PITTSBURGH — After being blown out at home against West Virginia, 35-10, Pitt enters its final week of the regular season surrounded with more negativity than it has had all season.
Pitt started the year ranked No. 15 in the country but quickly dropped two of its opening three games against Utah and Miami. The dismal streak continued as the Panthers dropped a 23-17 decision in their fifth contest at Notre Dame for a 2-3 start.
From that point, it appeared Pitt was improving and growing in to the team everyone expected it would be, beating Syracuse, Rutgers and Louisville in succession.
However, recent losses to UConn and the Mountaineers have put the Panthers in a position to need a win at Cincinnati Saturday and receive help with losses from West Virginia and the Huskies to win the Big East and appear in a BCS bowl. Fans are growing increasingly unhappy with coach Dave Wannstedt and the program’s direction and a win over Cincinnati will likely not cure any qualms.
Despite all that, the Panthers still believe there is much to play for Saturday at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.
“Coach came in yesterday and he sat us down in the team meeting and he said, ‘This season hasn’t been what everyone wanted it to be, but we still have a chance to get a ring, we still have a chance to put a trophy in our room,’” defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said. “That’s really all you can think about. We can’t keep thinking about that we lost to West Virginia. We gotta move on.”
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt noted in his Monday press conference that returning to practice on Sunday was a bit of a struggle at first. He said it took guys a little while to get back in the swing of things after such an emotional loss.
“As we got in to it, we actually put the pads on (indoors) and we got after it pretty good,” Wannstedt said. “The last half hour of practice (the) energy (was) back, the kids were coming back.
“They were highly disappointed, as we all were. But we’ve got to move on.”
Wannstedt has had his critics recently with the team’s struggles and was asked how he feels about his job security as the season moves on. He was relatively mum on the subject.
“I’m trying to win Saturday,” Wannstedt said.
“I’m not concerned with (job security),” he added. “I’m just trying to beat Cincinnati. We’re not gonna graduate very many players and we’ve got a great future. We’ve got a lot of recruits coming in, (a) good young team back.”
So he and the Panthers will prepare this week for the Bearcats with the goal of finishing the season with a winning record and hoping for a little luck in getting the help they need.
“(A) 7-5 (record) looks much better than 6-6,” Alecxih said. “I think we know that and I think we’re going to do that.
Wannstedt was asked about his preseason expectations and if he’s disappointed with where the team is right now. Here’s the entire transcript of his response:
“We obviously had higher expectations. I really thought, to be quite honest with you, we felt like we needed to get (a) big year out of our best defensive player, Greg Romeus. We needed to get a great year out of him. The way he trained, we believed we would get a first-round-draft-pick-type year out of him. So that was a little bit disappointing. I used the phrase in training camp that I thought that Danny Mason was the linebacker that fit in to the Scott McKillop, H.B. Blades mold. Danny has got that attitude and ability. So we had a couple of those setbacks there, but then Brandon Lindsey and some other guys stepped up.
“On offense with Dion and the expectations there – all the hype – I don’t think anything that was said or written was out of line from the way he produced last year. I think it was all legitimate. For whatever reason, we just never got on track like we wanted to with our running game and him. So there were some setbacks there. The whole thing with the development of a new quarterback, with three new lineman and a new tight end and a new wide receiver … I knew that. I knew that we had the least amount of starters returning in the conference of anybody. I knew we were a young team and it would be a little bit of a work in progress.
“You don’t expect to turn the football over. That’s the one thing that really disappoints me, because for the most part over the last three or four years we’ve always run the ball and protected the football.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog