The View From 217 - Pitt Edition

The loss of a BCS bowl spot was just the beginning of the fallout from the Pitt loss

After taking a couple of days to let the pathetic display of football in Pittsburgh sink in, the phrase that run true in the Heinz Field press box over and over after the game still rings true: "Thnk God for basketball season."

  • Hidden among the ridiculous penalties, poor special teams play and the offense's inability to push the ball across the alumni stripe in the Backyard Brawl was a pretty darn good performance by the defense.

    Fact of the matter is, when you hold a team to 16 points you should win the ballgame. But an even simpler fact is that when you play a team with a talented quarterback, there is going to be at least one drive during the day when that team has success. And if you continue to keep that team in the game, eventually it will come back to haunt you. And that's just what happened when Pitt's Tyler Palko finally put together one good drive to record the Panthers' only touchdown of the game.

  • I have spent this entire season looking for reasons to continue to believe in this football team. And time and time again, my faith has been shaken. WVU has done nothing this season but lose to a pretty good Virginia Tech team, and two teams it had no business of losing to. None.

    There is plenty of blame to go around. You can blame Chris Henry. Certainly, letting the team down the week before the most important game of the season is worthy of fault. With Henry in the game, Pitt has to defend the Mountaineer offense differently. And without Henry, WVU had no consistent threat in crucial passing situations.

  • On those few occasions the Mountaineers did make a big play, they shot themselves in the foot with penalties.

    Penalties have been a huge weakness of this football team since the first game of the season, and Thursday's debacle was no different. Despite improving in the penalty area over the last four games heading into the Brawl, the Mountaineers came apart at the seams against Pitt.

    Second and goal at the two, leading 13-6, and Jeff Berk draws a 15-yard penalty to push WVU back to the 17. Two plays later, the Mountaineers miss a field goal.

    In the second half, with WVU still leading 13-9, Rasheed Marshall rolls out to his right and hits Rayshawn Bolden for his first catch of the season and a first down in Pitt territory. However, Jeremy Sheffey is flagged for a personal foul, wiping out the first down play and snuffing the drive.

    WVU fakes a punt in the fourth quarter, still leading 13-9, and gets a first down at midfield. On the next play, Adam Serena false starts, and two plays later, stuck in a hole, Rasheed throws an interception.

    Pathetic is the only word that comes to mind to describe the on-field discipline of this ball team.

  • The West Virginia special teams continue to kill any chance the rest of the squad has at establishing some momentum. Two missed field goals, running into the kicker, roughing the kicker, short punts, big punt returns, you name it. they all combined to stick a stake in the heart of this Mountaineer football team, if it even had one to begin with.

    Missing a long field goal into the open end of the stadium is understandable in the windy conditions at Heinz. But Brad Cooper's long kick was not affected by the wind, it was just wide right. Make that way wide right.

    The next attempt, a short 31-yarder that should be almost automatic for a kicker in Division 1A, was so low that it barely cleared the Mountaineer offensive line, and was thus easily blocked by the Panthers.

    Those debacles were overshadowed by two WVU penalties for hitting the Pitt punter on fourth down situations. While it is my opinion that neither instance should have been flagged, the fact reamined that Mountaineer rushers (one of who wasn't even supposed to be rushing) got too close to the punter for comfort. Both penalties extended drives for Pitt.

    The second foul was the most devastating to WVU. The Mountaineers were called for roughing the kicker on fourth down and nine. Replays showed very little contact with Pitt's thespian punter Adam Graessle. Pitt coaches could all be seen on the sideline declining the penalty, because the believed the call would be running into the kicker, which is only a five-yard penalty and would thus not give the Panthers a first down.

    However, the stellar Big East officiating crew unbelievably, even to the Pitt media contingent, called the brush a personal foul, and gave Pitt new life. Pitt got three points out of the drive, which proved to be the difference in the game.

  • And then we get to West Virginia's punting. While it is easy to point the blame at WVU's kickers, I think it is high time for the coaching staff to start taking some of the heat for our pathetic kicking game.

    Since Rich Rodriguez took over the program, the Mountaineer coaching staff has been preaching a one-step punt. It is the equivalent of getting a new set of golf clubs, and then being told you have to only take half a backswing. Mark Fazzolari learned this style, and went from an All-Big East punter to losing his job. Todd James struggled with it his entire career. And now the current Mountaineer punting crew is kicking 26-yard line drives right down the center of the field, and killing the Mountaineer defense and coverage units.

    I think it is time for a change. And if the coaches are too stubborn to change their thinking, maybe it is time to change a few coaches. We buy the argument that it gets the kick off faster so we don't get a punt blocked for a touchdown, but the result is merely giving the opponent a shot at a highlight reel return against a coverage unit that doesn't get time to set up because of the pitiful kick. Maybe the punter could kick the ball out of bounds, if he weren't so wrapped up in how many steps he took before he kicked it.

    If you can't teach proper punt protection techniques, maybe it is time to look for someone who can teach them.

  • Which hurts worse? Watching WVU choke away another chance to wrap up a share of the Big East crown, or watching Syracuse dismantle Boston College two days later to send the Big East into a four-way tie that WVU has no chance of coming out on top of? At least we're 2004 Big East Co-Champs.

  • Don't look now (and many people still aren't), but John Belien, again, has done something that Rich Rodriguez has been unable to do: win a non-conference game against a big-name opponent. Only this time he did it on the road. The dominating performance put on by the Mountaineer cagers in Baton Rouge did little to ease the pain of the Mountaineer faithful over the football shambles, but at 3-0 on the young season, with a big time win over SEC power LSU under their belt, this basketball team is putting on a clinic in an area the football team has been unable to master all season: playing with confidence, and playing as a team.

  • I am as big a fan of Coach Rodriguez as there could possibly be. But I suggest that he start to re-examine some of his strategies before someone above him does it for him. Four years, mediocre special teams, below-average wide receiver play, and no pass rush are crippling the first Mountaineer teams of the 2000s.

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