As if Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and defensive coordinator Phil Bennet didn't have enough of a headache thinking about what has gone wrong with the Panthers' secondary, yesterday they received this news -- starting free safety Andrew Taglianetti is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Taglianetti, a Central Catholic graduate, was injured Saturday in the Panthers' 54-27 win against Buffalo at UB Stadium. The initial prognosis was that Taglianetti had a sprained knee, but an MRI yesterday morning revealed the torn ligament, and it will require surgery.
"Our entire team is very disappointed for Andrew," Wannstedt said in a statement issued by the athletic department. "He is an important performer on and off the field for us. The silver lining is he can receive a medical redshirt."
The loss of Taglianetti is probably softened by the fact that he was more of a co-starter who split time with redshirt junior Elijah Fields, who will now become a full-time starter. But Taglianetti was also an important player on all of the special teams units, so someone will have to step into those roles as well.
Wannstedt will likely move redshirt freshman defensive back Jared Holley to safety full-time (he had been splitting time between corner and safety) to shore up that position. Senior Irvan Brown will take on a more important role as he becomes the third safety behind Fields and strong safety Dom DeCicco.
Beyond the injury, however, the Panthers have some serious issues in the secondary as the unit was torched by the Bulls' Zach Maynard, a sophomore making his second start, for 400 yards and four touchdown passes, three of which were more than 20 yards. The Bulls also had two 100-yard receivers -- something that has happened to the Panthers four times in the past nine games.
The game left the coaches and players searching for answers.
"I think we did all right covering, but we missed a lot of tackles," cornerback Aaron Berry said.
DeCicco added, "We made a lot of mental mistakes. We took some bad angles and that led to the big plays. But we were there in the position to make plays so it is just a matter of being sure on our tackles and making the plays. It really is that simple."
It might be that simple, but the frequency with which this has happened to the Panthers -- opposing quarterbacks and receivers having big days -- recently suggests that the problems are a bit more complex than just tackling better.
If there is one silver lining for the Panthers secondary, though, it is this -- they aren't likely to give up a 300-yard passer or even a 100-yard receiver Saturday regardless of how poorly they play, because their opponent is Navy, a triple-option flexbone team.
"We have a lot of work to do between now and Navy," linebacker Adam Gunn said. "It might not require us to cover as much as these other teams, but they are a precision offense and we better make tackles or it will be a long day."