Can’t beat this feeling… Honest to God. Even with all the pragmatism I try to maintain on here and with all the neutral feelings I try to inject into my score predictions, my Pitt roots, all 110 years of them, show through both internally and externally.
This 42-39 win over Penn State is one for the fans – we guys and gals who have stood by and watched the vagaries of the Fates spin the Pitt football program around and blow it down Forbes Avenue like a tumbleweed. That might still happen for time to time but it will be minor slings and arrows – not the heart-numbing drama we went through in the recent past. I’ve a feeling we’ve left that behind.
Pitt deserved this win and the Administration, Athletic Dept and the coaches and players gave it to us. A true team effort in many ways and not only on the field of play. I’m not forgetting the fan’s part in the win either – Saturday’s was the most excited and loud Pitt crowd I have ever heard – and I’ll remind you I was at Pitt during our championship run.
Here – watch some again:
We stand at 2-0 and 1-0 in this hard four game stretch that we have to start the season off with. Yes, four game stretch because I never underestimate the Marshall football program (10-3 last season) especially now with Doc Holliday at the helm and that game will be, for a number of reason, an important and tough one for us.
Monday morning QB is about a quick review, my impressions and then my Top Three Pluses and Minuses – and then your six items also in the comments section. So, some items of interest.
I mentioned in the comments section to yesterday’s article that I was up in the press box for the game and because of the crowds I got there two hours before game time and it was pretty full – mostly of PSU media (there were a ton of PSU, national media and NFL scouts in attendance). The press box holds, I’ll estimate, 150 or so seats and it was standing room only on the 4th level where I was.
But that is also where some alumni football players hang out and selected ‘guests’ of the university; friends of the staff, HS coaches, etc…- so lots of very interesting and informative conversations take place. Pitt also throws out a nice pre-game buffet so everyone talks over food. Funny, interesting and informative stuff and truly the only fun time while up there.
Otherwise we have to be and act with professionalism – I got a yellow card warning for being emotive when Pitt scored in the 2nd half. But hey, I’m a Pitt fan first.
What I’m leading up to is that I knew far in advance we wouldn’t be throwing the ball hardly at all unless down by 10+ points in the 2nd half. I heard and read fans really complaining about Peterman’s day at QB – my best friend thought he sucked and Canada was afraid to let him pass until I explained the whole situation after the game – but that lack of pass play calling was by design. Narduzzi said were going to run the ball this week and we did, and did, and did…
A commenter yesterday mentioned the all-blue uniforms and the heavy heat on Saturday and why the staff didn’t anticipate that and switch. First off the home team usually wears its school colors when at home and secondly Narduzzi allows his team Eagles, a select group of Seniors, to choose the uniforms for each game. That’s how we got blue on blue with blue helmets. Personally I didn’t like the combo, especially the helmets, I’d much rather they wear the gold ones.
I was pleasantly surprised that I saw very few, maybe three, “Joe Knew” T-shirts and I left the press box and walked around outside at 11:30 to check out the crowd. It was a great pre-game atmosphere and I walked up to an older PSU fan who was looking at the Pittsburgh Police Mounted units and their horses standing outside. I pointed to the horse’s head and said “Hey, this end is Pitt and the other is Penn state“. He laughed and said “Well, at this end (pointing to the head) the horse eats Penn Sate at that end …’
I had to admit that was pretty damn witty and we shook and wished luck…
Alright – on to football. Here are my positives and negatives.
Our indomitable running game. Let’s go to the stat sheet and take a look at the pure numbers on the day. Keep in mind that we didn’t just use our depth at running back but threw WRs and DBs in there also. It was alike rushing potpourri.
The stat line shows 56 carries for 341 yards and 3 TDs at a 6.1 ypc clip. Friends, that is about as good as it gets against a Power 5 team.
James Conner is back to form gets 117 yards for his 12th 100+ game along with his 3rd TD on the season; WR Quadree Henderson gets a shot at carrying the ball and goes crazy with a 14.5 ypc average; QB Nate Peterman thinks “Hell, if they won’t let me pass I’ll run the ball” and he does for 52 yards and 6.5 ypc.
But wait, there’s more!
Pitt has a OC in Matt Canada who finally realizes we have a good Fullback and that a FB is also allowed to carry the ball – so George Aston carries four times and scores twice. A showing of speed on his part also as he scores from three yards out by outrunning the Linebacker U.’s LBs.
RB Darrin Hall provides some relief in a 4 for 34 yard showing with a nice 33 yarder; WR Jordan Whitehead feels left out so they give him the ball once to keep him happy and he rips off a 28 yard run and finally and just because we could we slide WR Dontez Ford in there for a go also and he picks up six.
A veritable abundance of riches – and all provided with the opportunity to succeed by an Offensive Line that rebounded from a poor opening game to drive the big Penn State defensive line back on their heels almost every play.
Half of our Special Teams’ play. I say half because the other half in firmly in the negative column. Quadree Henderson had two kickoff returns and made the most of them. His 84 yard return to set up a TD gives him two of those in the last three games and he currently sits at #1 nationally in this category. He has 4 returns for 214 yards (53.5 avg) with a TD.
Ryan Winslow has a good day with not only averaging 42.6 yards per punt but has two clutch punts in the 4th quarter resulting in good field position for our defense. With the score at 42-31 we were pinned back at our 12 yard line and he gets off a 44 yard punt that ended with PSU’s ball at their own 40.
More importantly with 4;49 left in the game and punting from our 30 he puts PSU back on their 29 yard line with a 46 yard punt. That made PSU try to go 71 yards for a score and really helped us win that game. When we intercepted the ball for our last possession there was only 2:15 left so we could take three knees in our Victory Formation to ease out the clock.
He does need to put more air under his punts though.
QB Nate Peterman’s truncated passing role. This might be a headscratcher if you didn’t actually watch the game. I like Peterman and as I said I wasn’t surprised at how he and our passing game was used on Saturday. We were going to run the ball and we did. But Peterman’s passing was absolutely part of that win and here’s why.
His stat sheet, especially the yardage, looks pretty dim – until you get to the three touchdown passes he threw. On the day his stat line was 11/15 for 91 yards (73.3%), 3 TDs with 1 INT (which bounced directly off the receiver’s hand to a PSU DB).
Not that overall great until you drill down to see exactly what he actually did with the chances he got. We had six passing 1st downs. Add that the three TDs he threw and it shows that out of 11 completions nine of those were either 1st downs or TDs. That gave him a QB rating on the game of 176.9 and that is just by numbers alone.
What he did on our scoring drives – again with limited opportunity – was more impressive to me because he made evey completion count for something.
- On our 1st series he was asked to throw only one pass, but that was from the PSU 12 yard line and was a 10 yard completion for a 1st down giving us four shots up close for TD. 7-0 score.
- 2nd series; he throws a TD to Henderson. 14-0
- 4th series: 24 yards to Henderson for a 1st down; 16 yards Henderson to the PSU 19 for a 1st down. 21-0
- With PSU coming back and the score at 28-21 he threw for a 1st down then ran for another 1st down en-route to our TD.
- Then again when PSU pulled to four at 35-31 he threw a 12 yard TD to Conner to give us the final winning margin at 42 points.
As said above he ran for 52 yards also (6.5 ypc) and didn’t get sacked at all. But the rubber meeting the road is take any one of those TD passes out and we lose the game.
Granted, his stats weren’t all that impressive but his production, and especially his efficiency, getting a 1st down or TD on 60% of your attempts, certainly was. Canada called, I believe, only one deep play and that was in the 1st half – other than that the passes were just an addendum to the run game but were well executed and integral.
A QB can only do what the OC calls on you do. Believe me, no QB who has ever worn a Pitt uniform, save maybe Dan Marino, was going to audible out of called running plays in that Pitt vs Penn State game – Narduzzi would have his head. Throw an INT on an audible and Narduzii would be calling Jackie Sherrill to borrow his bloodless castrators.
So when the playcalling is skewed to 79% running, and you knew that going in, you take what you can get.
Our defensive backfield play: I mentioned I watched the game with alumni DB Shawn Robinson. I’ll defer to the expert when he said that our DB play was horrible. The PSU QB, gritty and more talented that most Pitt fans thought he’s be, put up a career game on Saturday.
His 71.4% completion rate was outstanding and he garnered a lot of yards with 332 and a TD. Because our DL held fast he was forced to throw as a come-from-behind measure and he almost did just that. Had he seen a wide open WR running down the sidelines into the right side of the end zone without a Pitt defender nearby the outcome may well have been a loss for us.
But he didn’t and it wasn’t.
PSU’s running game, while effective on short yardage plays (Saquon Barkley had four short TD runs of 1, 3, 3, 1 yards) didn’t really carry the team forward all that much. Our stoudt DL and some good LB play limited PSU to 20 yards on 70 yards on 31 carries (2.3 ypc) with most of that yardage being one 29 yards scamper by Barkley.
Saquon Barkley is all he was hyped up to be IMO. He had to be the workhorse yesterday and produced well for them. Five TDs – a PSU record – is no small matter. He had a total of 147 yards on 23 touches for a 6.4 yards per clip. For a large part of the game he was their offense.
So when behind 28-14 going into the 3rd quarter McSorley had to air it out and he did – especially in hitting Barkley on a left hand wheel route from our 40 and giving Barkley the chance to do a 40 yard dash with our LBs and DB – which we lost by a large margin.
He went 12/14 in passing during PSU’s TD scoring drives and he did that with a lot of pressure from blitzes in his face and as he was sacked four times
We had a hard time stopping this kid even in heavy crunch times where we needed a stop and went into a prevent defense. On their last scoring drive he went 2 for 3 for 46 yards and two 1st downs – then threw a two-point conversion.
Of course as said above Lewis came though in the final clutch moment. But let’s give the due credit to McSorley – he did what it took when asked to throw the football.
As we stand after two games our Pass Defense has given up 44 completions on 66 tries (60%) for 453 yards at a 11.3 ypc average and 1 TD. We have to do better with that.
Our other half of the Special Teams. Our kicker is in a slump with no field Goal to show in this game (one attempt from a long 49 yards) our on the season and our coverage teams made some untimely poor plays. PSU kick returns – Miles Sanders in particular did well with Sanders bring out a kickoff for 33 yards.
They averaged 22 yards on KO returns which is an OK coverage defense but also had 15.2 yards per punt return which is too much to give up.
Too many bad and stupid penalties. We were penalized for 79 yards on 10 flags. One was a pass interference that gave PSU their first 7 points then on their next scoring possession we had them back at their own 26 on a 3rd & 1 and our offside call gave them a 1st down and on they went for their 14th points.
I believe at least three were unsportsmanlike conduct – on a very cheap shot on their kicker by Saleem Brightwell when the ball had already gone out of the end zone. Although I wonder if Narduzzi didn’t show the kids a video of PSU LB Lavar Arrington knocking our punter down then dry humping him for about a minute back in 1999.
Narduzzi said after the game that he didn’t mind the flags for roughness so much as he wants us to be a tough team. I get that and we were for the most part Saturday. but much better to be a tough and smart team because we all have seen series extended by stupid penalties to give the opponent a chance to score and win.
I spoke with a lot of PSU media types before the game and every single one was honest in saying they thought Penn State was average at best on defense and that Pitt would probably win. Only one young lady felt that PSU would ‘kill’ Pitt and the grad student next to her rolled his eyes.
Point being that no PSU media fans I talked to before during and after the games were surprised Pitt won and I got the feeling that was in a large part due to Pitt’s being a good team in their eyes. I had a great time with all those folks and welcome the return trip up to Happy Valley next season.
Onto OK State where we take on a good offensive team, averaging 45 ppg but who lost the game Saturday on an error by the officials. They are a Power five Big 12 team and we cannot rest on our laurels if we expect to go into their place and win the match. Narduzzi did a great motivational job leading up to the Penn State win – he needs to keep that momentum level up this week also.