I’m sure no one associated with the Pitt football program are in the mood for moral victories after their heartbreaking loss at Penn State but I’m here to give you a few.
Very few expected this game to be close let alone come down to the final drive of the game but that’s what happened.
Coaches often talk about games coming down to a few plays and that’s how you can look at Pitt grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.
Take away Journey Brown’s 85-yard run on 3rd & 9 from Penn State’s 3-yard line, Ricky Slade’s 40-yard catch on 3rd & 8 that led to Penn State’s field goal before the half and two failures inside Penn State’s 3-yard line and Pitt likely leaves Beaver Stadium with a win.
Those missed plays plus a coaching decision blunder makes the 17-10 loss harder to take but the positive is that Pat Narduzzi has plenty of positives to takeaway and a legitimate reason to believe Pitt has plenty of wins in them the rest of the season.
In fact, I feel more positive about Pitt moving forward than I did before the game.
No doubt, some will focus on Pitt’s 1-2 record but that’s a waste of time. Up next is #17 ranked Central Florida (3-0) which means no one in the country will have played a more difficult schedule through the first four games than the Panthers. While it doesn’t help their overall record, it will have prepared them for their journey in the ACC Coastal, which is what ultimately matters.
Why should Panther fans be optimistic instead of negative?
Let’s start with the most important position on the team and that’s quarterback. Despite losing, Kenny Pickett was the best player on the field for either team and it wasn’t close.
Although a majority of the Pitt fan base wanted to ship him out of town following the Virginia game, Pickett has performed the last two weeks like a quarterback that can win games by himself and he seems to be getting better by the game.
In a venue that’s as difficult as any in the country to win at, Pickett finished with a line of 35-51 for 372 yards and a quarterback rating of 129.9. Over the last two weeks, the junior has gone 61 of 88 for 693 yards. That’s not too bad for a player that many thought wasn’t a Power Five quarterback.
Pickett did a great job of being accurate and not focusing on a single target as eight different Pitt receivers caught passes led by junior Taysir Mack. Prior to yesterday, people questioned his ability to throw the deep pass but that wasn’t a problem especially when targeting Mack.
The exciting thing for the future for Pitt football is that Pickett is still “young”, having only started 16 games and still has plenty of time left to get better and learn from quarterback guru Mark Whipple.
Having a good defense gives you a good chance to win games and that’s been the case with Pitt to start the season.
Minus the opening drive of the second half, Pitt’s defense did an outstanding job of neutralizing a high-powered Penn State offense.
Despite not having two important starters in Rashad Weaver and Keyshon Camp, Charlie Partridge’s defensive line was once again outstanding as they got constant pressure on Sean Clifford and minus the Brown run, stuffed the Nittany Lions ground game.
Perhaps more encouraging than the play of the men up front was the performance of Pitt’s secondary.
Prior to this season, Pitt cornerbacks getting burnt deep was something fans witnessed on a game by game basis but that’s changed. Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne dialed up deep passes for KJ Hamler, Justin Shorter, Jahan Dotson and Pat Freiermuth but didn’t connect on a single one. Archie Collins’ unit of Dane Jackson, Damarri Mathis, Jason Pinnock, Paris Ford, Damar Hamlin and Jazzee Stocker played their best game of the season and shutdown the Penn State big play passing attack.
That performance could be important because next up is the high-powered passing attack of Central Florida, which could prove to be an important game.
If they can beat #17 ranked Central Florida, the Panthers will be 2-2 heading into the Delaware game and the remainder of their Coastal schedule. Given the difficulty of that early schedule, a 2-2 start would be more than OK and would make a rematch with Clemson in the ACC Championship Game a possibility.
So, while losing is never good, the early part of Pitt’s 2019 season has shown that the Pitt program is building stability and have the talent and depth to be a contender in the ACC for years to come.