November 26, 2010

Mistake-filled games a theme for Pitt

If the Pitt players and coaches want to see the culprits for Friday's 35-10 blowout loss to West Virginia at Heinz Field, they need only look in the mirror.

Turnovers, botched plays, and a failure to shut out the Mountaineers' big-play opportunities sank the Panthers (6-5, 4-2) in front of 60,562.

"That's all it was: turnovers, fumbles. Nothing they were doing," redshirt senior offensive tackle Jason Pinkston said after the game. "They came out and made more plays than us.

The first half couldn't have been more tilted in Pitt's favor. The Panthers were nearly dominant in the first two quarters, outgaining West Virginia 205-75, holding a 22:34-7:26 advantage in time of possession, and running almost three times as many plays as the Mountaineers.

But the Panthers couldn't get out of their own way. A Tino Sunseri interception ended Pitt's first drive and set up a two-yard touchdown for West Virginia. A Dion Lewis fumble killed a Pitt drive that had advanced to the West Virginia 26. And a Ray Graham fumble led to the Mountaineers' second touchdown.

And those were just the mistakes of record. Pitt actually fumbled the ball five times in the first half, but only lost three. The kickoff following West Virginia's first touchdown bounced to the 10 due to a miscommunication between Graham and Lewis, who lined up for his first kick return in place of Cameron Saddler. And two of Pitt's more reliable receivers, fullback Henry Hynoski and receiver Mike Shanahan, each dropped a clean pass in the first half.

The issues continued in the second half. The defense gave up a 71-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the third quarter. The offense failed on a fourth-and-3 from the WVU 29. The defense couldn't make a stop on a 10-play, 67-yard drive that put the Mountaineers ahead 28-10. And the Panthers' last realistic shot at climbing back into the game met an abrupt end when center Alex Karabin's shotgun snap from the WVU 9 in the fourth quarter sailed over Sunseri's head.

Sunseri tried to scoop the ball but whiffed, and West Virginia's Scooter Berry recovered for the Mountaineers. West Virginia then mounted a 76-yard drive to put the game out of reach.

"We're a team that never quits," Graham said after the game. "But when that happened, it just turned things around and chances were slim after that."

"It was obviously disappointing," Wannstedt said. "We just didn't make enough plays. If you cut through all the crap, we didn't make enough plays on defense and we gave up way too many [turnovers] on offense."

The problem for Wannstedt, the players, and Pitt administration is that Friday's game was a continuation of a recurring theme for the 2010 Pitt team. At Connecticut two weeks ago, the Panthers lost three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble); at Notre Dame, they lost two (one fumble and one interception); against Miami, Pitt lost three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble); and the Panthers lost two (a fumble and an interception in overtime) in the season opener at Utah.

It's not surprising that there's a correlation between turnovers and the end result of a game - Pitt lost each of those four games - but the continued presence of the trend speaks to more than a simple cause-and-effect. For whatever reason, these same issues strike this team week after week.

Even in victories, Pitt has been mistake-prone. Such was the case last Saturday when the Panthers pulled out a 17-10 win at South Florida despite 11 penalties.

"It's all on us," redshirt junior linebacker Max Gruder said. "We didn't step up and make the plays that we needed to."

"We just weren't making enough plays," redshirt senior cornerback Ricky Gary said. "That's the bottom line: we didn't make enough plays."





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