The morning after isn't any easier, even right before a three-day weekend. Okay, so maybe the long weekend makes it a little better. Still, plenty to complain about.
For starters, as I noted before, Pitt has nothing to gain by scheduling these types of 1-1 series with a team like Utah. As Chas at Pitt Blather correctly points out, college football is a different animal entirely from the NFL. I'll take it a step further and also throw college basketball in the discussion. You have playoffs in those two leagues where as college football is essentially one and done - at least for teams in leagues like the Big East where respect is already an issue.
I've been on the record as saying it was a bad move to play Utah. If the goal is a national championship, it just makes little sense from Pitt's end. The schedule this season is already difficult enough with road games at Notre Dame and UCONN and home games again Miami and WVU. Pitt still probably wouldn't run the table even without the Utah game, but that isn't the point. The point is that you want to give yourself the best chance of winning a championship and scheduling games like these, while nice for the fans to see, is akin to chopping off your right leg before attempting to run a marathon.
There's a reason that Ohio State opened up with Marshall. There's a reason Miami opened up with FAMU.
I know, I know, it's easy to kick and scream about this after a loss. But the fact is I've been beating this drum for a while (most recently briefly questioning it in my look ahead to 2010 after last year's season ended).
Bob Smizik of the PG, while not agreeing completely, discusses the fact that playing Utah in an opener is less than ideal. But it's after the fact, so let's move on.
Dave Wannstedt hit the nail on the head with this quote:
"We didn't play good enough to win. We really didn't," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Down the stretch Utah made less mistakes than we did."
I couldn't have said it better myself. Pitt played alright, but as I said last night didn't make enough big plays and gave up too many.
And the more I think about it, the more I can't praise Tino Sunseri enough. He got better as the game went along:
And Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, who grew up a little bit as the game wore on, had a chance to etch his name in Panthers history by leading a dramatic come-from-behind victory after they trailed most of the game and had not looked very good for a lot of it, either.Sunseri calmly led the Panthers to two first downs and then hit Mike Shanahan with a 20-yard pass to the Utes' 14 to set the Panthers up with a first down-and-10 with 40 seconds to play.
I think his play was the biggest unknown heading into the game. We knew the offensive line and secondary were going to struggle at least a little bit (it turned out to be a lot on both fronts), but really had no idea what to expect from Sunseri. He wasn't great, but there were signs of a good QB in the making. Playing in that environment off the bat should, if nothing else, make the rest of the games much easier. Sure, there was the costly interception, and Sunseri just didn't make the throw he needed to:
"Shanahan was open," Sunseri said. "I missed it inside. It was my fault. I take the blame. Everyone put us in position to win and I've just got to finish."
No one can (and I haven't heard this) blame Sunseri for this loss. He played about as well as he could given the circumstances and I was pleased with what he gave the team. Before his long TD reception, Jon Baldwin couldn't do a good enough job of getting open and on the balls thrown his way, he couldn't make the big play. One in particular stood out to me where he completely mistimed his jump and despite having a shorter man covering him, couldn't get the jump ball. On the one big play he did make on that TD, it was due to a complete defensive breakdown - not so much from anything he did. And the team will need to get more from Dion Lewis who could average no more than three yards a carry. Look, both will be fine. But on this night, neither played particularly well.
And then there was the fact that Pitt's vaunted defense, even with an offensive lineman built more like a large safety, couldn't get a single sack on the night.
Oh yeah, by the way, let's not forget that Utah didn't play particularly well either. That's got to make the loss a little more troubling. In a year Pitt is supposed to take that next step, they couldn't pull out a win despite a Utah team that, at times, couldn't get out of it's own way.
To me, it wasn't so much the fact that they lost, but how they couldn't capitalize on Utah's many mistakes:
"I'm very proud of the way our guys hung in there," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose squad overcame three turnovers, a blocked punt and 11 penalties.The miscues, he added, were all things that can be improved upon before the Utes open their final Mountain West Conference campaign Sept. 11 at home against UNLV.
"We made enough mistakes tonight so we'll have plenty to work on," Whittingham said. "We had unintelligent penalties at inopportune times. But the good thing is that all of these mistakes are correctable issues. It's always better to work through these issues after a win."
That was the key. As Wanny said, the team played well enough, just not well enough to win. For the Utes, they got the 1-0 start coveted by every team in the country. For Pitt, it's back to the drawing board.