Pitt's Nate Nix sits alone on the bench at the end of his team's loss to West Virginia at Heinz Field Friday.
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt cornerback Ricky Gary summarized Pitt's season in a few simple sentences Friday after his team was routed, 35-10, by a West Virginia team that seemed hungrier and played a much better brand of football.
"I don't care who you are playing -- you could be playing school of the blind -- if you don't execute things the right way, you just won't win," Gary said. "You just won't win. You have to execute the game plan and just do your job, and if you don't do that, I don't care who you are playing."
That has been the Pitt season in a nutshell -- mistakes and miscues caused by a lack of execution or a lack of ability.
Against the Mountaineers the Panthers turned the ball over four times -- with a total of six fumbles -- and put themselves in poor field position often with bad decisions by punt and kickoff returners.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said he was surprised by the way the Panthers played because they "prepared as well as we could have for this football game." He said the numerous mistakes, particularly turnovers, again haunted his team.
"I really thought we'd play better ... we didn't," Wannstedt said. "The turnovers prevented us from taking the lead. We came out after halftime and gave up one play to begin the second half and then the air kind of came out of the balloon. We had to play catch-up, right into their hands.
"Obviously, it's disappointing. We just didn't make enough plays. We didn't make enough plays on defense. We gave up way too many plays on offense from a turnover standpoint."
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said the Mountaineers' ability to force turnovers in the first half was the story of the game because it enabled them to have a lead even though they didn't play their best football.
The Mountaineers had 75 yards of total offense at halftime -- 48 on one play -- and rushed for just 16 yards on 10 carries, yet led, 14-7, because the Panthers turned the ball over three times.
The first was on the Panthers' first series when quarterback Tino Sunseri overthrew Devin Street and it was intercepted by Brandon Hogan, who returned the ball 53 yards to the Panthers' 2.
Ryan Clarke scored on 2-yard run on the next play and the Mountaineers led, 7-0.
Pitt bounced back, tying the score, 7-7, on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Street. On their next possession the Panthers drove to the Mountaineers' 26 but Dion Lewis fumbled on a second-down play and the Mountaineers recovered. The score remained tied.
Pitt's defense forced a punt and the Panthers again went on a march, but this time it was running back Ray Graham who fumbled, recovered by the Mountaineers' Hogan at the Pitt 46.
West Virginia took advantage as Noel Devine, on second-and-14 from the 50, took a screen pass 48 yards to the Panthers' 2. One play later, Geno Smith hit Will Johnson with a scoring pass and a 14-7 lead they held onto until halftime.
"I wasn't comfortable with our defense in the first half," Stewart said. "I got after them pretty good at halftime. I wasn't seeing that zip we had, but we rallied and we did what good defenses do and we kept them out of the end zone.
"We were out of sync in the first half, and that is a credit to Pitt, they got after us. If it wasn't for their turnovers, the game would have been much different."
The Mountaineers opened the second half with a blow that seemed to crush the spirit of the Panthers' defense.
West Virginia took the opening kick at its 26 and, after a sack by Chas Alecxih on second down, faced a third-and-7 from the 29. The Panthers, however, failed to pressure Smith and he found Tavon Austin streaking down the middle of the field with Pitt corner Antwuan Reed.
Smith and Austin connected and Austin took it the rest of the way for a 71-yard scoring play and a 21-7 lead.
"I don't know if our confidence was shaken a little bit or what [after giving up the long pass]," Wannstedt said. "But, we missed some tackles in the second half that we made in the first half. And we had two or three opportunities to get points. You're only going to get so many opportunities."
After that play the Panthers' body language seemed to droop on the field and on the sideline. Players also were seen arguing with each other and throwing equipment.
The Panthers regrouped and mounted what would turn out to be their last-ditch effort to get back in the game early in the fourth when, trailing, 28-10, they drove to the Mountaineers' 9 and faced a second-and-6. But Alex Karabin's shotgun snap sailed over Sunseri's head and was recovered by Scooter Berry at the Mountaineers' 24.
"The ball was too high," Sunseri said of the snap. "When I went back, I should have just fell on it, but I tried to pick it up and make a play. I was just going to throw it out of bounds because I was outside of the pocket, but they recovered it. It just goes back to the fundamentals of football, back to Pop Warner League, and that is just to fall on the ball, I didn't do that."
The loss by the Panthers (6-5, 4-2 Big East) means Connecticut (6-4, 3-2), not Pitt nor West Virginia (8-3, 4-2), controls the race for the Big East Conference championship.
If the Huskies win their next two games, they will earn their first trip to a Bowl Championship Series game, but the Mountaineers would earn the BCS berth with a victory against Rutgers next week and a loss by Connecticut to Cincinnati today or South Florida next week.
Pitt would still clinch a share of the Big East title with a victory against Cincinnati next week but would need losses by West Virginia and Connecticut in order to claim the BCS bid.