Tumultuous Month Ends In Defeat

SMU jumps to early 21-0 lead in the first quarter, and never looks back. Pitt goes 0-3 in red zone touchdown opportunities, which could have helped.

Pitt ended a challenging three-week stretch with a 28-6 thumping at the hands of the SMU Mustangs. As a result of the lost, Pitt ends the 2011 season at 6-7—well below the high-octane, championship expectations that are now being placed at Arizona State.

Pitt's only points came on a pair of Kevin Harper field goals. The bigger story is the Pitt offense making three trips to the red zone, and coming away with no touchdowns. SMU, on the other hand, did those things, starting immediately in the first quarter.

Pitt forced SMU to punt on their first drive. Pitt punted after three plays, barely giving their defense a chance to catch their breath.

On its second drive of the game, SMU quarterback J.J. McDermott found a wide-open Darius Johnson for a 50-yard touchdown pass, making it 7-0 SMU with 10:15 left in the first quarter. Johnson lined up in the slot against Spur linebacker Carl Fleming. When Johnson ran a crossing route, there was a miscommunication on who the corner was supposed to be, leaving Johnson wide-open.

Pitt answered with its second three-and-out of the day. To prove how fast SMU's defense was pursuing Pitt's defense, Corey Davis—one of Pitt's fastest players—was chugging along on all cylinders. He was tripped up on the backfield for a loss. SMU's defenders were blowing up Pitt's backfield all day.

On Pitt's third series—after they had just possessed the ball for a little over two minutes in the game total on two series, with -6 yards to show on 6 plays, Tino Sunseri fumbled the ball rolling out of the pocket. He had pressure from the backside. He also had pursuit from the opposite side, an outside linebacker who appeared in perfect position for an interception. Sunseri released the ball as a result of that backside pursuit, and it was called a fumble.

SMU marched down the field again, resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run by Rishaad Wimbley. The key play of SMU's third drive was a 19-yard pass from McDermott to receiver Cole Beasley. The Mustangs were having a lot of success with in the short and intermediate passing game—trying to catch linebackers and safeties in mismatches. SMU's slot receivers were too fast for Fleming on that earlier play, and too fast for Jarred Holley—a player who rarely gets that caught out of position.

Pitt ended the first quarter down 21-0, and with just five yards to SMU's 159.

Pitt still looked sluggish in starting the second quarter, but they did get on the board with a 32-yard field goal from Kevin Harper. Still no sign of a vertical passing game, or even a vertical running game—but a short completion from Sunseri to Ronald Jones and another to Darius Patton. The biggest play, however, was a 15-yard penalty from SMU that helped the Panthers get into Mustang territory. Again, the offense didn't look anything close to assertive at this point, but they were at least on the board thanks to Harper's field goal.

Pitt looked like they got another break on the ensuing kickoff. Kevin Harper tried placement kicking. After a fumble by SMU on the return, walk-on Kris Wildman got down and recovered the loose ball. However, because of an inadvertent whistle on the play, Pitt had to rekick, less not taking advantage of the decision. Still—in the aftermath of the fumble, and trying to figure out who recovered, there was some jawing on the field and some pushing. It looked like it gave the Panthers a little fire. They responded, holding the Mustangs to a three-and-out for the first time all game.

Pitt almost gave it right back. Darius Patton fumbled the ensuing punt, but had plenty of time to recover the ball. Pitt had to take over on its own 16, but they actually responded with their most successful drive of the game. It wasn't with the same flare or explosiveness that SMU was moving the ball, but they were getting to that vertical passing game. Sunseri hit Hubie Graham for a gain of 18—Pitt's first vertical toss of the day. Sunseri later found Devin Street for an eight-yard game to set up a 3rd-and-2. As Todd Dodge talked earlier in the week, in hopes of setting up the short yardage situations, that's where you go for those vertical balls downfield according to him. He proved that on the next play, as Sunseri hit Mike Shanahan over the middle. Shanahan averted defender, getting the ball to the SMU 10. Unfortunately, Pitt couldn't punch it in. A Sunseri pass intended for Isaac Bennett on a 3rd-and-goal bounced off Bennett's helmet, and into the hands of a diving Stephon Sanders.

Pitt defense held for another three-and-out, but the Panthers suffered another unlucky bounce. Andrew Taglianetti was called for running into the kicker—similar to the way he was against Notre Dame earlier in the season. Taglianetti broke through, trying to avoid contact, but skimmed punter Matt Stone. Stone took advantage of the play, flopping, then spinning around after he was already on the ground. Still, Pitt had the ball, taking over at its own 17.

The Pitt offense moved the ball down the field again. Sunseri hits Mike Shanahan for a 10-yard gain on a 3rd-and-10 on the drive. Pitt goes on a 14-play, 47-yard drive. A sack taken by Sunseri on the previous play puts Pitt out of position by a few yards. Harper's 47-yard attempt, therefore, bounces off the upright. Despite outgaining SMU 108-20 in the second quarter alone, after a putrid second quarter, the Panthers still trailed 21-3 at the break.

Pitt went three-and-out to start the second half. They tried to run for it on a fake punt, and they converted it as Khaynin Mosley-Smith—one of the up-men—took a direct snap for a nine-yard gain. However, Pitt was called for a false start. Pitt seemed willing to take risks on special teams plays—this fake punt and the pooch kickoff—but as a result of not taking chances on offense, and the offense just playing laxadaisical, the Pitt offense was sluggish in starting the second half.

While Pitt couldn't answer, SMU did to start the half. The Mustangs took the ball down the field again—with ease—as Wimbley added another 1-yard touchdown run, with 7:34 left in the third quarter. The Mustangs led 28-3.

Pitt did have its biggest play of the game—a 44-yard pass to Devin Street. Still, Pitt choked in the red zone as they had all day. Instead of just punching points in, Pitt tried to get too creative. After that Street completion, Sunseri scrambled to the center of the field for a one-yard gain—as if he was trying to get better positioning for a field goal. Then, Ronald Jones got three yards out of the ‘Wildcat' formation. Finally, Sunseri was sacked on third down after holding the ball too long. It was the same thing all day—Pitt tried to get too cute in the red zone, instead of just score points. Three red zone appearances for Pitt, zero touchdowns.

There was a scary moment in the fourth quarter as SMU running back Jared Williams lie motionless for several minutes following a short run. Williams was tripped up on the play by Taglianetti, then landed awkwardly on his face. As Williams was attended to, Taglianetti was one of the first players to check on him, staying close by as the trainers attended to him. As he was carted off, Williams gave a thumbs to the crowd.

SMU twice got the ball deep in Pitt territory in the fourth quarter, and could have easily added another field goal or two. The Mustangs however went for it on fourth down; attempts that looked like they were just giving the ball back to Pitt for charity. Myles Caragein sacked McDermott to give Pitt the ball back on downs once. On the latter attempt, it looked like McDermott purposely fumbled the ball away to Pitt—Pitt's first forced turnover of the day.

Stay tuned for postgame reaction from both the Pitt and SMU sides.

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