Although the Notre Dame game did not feature much of the ‘high-octane' offense that fans were promised as Todd Graham began his tenure, the game still did manage to produce some bright spots for Pitt. The biggest bright spot of the game came from an outstanding effort turned in by Pitt's Mr. Everything, Andrew Taglianetti. Taglianetti made a few impact plays and could be seen all over the field throughout the game. His impact began with a near punt block; which was later called running into the punter, and continued with a forced fumble which came on a blitz resulting in a Pitt score. After hearing the emphasis Todd Graham places on forcing turnovers, hopefully Taglianetti will continue to get a chance to play on a defense that has been lacking in the turnover department.
Another bright spot on the defense came from the Spur linebacker Todd Thomas. Only a redshirt freshman Thomas registered six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Thomas provided fans one of the most exciting plays of the game when he came off the edge for a blitz, although he did not register a sack on the play the sound made from hitting Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees could be felt throughout the stadium. Aside from the numbers, it seemed as if Thomas really bounced back in his pass defense too after being beaten in Iowa for a touchdown.
If someone were to tell you that Pitt would go 7-17 on third-down conversions you would probably be very confident that the Panthers would come away victorious. Unfortunately Pitt did not win but a bright spot was the success the offense had on third downs, especially because of how many third and long situations the offense was dealt with. As quarterback Tino Sunseri alluded to in his post game press conference the offense needs to stop the negative plays that are constantly occurring which in turn should help the offense point up the points that we have seen in past weeks.
Another positive that must be brought up is the fact that Tino Sunseri completed 22 of 30 passes and most importantly did not turn the ball over. Sunseri did a much better job of getting rid of the ball on time which played a big part in him completing 73% of his passes. Obviously the offense has a ways to go before it can be considered "high octane" but, we must provide credit when credit is due and the positive here is in the fact that Sunseri did not turn the ball over and was drastically more efficient with his passes. This is an important statistic if Pitt plans on beating South Florida in its Big East conference opener.
Anytime you hold arguably the best receiver in college football to only 4 receptions for only 27 yards a major compliment needs to be given to the defensive secondary. Michael Floyd entered the contest Saturday averaging 123 yards receiving a game, and coming into Pitt was a major concern for the Pitt secondary after seeing the numbers other receivers have been able to put up early in the season. This should be a huge confidence boost for defensive backs K'Waun Williams and Antwan Reed as they will not go up against a receiver like Michael Floyd for the rest of the year. Hopefully, as Pitt enters Big East play the defense can maintain its level of play from Saturday to stymy a South Florida team who has already registered some impressive wins, most notably against Notre Dame which was on the road.
One area that Pitt needs to rectify before South Florida Thursday is the amount of penalties they are committing. Although nine penalties for 55 yards may not seem high, the timing of the penalties played a major part in the offense only putting up 12 points. Also, it seems to be the same guys committing these penalties. Lucas Nix continues commit false start penalties as he had at least two again against the Fighting Irish. Entering Big East play Pitt cannot continue to beat itself if it wants to have any shot of winning the Big East championship this season.
If I were to tell you entering the game that Michael Floyd would be held to 27 yards receiving and that the Notre Dame offense would only score 15 points you would have thought Pitt would be entering Big East play 3-1 after a huge win over one of their rivals. Unfortunately that isn't the case after Pitt let Notre Dame running backs Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray combine to rush for 180 yards on only 28 rushes. The large portion of Gray's yards came on a 79 yard run where there was at least 3 missed tackles. Pitt must correct this area quickly as they have a short turn around before another big game with South Florida.
In addition to the nine penalties committed the offensive line was consistently beaten by the front four of Notre Dame allowing the defense to accumulate 5 sacks on Sunseri. For an offense based on timing and making the quarterback gets the ball out quickly, the offensive line needs to make sure Sunseri has at least a chance of getting the ball downfield to the playmakers.
Although Tino Sunseri was mentioned as a bright spot above he still has a lot of work to do for this team to reach its potential. Sunseri was better in not turning the ball over while making improvements on getting the ball out on time but, fans still left the game wanting more from the quarterback. It seems as though Sunseri knows where to throw the ball however the pass just doesn't connect with the intended receiver. Whether that is a timing issue or just a miscommunication this problem needs resolved because Pitt cannot continue to rely on Ray Graham to put up the numbers he has been producing if he has no passing game to take away some of the pressure.
In total the offense only registered 268 yards in total offense compared to the 398 that Notre Dame amassed. For an offense that registered 268 yards on 70 plays that means the unit only averaged 3.83 yards per play. I think it goes without being said that his offense is a ways away from being high octane but on the bright side players and coaches after the game still seem confident that the unit is extremely close to as quarterback Tino Sunseri said, "busting this wide open." Pitt only has 3 more days to prepare for its conference opener so let's hope over this next three days of practice the offense fixes the problems that need to be fixed so the nationally televised game on Thursday night gives the country a chance to see Pitt's high octane offense.