When I was at a tailgate before the Villanova game a Pitt fan I know asked me “Why are you so negative now?” I laughed that off and countered that I am “Trying to make it real… compared to what?” (Jazz fans know what I’m talking about).
But he was actually kind of pissed at me and braced me up to give him a Pitt-PSU winner right then and there. I told him I have no idea because I hadn’t seen our team play yet. But then I said Pitt by three points because that was what I wanted the outcome to be – not really what I thought it would be because I had no idea what Pitt could do on the field.
That was then this is now. I have to say right off the bat I have a bad feeling about this game and it is because of our track record in “Big Games” along with our tepid showing last week. Overall we are poor at rising to the occasion and have been for some time. It is a whole different world to beat teams who you are better than or equal to – and when you win eight of those in one season we fans get very (overly) excited.
That isn’t to say we can’t win a big game because we have won some against ‘better’ teams in the recent past.
In 2007 Dave Wannstedt beat WVU 13-9 in a fantastic 24 point underdog beats the presumptive Champs game. Then again in 2008 he beat #10 USF by 28-21.
Graham even beat a ranked #16 USF team in 2011 by a 44-17 score. Damn, how much does it hurt to look at our wins against a school like USF and feel good as we do about getting them? That sure tells us where we have been lately.
Paul Chryst continued that trend by winning a very nice match against #13 VT by 18 points in a 35-17 game in ’12, then followed that with a big 21 point win over a #18 Rutgers the next season.
But we had our chances to do the same things last year also and failed to do so.
I think most disappointing was when we were ranked #23 and hosting North Carolina at home in an important ACC match and we lost. That game made me think we had some time to go before I would be able to look at a current Pitt team and feel sure we’d win a game.
That was reinforced when we also lost to two ranked teams. One was against #5 ND – in a rout that wasn’t nearly as close as the score shows. In that game we were down 21-3 at the half and 42-17 with 5:30 left to play in the game. I didn’t expect us to beat them though.
But when we played Miami, were favored by a +7 point spread and playing at home and even with a change of their head coach in mid-October they whooped us by jumping out to a 23-3 halftime lead then coasted to a 29-24 win. That was one I thought we should have taken.
And that was repeated in January when we played #21 Navy and they had us down 21-7 at half and 35-7 at mid-3rd quarter. I felt Navy was a very good team but they killed us and that being with a long time for Narduzzi to prepare our players for that game.
So except for that strong Notre Dame team each of those other game were winnable and we didn’t even come close in reality.
Looking back at 2015 and our eight wins (Yeah Us!) I can’t find any one which really made me sit up and say “Wow“. Hey, I was happy as hell when we sat at 6-1, then proud also when we were 8-3 and on the verge of a very good season. But I, and you all too I’d think, have a sour taste and some trepidation after watching Pitt in those last two games of ’15 and then again in last week’s showing, even in a win, against a FCS team.
Pitt and Penn State do look to be pretty darn evenly matched over all. I listed some areas I think are do or die for us yesterday – stopping their fine RB Saquon Barkley for one and getting our offensive lineman’s heads out of their asses is another. Starters DE Hendrix and LB Zeise are out and that will hurt us I believe. I also don’t think we’ll get nearly the same pressure on QB McSorley as we did against Villanova’s QB last week.
Plus I think we Pitt fans are underestimating what McSorley can do as a passer. Let’s not forget that he’s only had one game as a starter – and while that can hurt a kid it can also mask what he really is capable of.
Who knows? But against Georgia in the bowl game last year he went 14/27 for 142 yards and 2 TDs with 0 INTs so he’s played against good team and done pretty well. Last week he was 16/31 for 209 and again, 2 TDs vice 0 INTs. So he can pass the ball at least.
The fact is that McSorely’s the QB HC James Franklin wants to have in his Run Option offense and that will put points on the board tomorrow. But even as I doubt he’ll beat us with his arm we could face torture by a thousand cuts in short completed passes and 1st downs by his legs. Which will control the clock in their favor.
We have a running game that should have been the showcase of the team last week and sputtered to a 3.1 yards per carry average. That has to make huge strides for us to stay in the game… and I’m not sure the OL is going to gel well enough, over only seven days and in the face of a good Big Ten DL, to make that happen.
And if it comes down to a field goal to win the game I give us a 50/50 chance.
We can go on and on parsing what can should and will happen on Saturday. But the beauty of college football and the agony and ecstasy of following Pitt football is that you can’t depend on anything.
So I won’t. To think Narduzzi is the coach who is going to win this game on the strength of his leadership is suspect in my opinion because he’s shown none of that when it has come to pressure situations. Quite the opposite I believe.
I was underwhelmed with the way our team came out to play on Saturday against Villanova. A 7-0 score after 29:41 of play isn’t something to look at and say “Boy, he had those kids ready to go” because he didn’t – pure and simple.
And he showed his frustration in a big way on the sidelines as the kids were floundering around out there in the 1st half. So no, I don’t look at Pat Narduzzi at this point and think he’s a leader who gets his kids to play above their talent level and stay confident enough for 60 minutes to secure a big win.
But it isn’t all on only Narduzzi.
Sad to say that Pitt’s two-deep talent level isn’t that great this season either. We have some good players and I think we’ll win more than lose this year. But again, we have a new offensive coordinator who didn’t grasp the game in hand last week and it may take the offense some more games to hit their stride with him.
Pitt was too hot and cold as a team last year, last week and has been for years – and there will be a ton of screaming PSU fans trying to disrupt our kid’s and our staff’s concentration. Thus strike any home field advantage Heinz may have for a regular opponent – that goes right out the window this Saturday against Penn State.
As much as I want a victory and I really, really do and I would be happy to be wrong but I have to go with my gut here. I just don’t think we have the talent + leadership+ mojo to pull this one out against a rival team who can move the ball on the ground as well as I think PSU will do in an emotionally played game.
I think PSU takes it in a 24-20 game.