26 November 2011
As was the case so many times this season, the win was there for the taking but Pitt couldn't capitalize. It seems like every time a unit steps up, there's a new goat. Early in the season it was the kicking game and the defense. In the middle of the season, the offensive line took most of the heat. And now, it's the passing game, which to be quite honest, hasn't been very good all season to begin with it.
It seems very evident that Todd Graham is very frustrated with Sunseri (via PPG):
I asked Graham about Sunseri and Graham really composed himself and just said "it is puzzling, I don't understand it, it was disappointing because it was obviously not what we were trying to execute. You can't take sacks, we sat there and took one right after another."
Graham was asked a followup but still wouldn't go there and even used the phrase "I'm not going to go there" but there is no question he has had enough of watching Sunseri take sacks.
Here is another quote from Graham which basically tells the tale of what he thinks of his quarterback, without saying it ""We are playing so good is so many areas, and then there are just a few areas that are absolutely killing us."
And as much as it is a team game, it's hard not to pin this one on Sunseri. Yes, his receivers do him absolutely no favors (Drew Carswell's alligator arms on what would have been a crucial third-down conversion the most obvious example), but Sunseri's decision-making absolutely killed the Panthers last night. As was noted on Twitter after the game, Sunseri was sacked 10 (!) times last night, including nine sacks on the final 25 plays and four on the last seven. I went back and forth on whether those terrible numbers really do the final few possessions justice, and decided that they come pretty close. It was a mess. Plain and simple. A mess. With the game on the line, Sunseri simply shut down. He is credited with 22 rushes for negative seven yards.
And it's not as if the offensive line should shoulder some of the blame here. The much maligned and banged-up unit played very well against a pretty good WVU rush led by Big East D-POY candidate Bruce Irving. The return of Lucas Nix was an instant upgrade and Pitt was able to clear lanes for the running game. Pass protection has long been the boogeyman of this unit, but they were not responsible for an inordinate amount of pressure on Sunseri. Rather, it was Sunseri holding the ball way, way too long (at one point it appeared he had nearly 7 seconds to get rid of it and still took a sack) and receivers not creating much separation.
Defensively, Pitt was superb. The much-hyped Air Raid offense was held to a manageable 357 yards, but really stepped up third down, holding the Mountaineers to 2-for-12 from third down and 1-for-2 on fourth. Aaron Donald was a big reason for that, despite his somewhat questionable unnecessary roughness penalty on a tackle of a loss. The defensive line as a whole played very well, as did the secondary despite giving up one big play for a touchdown. As I tweeted during the game, Tony Gibson has received a lot of criticism from his time at WVU and Michigan, but there's no denying that he's done a very good job with Pitt's secondary. Antwuan Reed and K'Wuan Williams have both gotten significantly better as the season has progressed and safety play really hasn't suffered too much despite the loss of Jason Hendricks.
So what's next? Well, Pitt must beat Syracuse on Saturday become bowl eligible at 6-6. That won't guarantee them a bowl, but it seems likely that they'll be selected despite the disappointing season. However, where they end up is anyone's guess. At 6-6, they'd be considered by one of the Big East's lower tier bowls (Beef O Brady, BBVA Compass), but even those bowls might pass on the Panthers since - let's be honest here - how many Pitt fans are going to travel to see the 6-6 Panthers play the C-USA third place team? If none of the Big East bowls take Pitt, then there are the Pac-12 & SEC affiliated bowls. Both conferences seem unlikely to have enough Bowl eligible teams to fill their spots and the bowls could take Pitt as a replacement. That could lead to some awkward geographic match-ups, like the New Mexico Bowl or San Fransisco's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. But hey, beggars can't really be choosers.
There will be a through and coherent recap to come, but this was all my fragile psyche could handle less than 24 hours later.
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