I’m going to skip the self-pity over “same old Pitt.” And the tired stuff about how once more on the big stage at home, Pitt was a mess. Even if I hadn’t decided that when I got up this morning, Ron Cook writing that column clinched it for me.
My ire and disappointment is mostly reserved for the defense. I expected issues on the offense, but the defense was a wreck. From the TV perspective, the coverage was incredibly soft. DBs playing far off the receivers and giving them a cushion that gave Jameis Winston easy throws. During the game, writers up in the press box kept noting that the issue was that the linebackers were not in position.
That does seem to be a large part of it.
The defense, especially the secondary, played very passively tonight. They allowed Seminole receivers to get plenty of separation in the middle of the field, particularly on medium routes. Cornerback K’Waun Williams said after the game that the plan was to play off because Florida State ran a lot of crossing routes, but that puts pressure on the linebackers to pick up in coverage, and that unit struggled with its coverage.
Teams like Duke, Virginia and Syracuse don’t have the same athletic ability as Florida State, so maybe we’ll see a change there with a more aggressive approach. But I thought one of Pitt’s strengths last season (maybe their biggest strength) was Williams and Lafayette Pitts playing physical man-to-man coverage, and we saw very little of that tonight. A few guys talked in training camp about new coordinator Matt House‘s defense being simpler and allowing the players to “play faster,” but tonight it looked like a lot of guys got caught out of position and Florida State took advantage of that.
This was bad game planning with the personnel/experience they had. As athletic as guys like Bam Bradley, Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas are. The first two are not experienced enough to be put in the position to have to make those plays all game. The strength is with the DBs and linebackers were and are a clear weakness, and instead the DBs were told to lay back and let the linebackers do more to contain the pass.
I can get that you do have to gameplan against the tendencies of an offense, but you have to know your own defense. The weak unit on the defense are the linebackers. Everyone knows it. Offenses will try to exploit it, the defensive coaches need to minimize it. I’ve been critical of the hiring of Matt House as DC from the beginning, and reading this does nothing to lessen the criticism. The fact that there was no adjustments at the half, makes it even worse.
That doesn’t excuse the players. There was a lot — a lot of poor tackling. Going against a physically better team, Pitt was trying to hit more than tackle. That’s still a veteran defense and they know better.
“They beat us in a lot of phases,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.
Pitt’s defensive failures were discouraging for a team that returned eight starters on that side of the ball. Chryst gave credit to the Seminoles’ athletic playmakers.
“The common denominator was you got some good players making plays,” Chryst said. “We can say we have to tackle better, but yet they ran through some tackles.”
Yes, but it’s easier to run through tackles when they are arm tackles.
That the D-line struggled to get pressure was frustrating but not completely shocking. FSU has an excellent O-line and a mobile quarterback. That the D-line was able to get penetration at times was at least encouraging. And despite how athletic Winston is, he was contained in the pocket most of the game.
Over on the offense. Could have been better. Tom Savage is lucky to have only 2 interceptions in this game. He was what I expected. Big arm and slow reads. I’m not as down on the offense because the struggles there were expected.
Despite the strong start, Savage struggled much of the game, showing some signs of rust from a three-year layoff from competitive college football.
Before Monday night, Savage had not played since his sophomore year at Rutgers in 2010.
For as comfortable as Savage looked on the first drive — when he was 3 of 4 for 51 yards — he never settled down after the first interception.
The Seminoles defense also pressured him relentlessly and finished with three sacks.
Savage wound up with 15 completions in 28 attempts for 201 yards and the lone touchdown. He threw two interceptions.
“I think the first game back, I got a little antsy, stared down some receivers,” Savage said.
A little bit.
Devin Street is out there working harder than any other receiver on this team. Manasseh Garner looked good out ther. Tyler Boyd is — if possible — better than advertised. The biggest criticism being that he wasn’t used enough.
The elite receiving recruit out of Clairton, whose first touch was an electric 18-yard slice through the line on an inside handoff, might have been most capable of providing exactly the jolt to bring one of those chaotic or unpredictable somethings. But incredibly, he’d touch the ball just one more time the rest of the first half.
For a 23-yard gain, no less!
Final tally for Boyd was two catches for 26 yards — one an acrobatic effort near the sideline — and 54 yards on three rushes. But his four second-half touches rang hollow in light of Florida State already having soared ahead by three touchdowns.
This was the wild card Chryst needed to play with his initial hand, and he held it far too long.
I asked the coach if we can expect to see more of Boyd after this: “Yeah, I mean, absolutely. We’re trying to find ways to … he’s a good football player. I was impressed with the way he handled everything.”
Boyd had a similar response to the same question: “Oh, definitely. I think I did everything I could do. I could have made more plays, but I made just enough to do well.”
If you noticed, Boyd was also inserted into kick returns in the second half.
The running game was a mixed bag. It was frustrating to see Pitt attempt to run up the middle with little effect. Especially when it was clear that Pitt had better chances of moving the ball on the ground by getting to the outside. The O-line was able to get more cracks to run through away from the middle.
I was actually surprised to see in the box score that Isaac Bennett (9-35) and James Conner (9-34) had nearly identical numbers. Conner looked like the stronger runner in the game. Malcolm Crockett has already fallen to 4th on the RB depth chart.
On a team that barely has a junior class — only 10 juniors and redshirt sophomores available — no real surprise that lots of freshmen saw action in the game.
The busiest was running back James Conner, who gained 28 yards on his first five carries after missing a week of practice at the end of training camp with a shoulder injury.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd touched the ball three times in the first half, but he had no receptions. He gained 18 and 20 yards on sweeps during Pitt’s two scoring drives.
Boyd also returned a kickoff 35 yards.
The others: Kicker Chris Blewitt (one extra point and two field goals), tight end Jaymar Parrish, who had an impressive block on Boyd’s second carry, linebacker Matt Galambos, defensive end Shakir Soto, defensive tackle Tyrique Jarrett, defensive backs Titus Howard and Terrish Webb, tight end Scott Orndoff and running back Rachid Ibrahim.
11 freshmen in the game. Definitely more than expected, and a couple more are likely to have their redshirt removed at some point. Last year, only two freshmen saw action during the season.
So, if there is a silver lining to the shellacking with all the recruits on hand to witness. They also saw lots of opportunity for early playing time — and that it would be given.