It would be nice to know what would have happened if Pitt quarterback Pat Bostick had put the ball in LeSean McCoy's belly as midnight approached Wednesday. It was third-and-goal at the Navy 2 in double overtime, Pitt trailing by three. Coach Dave Wannstedt already had decided he would go for it on fourth down rather than kick a tying field goal to force a third overtime. So why not hand the pig to the team's best player, twice if necessary? The overmatched Navy defense hadn't stopped McCoy all night.
But Bostick threw an incompletion on third down, throwing high for tight end Nate Byham, an erratic pass so typical of a young quarterback a bit too eager in his first serious crunch-time moment. Bostick also threw an incompletion on fourth down, throwing high and wide for tight end Darrell Strong on a fade pattern. Pitt came up short, 48-45, at Heinz Field to a mediocre Navy team that had lost to Ball State. The humbling loss left the Panthers staggering at 2-4 and all but guaranteed a third consecutive dismal season under Wannstedt. They're looking at 3-9 or even 2-10.
But don't blame Bostick. If there was anything good to come from this night for Pitt, it was his performance. The kid, 18, a true freshman, showed enough in his first home start to make you think better days are ahead because of him and the superb McCoy, who had 165 yards against Navy.
No, blame this loss on Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh. After wisely protecting Bostick with conservative play-calling all game, they put the game and Pitt's season in his hands at the end. They deserved the results.
This was the kind of loss in the kind of season that could get Wannstedt fired after next season if Pitt doesn't make significant progress. Certainly, it was the kind of loss in the kind of season that could force Wannstedt to make staff changes soon after this season, not just involving Cavanaugh but also defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads, who can't seem to find a way to stop a good running opponent. Somebody is going to have to pay for this mess, right? It's almost impossible to think Rhoads will be back.
So as Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning, it seemed like the right time to ask Bostick about his decision to come to Pitt. He had been highly recruited out of Manheim Township High School in Lancaster, Pa. Louisville was his other finalist.
"No, I don't have any regrets at all," Bostick said, firmly. "You just can't describe the feeling you get when you're genuinely happy to go to the facility every day and be with people who are going to make you better. I trust our coaches. That will never waver. Our record is not a reflection of our coaching staff or this team."
If you think Bostick sounds poised, you're not the only one. This was his first time in front of the local media and he didn't appear to be the least bit nervous. Wannstedt had made him off-limits since he left the team and missed the first week of training camp for -- these are Bostick's words -- "reasons that I'd like to remain personal ..."
"I can't say that wasn't a setback for me in terms of football, but I felt I was in kind of a catch-22," he said. "I would have been hurt either way [by staying with the team or going home]. I needed that time."
Wannstedt's plan to redshirt Bostick blew up when starter Bill Stull broke his right thumb in the first game. His plan to bring Bostick along slowly blew up when backup Kevan Smith was ineffective. Bostick was named the starter after a horrendous home loss Sept. 22 to Connecticut. He played much better Wednesday night than he did in the licking Sept. 29 at Virginia, completing 20 of 28 passes for 191 yards, a touchdown and an interception. A couple of his throws -- a sideline pass to Strong for 11 yards in the first quarter and a 16-yard dart down the middle to flanker Marcel Pestano in the second overtime -- were real beauties.
Bostick's accuracy should improve as he gets more experience. The overthrow for Strong on the final play probably was an unnecessary overcompensation for the interception he threw late in the third quarter on the one shot that Cavanaugh allowed him to take deep.
"I didn't put enough air under that ball," Bostick said of the pass intended for split end Oderick Turner that was intercepted. "Their guy was playing 15 yards deep so I knew it was going to be a jump ball. I needed to get the ball up higher to give Oderick a chance to make a play. Instead, I tried to lay it out there."
Everybody agrees Bostick will put in the time to get better. Wannstedt and Cavanaugh have compared his work in the film room to that of former Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko, a noted student of the game.
"I don't have the God-given ability of a Michael Vick," Bostick said. "I have to use my brain."
Bostick had better be the man for Pitt if the team is going to save Wannstedt's job and avoid mediocrity -- or worse -- for years to come.
Not to dump too much pressure on the kid.
It's hard to imagine Wannstedt recruiting too many star quarterbacks -- too many star anythings, actually -- as long as Pitt continues to lose like this and play before depressingly small crowds in a low-energy atmosphere such as the one Wednesday night.
"We're going to do something special here," Bostick insisted, speaking of McCoy, his other teammates and these coaches. "When we do, being 2-4 in 2007 will be a forgotten memory."
The alternative isn't pretty.
That would be the beginning of the end of the Wannstedt era.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published October 12, 2007 4:00 AM