No one expected Pitt to upset Florida State on Monday night. Not even after the nearly flawless opening drive that gave Pitt a 7-0 lead and created false hope throughout Heinz Field.
But here’s something I didn’t expect (and I bet coach Paul Chryst was surprised by it, too):
Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston throwing for 356 yards against the strength of the Pitt team — its secondary.
Cornerbacks K’Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts and safety Jason Hendricks can be three of the nastiest players in a Pitt uniform, but they made no impact. Eight different Seminoles caught passes against the experienced Pitt secondary, led by wide receiver Rashad Greene (eight for 126 and a touchdown) and tight end Nick O’Leary (four for 47 and three touchdowns).
Winston was outstanding in his first collegiate start, completing 92.5 percent of his passes (25 for 27). Part of it was a weak pass rush enabling Winston to feel comfortable in the pocket far too many times. Part of it was the secondary giving the Seminoles wide receivers too much credit and playing too far off the ball. The blitzes were too few and too ineffective. Winston was sacked twice, by defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, but the losses totaled only 9 yards.
Chryst needs to fix lots of things before the season resumes two Saturdays from now against New Mexico. One of them is smarter quarterback play — two interceptions are unacceptable under any circumstances — but Savage showed toughness and a strong arm. Pitt will be fine at quarterback.
The other is tougher play in the secondary. The defensive backs need to make quicker, better reads — too many pass catchers were wide open — and execute the plays with more physical intent.
Winston looks like he will become a great player — after one game, I’ll wait before giving him the Heisman — but Pitt was far too easy of a target.
– Running backs Isaac Bennett and James Conner, who were coming off training-camp injuries, ran with plenty of courage and heart, but 18 carries should net more than 69 yards and more than one double-digit gain (10 yards by Bennett).
– The offensive line is a work in progress, so the running game will suffer in the meantime. You gotta love Tyler Boyd, but he can’t be Pitt’s leading rusher such as he was Monday (three carries, 54 yards).
– Coach Paul Chryst used 11 freshmen before the end of the first quarter, indicating he can’t wait to turn over his roster with his own players. Pitt will be a better team in 2014-15 than it is now.
– I wonder how much the passing game will suffer if the running game gets no better.
– Maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly, but coming into the game, I thought we’d see more of Todd Thomas at linebacker. Maybe next time. When your defense gives up 41 points, change is inevitable.