After a tough loss, serving up a FCS school is exactly what the team needed. It allowed some of our guys to rest (Romeus), it allowed the coaches to see players perform in real game action (Tino), and allowed guys to get back into their groove (The D-Line/Ray Graham).
What the game didn't allow us to do was see improvement in our 3 most needed areas: Interior O-Line, Linebackers, and Secondary.
For the second straight game, Pitt chose to run heavily up the middle with Dion Lewis. The Panthers failed again to create holes for him and he was limited to very small yardage against a team we should have dominated. To make matters worse, Chris Jacobsen left the game with what appeared to be a lower leg injury. With a big game coming up against Miami, this would be a good time to see if Ryan Turnley can play as well as he appeared to play this week against a legitimate FBS team. If Jacobsen can go, then it is absolutely time for the staff to sit Gaskins. He appears to be too timid and shys away from contact. Those are traits that an offensive lineman can not have.
There is a vocal group of Pitt fans who seems interested in switching to Jack Lippert as the center. While I think it would have been a good idea to do last week if there was a chance he was needed, this is not the week to do so. Against Miami, we will need a group of linemen with some experience ready to go. I don't see the need in starting a red-shirt freshman in his first year at the position at the division 1 level against Miami in a prime time game. This is one situation where experience/age trumps potential ability.
The defensive line was a bright spot shutting down a successful offense. We were able to get to the quarterback 6 times after failing to do so against Utah. Like I've been saying all off season, this team will only go as far as the D-Line takes them.
I'm lumping the linebackers and D-backs together in one group. This really is a huge weakness for the team. In all of the games we will lose this season, I can promise you will see poor O-Line play, and defensive breakdowns in the back 7. We are simply asking guys to make plays they can not. It appears that while Max Gruder may be the "thinking man's linebacker" of the group, where he knows the defense and plays a big role, he just lacks the play making ability. Dan Mason still has potential to grow, but in pass coverage he constantly finds himself out of position. I have no complaints with his run stopping ability, but the other half of his game needs to improve. The Roberts/Williams combo still hasn't shown much for me to say there has been legitimate improvement.
The one area of major improvement which I love seeing was the Panthers coming out and throwing the ball more. Tino showed that he can make the plays when given the chance. We also saw that when we can run the ball, we can use the pass to set up the run. That might not be music to Wannstedt's ears, but it is the truth. Ray Graham exploded for over 100 yards and 2 TD's after we used the early second half passing game to establish the run. I have a feeling we will need to do this for say........every game as we can't trust the interior line to create holes for the running backs.
Overall this was a good game for the Panthers to get back on track. Wanny still used his tired excuses of "we're not where we need to be" and "we are a young team" (despite not starting any freshmen), but with more experience we can move to where we need to be and inexperience is lost. We just need to use what we learned from the 2nd half an apply it to Miami. If we come out slow and conservative, we will not win this game.