After starting out 0-2 with a pair of bad losses, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst has a ton of things to fix if he wants to prevent his first season as head coach from getting away from him in a hurry.
Many Panthers fans will point to lineup changes, but the reality of the situation is that because of having four head coaches in the span of two calendar years, the talent on the Pitt two-deep isn’t that good. That means there aren’t many immediate lineup changes that could offer Chryst a quick fix.
With Virginia Tech coming to Heinz Field on Saturday, lineup changes won’t help, but a complete change in philosophy might.
Chryst needs to take the air out of the ball in a big way, as that may be Pitt’s only real chance to stay in this game and future games.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri has thrown for 517 yards while completing 64.1 percent of his passes (mostly against second-team defenses). However his indecisiveness while looking for an open receiver kept Pitt out of the end zone late in the first half of the 34-10 loss to Cincinnati.
It was Sunseri’s 28th consecutive start and he continues to make the same mistakes over and over again. Those mistakes kill drives and ultimately cost the Panthers chances to win football games.
Instead, Chryst needs to lean on the ground game in a big way.
It makes sense, considering that with Ray Graham, Isaac Bennett and freshman Rushel Shell, running the football is the one thing the Panthers do well.
Against Cincinnati, the trio combined for 158 yards on 32 carries, led by Graham, who had 103 yards on 19 attempts. The week before, Graham and Bennett combined for 113 yards on 23 attempts.
The numbers suggest that Pitt should be running the football 40-plus times per game.
That’s especially true when you consider Sunseri was sacked six times, threw an interception and lost a fumble against the Bearcats.
Running the football a ton accomplishes three things for the Panthers.
First of all, it plays to their strength as Pitt is a much better run-blocking team than pass-blocking team and the Panthers have a trio of very talented running backs. It’s the deepest position on the team and these guys can perform if leaned on heavily.
Secondly, it takes the ball out of Sunseri’s hands, which could be a blessing at the end of the day.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, it keeps the porous Pitt defense off the field.
Granted, whatever Pitt does on offense won’t matter much if the Panthers don’t sure up their defense, which has given up 845 yard in two games, including a whopping 463 rushing yards. By running the ball more on offense, the Panthers can control the clock and move the chains and keep that defense off the field as much as possible.
That should be the game plan, run the football a lot and not only limit the amount of times Sunseri can kill you, but also keep that defense off the field as much as possible.
Of course that’s easier said than done against a tough Virginia Tech team, but the Hokies have been run on so far this season. Georgia Tech’s option attack rushed for 192 yards in the opener and even Austin Peay rushed for 159 yards as a team last week.
In the age of football when quarterbacks and big plays through the air take priority, Chryst needs to send the Panthers back to the stone age of football and show an over-commitment to pounding the football.
If he doesn’t, the 2012 season could be over before it really ever begins.