As time ticked away at a mostly-barren Heinz Field on Saturday evening, the Pitt Panthers weren’t serenaded by a chorus of boos. There was no one was left to boo. The damage had been done. Pitt was manhandled by the vastly inferior Youngstown State Penguins, and now, the backlash is in full force.
There are many words to describe Saturday’s loss. Embarrassing. Frustrating. Soul-crushing. Pitt fans, players, and coaches no doubt feel all of those things today. However, I’ll offer you one word that fans shouldn’t use to describe the loss: unexpected. Is it surprising when an FBS team loses to an FCS team? Yes. Is Pitt the type of team to play down to inferior opponents? Yes. Anyone remember Tyler Palko throwing three interceptions in Athens, Ohio in September 2005? Remember that team started out 0-3 after a trip to the Fiesta Bowl the previous year, and finished 5-6? How about barely scraping by at home against The Citadel? Or the loss to Bowling Green, with “13-9” fresh in everyone’s minds? In any case, Pitt has a history of not blowing out inferior opposition. Those games were devastating. They were embarrassing. And they were most certainly soul-crushing.
But I think this team deserves a little more leeway than previous teams.
The players and coaches won’t make excuses, but if they wanted to, they’d have plenty. Four coaches in three seasons is a good place to start. Its something no other team in college football has had to endure. Most of the players on this team have had to learn three separate playbooks in three successive seasons. There has been no stability or continuity.
Not only has there been no stability or leadership, but the depth and recruiting have suffered because of the carousel of coaches. He Who Shall Not Be Named put together a decent class last season, and Paul Chryst managed to keep its core together (Shell, Voytik, Pitts), but it will take a few years before these guys make an impact. What Pitt has now is a bunch of players who have been in the NCAA version of limbo for the last three years. Its comparable to moving your child to different school districts for three straight years. It takes time to adjust. It takes time to fit in. It takes time to find an open seat at the lunch table. I imagine Tino Sunseri taking a really long time doing this.
Look, not only are the players adapting to yet another change, but the lack of talent is evident. Dave Wannstedt was able to recruit some NFL-caliber players that would often win in spite of his coaching abilities (or lack thereof). And even with all that talent, the Panthers would still find ways to lose. Looking at the current roster, I don't see that much NFL talent. The only surefire name I see is Ray Graham. And is he as dynamic and explosive as LeSean McCoy? Not even close. Plus, he’s coming off an ACL tear. Who else is there? Aaron Donald? K’Waun Williams? There just isn’t enough talent to overcome turnovers, poor offensive play, and general mistakes and inexperience. I know many Pitt fans will skip over this sentence, but it will take years for Chryst to rebuild this program. And instead of calling for him to be fired after one game, we should give him time, because there is a lot to be done.
I’m barely going to mention the play of the offense or the defense from Saturday's game (if you can actually call what we saw on Saturday “defense”). Both were substandard. Too many turnovers on offense. Too many opportunities to get off the field on third down were squandered by the defense.
Sunseri didn’t lose the game, but he was far from brilliant. His performance was what I like to call “Bill Stull Adequate.” Although Stull probably would have won. Sunseri is a senior and his offense scores 17 points. That doesn’t cut it. It's embarrassing how low our standards are for the senior quarterback.
But its okay to be embarrassed, Pitt fans. It's okay to be angry. We all are. However, we shouldn’t act surprised. If being a Pitt fan has taught us all one thing, its that this team will find new ways to surprise us in terrible and creative ways.
For more on Pitt football, check out Cardiac Hill.