2008: Bowling Green, Oregon State
2007: Rutgers, Louisville, Navy
2006: Rutgers, UConn, USF
2005: Ohio, Nebraska
2004: Nebraska, Syracuse, UConn
2003: Toledo, Virginia, Notre Dame
2002: Texas A&M, West Virginia
What are these games you ask? These are all of the games that I have seen us lose since I've become a Pitt fan in which we had no business losing. All of those games were winnable, but for various reasons we let them slip away. Today we can add NC State to the 2009 list.
I'm not saying that we should expect to go undefeated each year, but what I am saying is that we should expect to win games like this. We might even find ourselves being upset in a game every once in a while because it can and will happen. This week was a perfect example of that as many top 25 teams were upset (most notably PSU at home and Ole Miss on the road). However, it just seems like being a Pitt fan we have come to expect this type of game at least a couple times during the season. While there is enough blame to go around, I'm going to focus this article on the coaching aspect of what killed us at NC State.
1. The coaching staff has not learned from their past mistakes. Last year against Rutgers all we heard was how it was going to be a run vs run style of game. In an article last week I wrote that I expected NC State to come out throwing because the same things were being said for this game. So against, Rutgers, they came out passing and torched our defense. It was obvious at that point the secondary was a major weakness. This year against Buffalo, we saw the same scheme deployed. Over the middle passing which turned mid range passes into big gains. Now with the blueprint set on how to beat us, we did not change anything and NC State used the same plan to beat us.
2. If there was anything as bad as our pregame preparation it was our in game offensive adjustments. In the first half our running game was working well and we were able to complete short passes to keep our drives going. This was in part also set up thanks to some great special teams returns. After the first half concluded, we went back out with the same exact plan that we used originally. That is fine unless the defense makes adjustments. What we saw was NC State bringing their linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage which really neutralized our running game. Instead of changing to add more play action passes and more running back/tight end passes over the middle, we continued to play the same exact base offense.
3. When Wannstedt buy something and gets change back, he lets the cashier keep the coin change because he wants nothing to do with the nickel and dime. Why would you switch whenever your 4-3 is letting up 500 yards of offense. That just shows that your way is working.........Um no. Here is why the 4-3 will kill us against non-running teams this year. Teams now know they can line up 3 wide and automatically have a mismatch with a linebacker covering a wide receiver. This also hurts us even more because the db's have to play with their back to the quarterback allowing him to run whenever possible. The crossing routes over the middle killed us against Buffalo and did major damage against NC State. There is an easy solution to this. Have a linebacker spy the quarterback. That way the qb is covered in case he decides to scramble. The second solution to this problem is switching to a zone defense where the players are responsible for a specific area and can play facing the qb. It may allow some short gains, but I'd rather give up a 5 yard run than a 20 yard run when facing 4th and 13. But maybe that is just me.
4. Accountability. The staff has preached this since they took over 5 years ago. Elijah is out of position, Dom misses tackles, the corners never break on the ball, Turner continues to drop passes like it is his job, and bad penalties (deserved or not) continue to haunt this team. However, the same players making the same mistakes are always out there. Once a player has earned his spot in camp, he rarely loses it. The only real time we saw this was yesterday after Romeus' facemask penalty, he was replaced by Brandon Lindsay. If you want to preach accountability, then back up what you say with actions. This also should go for the coaches themselves. Outside of Brian Angelichio (te's) and David Walker (rb's) every other position coach has done a terrible job. Hafley and Bossard are the two most guilty of this. I don't care if you got Josh Evans to take a visit, he's not here and we sure could use him. If you're not getting the job done, get out. Paul Dunn has been the only coach to fall on the sword here at Pitt, everyone else gets a free pass and it's not like other schools are busting the door down to steal our assistants.
5. Awareness. The coaches should know that when the running game shuts down we need to adapt. They should know when a team has a passing-spread offense we need to change defenses. They should know that if our blitz packaging isn't working we need to modify it or drop it. They should know that if there is something wrong with any facet of your game, you fix it. They did not do this against Buffalo, they did not do this against NC State, they have not done this in the previous 5 years of being in charge. We're great at stopping pro-style running attacks, option running attacks, and spread-running attacks. What we can't do is stop the passing attack. During the press conference, Dave Wannstedt must come out and accept full responsibility for the loss. This loss was not due to a few missed tackles, it was not due to Stull throwing the ball away on 4th down, it was not due to one team out executing another. This loss was squarely on the coaches shoulders. We did not adapt, we did not prepare, and not the only thing left to do is accept full responsibility. For as bad as certain players performed yesterday, they certainly did not do as poorly as our coaching staff did.