shortly before halftime, and with top WR Andre Davis not even dressed, you MUST go into the locker room during halftime, and SCRAP that vanilla defense and go with a combination of either more down linemen and/or some heavy doses of run-blitzing. This isn't even debatable. You have a backup QB who's thrown a total of 66 passes his entire collegiate career, and their best WR is out. You know Coach Beamer is not going to come out in the 2nd half and try to mimic a BYU offense by throwing the ball 37 times. You're getting pushed and punished up front, but you're tied at the half against the #2 team in the country. Plus, Tech ran a boatload of 2 TE sets in the 2nd half, in order to help them play ground-chuck football. You HAVE to go for it, by stacking the run and daring Tech to beat you with the pass. Instead, the ghost of Jim Asslet ordered a vanilla defense the entire second half, and Tech simply pounded the ball time and time again. Not only did this allow Tech to march up and down the field at will (for a total of 280-some total rushing yards), but it chewed an enormous amount of clock, which prevented Turman from getting many 2nd-half opportunities to carve up a green, sloppy Tech pass defense that was starting a true frosh at one CB and a redshirt soph at the other.
As Walt Harris said last year, after a bitter loss to Penn Bate, "There are no moral victories." I agree. Still, this game showed loads of positives about the Pitt program to a national TV audience, and should be another selling point for recruiting.
Lastly, hat's off to the V-tech fans, campus, and facility. The stadium is a superb venue for college ball. As we saw many Tech fans on the highway as we drove to remote Blacksburg, we wondered what inspired these fans to make the trek to Tech games. One step inside, and you know it's a great place for fans to enjoy a game. This kind of game, and this kind of atmosphere, is what college football is all about. The Tech fans are also first class. When we parked at a small lot before the game, some nearby Tech fans were more than happy to give us free beer, chew the fat about football, and show us the way thru the woods to walk to the stadium. After the game, these same fans met us back in the lot for a post-game beer and sharing our thoughts on the game.
Next year, the Panthers will prevail over Tech in the new Steeler/Pitt stadium!!
Hail to Pitt,
The Still Mill