Pitt took a calculated gamble when it agreed to open the 2013 football season against national power Florida State.
The upside was the opportunity sell season tickets, put the team on national television on Labor Day night and jumpstart a program that has been floundering.
The downside was two fold:
* A defeat, which was likely, could turn off the very fan base and ticket buyers Pitt was trying to attract.
* Of greater significance, a loss of lopsided proportions could put a serious level of hurt on player confidence. No team wants to be another team's cupcake.
For a few minutes last night at Heinz Field, it looked as though Pitt's big gamble would pay big dividends. The Panthers scored the first time they had the ball, a splendid nine-play, 80-yard drive led by quarterback Tom Savage, to take a lead over the mighty Seminoles, as visions of a massive upset on a huge national stage took root with some Pitt fans.
And that was it. The rest of the game resembled more a nightmare than a dream come true. Pitt was overmatched and outplayed and it provided a storybook opener for FSU freshman quarterback Jameis Winston.
Pitt's one-touchdown lead lasted until FSU's second possession and then the rout was on. Winston picked apart the Pitt defense with ease as the Seminoles rolled to a 41-13 win.
Winston was magnificent, completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns. He was not intercepted. Pitt has no answer for for this young quarterback who had the look of a future Heisman Trophy candidate.
FSU, it turns out, had one for Savage, who completed 15 of 28 passes for 210 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Both interceptions led to FSU scores.
It was Savage's first game competition since the 2010 season and exposing him to a defense as quick as Florida State was part of the gamble Pitt took. Whether Savage can bounce back against lesser competition, which is most of the remaining schedule, remains to be determined.
That coach Paul Chryst plans to give him the opportunity to do just that was obvious by the fact Savage was still in the game when the score was 41-13.
It's difficult to evaluate Savage on this performance because considering how long he's been out of game competition, he could have plenty of growing room in the weeks and months ahead.
The same might not be said for the Pitt defenders, most of whom played last year. No doubt Winston is a special talent, but Pitt could not come close to stopping him.
If there was a positive on the night for the Panthers it was the play of true freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd of Clairton. He caught two passes for 26 yards, which is hardly staggering. But one of his catches was a brilliant diving effort that was good for 17 yards and set up a Pitt field goal, which was its only score of the second half. What really made Boyd stand out were his three rushes for 54 yards.
He clearly is a player who must figure prominently in future game plans.
Pitt will have ample opportunity to regroup. Its next three games are New Mexico at home, at Duke and Virginia at home. The Panthers have the opportunity to turn an ugly opener into a 3-1 record.
Much of that will depend on how Savage comes back from this disappointing start and whether the Pitt defense can show a lot more than it did last night.bobsmiziksports