Pitt has quite an opportunity against Rutgers Saturday at Heinz Field.
The Panthers (3-3, 1-0 Big East) can climb back over .500 for the year and stay undefeated in the Big East with a win over the Scarlet Knights. But right now, after six games, it’s time to look back on the first half of this season while also looking ahead to the second half. How has Pitt been so far? How will the Panthers finish?
Question #1: Half of the season has passed. Looking back, how have your impressions of Pitt changed since the preseason?
The Fighting Wannstaches: This is why the game is played. At the beginning of the season things looked great on paper: people were talking about a 1 or 2 loss season, possibly going undefeated. Now the topic has changed to “is Pitt even good enough to win the weak Big East” (sorry, BIG EAST, according to their website). This is a relatively young team on offense, most notably at offensive line and quarterback. Tino is growing up each week, and the line changes made have been an improvement. All being said, this team still has some growing up to do but a BIG EAST title isn’t out of reach. If Pitt can continue playing complete games like they did against Syracuse, they’re in the running for a conference championship. That’s if…
Pitt Blather: From hoping Pitt was ready to take the next step everyone has been waiting to reach since Wannstedt took over, to wondering what year that will actually happen. It’s been disappointing to still see the same slowness to adjust to weaknesses on the team. To still favor age and experience over talent, until it is too late. I guess to put it simply, the overall impressions have gone from hope to frustration.
Pitt Script: Obviously, the beginning of the season wasn’t what was hoped. I think most people expected them to be in the 4-1 to 2-3 range, but the way they lost to Miami was the ice-water-to-face moment for the fanbase. As much as this team has seemingly improved over the years, they’re still not good enough to hang with top 15 caliber teams. The good news is that this team is looking better and better each week and should get a much better stretch of games now that conference play has started.
4-1-Zoo: They have changed completely, except for the fact that I still see this team being Big East champions. At the start of camp I, like everyone else, thought this could be a GREAT team. I did write, though, that 9-3 was the more realistic expectation. That is still attainable, though I thought the Panthers would take one of the games against Utah, Miami and Notre Dame.
Question #2: Looking forward, how do you expect this team to finish the year?
The Fighting Wannstaches: If Pitt can take the Syracuse game as a building block, keep improving and play 60 minutes each Saturday (or Thursday, or Friday) there isn’t a game that they can’t win for the remainder of the season. Realistically though, a loss is likely as even the smallest stumble against any of the BIG EAST opponents could end in defeat. Mark your calendar: the day after Thanksgiving, the Backyard Brawl, this game will be the conference championship game similar to the Cincinnati game last season.
Pitt Blather: I really can’t see Pitt running the table in the Big East, so 8-4 or 7-5 seems realistic at this point. Is that good enough to win the Big East this year? 6-1 or 5-2, very well might be.
Pitt Script: This team has one game left this season that should be classified as tough — West Virginia. Not that this Pitt team isn’t capable of losing to Rutgers, South Florida, Connecticut or Louisville, but they should be at least favored to win. After WVU is what seems to a very beatable Cincinnati team. As unreasonable as it might sound, I would be disappointed with this season if there is another loss. WVU looks very good, and Pitt desperately needs to beat one good team this season. No reason not to finish 9-3 and win the Big East.
4-1-Zoo: Like I stated above, I see this team being Big East champs. Most agree that West Virginia has been the best team in the conference so far. If that’s Pitt’s biggest competition I feel pretty good. I traveled to Morgantown last Thursday to witness the Mountaineers in person against South Florida and walked away very unimpressed.
WVU has struggled to move the ball for long stretches of time in games against decent competition all year. By Thanksgiving, Pitt should have discovered its true identity and have little questions (hopefully). The Panthers will beat WVU and, in turn, win the Big East.
Question #3: Dave Wannstedt called Saturday’s win at Syracuse the most complete performance of the year. How would you describe it?
The Fighting Wannstaches: We couldn’t agree more. The offense was in sync and was able to move the ball effectively. The running game was able to produce (although it wasn’t as dominate of a performance as we are used to seeing in such a blowout), and Tino was completing passes all over the field…including inside the red zone. The defense played well too, forcing four turnovers. Even the secondary played well, giving up only one big play that was more of a perfect pass than a defensive breakdown. This was the level of play we had hoped to see all year, and hopefully, the team can sustain it.
Pitt Blather: I would call it what should be expected with a Pitt team that has more talent and size against a team that plays the same style as Pitt
Pitt Script: That sounds about right. The defense was solid and ball-hawking, the offense was explosive and efficient and special teams were good. Of course, let’s remember that it was against Syracuse, a team that has a shot to lose every game the rest of the season. So while I’m impressed with the effort all around — especially Sunseri and the rest of the offense — it’s good to keep in mind that Pitt isn’t on track to be the (borderline) elite team we thought they could be in July.
4-1-Zoo: The most complete performance of the year is how I would describe it. Good call Wanny. But there are still improvements to be made. Pitt’s ceiling is far, far away.
Question #4: Rutgers likes to throw a lot of different looks at opponents with its defense. How do you expect Pitt’s offensive line to handle that?
The Fighting Wannstaches: The new offensive line has handled themselves fairly well over the past three weeks, almost to the point where we don’t talk about them. When you aren’t talking about the offensive line, they must me doing a decent job. That being said, Rutgers likes to blitz, a lot. There are plenty of ways to beat the blitz, one being a running game, which we have and are expecting to see a healthy dose of. Throw in the fact that Wannstedt likes to use the pro-style offense and have 2 backs in the backfield, the extra blockers could come in very handy should the line need help picking up an extra defender. We don’t expect dramatic changes from the normal game plans, just good protection schemes.
Pitt Blather: That’s the scary question. The knock on Jordan Gibbs has been his blocking in passing situations. He missed badly a couple times in the ND game where Sunseri was nailed. He’s improving (I think), but this will be a big test for him. As well as for the TEs who haven’t been outstanding in blocking this year.
I think the O-line will be okay. In no small part because the Rutgers defense has had plenty of injuries that Schiano has to be a little more careful with the lack of depth.
Pitt Script: This will certainly another test for Pitt’s oft-maligned offensive line. The guys up front have improved immensely since moving Nix to guard and Gibbs to tackle, but Rutgers will be a big challenge. Rutgers is a blitzing team and knowing the assignment will be a tough task for new players and old players with new positions. I expect to see a lot of quick passes and screens as coverage breaks down around Tino.
4-1-Zoo: I don’t know what to expect, really. The line has done better over the last three games of the season. However, Rutgers truly is the most complex defense Pitt will face this year. Seeing how the line performs will give me a better idea of how good Pitt can be and if they can back up my bold guarantee of a Big East championship.
Question #5: Predictions…
The Fighting Wannstaches: Rutgers has given the Wannstache fits throughout his time at Pitt. But building off a strong game against Syracuse, Wanny exorcises some demons and Pitt comes away with a tight win…27-24.
Pitt Blather: I think this is a game where both teams hold form. Pitt scores early. Rutgers gets points in the second half, when Dodd airs it out more. But Pitt hangs on for a 23-13 win that is closer than the final score indicates.
Pitt Script: Quick and easy: Pitt 27, Rutgers 17.
4-1-Zoo: I don’t see this as being as close as everyone predicts. It will be closer than Syracuse, but I still believe Pitt will have this thing more or less decided early in the fourth quarter. Rutgers’ offense is putrid. Pitt wins 17-3.
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog