|Pitt's season at a crossroads following dismal loss|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 26 September 2007 13:55|
Nearly three years after inheriting a team that reached the Bowl Championship Series from Walt Harris, coach Dave Wannstedt's Panthers (2-2) are looking more like a bottom-of-the-Big-East team than a Top 25 contender. And they've yet to play any of the conference's top teams.
The offense is in disarray, the defense is leaking points and the one player who has been productive, freshman running back LeSean McCoy, didn't get the ball enough in a 34-14 loss to Connecticut to make a difference.
This isn't what Wannstedt, the former Bears and Dolphins coach, expected when he was hired by his alma mater days after Harris was shoved out the door following five consecutive bowl seasons. Wannstedt has had two strong recruiting classes in a row, yet this team must turn itself around - and quickly - if it is avoid missing a bowl game for the third consecutive season.
Pitt is only 13-14 since Wannstedt was hired, and that's with West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville and Rutgers yet to play this season.
``We're kind of back to the drawing board,'' Wannstedt said. ``We've taken a couple of steps backward.''
The UConn loss, unless Wannstedt can somehow get his team righted, was the kind of game that can doom a coach's career. The few fans that showed up in the announced crowd of 40,000-plus were booing by the second play of the game, and Heinz Field was nearly empty at game's end.
With arguably the softest home schedule in school history as a foundation for a good season, Pitt squandered it with a dreadful, turnover-filled loss that was reminiscent of the grim days of former coach Johnny Majors' second tenure at the school from 1993-96.
Backup quarterback Kevan Smith, playing only because starter Bill Stull is out with a severe thumb injury, looked so lost while turning the ball over twice before halftime that freshman Pat Bostick was forced to replace him in the second half.
Bostick's statistics looked good (27-of-42 for 230 yards and one interception), but most of those numbers were accumulated as Pitt trailed 34-7 and UConn wasn't pass rushing. Bostick got rid of the ball quickly enough, but telegraphed some throws while being intercepted three times.
Bostick, who was playing high school ball a year ago, will make his first college start Saturday at Virginia (3-1), which Pitt routed 38-13 to open last season.
``It's a long process (with Bostick), but it's getting better,'' Wannstedt said. ``Pat's ready to go out there this week and lay it on the line. I don't like his first start coming on the road ... but we need to do it to try to win this game.''
What was puzzling about the UConn loss to many Pitt fans was why McCoy, coming off a 172-yard game against Michigan State, had so few carries.
After getting Pitt back into the game at 10-7 by leading a 62-yard scoring drive in which he ran the ball three times and passed it once, McCoy had only four more carries. He ended with 11 carries for 70 yards, with three carries in the second half.
Wannstedt's explanation: Junior running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (17 yards on six carries) needs the ball, too, even though McCoy is averaging 6.3 yards per carry to Stephens-Howling's 3.6.
``He (Stephens-Howling) will be a major part of our game plan'' at Virginia, Wannstedt said. ``LaRod's done a lot of good things here, and LeSean's a freshman.''
But while Stephens-Howling is fast and elusive, he has not been comparable this season to McCoy, who already looks to be Pitt's best freshman running back since Curtis Martin, the No. 4 rusher in NFL history.
Wannstedt likes the Panthers' improvement on defense, citing how they are nationally ranked in numerous categories, yet they've allowed 51 points in the last two games. Thirty-four were off turnovers.
``We're reaching for some confidence right now,'' Wannstedt said. ``The only way to get confidence is to get some results.''