Regarding Pitt's great defense, it's all just terrible
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- This much we know about Pitt after its first real test of the college football season, a game yesterday against North Carolina State that coach Dave Wannstedt had said would reveal where his program is in his fifth season:
The alleged great defense isn't great at all.
"I would have never thought if we scored 31 points we would lose," Wannstedt said. "But it happened."
Oh, yeah, it happened.
We're talking about one of the great defensive breakdowns in Pitt history.
That the Panthers lost, 38-31, after blowing a 14-point lead late in the third quarter wasn't the big surprise of this rainy Carolina afternoon and night.
The big shock was that North Carolina State didn't score 50 points.
Or 60 points.
That's how bad the supposedly talented Pitt defense was.
Highly regarded defensive ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard? Terrible. Certainly, they look awfully overrated at this point. Romeus got Pitt's only sack -- appropriately, he was penalized 15 yards for a face mask call on the play -- against quarterback Russell Wilson, who had been sacked 11 times in North Carolina State's first three games. Beyond that, Romeus and Sheard did nothing to contain Wilson, who had scrambles for 21, 25 and 21 yards, that last one on a fourth-and-14 play at the Pitt 28 early in the fourth quarter with the Panthers leading, 31-24.
The linebackers, who played without starter Adam Gunn? Terrible. North Carolina State runners gashed them for 208 yards, including Wilson's scrambles. Running backs Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene had runs of 16, 19 and 30 yards, adding to the Wolfpack's bevy of big plays.
The woeful secondary? Beyond terrible. Wilson passed for 322 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions to receivers who had a field day running virtually uncovered at times and making big play after big play, seven going for gains of 22, 23 (touchdown), 24, 38 (touchdown), 33 (touchdown), 29 and 26 yards.
Add it up and North Carolina State had 530 yards of offense, its best output in 59 games, going back to 2004.
This was the same Wolfpack offense that managed all of three points in a 7-3 home loss to South Carolina Sept. 3, its only test of the season before yesterday.
If you want to call the Pitt defense a test.
Other than defensive tackle Mick Williams, who continues to look like Pitt's best player and make plays all over the field, the whole bunch should be embarrassed.
"I thought defensively we didn't make any plays," Wannstedt said, ever the master of the obvious. "Their offense made all the plays."
It's a crying shame because Pitt's offense -- especially quarterback Bill Stull -- played well enough to win. If you're like me, you're probably feeling a little foolish for thinking he would be Pitt's big weakness this season. Really, Stull threw only one bad ball all day -- an overthrow out of the end zone on fourth-and-goal in the final 80 seconds after Pitt recovered a fumbled shotgun snap by the Wolfpack at the North Carolina State 8 with 2:45 left. A play earlier, he threw a pretty pass that tight end Dorin Dickerson could have caught for the tying touchdown, although it would have been an above-average catch.
But the game shouldn't have come down to that final Pitt series. When Stull threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin late in the third quarter to give the Panthers a 31-17 lead, it should have been enough for the defense.
Great defenses rise to the occasion at that point of the game, right?
North Carolina State went 45, 83 and 71 yards on its next three possessions for touchdowns.
Yeah, that's some defense.
The Pitt loss was even more deflating because North Carolina State did all it could to give the game away. It missed a short field goal and had another blocked. It botched its clock management at the end of the first half, settling for a field goal on third down from the Pitt 7 despite having a timeout left. It had 12 penalties for 81 yards. And it had that horrible shotgun snap over Wilson's head late.
"Right now, we're not a good football team and I'm not a good coach," North Carolina State's Tom O'Brien said.
If that's true, what does that say about Pitt and Wannstedt?
Not much, I'm thinking.
The Panthers have a short week to regroup. They play Friday night at Louisville against a team they should be able to overwhelm. But the way the defense is hemorrhaging yards and points ...
"We'll go back and keep stressing fundamentals," Wannstedt said, promising his players will work hard this week to rectify their many problems.
"We've got great kids."
A great defense is another story.
First Published September 27, 2009 12:00 am