Boy, it’s really nice to finally end a season with a win. Pitt’s been on a 3 game skid with bowls, and it’s been frustrating. I’ll be honest. We didn’t have our best game of the season, but we played well. Besides, it could have been worse (see last year’s Sun Bowl). There’s weren’t a lot of mistakes, and there was even a big surprise which bodes well for next year (more on that later). In fact, we probably out-played the Tar Heels by more than 2 points considering some of the bad bounces that didn’t go our way here.
Offensively, it was obviously the Dion Lewis show. He was the bowl game MVP, and he earned it. 159 yards on 28 carries is impressive against anyone, but UNC has one of the better defenses in the country. I have to admit that I was surprised by it. I think Lewis was just plain quicker than the UNC defense. I’m not sure if the Tar Heels have racked up their gaudy numbers by stopping a bunch of power guys (I don’t follow UNC football too much), but they were certainly a little slow to the outside. Credit the coaching staff for seeing that and exploiting it. Bill Stull didn’t have his best day ever, and I’m not sure why. He looked awfully rushed, and threw off his back foot a lot. The offensive line was allowing a bit of pressure, but they were giving him more than enough time. I think it just looked like he was afraid to get hit out there. The numbers don’t back me up. He was 17 for 24 with 163 yards. But a lot of those misses were his fault and way overthrown because of throwing off his back foot. And most of those 17 completions were dump offs and timing routes (once again, credit the coaching staff for giving him throws he could make on a day he was struggling. Matt Cavenaugh are you listening?). Overall, he was a very serviceable quarterback (don’t get me wrong), but he wasn’t staying strong in the pocket and D1 quarterback (a senior D1 quarterback no less) has no excuse for not doing that. I guess that’s the line on Bill Stull in general as he departs. He had a lot of flaws. He was never going to be great (no matter how much you booed him). But at least his flaws were consistent so you could game plan around them.
Defensively, I was a bit disappointed. The Tar Heels are hardly what you would call a juggernaut offensively. I know that the secondary is usually what takes the heat on this defense, but they are the phase I was actually the most pleased with. Nobody knows his name, but Greg Little has been a special receiver all year. He’s the leading receiver on UNC by about 300 yards. That’s incredible. And he showed just what he could do with that really special catch in the end zone. That was about as well defended as you can get. He just made a great play (and then showed his big flaw by losing his head and punting the ball into the stands, but I digress). The Tar Heels average 175 yards a game through the air. They got 183 on Saturday. There’s nothing to be mad at there. The real disappointment for me in this game was the front 7. We allowed an average of 3.6 yards per carry which is an invitation to rush the ball 3 times and get a first down consistently. But that doesn’t tell the story. What made that number go up was a bunch of long runs that had no business being as extended as they were. We missed a lot of tackles. A whole lot. It was just like the NC State game (maybe its playing in North Carolina?). There’s no excuse for it. I saw way too many arm tackles that shouldn’t be happening at the end of a season. There was no reason we shouldn’t have dominated this game up front and forced them to throw. Just very disappointing.
There was a couple of really nice surprises in this game. First of all, Dan Hutchins shook off an early game miss to get his next 4. He’s never had the biggest leg and he hasn’t been our most accurate kicker ever by a long shot. But it was nice to see him refuse to fold mentally. That’s a lot tougher than you might think. That being said, he’s really limited our offense this year by making them drive a lot deeper to get some points. Here’s hoping Kevin Harper’s been improving his accuracy so that we can have a bigger leg step out there. The other (and probably more important) surprise was Chris Jacobson. He stepped out on the offensive line for the injured Joe Thomas and played extremely well. We’re losing 3 guys off a very very good offensive line. So knowing that one of those 3 holes can be filled without much of a drop is a big relief. I think this win bodes really well for next season, though how that offensive line holds up will have a lot to do with how good we are. This was a very encouraging game, and like I said, it’s nice to end the season on a good note again. Finally.