Panthers Find More Answers, More Questions

A look at what went wrong, what went right, as well as a further peek at some of the depth situations, and other players in the mix for playing time.

* I think by now, now that Tino Sunseri has had his first start, the questions of whether he's ready to be a starting quarterback or not, can be put to rest. That's not to say he'll have his struggles. Who knows. We could be looking at a team that may have a hard time getting on the same page.

For example, who would have thought that in such a high-stakes game as this opener, that a sophomore quarterback would his team on two consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter to tie a game. Yet, the bookend defensive ends that have played in nearly every game of their four-year career at Pitt, could not manage one sack. In fact, Pitt had no sacks. Not a very good effort, from what is supposed to be the heart and soul of Pitt's defense.

* Don't blame Dion Lewis. How many teams was Lewis faced with a host of red jerseys in his face. Lewis is very good at hitting the hole, then taking off from there. The problem Thursday, was that there was no hole. He had a nifty 18-yard run on Pitt's first drive, where he just found a hole up the right side, and was gone. Had the corner not played a good pursuit angle on the run, Lewis would have been gone.

Lewis having what was arguably his worst day in a Pitt uniform, was the responsibility of the offensive linemen. Utah's defense came in with a good gameplan. They pushed around the offensive line, and gang-tackled Lewis. For Lewis to be any kind of effective, the offensive line has to step up. This also isn't a matter of the first-year interior starters, that has been the talk of camp. This one falls on the entire offensive line.

* If Jon Baldwin is as heralded a receiver as he is, then why take so long to get him involved in the game plan? It's clear that once he got his hands on the ball in the fourth quarter of last night, he can do things. He and Sunseri seem to have a good rapport. Maybe this falls under the coaching staff giving Sunseri more freedom to throw the ball here, but as evidenced by the coaching decision to run the ball on third down, instead of trying for the game-winner with a receiver like Baldwin out there, it's difference of opinion. Surely the coaches know what Baldwin can do. It's just that they have it in the cards to run Dion Lewis 25 times a game.

* Mike Shanahan, Cameron Saddler and Mike Cruz should be able to get more involved every week. If there was anything promising from last night's loss, it was Sunseri finding different receivers. None of them had astronomical numbers, but each came up with at least one third down conversion. Shanahan had the big 19-yard reception that took Pitt inside the 15, on the field goal-tying drive. Cruz had a big catch over the middle, in the red zone. Saddler converted a third down, and also made a diving catch towards the sideline on another. Not to make excuses for their age, because they are sophomores, but they just haven't had the weight on their shoulders in a big game yet. Now they have, and it will be interesting to see how they grow from here.

* Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus were non-factors. Sure, they can't be expected to have four sacks a game, or anything like that, but at least one in a game this close, would have been nice. Both are being touted as possible first-round picks, while Romeus is the defending Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year. That doesn't enhance the conference's reputation, when a first-time starter and former junior-college standout--though heralded--is shutting you down. Is Romeus still bothered by the injury? Again, not to take anything away from Utah, but in a game of this magnitude, this is where the big players have to step up.

* The linebacker position is a concern. Jordan Wynn did a nice job of looking for his receivers to be picked up by either Gruder or Mason. He was able to hit his receivers on crossing patterns over the middle, just as Gruder or Mason would slide in to cover them. Not once, was either linebacker able to keep up. Kudos to the Utah coaching staff for devising a gameplan as such, and for Wynn to execute such a game plan. For Pitt, though, the linebackers just have to step up and make more plays.

Interestingly, Wynn had trouble reacting to pressure from the linebackers. Mason did get a nice hurry on Wynn at the end of the first half, which resulted in Jared Holley coming up with the interception. They don't need pressure from the linebackers every play, but every once in awhile, doesn't hurt, as evidenced here.

After the whole battle between Tristan Roberts and Greg Williams through camp, not only did Williams start, and play nearly every snap, but of the three starting linebackers, Williams looked like the least of a liability out there. He's also the most athletic of the three, so even if he's out of position, he can rely on his athleticism even more than Gruder and Mason can.

* Is the secondary still a concern? Compared to the linebackers, the corners--with the exception of the 61-yard touchdown pass--made their share of plays. Ricky Gary did well in coverage, while Antwuan Reed didn't do too bad either. Though it was disappointing to give up 283 yards in the air, perhaps that number could have been cut down if the defense could have gotten to Wynn--even just once. Dom DeCicco left late in the first half, and was seen on the sideline with ice around his left thigh--which is the same hamstring that was bothering him in camp.

Hopefully DeCicco will be ready to get back in there, but it's unlikely they'll rush him back into the lineup for New Hampshire. A bye week will do that hamstring some good, so that he can be ready for Miami in less than three weeks.

* I would get to Jason Hendricks, but lets first take a look at some of the redshirt freshmen who saw their first action tonight. We forget how young of a team this is, but there's a lot of guys who are getting their chance. Jason Douglas was the kick returner alongside Cameron Saddler, Devin Street made his debut at receiver, Brock DeCicco lined up at tight end (though he was called for illegal formation twice). Jason Hendricks saw the most significant action of any of the redshirt freshmen, coming in as the extra defensive back, or the hybrid safety/linebacker. We also saw him extensively at safety, when DeCicco went down with the injury.

* The defensive line rotation might look deep, but when it comes time to use people in a game, the coaching staff wasn't too liberal. Brandon Lindsey was the only other defensive end used, besides starters Sheard and Romeus. The defensive tackles employed four guys in its rotation. Ty Tkach came in first, followed by Aaron Donald. Wannstedt wasn't kidding when he said Donald was going to play, and the true freshman didn't do too bad.


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