*** OK, tell me we haven’t seen this before.
The Panthers do an infuriating amount of little things wrong – and just enough big things wrong – that they are unable to get out of their own way and lose a football game that, in retrospect, seemed imminently winnable.
It happened in Utah, when they allowed 405 total yards and still nearly won the game in regulation. It happened in South Bend, when they had the ball twice with a chance to drive for a winning touchdown after trailing 20-3 in the third quarter.
And, with a chance to make the Big East a foregone conclusion in mid-November, the Panthers did it again in East Hartford, losing to a UConn team that three weeks ago was dog-slapped at Louisville, 26-0.
Here is a look at all the things that went wrong in the 30-28 loss at Connecticut.
*** Pitt gave up 222 rushing yards to Jordan Todman – the most by an opposing runner in at least five years – turned the ball over three times, permitted three sacks, had two shanked punts by Ray Guy candidate Dan Hutchins and allowed a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Those are just the big mistakes, off the top of my head.
*** Yet despite all of those problems, the Panthers, who outgained UConn, 363-349, still would have probably won the game if they had stopped Connecticut on a fourth-and-1 at the UConn 19 with 2:45 to play. Pitt has the nation’s No. 7 ranked defense entering the game – at least they did when Brandon Lindsey was starting at left end instead of Greg Romeus (more on that later) – and Connecticut doesn’t hesitate to go for it on fourth down up 23-21. Either Randy Edsall was trying to channel Les Miles, or he had no fear of the Pitt defense.
After the game, Jabaal Sheard said — “On defense, they knocked us back. They knocked us off the ball.”
*** Romeus started the game at left defensive end, but didn’t play again after twisting his knee in the third quarter. Lindsey, who started the past seven games, was much more productive, although he did play about 15 more plays than Romeus (40 to 26). Lindsey recorded six tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Romeus had three tackles. Wannstedt said after the game that the injury didn’t appear serious and they were being “overcautious.”
*** Sunseri said center Alex Karabin didn’t hear the play call in the first half when the Panthers were flagged for a five-yard false start after lining up to go for a fourth-and-1 from the UConn 42. Pitt ended up punting.
*** Speaking of punting, Dan Hutchins, who was fourth in a nation at 47 yards per kick, shanked two punts. A 15-yarder in the third quarter and a 29-yarder in the fourth quarter. The latter punt should have given Connecticut even better field position – the Huskies started at their own 40 — but the officials ruled incorrectly that Huskie punt returner Nick Williams had called for a fair catch and charged him with a delay of game when he raced up to return the bouncing shanked punt.
*** The special teams were atrocious. They allowed a 95-yard kickoff return, lost a fumble on a kickoff (Ray Graham), and had two punts that traveled fewer than 30 yards. People have joked Dave Wannstedt needs to fire the special teams coach (he’s the special teams coach, of course), but maybe there needs to be some type of change. There have been multiple issues, including some missed short field goals by Hutchins this year (27-yarder against Notre Dame, 28-yarder against Louisville), and the punt return problems with Cam Saddler.
*** Wannstedt said there was no excuse for allowing the 95-yard kickoff return that turned a 21-13 Pitt lead into a 21-20 nailbiter.
“It was in the corner with a 4.3 second hang time,” Wannstedt said. “It was a great kick. It should have been covered. Our backside safety lost contain and that’s what happened.”
I really need to watch another replay before I can say who blew the containment on that return. I don’t want to throw out names that aren’t right (though I know Joe Trebitz missed a diving tackle and it looked like Antwuan Reed, again, I think, was a bit out of position).
*** Todman’s 222 yards was the first 200-yard game against Pitt since Pat White and Steve Slaton each surpassed 200 against the Panthers on Nov. 16, 2006.
Here are select post-game quotes
“We didn’t play well enough tonight to win.”
On reasons for loss
“We didn’t stop the run on defense. We turned it over on offense and we gave up two plays on special teams, a touchdown and a fumble, that led to 14 points.”
On Sunseri’s two first-half interceptions
“Early on, Tino was not himself.”
On two interceptions
“It comes down to me understanding and protecting the ball. I made too many mistakes tonight.”
On kickoff return fumble
“I wasn’t running the ball tight. The ball came out. I let the ball go. I thought I was in the open field.”
On the defensive line
“I feel like we didn’t show up. We didn’t show as well as we were capable of playing.”
On near-miss punt block
“I was real close. I feel if I had it again I would have blocked it.”
On Todman’s big night
“I can’t remember the last time a back has done this to our defense.”