MMQB: Pitt Win Over Tennessee

My friends – here is a fantastic and well thought out MMQB article by Jay Kaplan (“6&34” on here) that is a pleasure to read – and to agree or disagree with. Have at it…

Well, Pitt prevailed in the Johnny Major’s Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) v. Southeastern Conference (SEC) Battle of Mediocrity.  It was a game I thought during the week’s lead up to the game was the most important game of the season for Pitt (I heard on a Tennessee podcast it was the most important game for Tennessee as well).

Of course, now its no longer the most important game but Pitt gets to say at least for a while longer that it is better than mediocre.

Not by much, but if Tennessee is mediocre then Pitt is better than mediocre! That’s basic arithmetic.  Sort of… Had Pitt won by 14 or more, I might be more enthusiastic about the rest of the season but alas they didn’t. To the contrary, they struggled to keep the lead at seven.

But they won – which makes Monday Morning Quarterbacking a lot more fun than it would have been if they lost. And they won on the road coming from behind an early 10 point deficit against an SEC opponent in front of what I would estimate as 75,000 very loud Volunteer fans.

Neyland Stadium - Facilities - University of Tennessee Athletics

This team could have quit after the first minute of the game but they didn’t. That says a lot and the team and Narduzzi deserve credit for that.

Pitt almost looked good. Take away the atrocious performance of the special teams and you could say Pitt played outstanding. OK, maybe that goes way too far but think about what the game might have been if special teams played only badly. Instead, they just sucked. They were SOP level bad which is as we all know as about as low as you can go.

Keep in mind though that the botched, pathetic performance on the missed field goal attempt, a spectacularly SOP screw-up of epic proportions does not show up in the score or statistics because the play was nullified by a Tennessee penalty. But it was not nullified in my mind be it conscious or subconscious. Note:  Maybe, just maybe if the illegal block had not been committed the Pitt player would have made the tackle and the near disaster would never have occurred.

So it’s fair to ask who is responsible for that atrociousness? On the blocked punt, unless Pat Narduzzi overruled Special Team’s Coach Andre Powell or certain players just took it into their own hands to do whatever they wanted to do, Coach Powell is solely responsible for that seven point embarrassment.

Don’t be mislead by the announcer’s comments about Head Coach Josh Heupel having seen something in their study of Pitt game film they reviewed preparing for the game. What occurred had nothing to do with careful study and planning; what occurred was just an incomprehensively stupid punt protection scheme. Just watch it.

I should move on to something else but for the moment I can’t. I just don’t understand how a special team coach can have a team line up the way Pitt did. If an Alabama special team coach did that with that result (it would be that result every time), that coach would not have a job after the game.  

I don’t recall Jaylen Barden on any plays from scrimmage but he did handle two kickoff returns and he did so poorly. I can understand how Barden could elect to run from where he caught that first kickoff. Players can have moments where they have visions of grandeur and make mistakes because of that. But he did it the very next time he caught a kickoff.

Did Powell not reprimand Barden for that first bad decision after Barden returned to the sideline? What are the odds of making it past the 25 yard line on a kickoff return from inside the five or the end zone? It’s a sucker play to run it out. I’ll give Powell a credit for switching Barden with Stovall after Barden’s second bonehead effort. Note: I almost always refrain from disparaging a Pitt player especially a young one but Barden deserves this public criticism for being more me than we.

Two Tennessee kickoff returns (in a row?) resulted in the kicker (Ben Sauls) having to tackle the kickoff returner perhaps to save the day. Two!!  And while we are talking special teams let me mention that virtually every extra point seems to barely get over the crossbar. Maybe that’s the way its supposed to be done but if it is, I don’t recall other placekickers other than high schoolers that do extra points that way.

Kenny Pickett was outstanding this game. I need to confess I think his ranking as the 10th best quarterback in the fourteen team ACC is absurd.  Yes, Pickett has his flaws, but his overall game is at least good and sometimes very good. I have heard announcers say he runs a 4.7, 40 but to my eye he is marginally faster than James Conner who ran a 4.67 at the NFL’s Combine if my memory serves me correctly.

Pickett’s leg speed is a weapon. He’s no Lamar Jackson but he runs really well and is smart too. Some POVers think that at least in the past he took off too soon. I saw that happen only once against Tennessee.

Pickett was less accurate the 2nd half but that could have been due to Tennessee’s better coverage and defensive penetration during that part of the game.  As far as I’m concerned, Pitt has a quality quarterback – even with the second half inefficiencies. Prove me wrong or just focus on his flaws, your choice POVers, but the dumping on Pickett will fall on a lot more deaf ears after this game. 

The guy is a gamer and that is high praise for a quarterback. Check out his touchdown pass to Marquise Stovall in the 1st quarter – a cross body bullet to his receiver running along the back of the end zone. Really, check it out before complaining about Pickett’s arm accuracy; it is the first play of this highlight reel…

Many will want to criticize running back coach Powell for the touches Vince Davis got in this game and when he got them especially when most everyone’s favorite running back, Izzy Anabikanda, made some clutch runs. I won’t do that and not because I feel badly about my criticism about Powell’s special team coaching.

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