The good, the bad and the ugly
In the loss to Virginia Tech (19-9), the good was surprisingly the defense that has only given up one touchdown in its last two games. The bad goes to the running game that had a total of 26 carries, but yet only averaged 0.9-yards per carry. And the ugly is the 15 sacks allowed on Tom Savage during the past two games by the offensive line.
"I figured I had nothing else to do for the rest of the day on Saturday so I just had to give it everything I had in that game," laughed defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell. "I think the Virginia Tech game was one of my top games so far this year. I just wanted to see my team succeed. I wanted to continue to do well and I wanted to win that game bad."
Ezell's six tackles, however, did not get the win he was looking for this past Saturday. The defense played well, which is not something you could say about them in the first three games of the season when they gave up a total of 123-points. In the last two, that number is down to just 22-points.
"I definitely feel like this defense is making strides towards getting better," said Ezell. "We are starting to understand this game. Everyone is getting more comfortable with their positions. We are starting to play fast and we're having fun. We are communicating better and everyone is starting to get a feel for what each person can do individually."
While the defense is making strides towards getting better, it seems as if the running game is moving backwards. In the first three games, Pitt averaged 5.2-yards per carry. In the last two, that average has dropped to 0.6-yards per carry.
"As a running back, we always want the ball in our hands, and we are kind of frustrated when we don't get to run the ball," said Isaac Bennett. "At the same time, we have to do what we can with protecting the quarterback so the receivers can get open or we can get open.
In the first two games, Bennett and freshman running back James Conner split the carries, but since then Conner has taken over. Conner had 41 carries for 208-yards total against Duke and Virginia to Bennett's 17 carries for 45-yards. It would have most likely continued in that direction, but Conner left the Virginia Tech game with a should injury after only two carries for one-yard.
The offense unlike the defense is not moving in the right direction. The running game and the passing game were both pretty ugly against Virginia Tech, which points us in the direction of the poor performance from the offensive line.
"On my behalf, as the center, I have to fix some things mentally to make better calls and protections," said Artie Rowell. "It's human nature to get frustrated when you give a sack up. It's the worst thing that can happen as an offensive line. But you have to overcome it and play the next play."
In the last two games, the line gave up 15 sacks for 118-yards. In the first three meetings, six sacks for 53-yards. It's clear the line needs to have better protection on the quarterback. Rowell claims they're not being out-played physically, but instead they need to clean up the mental mistakes and simply do a better job. Hopefully, Pitt can do a better job this Saturday against Old Dominion on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers have two more chances to clean up the mistakes against Old Dominion and then Navy the following week, because after that it's back-to-back ACC opponents for the final five weeks of the season.