Pittsburgh, PA — Saturday afternoon’s Pitt football win was what it was. It certainly was not pretty, there were no style points and a flat at best second half drove away plenty of the fans in attendance at a rainy Heinz Field.
At least this time it was the weather and on field product that drove fans away and not Sweet Caroline. That’s progress.
Youngstown State had no business being in this game, it never even scored until the third quarter, yet Pitt had to go into overtime before winning a 28-21 contest.
Maybe it is because the NFL is right around the corner, but the entirety of this game resembled a preseason contest.
It certainly felt as though the first half it was the first team out there. The offense was moving freely and it was clear that Pitt was the better team. It had three touchdowns and also forced Youngstown State’s drives to stall, not to mention a little luck went Pitt’s way with a missed field goal from the Penguins.
In the second half, it was as if Pitt played its reserves and there was this huge lull. The first half was such a crescendo and then everything just fell flat.
Pitt’s defense as a whole largely felt a step slower. There certainly were some exceptions, namely Oluwaseun Idowu who played a complete game and appeared motivated, chasing down Youngstown State players.
The offense was bland and uninspired, which was certainly affordable given the opponent but also consideration does have to be made that coach Pat Narduzzi was well aware of his team’s next opponent.
It is entirely plausible that Narduzzi held back against Penn State but all of the credit certainly cannot go to Youngstown State for holding Quadree Henderson to a 7-yard catch and Jester Weah was also limited to one catch, which ended up being the overtime touchdown Pitt scored.
To say Pitt was run heavy in the first half would be an understatement and many of quarterback Max Browne’s passes were basic routes.
In the second half, it seemed as though the offensive line had a tougher time holding its ground and Browne certainly showed rust when passing the ball until that final drive when a well placed drive placed Pitt in field goal range, an opportunity which was not converted.
The basketball cliche often is that good defense leads to good offense, but in this game the defense in the second half did not get the job and the offense took its foot off of the accelerator.
“It’s a matter of being on the gas pedal, and probably if we are being honest, easing off a little bit,” Browne said. “Looking back on that first half we only had three drives so we were 3-for-3 there, I guess four technically, but that was with a minute left towards the end. In the second half, we sputtered once and they got some momentum but that’s football for you.”
Last year prior to the team’s game against Penn State, Narduzzi made players unavailable to the media, apparently this year’s he decided to make the offensive playbook unavailable.
“We probably held a few things back, we might have held back a package,” Narduzzi stated in his postgame press conference. “I wouldn’t say it’s too basic. We held some stuff just to save it.”
It does not help offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s cause that in his first game with the team this occurred.
“I feel like with Coach Watson we have a great playbook and a great offense as well,” Weah offered. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”
It is quite possible that this could be an “exciting year”, but based on this game alone, fans already have made their dissatisfaction of the offense known in the second half with several boos and some of Pitt social media reacted in a similar faction, even calling for a fourth quarter collapse minutes before it happened.
Meanwhile 139 miles away, Penn State held nothing back and dominated Akron by a 52-0 score.
Outside of the above statement, Narduzzi did not offer much other then telling reporters that he would look at the tape and could expand his remarks on Monday, when his weekly press conference occurs.
Contrary to all of the above and outside noise from the Penn State and yes, even some of the Pitt fan base that this game will not be close, that is not true.
These two teams brought out the best in each other last season and expecting anything less than another competitive game is foolish.
At the end of the day the old cliche does hold true. A win certainly is a win, and Pitt will gladly take this one. It certainly beats the alternative and Pitt surely did not want a repeat of 2015.
Pitt did learn to play through some adversity when things on both sides of the ball at times felt as if they were going through the motions. Though this game had no business going to overtime.
When Youngstown State tied the game, Pitt played with poise and tempo. Both the final regulation drive and the overtime drive showed plenty of promise. Pitt is capable of handling a late game offensive drive, it more than showed that, but fans will fixate on the full body of second half work, and a lot was left to be desired.
If Pitt wants to come away from Beaver Stadium with a win, it needs to remember the final two drives and how the team was put in a position to succeed.