There will be no media recap on this one. No further posts solely about this game in the future. But I started this blog as a place to vent, so that's what I'll do.
I'm not sure how it came off on TV, but at the stadium, there were a lot of bad calls by the referees. Period. It seemed like it was the 2007 West Virginia game all over again where the Big East had a hidden agenda. Poor pass interference calls. A blatant chop block that went for a no call on a Cincinnati run. The unbelievable facemask no-call in the fourth quarter when Pitt was driving. You can go on and on and on. I'm normally on the side of referees when it comes to giving them the benefit of the doubt. They can't get every play right and you can call holding on every play. But the facemask thing was a disgrace. I was way up in the 500 section and everyone yelled facemask as soon as it happened. Why did they do that? Because Dion Lewis' head was spun around, halfway round his back so far that I thought it might be broken. The replay showed that. One ref even threw a flag as soon as he saw it, but after a brief "discussion", picked the flag up. I have no idea how they came to that conclusion. If you miss the call, you miss the call. But to MAKE the call and then reverse it, I'm not sure how that happens. If the Big East really cares about fair competition (like that dopey commercial says it does), there needs to be a review by the Big East and heads need to roll. Period. There's no excuse for some of those calls yesterday.
Referees don't kick extra points. They don't play defense allowing a team to go down the field in one minute. They don't play in the secondary allowing Mardy Gilyard to not only be open, but be open by 5-8 yards every time. Let me be perfectly clear - just because the referees in this game blew more calls than some probably do in their entire careers don't mean that they cost Pitt this game. Yes, they put Pitt in a bad spot. But at the end of the day, you've got to make an extra point. If you can't convert an extra point in that situation, quite honestly, you don't deserve to be a conference champion.
I'm not going to rehash every play, but the blame has to go to two parts of the team on this one.
1. The Defense - The offense scored 45 points and that should always be enough to win a game in Division I football. Yes, some of those points were the beneficiary of good field position due to a blocked kick and interceptions, but you cannot allow even a David Klingler-led Houston team to score 45 points. The defense got complacent, it seemed with a 21-point lead. We all thought the NC State game would provide some sort of warning about playing with a late lead. Apparently, it didn't. Even playing poorly in the 2nd half, they had one final time to make good. One stop and no one is talking about an extra point. One stop and no one is talking about how Cincy was able to get back into the game. One stop and my Caribbean vacation is being turned into an all week party in New Orleans or Florida...
And by the way, the secondary is in need of a lot of help. On TV, I'm sure it wasn't visible, but the secondary on SEVERAL occasions was CLEARLY out of position. Guys had their hands up on several plays practically showing they had no idea where they were supposed to be, guys changed positions late to cover receivers, all kinds of things. And Tony Pike took advantage. You could see his head look over to guys when they were clearly confused and he'd throw to that wideout nearly every time. Cincinnati did a good job of moving their receivers around and Pitt had no idea where to be. It was a joke...only not a funny one.
2. Special Teams - How, how, how, how, how, how, HOW do you kick to Mardy Gilyard? Ever? Haven't we seen enough highlight film? Especially after being burned by him for a TD once. And then the sky kick or whatever it was that Dave Wannstedt mentioned in the press conference that came down around the 40 yard line? Unbelievable. Squib kick, squib kick, squib kick. And I'm not even going to mention the extra point again.
It's also clear that Pitt needs a special teams coach other than Wannstedt, who I think still has the responsibilities. Please, please, please Pitt - shell out the money and get someone to focus only on kicking and covering kicks. It's 1/3 of the game and shouldn't be treated as if it doesn't warrant its own coach.
One final point I want to make. I don't think firing Wannstedt is the answer, much to the dismay of many in my section and probably many throughout Pitt Nation.
I caution to say this because I loathe when fans use this excuse for recruiting local players - he's a Pitt guy. Pitt needs someone who won't use this job as a steppingstone. Who knows the area and knows how to work it. He is one of the best fits for a program in all of college football, made a great hire in Frank Cignetti, is an unbelievable recruiter, and even more important when evaluating a coach, hasn't done enough in my opinion to lose his job.
Now, I'm going to do something even I don't want to do. And that's to point out the good news. For the most part, Wannstedt's led Pitt to two pretty good seasons. They've now had two, and this is the key word, CONSECUTIVE seasons winning nine games (which hasn't happened since 1981-1982) and this year, they'll have a good look at getting to 10 (which could give them a top 15 ranking to end the season - something that's also not happened since 1982). They're not yet in the upper eschelon of teams, but nationally, they're getting more respect. And with Jonathan Baldwin and Dion Lewis coming back, the team has a good chance to come into next season with a top 15 ranking. I know it's tough to look at this after a painful loss, but that's progress. Just as I say when voting in the blog polls, a loss late in the season counts the same as a loss in the beginning. Of course it's more painful and the late games are more important, but Pitt still finished with only three losses. Pitt's had two big losses now and even though both were winnable games, they weren't to bad teams. This game has denied them of taking that next step, but they're closer.
And even more important than the number of wins is that Pitt is clearly better on the field (well, other than those pesky secondary and special teams problems). You can visibly see a pretty good team - a better team than the Walt Harris years. A better team that the blue and white smurfs in central PA. This team can play with nearly anybody in the country and it's been a long time since you could reasonably say that. I think Wannstedt's on the right track and I'd caution anyone that wants to bring someone else in to take a look at Michigan, Notre Dame, or other places that hired big names that weren't successful.
In the best of times, in the worst of times - Hail to Pitt.