Dave Wannstedt pleads his case on a call with a referee in the second quarter yesterday at Heinz Field.
By Gene Collier Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rutgers left a small mountain of empirical evidence to indict Pitt's laughable defense yesterday, and you're free to pick through it at your leisure as you would the metaphorical garbage left over from the Panthers' latest exit from the top 20.
The Frightful Knights had scored 37 points in the Big East Conference this season -- that's 37 total -- and then piled 34 on Pitt.
In the first half.
The 115th-ranked scoring offense among America's 119 major-college programs, Rutgers put up 215 yards in a first quarter in which it possessed the ball for exactly five minutes, which I guess means that by holding 'em to 442 total, the Panthers really buttoned things up thereafter. Didn't matter much, since four of Rutgers' eight touchdown drives took less than one minute.
All that said, Pitt owed yesterday's total embarrassment as much to its decisions with the football as to its ineptitude without it.
"I didn't do enough for us to win," said tailback LeSean "Shady" McCoy, who scored a career high four touchdowns and punctured Rutgers for 188 total yards, 154 of them on the ground. "I don't look at it like I had a good game."
McCoy is trying gamely to keep things in perspective, but the hard reality is nothing more or less than this: When Shady McCoy has the ball in his hands, either in the ground game or via short throws, Pitt's offense looks coherent and effective and at times even unstoppable. But when he doesn't, it looks chaotic and only vaguely hopeful.
The things offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and head coach Dave Wannstedt do when they fail to call McCoy's number continue to be downright confounding. Wannstedt, minutes after losing to Rutgers for the fourth consecutive year, said he was surprised Greg Schiano's team came out firing at the Pitt secondary. The result was that he and Cavanaugh allowed themselves to get rolled into an up-tempo affair in which they simply forgot they could keep Rutgers off the field by using McCoy to run the clock.
Pitt wound up scoring 24 quick-strike points in the first half, but it kept putting Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel back on the field on a day when the Pitt defensive backs looked as if they were waiting for someone to yell, "Marco!" so they could swim toward the sound with their eyes closed.
Teel threw for five touchdowns in the first half.
No Big East player had ever done that.
"If you'd told me we'd have scored that many points, I'd have said we'd win by two touchdowns," Wannstedt said to that tempo question. "It's a shame because there were some really good performances out there today, but it's a team game and you've got to play good in all phases."
Unfortunately, you've got to coach well in all phases, too, and Pitt's players can't always count on it.
Three instances in which a simple, coherent offensive play (McCoy!) got switched to a chaotic prayerful gambit might well have decided yesterday's game, never mind the 20-point differential.
Early in the first quarter, after McCoy's first two carries gained only 35 yards and a touchdown, Pitt went with a fake field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Rutgers 21 with the score tied, 7-7. The result was an incoherent rollout by 10th-string quarterback/holder Andrew Janocko, who wound up throwing to befuddled tight end Dorin Dickerson.
Three points were lost, when a simple pitch to McCoy might have sustained a drive and resulted in seven.
Despite failing to pressure Teel until the second half and despite losing its own starting quarterback to a frightening neck injury late in the third period, Pitt somehow retained enough momentum to escape this indignity even after Aaron Berry's fumbled punt led to the Rutgers touchdown that made it 41-31.
With Pat Bostick, his redshirt still smoking, took over for Stull late in the third quarter, Cavanaugh had him throw to the boundary to tight end Nate Byham on third-and-1 from the Pitt 40. That play called for McCoy as well, but it clicked for 34 yards to the Rutgers 26. Three plays later, on third-and-1 from the 17 (McCoy!), Bostick rolled ponderously to his left, against his throwing motion, got hit as he threw, and the resultant interception was taken 74 yards the other way.
So let me get this straight.
Third-and-1 from your own 40 trailing by 10 -- long pass to the far boundary.
Third-and-1 from the opponent's 17 with an opportunity to cut the lead to 3 -- have the right-handed slow guy roll left.
I asked McCoy if he ever got frustrated with the part of the offense that doesn't include him. He's too smart to bite on that.
"I wouldn't say that," he said. "We're still a solid team and we're getting better and better every week."
Well, not everyone. Some are getting worse and worse. They know who they are.