The Pitt Panthers went to Rentschler Field at UConn with the hopes of taking a commanding lead in the Big East Conference in to their last three games of the season.

Rather, UConn (5-4, 2-2 Big East) ran all over the Panthers and sent Pitt (5-4, 3-1) home with a ton of questions moving forward. Here are the five things I took away from the loss…

#1: Special teams play is a big problem

Pitt’s special teams unit was responsible for a total of 17 points at UConn Thursday night. At the end of the third quarter the Panthers allowed a kickoff return go for a touchdown just after grabbing a commanding 21-13 lead.

In the fourth quarter, Dan Hutchins released a punt that went all of 29 yards. UConn took the next drive for a field goal and a 23-21 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Ray Graham fumbled and the Huskies recovered at the Pitt 21. Two play later UConn had a 30-21 lead and all the points needed to win.

It’s not just this game, either. Hutchins has struggled kicking field goals all season — having made 14-of-19 field goals. Cam Saddler hasn’t been at all what many had hoped as a returner and the coaching staff has made odd choices on both punts and punt returns within games.

It must be fixed.

#2: Pitt can not win on national TV

Pitt has failed four different times this season at impressing a national audience — at Utah, at home against Miami, at Notre Dame and Thursday night at UConn. The last time the Panthers won on national TV was last year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina.

And even then, Pitt lost the previous two games of 2009 — Cincinnati and at West Virginia — which were both on national TV. It can’t help. I’m not saying it’s hurting Pitt, because the Panthers still pull in very good recruiting classes. But from a respect standpoint in a conference that can’t catch a break it doesn’t help.

#3: Coaching is now in major question

Coach Dave Wannstedt has had many critics this season and they will no doubt be out in full force after this loss. A 9-3 season and BCS bowl would still have seemed like a good year for many. That would have meant the Panthers went undefeated in conference play.

That is now out of the question.

The offensive play calling in the first half at UConn was questionable, given how much the Panthers passed and how weak UConn’s rush defense has been all year. Also, watching Jordan Todman run up and down the field seemed a little rediculous, considering Pitt knew it was up against the nation’s fourth-leading rusher.

Every game has its question marks, but Pitt has had quite a few of them in most of its games this year.

#4: The Big East looks more like a long shot now

It’s amazing what one loss can do to a team. Originally, it appeared Pitt would beat UConn and take almost complete control of the conference. Now with one loss and South Florida, WVU and Cincinnati looming, the road ahead and chances at a BCS bowl seem much more difficult.

#5: It’s officially basketball season for Pitt fans

While I hate to say it, it’s hard for me to believe Pitt fans are going to stick with this team the rest of the year. It doesn’t help that the No. 5 team in the country is on campus at the Petersen Events Center and blowing teams out by 40 or more points.

I fear a lot of blue and gold from West Virginia will make up Heinz Field the day after Thanksgiving for the Backyard Brawl.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog

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