You can point to many negative plays, decisions and trends in Pitt’s embarrassing 31-17 loss to Youngstown State on Saturday night.
— How about allowing the Penguins to rush for 204 yards?
— How about Pitt’s failure to gain 3 yards on two running plays from inside the YSU 25-yard line in the third quarter?
— How about creating no turnovers while coughing up two, one at the Penguins’ 10, the other at the 24?
— How about no sacks for the first time in two years?
— How about a passing game that never got in sync?
Those elements of the game are important, and reversing a couple in Pitt’s favor could have made Youngstown State sweat out this victory, instead of winning by two touchdowns and barely getting threatened after the midway point of the third quarter.
But nothing that happened inside Heinz Field is remotely close in significance to what happened outside of it in the 24 hours before kickoff.
Six players were suspended by coach Paul Chryst for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. They included starting nose tackle Tyrone Ezell, who had played well in camp, and freshman running back Rushel Shell, the team’s most heralded recruit this year. The others are senior defensive end Shayne Hale, sophomore wide receiver Ronald Jones, sophomore safety Anthony Gonzalez and freshman wide receiver Chris Davis.
The fact that Chryst was forced to take disciplinary action against six players only hours before the first game of his coaching tenure had to disappoint him more than anything he saw between the lines when the game started.
That makes seven players suspended by Chryst since the start of training camp, including offensive tackle Juantez Hollins, who is out for the season.
Chryst wouldn’t say what any of those players did, or if any of the six will play Thursday in Cincinnati.
But even if the indiscretions were nothing more than curfew violations, Chryst sent a message. Stay in line or don’t bother getting back in line.
“That is one area in this program that will not be sacrificed, and we are going to hold guys accountable for it,” he said. “We will not plan on talking anymore about it. We have a family, and we have some matters we have to take care of and we did.”
Call it putting down another block in the reconstruction of a football program – an apparently painful process.
One last (football) thought:
I’m not going to criticize Chryst for not attempting a field goal with his team down by 11 points and six minutes left in the third quarter. Good teams – or teams that aspire to be so – convert those situations into first downs and touchdowns.
He stubbornly believed his team could gain 3 yards on two plays, get the first down and go on to score a touchdown and put the heat on Youngstown State.
He also didn’t want to give the football back to his opponent without taking a big bite out of the lead because he didn’t trust his defense to stop the Penguins’ offense.
“Part of it was the way Youngstown was moving the ball,” he said. “I didn’t feel like we were going to get a lot of possessions.”
I don’t blame Chryst for not trusting his defense. It allowed an FCS team to successfully convert 11 of 16 third downs and two of three red-zone possessions into touchdowns.
Pitt fans, you can complain all you want about the quarterback, but until Chryst fixes his defense, the team will struggle.