Falling Flat

By Dale Grdnic Senior Writer If this was the year for Pitt to prove itself, all that was proven was that the offensive play-calling is still painfully predictable, the defense has tackling problems and the Panthers came through with limited to no big plays in a lackluster 27-17 loss to Bowling Green Saturday at Heinz Field.

For the Mid-American Conference Falcons, it's the second straight season they opened with a win against a BCS foe after beating Minnesota last fall. And for Pittsburgh, it could be another long year if things don't change quickly after its first home loss to a MAC team and third overall.

The Panthers, who play host to MAC team Buffalo Saturday at 6 p.m. at Heinz Field, were relatively impotent and unimaginative on offense whether they were throwing the ball or running against a poor run defense. They rarely challenged the BGSU defense. Defensively, Pitt gave up big plays and appeared lost more often than not when the Falcons went to their razzle-dazzle plays.

There were few long passing attempts on offense for Pitt, and twice in the first quarter the Panthers punted from inside the BGSU 40-yard line.

"There was consideration to go for it, but we were playing good defense,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We played the field-position game and didn't want to give their offense, which ... averages 40 points a game, good field position.

"We were out of field-goal range anyway and wanted to force them to go a long way. One time it worked out, and one time it didn't. The one time it went into the end zone, and the other we got it (downed) on the 2.''

Defensively, Austin Ransom, who has played defense for just two weeks, started at weak-side linebacker and led Pitt with seven tackles and an interception. It was the only forced turnover for the Panthers, who fumbled three times and had a late pick.

"All of us are disappointed from a standpoint of how much work was put into the start of the season,'' Wannstedt said. "(In camp), we protected the ball, we did a good job on turnovers and were smart with the ball. And we went out there today and put the ball on the ground several different ways.

"And when that happens against a team that we knew could score points, that makes it very difficult. I thought we came out and were ready to play. In he first half, from a first-down standpoint and from a standpoint of time of possession, we felt like we were doing what we had to do to win the game.''

Pitt took a 14-0 early in the second quarter, as tailback LeSean McCoy ran for an 11-yard touchdown and quarterback Bill Stull hit wideout Derek Kinder for a score from four yards out. And the defensive line was playing well with several pressures, batted passes and a couple sacks. However, the Panthers did little to win the game after that.

Missed tackles by Pitt aided a BGSU scoring drive in the second quarter, and the Falcons added another with some fancy play-calling and three different players lining up at quarterback. Fullback Jimmy Scheidler caught both touchdown passes for BGSU, one from Freddie Barnes and the other from Tyler Sheehan.

Pitt got the ball back and quickly drove into Falcons' territory when Stull hit McCoy for a nine-yard gain to the 20. McCoy left the field after that, and the Panthers used five wideouts. But the play call was a three-yard pass to LaRod Stephens-Howling that nearly was picked off at the line. Stephens-Howling ran a draw on second down, and Wannstedt allowed the clock to run down to kick a field goal on third down before the half. Conor Lee made the 36-yarder to give Pitt a 17-14 halftime edge, but momentum was lost and not gained.

"We felt like we wanted points at that point, and we wanted to go in feeling good about ourselves,'' Wannstedt said. "We ran the ball, anticipating that on fourth-and-short we would go for it. But we didn't want to take a chance on a sack and didn't want to take a chance on a turnover.

"When you're in that situation, you've got a chance to get three points, and you take the three points. You throw an incomplete pass, and it gets deflected. And you turn it over or get sacked. Now, you're not giving your team a chance to win. So, that was the thinking.''

Actually, it was Wannstedt who didn't give his players a chance to win. Pitt went into a shell on offense in the second half, throwing a limited amount of passes more than 10 yards and not spreading the ball around. McCoy was held to 71 yards on 23 carries, while Stephens-Howling added 71 on seven. Stull was 29-for-51 for 264 yards, but was sacked four times.

"In the first half, things were working for us, but we just made so many mistakes and put the ball on the ground,'' McCoy said. "I fumbled myself, but I don't know. I guess their defense just had my number today. So, on a day like this, they were just the better team today.''

And the Bowling Green coaches were the better coaches as well. Even though Anthony Turner ran every time he lined up at quarterback, he still practically walked in for an eight-yard score on third-and-one to give BGSU the lead. The Falcons put it out of reach by forcing a turnover inside Pitt's red zone and scoring on an 11-yard run by Sheehan.

Notes: Pitt held a 27-15 advantage in first downs and had 393 total yards to 254. ... McCoy, wideout Cedric McGee and Stull fumbled (on a sack), which led to the final score. ... Stull was intercepted in the end zone at the end. ... Only McCoy and middle linebacker Scott McKillop were brought out for interviews. ... Lee also missed a 42-yard field goal. ... The attendance was 45,063.

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