|Pitt, Wannstedt dealing with inexplicable loss|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 September 2008 12:30|
Only one game into the season, Pittsburgh's coach already is dealing with what has become a worrisome problem during his four years at the school: an underachieving performance against a team the Panthers should have beaten.
Their 27-17 loss to Bowling Green, the Panthers' first in 24 home games against Mid-American Conference schools, not only dislodged Pitt from the Top 25, it again raised questions about Wannstedt's in-game coaching and whether Pitt will turn the corner with Wannstedt as coach.
Pitt was 32-18 and played in four bowl games, winning two, in the four seasons before coach Walt Harris was eased out and Wannstedt took over after the 2004 season. In the four seasons since, Pitt is 16-20 - 13-20 against Division I-A opponents - and has yet to have a winning season or go to a bowl.
Equally troubling to Pitt rooters and the players themselves are the inexplicable losses: to Bowling Green, after the Panthers led 14-0 and outgained the Falcons 137-6 in the first quarter; to Navy last season; to four-touchdown underdog Ohio U. in 2005; to UConn a year ago, when Pitt was favored, but lost at home by 20.
``It was probably justified,'' Wannstedt said of the booing that filled Heinz Field after Pitt couldn't score in the second half and committed four turnovers against Bowling Green. ``I mean, let's be real. We expected to go out there and play good and win the game, so when people are disappointed they are going to express it.''
The out-of-left field loss could cause ripples the rest of the season.
First, it will make it difficult for Pitt to go to a quality bowl game even if the Panthers bounce back and play as expected.
``We're upset and we're disgusted about what happened,'' quarterback Bill Stull said.
Second, it could affect attendance; the announced crowd of 45,063 was about 20,000 below Heinz Field's capacity. A loss so damaging dampens enthusiasm and may hurt ticket sales for upcoming games against Buffalo (1-0) on Saturday and Iowa on Sept. 20.
Third, the defeat quickly unravels most of the positives that emerged from the Panthers' one proud moment since 2004, their 13-9 upset of then-No. 2 West Virginia on Dec. 1.
``We have something to prove,'' tight end Nate Byham said. ``We definitely have something to prove, especially after this loss, but the ability is there for us to play with anybody.''
That's the ongoing story line at Pitt: The Panthers can beat anybody, but they do so all too infrequently.
With Wannstedt going into the fourth season of his original five-year contract, this figured to be the pivotal season in determining whether he stayed. Counting his aborted final season with the Miami Dolphins in 2004, Wannstedt has a 17-28 record in his last five seasons.
But Wannstedt was given an extension through 2012 the day before the West Virginia game last season, which means Pitt must buy out four seasons if it decides he shouldn't return in 2009.
Though the contract language is not known, few athletic directors are willing to take on such an expense and pay a new coach, too. Athletic Director Steve Pederson threw his support behind Wannstedt after the Bowling Green loss.
Wannstedt said there was nothing wrong with his players' preparation or approach to the game. He also defended his decisions to punt from Bowling Green's 35 and 34 in the first half and to bypass going for a touchdown late in the first half so Conor Lee could kick a field goal.
``It's on us, because we're out there playing,'' Stull said. ``The coaches do their best to make a game plan and call the right plays, but we still have to go out there and do it. We lost the game, the players.''