Another Monday morning and another loss to talk about. This time we didn’t beat the point spread – which was I believe was +11.5 since we lost 35-17. Sad to say but the point spread and whether we beat it or not which has quickly become an indicator for Pitt fans to gauge if the team is good or bad.
But there are more games on the schedule and anything can happen, right?
If we are to win a few more games, and we just might, we’ll have to build on some of the things the team and coaching staff have done correctly in the past seven games this season. While that may be slim pickings there are some nuggets there. The problem is trying to find the “GOOD” when there is so much of the ‘BAD” and “UGLY” surrounding it.
But let’s give it a shot; I’ll go first then you all state how you saw the game.
I was relegated to watching Pitt play, again, in the local bar as the only way you can see the new ACC network down here in borderland MD is by Direct TV. This time a $5 tip when I walked in the door got me a seat in front of my own 72″ TV up on the wall.
That way I could see how just how bad we sucked in even bigger images then watching at home. And I do think that overall we sucked again. Here goes:
I’ll go first with how our defensive backfield played. Normally with any other team when they give up 198 yards and one TD passing that would be a so-so defense… but at Pitt the last two years it makes people sit up and take notice.
I will say that NCS’s QB Findley’s play really helped in this regard, especially in the 1st half of the game where he missed on almost every one of his passes. But the results are the same; incomplete passes and no yards gained.
I think their first series of the game was indicative of what NCS’s staff leanings were – they went on a nine play drive but only gained 41 yards and Findley missed on a 4th and 3 pass to turn the ball over. he was 1 for 3 in that opening drive and badly missed on both incompletions.
But we kept the passing yardage down for the most part and had we countered that with a run defense we may have won the game (more on that later).
Ben DiNucci’s play deserves mention in this category also. Look, I have held the opinion from the minute he signed his LOI with us that DiNucci wasn’t ever going to be anything but a substitute QB for us as long as we had any sort of other talent in the QB room. And that had been the case right up until Browne’s injury two weeks ago.
But for right now and on last Saturday he’s the starter until he isn’t. With that I didn’t expect fireworks from him but a rather steady passing game that would allow our run game to be effective.
The fact that our running game is worse than bad (more on that later also!) isn’t DiNucci’s fault at all but indeed put more stress and expectations on him to produce. His stats line was average – 19/32 for 170 yards and 1 TD with 1 INT but his passing yards per attempt was poor at only 5.3 yards.
Still, he engineered the series where we broke the 0-0 score with this impressive drive:
- 1st and 10 at NCST 42
(7:37 – 1st) Jordan Whitehead run for 5 yds to the NCSt 37
- 2nd and 5 at NCST 37
(7:37 – 1st) Ben Dinucci pass complete to Quadree Henderson for a loss of 2 yards to the NCSt 39
- 3rd and 7 at NCST 39
(7:37 – 1st) Ben Dinucci pass complete to Rafael Araujo-Lopes for 7 yds to the NCSt 32 for a 1ST down
- 1st and 10 at NCST 32
(7:37 – 1st) Jordan Whitehead run for a loss of 1 yard to the NCSt 33
- 2nd and 11 at NCST 33
(5:05 – 1st) Ben Dinucci pass complete to Jester Weah for 33 yds for a TD, (Alex Kessman KICK)
He also was in for our next offensive score when we drove 69 yards in 10 plays for a RB Darrin Hall TD – even though he only threw the ball once in that series. So you’d think that his having helped produce 14 points against a good ACC opponent in a 1st half would cement his role.
But an interception on our lead possession in the 3rd quarter, followed by two straight series ending in punts (DiNucci was 4-8 with no 3rd down conversions while NCS scored 14 more points in that time) changed all that and Watson chose QB Kenny Pickett to give it a try.
Alex Kessman remained consistent and was our leading scorer. He hit a 43 yarder and converted both extra point for a perfect day. in addition his three touchbacks on his kickoffs kept the ball out of NCS’s Nyheim Hines’ hands. That was important as you remember Hines burnt us on that a 92 yard punt return which gave NCS a tied score that we never could break in our favor afterward.
Kessman has hit on 8 of 9 attempts since that 0-2 showing against YSU and he is, by far, our offensive MVP of the season.
Our staff’s in-game decision-making. While nothing they have done so far has outright cost us a game what has been happening, and replicated on Saturday, is a string of head scratching calls and personnel moves that left both the fans, and I believe the players themselves, wondering what was going on. The QB situation is just one. OC Watson’s playcalling has had way too many questionable decisions to list here.
Our special teams’ coverage. When you have a guy field a punt on his own 8 yard line then waltz untouched (and no one really even got close to him) that’s a real problem.
Actually, that’s about it for the “BAD” in my opinion because everythings else on the negative side was pretty …
The fact that Ben DiNucci said one thing and the Head Coach said the exact opposite thing in post-game interviews. This is in reference to the coaches pulling DiNucci and inserting Kenny Pickett in the 3rd quarter of play. DiNucci stated he had no idea and was not told that would happen… and Narduzzi says that it certainly was discussed with the QBs before the game.
Well, hate to call names but someone isn’t a truth teller in this situation. If I had to bet a dollar who was fibbing I’d throw it toward the Southside offices.
From the Post-Gazette:
“A little bit surprised, yeah,” said DiNucci, who was 19 of 32 for 170 yards with a touchdown, an interception and a lost fumble when he tagged back in for the final drive with the game out of reach. “I wasn’t necessarily aware going into this week that they were gonna try to get him series, but that’s ultimately their decision, so the only thing I can do is respect it and try to help him out as much as possible.”
Narduzzi said he and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson spoke to both players pregame about the plan. In fact, Narduzzi said he wanted to use Pickett in the first half, but that DiNucci was playing well, so he stayed in.
I want to make something clear here – I don’t necessarily disagree with pulling DiNucci for Pickett when they did. That is a decision that had many angles to it – one being we needed a spark to start scoring points again. That didn’t happen but we did need it. What i am driving at here is the disconnect between staff and player – in full public view – of the situation.
I have said since fall camp was going on and the Whitehead/Wirginis/Bookser suspensions were announced that there was something off about the team this season and it appears that we are seeing that now. I have heard there has been some discord going on, as can be expected with a team that has played as poorly as Pitt has this season, so let’s hope things don’t get worse before they get better.
Our rushing defense and our rushing offense. Take your pick for the NCS game – both contributed mightily toward this loss. I suppose if you have to choose which eye to thrust a stick into then let’s address the Pitt run game first. Here’s a graphic on both:
When your QB is tied as your leading rusher – and he only carries the ball four times – you know you have major problems. And we did – this isn’t new for Pitt this season and is part and parcel of why we only have two wins. But Saturday was a new low as far as I can remember.
I always look at the Yards Per Carry numbers first and you can see here that NC State was the clear victor in that category with 6.5 (!!) versus our measly 3.0. I guess I should have expected that considering that NCS was ranked 7th nationally in run defense going into the game giving up only 91.3 ypg… and we actually beat that with our 95 yards.
But hell, it still sucks and we could do nothing on the ground to help our faltering QBs’ passing games, or lack thereof.
Now, NC State was about average in thier rushing production (57th w/ 177 ypg at a 4.6 ypc clip) yet we allowed them to pretty much run at will. When you allow a team almost 2 full yards more per try against you that is a recipe for defeat – and exactly how NC State overcame the poorer play from their QB.
That’s mine – I could probably find a few more ‘BAD” and UGLY” issues but you guys will fill in the gaps in your own GB&U’s.