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.
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.
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.
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.
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.