Pitt-Notre Dame : What We Learned

A few Pitt players who stepped up in key roles on Saturday, deserve more chances to prove themselves.

* Dave Wannstedt said this week that both Dion Lewis and Ray Graham would play, and he wasn't kidding. When Pitt came out with the ball on its own 10 with 4:45, they came out with two runs by Lewis, as if they were trying to run the clock out, instead of get the ball deep out of their own territory. The next time they were inside the 10, Graham was in, but nothing more than a blocker.

It's obvious Lewis is the back that will pound it up the middle, while Graham has some moves, and can make people miss. By law of numbers, Lewis will break one. He proved that by running for 30 on the 4th-and-1 play, which was a key play on Pitt's first touchdown drive. Interestingly, Pitt was in a similar situation last week against Florida International. It was a 16-10 lead, and Tino Sunseri hit Ray Graham on a third down pass, while deep inside their own territory. Graham stretched out to get the first down. If he hadn't, and Pitt had to punt, who knows what would have happened in that game. The point is Graham made a big play. Right there, trailing by six with plenty of time, why not show the world you've learned to get the ball to a playmaker like Graham. It worked before, plus he obviously thrives with the pressure on--something we didn't see from too many other players yesterday.

It's a commitment to philosophy. Lewis and Graham ran well enough. They just weren't given as many opportunities because the passing game was effective in stretches. Graham, however, should have been used in this situation--especially coming off the Baldwin touchdown pass, which would have spread the defense out even more.

Sunseri had his best day of the season, Baldwin had his best game of the season, and a number of other receivers like Mike Shanahan, Henry Hynoski and Devin Street had career-highs in receptions. The only thing is that none of them came up in the clutch, when the game was on the line. Graham has already done that this year. Granted, it was against Florida International, but since he's already thrived in that type of pressure--making a play with the game on the line--why not go back to him? Then when he does make a play, it makes it easier for a Jon Baldwin or Mike Shanahan to come up with a big play later.

* After going 1-for-4 for 5 yards in the first half, with two carries for nine yards, including the four-yard touchdown run.

* The receiver position is a little more clear. Tino Sunseri spread the ball out to six different receivers. Players like Mike Shanahan, Henry Hynoski and Devin Street had their most visible games. After a 21-yard catch on Pitt's first touchdown drive, which set Pitt up in the red zone, Street has asserted himself as Pitt's third receiver, even though Wannstedt did not confirm that in public this week. Street came out for a few plays, after being injured on that reception. When he was good to go, he came back in for Cameron Saddler. Since Saddler fumbled a punt against Miami, his reps at receiver have been limited.

Shanahan had a career-high five receptions. There's no longer a thought that Shanahan will only get the ball when Baldwin is double-teamed. He is becoming a threat of his own. The only disappointment he was when he slipped, resulting in an interception.

* The other situation is at tight end, where Brock DeCicco is taking even more snaps. It might be meant more to push Mike Cruz, who has struggled in run-blocking. DeCicco came up with a big block on Lewis' 30-yard run, helping set him free. Since Cruz only has four catches on the season, and with DeCicco coming up with a few big blocks, how many more reps DeCicco has warranted.

* Is there any more concern with the offensive line? The only really bad play was Jordan Gibbs letting Darius Flemming sack Sunseri virtually untouched. Pitt outgained Notre Dame on the ground, and averaged 3.5 yards a carry against a defense--that entering the game--that only allowed one rush of 10 or more yards against Stanford and Boston College combined. Pitt had three for the game. Sunseri had time to throw, and had a sense of comfort in making his decisions. His 272 yards was second only to Michigan State's 274 yards against Notre Dame earlier this year. Inside linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Manti Te'o--Notre Dame's leaders in sacks and tackles for loss, respectively--were held without both against Pitt.

* Keep an eye on the linebacker and corner positions. After Ricky Gary struggled in defending Michael Floyd early in the game, Buddy Jackson entered the game. Greg Williams continues to miss tackles at linebacker. Tristan Roberts came in for him on two occasions, and finished with four stops. In one instance in the second half, Roberts made a tackle on Kyle Rudolph, after Williams missed wrapping up Floyd, which resulted in Floyd converting a first down.

After Gary gave up the touchdown pass to Floyd in the first half, Jackson came on for him. He blanketed Floyd on Notre Dame's next redzone series. Unfortunately, it resulted in Dayne Crist scrambling in for 10 yards out.

* A pair of freshmen came up with big plays on defense when Pitt needed them. K'Waun Williams had two key pass deflections in the second half. His first one, held Notre Dame to a field goal--the 50-yarder--on the Irish' first series of the second half. He also tackled Kyle Rudolph on a third-down play, which forced the Irish to punt. Clemmings wrapped up Cierre Wood for both of his tackles. It wasn't just the fact Clemmings made tackles. He wrapped Wood up, and ended the play. To that point of the game, Pitt was having trouble stopping the run game, getting to Armando Allen or Wood, or just wrapping up in general, on tackles.

* Coming off being named Big East Special Teams Player of the Week, Hutchins had a game he'd like to forget--though two of the special teams errors weren't of his fault. After missing a 27-yard field goal in the first half, Hutchins didn't even get a chance to attempt a third field goal of the first half, as Andrew Janocko mishandled the snap--the second time in two games against a Brian Kelly-coached team that Janocko had done so. In the second half, Hutchins inexplicably had the ball snapped to him on a punt, then ran around the right side. It's unknown if it was a fake punt attempt, or if he was just under pressure. Either way, it was another special teams gaffe that failed the Panthers.

Though Hutchins has punted well, and Pitt has been remarkable on punts this year--including Saturday at Notre Dame where Jon Goodman had two punt returns for minus-2 yards--special teams played a role in determining the outcome. It has in each of Pitt's three losses, and played a role more than once against Notre Dame. Even if Hutchins makes the 27-yarder, and gets a chance to kick the attempt with the botched hold--it's a 23-23 game.

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