Several factors plagued Pitt in its 23-17 loss at Notre Dame Saturday.
Coach Dave Wannstedt addressed them all Monday in his weekly press conference, speaking about the redzone offense, the defense handling Brian Kelly’s spread offense, and problems fielding punt returns, among other topics.
1) Pitt’s defense got stronger as the game wore on, holding the Irish to just six points in the second half. However, the 17 points allowed in the first half were because the Panthers’ couldn’t keep Notre Dame’s offense from marching down the field on long drives.
Wannstedt’s take: “We just didn’t handle it well in the beginning of the game. We missed some tackles; we were out of sync a little bit. We didn’t bust any calls, it’s just that we were not lined up and playing as fast as what you need to play. Once we settled in there, we had some opportunities in the second half.”
2) While the defense had first-half struggles, the offense could not punch the ball in the endzone. In three redzone trips, Pitt managed just 3 points.
Wannstedt’s take: “When you think about it, we moved the ball the opening drive and get a field goal. Yes, we need to get touchdowns. The next drive we go down, we miss a field goal. We drive down again and we mishandle the snap. I think any time you get down inside the redzone and you don’t score touchdowns, more times than not it comes back to get you. And when you get zero points…playing on the road that can’t happen.”
3) On several occasions Pitt players fell throughout the course of the game. The biggest victim was wide receiver Mike Shanahan, who fell twice – one resulted in an interception.
Wannstedt’s take: “We had two fall-downs. After the fact, one fall-down was an interception with Shanahan. We thought that was gonna be a 16-yard completion. And (the second could have been a) touchdown in the endzone and he just falls.”
“Yea, we did go out and warm up with the cleats. Obviously, (our players) didn’t think it was a problem until they fell.”
4) Pitt attempted a fake punt early in the third quarter on fourth down, which was unsuccessful and gave Notre Dame good field position. The Irish ended up kicking a field goal for a 20-3 lead.
Wannstedt’s take: “We were running it like a sweep. We had guys assigned to block guys. It’s a kick or run option on (Hutchins’) part, too. Half the time that we run that people don’t even know we’re running it.”
(Wannstedt was asked if it the right decision?) “Did we make the first down? The guys jumped underneath our lead blocker and made the play. We had the right look initially (we) just didn’t execute it.”
5) Cam Saddler let two punts go in the fourth quarter, both of which rolled inside Pitt’s 10-yard line. It made driving the length of the field much harder for the Panthers’ offense, which could have taken the lead with a touchdown drive.
Wannstedt’s take: “Cam and I talked about it yesterday. There was probably two of them that he brought to my attention that were catchable balls. I think no one works harder at it and is more conscientious than Cam. Kind of the way you coach those returners, you tell ‘em that they’ve gotta make the decision. Most coaches say (returners) can never be wrong.
“‘Hey, whatever decision you make we gotta live with.’ If it’s not a good enough decision then you put someone else in there. Cam has been great in practice. He had the one miscue against Miami. Could we have fielded a couple of them? I think he would be the first one – and he did – to say if you do it over again you’d probably go up and fair catch the ball. That’s a decision that’s made and you live with it.”
6) Pitt’s first comeback attempt came with under five minutes left in regulation. The Panthers ended up punting on fourth down after calling a timeout, failing to get a first down on two short runs and a pass.
Wannstedt’s take: “If we had fourth-and-2, fourth-and-3 we were going to go for it.”
“When we came up we threw an incomplete pass, it was fourth-and-5. We were talking about the play. We thought that we were gonna make a few yards. When we didn’t that’s when we called a timeout – just to be sure.”
“What would give our kids the best chance to win the game? The way we were playing defense at that point, we really felt good about stopping them.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog