There is not a lot to be said about this game that has not already been said, but I will say a few things.
First: I owe Kenny Pickett an apology. Immediately after the Virginia game, I wrote an article that completely trashed Pickett’s play and his overall potential as a quarterback. Well, I would like to say that I was wrong and I am sorry. Whatever Kenny has done since that game has been nothing short of transformational. Here is my list of critiques from Virginia (and last season), with updated analysis:
- Poor touch on short passes – With the exception of the very first pass of the game Pickett’s short passes were just fine.
- Poor ability to get the ball to second and third options – Pickett thrived on his second and third options throughout the game, taking what was given to him and moving the sticks, especially at in the fourth quarter.
- Panics in the pocket and steps into sacks too often – Since Ohio Pickett has done much better job feeling and evading pressure…
- Gets happy feet instead of scanning the field and trying to make a play with his arm … while keeping his eyes downfield and looking for the open man.
- Poor accuracy on deep balls to wide open receivers – Those jump balls to Taysir Mack in the final drive were things of beauty. I’d have liked to see a little more touch on the deep throws down the middle, but at least he threw them where they couldn’t be intercepted.
Pickett did this on the road against what is arguably the best defense he will face all year. He has matured tremendously and that bodes well for the rest of the season.
Through the first three games Pickett has 64% of his passes for 878 yards and a rating of 122.8 (and ESPN QBR of 67.4, good for 44th in the country). Throw out his disastrous UVA game (yep I’m doing it) and his completion % is about 69; his QBR is in the mid 130’s, and he’s averaging right around 350 yards per game. His YPA in these last two games: 8.05.
Now… about the touchdowns. With stats like these, you’d expect Kenny to have around six or seven of them. Well, he has two. Heck if he had just one more yesterday we’d probably all be a lot happier right now. However, as nearly everyone on this board pointed out, Kenny had at least one wide open receiver on “the series” but because of bad blocking he had throw the ball away. So not entirely Kenny’s fault. In fact, not really his fault at all.
The touchdowns will come. They need to come. Kenny and Whipple need to put in some time and figure out just exactly what their bread and butter is inside the five, and then they need to practice the heck out of it. Kenny needs to demand excellence from the entire offense. Pickett has now shown he can perform at the highest level in the toughest environment. As the leader of the offense, its time for him to hold the rest of the group accountable.
Second: Speaking of touchdowns, the last time we scored one in the second half was on this play:
Where was that on Saturday? (Just kidding, can you imagine the backlash if that was the 4th and 1 call and it got blown up 9 yards behind the line?). At this point I can only presume that after this TD the Demon Deacon (that’s the Wake Forest Mascot) levied some kind of curse on Pitt. Until we a) Get the ball to an offensive lineman or b) Steal Wake Forest’s mascot, we probably aren’t going to score in the second half again.
Okay enough levity for now, the touchdowns will come…right?
Third: While I’m talking about (mostly) good things, I would be remiss not to mention the defense and the punter.
The defense, oh the defense. For the exception of about three plays they were every bit as good as we needed them to be. Pitt gave up nearly as many yards as Buffalo, but held the high-scoring Nittany Lions to just 17 points. That’s 46 points below their season average coming into the game. This defense is for real people.
And the punter. Kirk Christoudoulu clearly was not going to let last year’s performance be repeated. He kicked ’em high. He kicked ’em far. He dropped ’em inside the twenty. In short, he showed up big for a big game. Hats off to him and lets hope he keeps it up.
On the downside, we can and should talk about the running game. Or lack thereof. It is mostly on the offensive line. Granted, Penn State’s front seven was good, but that same front seven was pushed around to the tune of 245 yards last week by Buffalo. We’d have been happy with half of that. Instead our leading rusher was Shockey Jaques-Louis with one rush for nine yards.
Lastly, and this needs no introduction, gameday coaching. It started with questionable timeout usage. It ended with “the call” (or non-call I guess you could call it). They say there is no such thing as bad press, but Pitt certainly got plenty of it on Saturday. I don’t think Naruduzzi lost the team, and I think we need to let him play out the season before levying final judgement, but his seat just got a few degrees warmer.
Now to put this all in context, if I had told you on Friday we’d walk out of State College with a seven point loss, and two chances to tie it up at the end, would you have believed me? Would you have believed me after reading this? Would you have believed me after seeing ESPN gave us a seven-percent chance of success? Well it happened, and even though the way it happened was excruciatingly frustrating, it should give us hope for the future, or at least hope for the next nine games.
Here are my goods, bads and uglys. Can’t wait to see yours.
Kirk. Hit a season long-62 yarder. Put four inside the twenty. All-ACC caliber punting on a very big stage. A big part of why Penn State only scored 17.
Taysir Mack – 12 rec, 125 yards. Just throw him the jump ball…
AJ Davis Receiving – Would like to see some more speed or at least some punishing hits out of this big dude, but you can’t argue with 94 yards through the air.
Paris Ford – Continues to show up. Team high 11 tackles.
Twyman – He lands in both good and bad this week because we are starting to learn he’s an up and down player. 1.5 sacks and six tackles are very good.
Twyman – It is clear that he runs out of gas pretty quickly, and he’s pretty bad when he’s winded. Partridge needs to recognize this and get him out of there on second downs so he’s fresh when it really matters.
Run blocking and run scheme in general: See above