Friday, September 24, 2010

PITT TAKES WRONG TURN AT CROSSROADS, BECOMES ROADKILL

  "Oh Sweet Irony!"
In yesterday's column Pitt's season was described by this blogger as being at an important "crossroads". The trepidation being felt over their upcoming game against the Miami Hurricanes, to this writer, was palpable and in retrospect, entirely justifiable.

Pitt's team responded in a not unexpected manner by standing in the middle of that crossroads while a steamroller repeatedly smashed this lifeless team. Miami, the steamroller in this image played well, but the Panthers? They were absolutely, putrifyingly awful in a 31-3 loss.


ABOVE: It wasn't pretty for Dave Wannstedt despite wearing a sporting cap.


Name any aspect of this game and it was analagous to the "Little Big Horn." For example, Pitt went three and out five consecutive times. Pitt's return man, Cameron Sadler, on the other hand was a man on a mission: He seemed determined to have one of the worst returning games in college football history. After Miami roared downfield against a flatfooted, backpedaling Pitt defense on its' opening possession to take a 7-0 lead, Sadler took a deep kickoff, then proceeded to run laterally at the eight yard line. I've never returned a kickoff in my life yet even I knew how that would end up... and it did.

So Pitt started its' first offensive possession down seven points and on their eight yard line. All together now: "One, two, three kick!" Then repeat four more times.


ABOVE: If Pitt's players looked this good maybe we wouldn't have minded, but I was was getting pretty bored with, "One, two, three, KICK!" all night long.

Miami's quarterback, Jacory Harris, then threw a very bad interception in the Pitt end zone to the Panther's DiCicco and so Pitt's early exit was delayed...at least a little longer.

 ABOVE: From his custom buzzcut, down to the hair on his chinny chin chin, save for two i.n.t.'s Pitt had no answer for Miami quarterback Jacory Harris.

On the next series, Pitt, facing a daunting third and five situation threw a two yard pass that, complete with the accompanying run left them just two yards short. Why throw for two when you need five? Oh well, another three and out. We'll have to work on that play in practice this week.

Miami, meanwhile, was forced to punt on its' next possession, and Sadler, eager to atone for his bad kickoff return, chose this time to exercise discretion in the place of valor. Not trying to catch this low, end-over-end punt resulted in a loss of at least 20 yards of field position, so Pitt would start this drive in familiar "Sadler field position", on the nine yard line. He would save his best work, however, for the second half. More on Sadler later.

Thanks to a second ill-advised pass by Miami's Harris, Pitt would ultimately escape from this completely miserable viewing experience with just a 10-0 deficit. In fact, Dan Hutchins missed a 52 yard field goal as time was running out in the half that could have made it just a seven point game. But it was not to be...no surprise there on a night where absolutely nothing went right for Pitt. 

In this amazing half of a game of utter futility, Pitt managed three first downs (the first coming with only six minutes left in the second quarter). They managed 29 yards rushing and 47 yards passing for just 76 yards in a very Steeleresque performance. Only problem was that James Harrison,Troy Polamalu and company couldn't suit up for their defense, which was very pedestrian at best.

As Wanny left the field and did the obligatory network interview, he stated several obvious facts: "We get the ball at the beginning of the half...we've got to do something with it...we've got to get some rhythm".

In about twenty minutes, Wannstedt would find answers to these three questions and many more as the Panthers promptly went three and out. He found that they were still unable to do anything with the ball and he also learned that they may actually have been in possession of a rare, deadly element called negative rhythm. As proof of this, they followed this horrible possession up up with a bad punt.

On their next possession, the Hurricanes managed to stick a fork in this lifeless group as Harris connected to Hakerson on a pathetically-easy 19 yard reception. All over Heinz Field, you could hear nothing but the sound of pins dropping.

Down 17-0 and looking like a boxer with his gloves over his face absorbing punishing blows, the game took on an even uglier aspect as recently-momentarily-suspended middle linebacker, Dan Mason, suffered a Joe Theismann-like dislocation of his knee.

Meanwhile, Wannstedt was flipping out on the sideline with Buddy Jackson who took a stupid dead ball penalty on a play that took place 30 yards from the point of attack! As the Panthers were being marched backwards 15 yards, Wannstedt, completely now in Jackson's grill kept yelling, "WHYYYY? WHYYY?" An appropriate answer was not seen forthcoming. Jackson was smart in keeping on his helmet.

As the quarter ended, Pitt was mounting one of its' precious few positive moments of the night. Jump-started by a poor Miami punt, the Panthers began the drive at their 49. Then, aided by a roughing the passer call, the Panthers would salvage their only bright spot of the night, a 27 yard Dan Hutchins field goal. Wow.

Momentum was seemingly trying to rear its' ugly head, but this time in the Panthers' favor. The Pitt defense, obviously stimulated by the offensive outburst it had just witnessed, came out with some fire in its' belly. Pitt was down two touchdowns, but stranger comebacks that than have happened in college football, right? True, but those teams didn't have Cameron Sadler as a punt returner either.

Following a sacking of Harris by Pitt's Jabaal Sheard (who was one of the few bright spots on both sides of the ball) Miami went three and out and you could feel the anticipation building, almost like a pimple waiting to burst asunder. It burst alright and much like the pimple, it wasn't pretty but pretty nasty. 

Sadler went back to return the punt and misplayed it badly causing a fumble on the 43 of Pitt. This game was now over, pure and simple. On a third and ten, a missed tackle resulted in a 27 yard gain for the Hurricanes and then with Katrina-like efficiency, Harris then threw to Travis Benjamin for a 24-3 insurmountable lead. Game, set, match. Done. Vanishing deductible.

Tino Sunseri, who looked completely lost, amidst a sea of Hurricanes jerseys all night, left the game with a possible concussion. His replacement, Pat Bostick, seemed to be seeing the field better, but by this time, Miami had called off the dogs.

One of the more pathetic plays, however, occured when Bostick was intercepted in the endzone and had the ball returned 75 yards to the Pitt 25. On the play, a completely disinterested Jonathan Baldwin, failed to even turn towards the pass allowing for an easy interception. This prompted the usually laid-back Bostick to scream at Baldwin, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING???" Baldwin had all of the body language of a disinterested person who had quit on his team. His thoughts are now on the NFL, but good luck with that if he keeps playing like this.

Yes this game was pathetic on so many fronts that I simply cannot count them all. Was Miami the greatest thing since sliced bread was invented? They were very good, but not worldbeaters. They made several stupid mistakes that could have allowed any vaguely-interested team to get back into the game. Make no mistake about it, this performance by Pitt was so totally bad that they could have made Washington and Jefferson College look like BCS contenders.

When you see a team play this badly, preceeded by three weeks of off-field incidents, you can't help but suspect that there may be very deep-seated divisions existing on this team and that it could go into a virtual freefall against Florida International, their next opponent. Not to be confused with Florida or Florida State, Florida International managed to throw quite the scare into Texas A&M recently, losing to them by a 27-20 score. They also lost to Rutgers, in their home opener, by a 19-14 score. This week, they take on a weak Maryland team. But if you're FIU, you've got to be salivating at the chance of knocking off the sleepwalking collection of zombies that are this year's Pitt Panthers.


ABOVE: Nicknamed the "Golden Panthers" of all things, Florida International will face those other "Not-so-Golden Panthers" of Pitt next week. F.I.U. probably also has an administration building called "The Cathedral of Learning" and a dorm called "Salk Hall".

GAME NOTES: The Pitt-Miami game was nationally telecast, thus improving Pitt's national image as an up and coming football program...By playing as well as it did last night, Pitt helped to also polish the image of the Big East, a conference that has been maligned as being the worst of the BCS...Pitt brought in over 300 of its' greatest players ever to welcome the team onto the field. In response, the Pitt players burst onto the Heinz Field sod with all of the vigor of a person who had just awoken from a deep, deep sleep. They were completely on their heels from the first play from scrimmage when Miami went into a hurry-up offense and sported an empty backfield...Bars on the South Side were cordoned off by police last night in anticipation of a potentially deadly tsunami of out-of-control student-athletes needing desperately to "drown their sorrows" (alright, I made up that last report)...I like Dave Wannstedt, he is a formidable recruiter and I perceive him to be a "good guy". But like many others, I question his gameplanning, in-game management and handling of disciplinary issues. He's a guy who loves his university. I just don't know how many more seasons Pitt fans will tolerate games such as this that are such an embarrassment.