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There may have been more underwhelming top-25 teams than Pittsburgh in 2008, but after watching this mess of a contest, won 3-0 by Oregon State, I find myself hard pressed to name one. This game was sloppy from the opening kickoff. In the first half, the ugly play was partly due to the high winds swirling inside the stadium, but as the gales died down in the second half, there was nobody left to blame but the players and coaches … and some excellent defense.
Actually, that's not totally fair to Oregon State. The Beavers had to play this one on offense without their best player, running back Jacquizz Rogers, who sat out the game with a broken shoulder blade. That meant that they had to rely almost completely on the arm of quarterback Lyle Moevao, a fine player, but one who needed help to make a difference this afternoon. He was overmatched for the most part against the Panthers' defense.
The real surprise, though, was that Pitt's offense was even worse than OSU's. The Panthers' offensive line was a strong point most of the season, but it was no match today for a very active, very physical Oregon State front seven. The Beavers dominated the line of scrimmage for the better part of four quarters, often with just a four-man rush.
But certain points of Pitt's game plan still mystify me. Why did LeSean McCoy only get one carry in the first quarter? And why, after it became obvious that the Beavers' linebackers were overplaying the run, didn't the Panthers make more use of the play-action passing game? CBS analyst Gary Danielson was actually pleading during the broadcast for Pitt to shift gears, but it never happened.
And so, staked to a second-half lead, OSU coach Mike Riley was content to play for field position most of the rest of the way. This was certainly the case in the fourth quarter, when punter Johnny Hekker twice pinned the Panthers inside their own 15-yard line. After that, it was up to the defense, and the Beavers never let up. In the end, it was a mismatch.
What lessons can we take from this? How about doing away forever with the trope that Pac-10 football is soft football? If watching Oregon knock Oklahoma State around last night wasn't enough (and it should have been), then today's Sun Bowl should be proof that the SEC isn't the exclusive home of hard-hitting, suffocating defense.
Besides that, we are left with the mystifying state of Pittsburgh football. I know Pitt's 9-4 record is a big improvement over last year, but patience with the administration of coach Dave Wannstedt may start wearing thin in the Steel City following a performance like this. The Panthers are in dire need some sort of passing game to complement the sublime play of McCoy (provided he returns in 2009). To accomplish this, they don't just need a quarterback. They need to improve on both the offensive line and at the wide receiver position-both areas that were glaring weak points today. As for the coaching, the thing that strikes me most -- and I noticed this last November when I saw Rutgers crush the Panthers 54-34 in Pittsburgh -- is that Pitt just seems slow (if not downright unable) to react when things don't go according to plan.
That's all for me this year, folks. I'll see you in 2009-in other words, next Tuesday. Happy New Year.