image from postgazette.com
Wow. Lots of questions for a 27 point win on the road, aren’t there? If anyone expected Pitt to play the game they did, raise your hand……didn’t think so. I think reasonable people thought the defense would hold Buffalo to 10 or under, and the offense would score in the high 20’s, and we’d head back for Navy. Well, the defense turned into swiss cheese, the offense showed some things, and all of a sudden we had 81 points scored. Woowza.
So lets break this down by side of the ball, starting with the defense. What happened? Well, Buffalo obviously exposed a kink in the armor, so to speak. And that kink is the secondary. We started out in man coverage, and the Bulls wide outs turned out to be a little too quick. That’s not terrible. I know this is a MAC school, but they do have Naaman Roosevelt (probably an NFL draft pick after this season) and some other decent receivers. So I’m surprised and not very happy, but I can at least accept it. So, once man defense didn’t pan out, we went to zone and Buffalo proceeded to pick it apart with timing routes. Now, this is a problem. If our secondary continues to misread routes and not follow the quarterbacks eyes, we could be in trouble. As a last ditch effort, we threw some blitz packages to mess up that timing, but we never got to the quarterback quick enough. That’s a lot to ask of a defensive line. On the positive side, Zach Maynard is a very mobile QB. When you have that, you have to dedicate a linebacker as a ‘spy’. Someone who doesn’t drop into coverage or blitz, just watches to quarterback and makes sure he doesn’t take off. Adam Gunn filled that role a lot. That also means that you’re basically playing defense with 10 guys. It’s a disadvantage that won’t be seen much later in the season. On the negative side, the news today is that we lost safety Andrew Taglianetti for the season. The silver lining is that the safety position was a close preseason battle won by Taglianetti over Elijah Fields, so it’s not too much of a step down. The bad news is Taglianetti won not because he’s a better athlete, but because Fields is a knuckle head who is squandering his talent. He’s a step up in ability. He already has a pick up in Buffalo (the lone bright spot for the secondary). But he’s a definite liability.
So how do we fix the secondary? Well, first of all, lets not write them off after one bad game. They didn’t tackle all that well in either of the first two games, but the mental mistakes were mainly against Buffalo. By mental mistakes I mean taking a wrong path to the ball, not reading a quarterbacks eyes, and just overall looking lost when they were defending a pass. I sure hope these can be cleared up in the next week. Since this isn’t a reoccurring problem yet, I still think they wake up and do better against Navy. Or at least I hope they do.
So enough with the surprisingly bad defense (or, just the secondary to be exact. The D line and linebackers did pretty well). Lets look at the surprisingly good offense. Dion Lewis had another 100 yard day (almost 200 yards). I was convinced last week, but now I’m certain he’s the real deal. The offensive line is also playing extremely well. Lets just keep them all healthy because I don’t think there’s much depth behind them. The receivers did well for themselves. Nothing exceptional, but nothing poor. They caught the ball (well, most of the time. Turner had another bad drop) and got as much as could be expected after the catch. They didn’t make many plays, but they didn’t make many mistakes either. I’ll take that. Bill Stull shut up the fans (including me) this week which was fantastic to see. Everyone who was questioning him, me included, should take the time to admit that he had a great game. You don’t have to think it will last and this is a sign of the future, but you have to tip your cap to him on a good afternoon. Now, I’ll admit that a lot of his success had to do with Frank Cignetti’s playcalling. Frank called a great game overall, and mostly because he listened to me (I’ll keep telling myself that). You’ll remember I’ve criticised the playcalling in the past because it doesn’t put Bill in a position to succeed. He’s a decision maker without a cannon for an arm. Well, on Saturday we tried a number of short (<15 yard) passes, and got a number of completions out of them. You’ll notice if you check the stats that Baldwin averaged 11 yards per catch, and no one else got more than 10. That means we were doing a lot of crossing routes and screens and check downs. Stuff that Stull can throw. We took one big shot down field that I remember was the first play from scrimmage where Stull aired it out to Baldwin and almost threw a pick because he overthrew him so bad. If the Buffalo DB hadn’t dropped it, the game could have been much different. I’m not comfortable without having a deep threat, but I’m less comfortable without a passing game at all. If we can even show a good short yardage passing game, it should do wonders for Lewis. I think Stull proved he can be a good decision maker on Saturday. I really don’t remember him throwing into coverage too much. He either found an open man or found his tailback in the flats. It was good to see.
Special teams was a mess. Dan Hutchins had a great day punting, but got some bad breaks with the kicking. We missed two extra points in the game. That’s embarrassing. To be fair, both of them were on the snapper instead of Hutchins. Both misses started out with snaps that were way high and barely gotten down by the holder. When that happens in can mess with a kicker’s timing, and we saw a couple of pushes because of it. Not having a reliable long-snapper could be a big problem later on. Also falling apart was the kickoffs. After a fantastic game doing kickoffs against Youngstown State, Luke Briggs decided he’d rather not kick past the 20. After two touchbacks against YSU, he didn’t even make the end zone once in Buffalo. And take it from someone who was there: the wind was not the issue. It was a pretty calm day. There was one kick that landed at t he 30. That’s pretty strong winds to take off 35 yards. I guess he just wasn’t feeling it for some reason. It’s something else to watch.
So I guess that’s it. Defensive secondary is a vulnerability. The offense found a passing game (KISS: keep it short, stupid). Special teams were apparently either left in Pittsburgh or abducted by aliens. Dion Lewis is the real deal. Some interesting story lines going into the Navy game. The secondary can get some time to lick its wounds and figure things out because they won’t be doing much against Navy. The Mids aren’t exactly what you would call a ‘pass-heavy’ team. I think we match up extremely well against them. I think we overpower them on offense and the front 7 stop the option on defense. We should be 3-0 after this weekend. However, Wanny always drops an easy one and he’s running out of gimmies. What’s going to be the loss that makes us cry this year? Stay tuned.