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Pitt defense continues to need a lot more polish

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Pitt’s players have recited variations of the same theme all season:
When they lose – which has been two-thirds of the time – they always talk about going back into their film rooms to watch video to identify and fix their mistakes, with the intent of coming back stronger the next game.
Believe me, they work hard for their scholarships, practicing with intensity, hitting almost like it’s game day and dutifully following their equally diligent coaches’ directives.
But what does the fact that it really hasn’t work all season tell you? Maybe, these Panthers just aren’t good enough.
Of course, they have six games to prove otherwise, and it would surprise no one if Pitt beats Buffalo and Temple the next two weeks before venturing into South Bend on Nov. 3 to play the currently undefeated Irish.
A victory against Louisville wouldn’t have been a shock, either, but the defense – with cornerback K’Waun Williams hobbled and middle linebacker Shane Gordon missing most of the game with an ankle injury – could not contain the Cardinals’ gifted play-makers. It was much of the same against Youngstown State and Cincinnati.
The loss to Syracuse never should have happened, but that’s another story.
The defense has plenty of good athletes, and they allowed only two touchdowns in the three games previous to Louisville. But they remain young and inexperienced — which is no excuse for giving up 304 yards to sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater — but at least it’s a partial explanation for why things went terribly wrong.
Pitt has won two games this season, and both come with a significant asterisk.
Virginia Tech is 2-2 since losing to Pitt while Gardner-Webb (1-5) won its first game Saturday, 30-28, by scoring the decisive touchdown with six seconds left against MidAmerica Nazareen of the NAIA.
My take on Pitt is that it just hasn’t learned how to win close games. Yes, Louisville won by 10, but Pitt had a seven-point lead near the end of the first half, and turned it into four by not punting on fourth down in the final minute.
I understand coach Paul Chryst’s aggression – he had to score points to offset Louisville’s potent offense — but punting was a better move, in my opinion, at that time.
Then, in the second half, Bridgewater started picking on the hobbled Williams, and by the end of the third quarter, it was a 17-point rout.
Of Louisville’s six touchdown drives, only one was shorter than 68 yards. Pitt never could make a clutch stop, and Louisville ended up rushing for 156 yards.
The defense has its problems, but Pitt’s offense is good, and that’s a credit to Chryst, the only head coach in five years to help Tino Sunseri reach his potential.
He threw for 287 yards against Louisville, even though he was sacked five times, and he remains one of the best quarterbacks in the Big East.
Plus, Rushel Shell is a fine back who has a chance one day to be mentioned among the best to play at Pitt. And that would be high praise, indeed.
The passing game needs to be rebuilt next season, and Chyrst looks to be the man for the job.
The defense, though, needs another month of training camp, a good string of practices in the spring and one or two outstanding recruiting classes.
The good news is that nine of the 11 starters return next season, and that doesn’t count outside linebacker Todd Thomas, who may be Pitt’s best defensive player when he’s healthy.
For now, Pitt fans should hold their breath and expect a rocky ride.

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