The final score of Friday's Pitt-West Virginia game left no mystery about the thoroughness of the beating the Panthers took at the hands of the Mountaineers. And just like the 35-10 on the scoreboard, the game film left no mystery about how that beating took place, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said at his weekly press conference on Monday.
"It's not a secret what happened in that football game. When you turn it over as many times as we did, you've got no chance to win. That is exactly what the film showed. I thought we had a good plan, and the turnovers will kill you every time. That was the difference in the game."
Pitt lost four turnovers against West Virginia, three fumbles and one interception. The Panthers actually recorded six fumbles in the game, but recovered three of those themselves. Quarterback Tino Sunseri was charged with two fumbles in addition to an errant fourth-quarter snap that sailed over his head. The other three fumbles were attributed to running backs Dion Lewis and Ray Graham.
Lewis was nearly perfect in 2009, while Graham has had issues holding onto the ball this season.
"I don't think there's a reason for it, because it hasn't been a problem, particularly with Dion," Wannstedt said. "We have to stay on Ray. Ray needs to get that corrected. He has put the ball on the ground a few times the last couple weeks; we know that. He is well aware of that. Obviously, the only solution over a long period of time is, if you put the ball on the ground, you can't play. It's as simple as that.
"I don't think that Ray is in that category. He just plays reckless. He's a young kid. He's a true sophomore. He's a young player right now."
Regardless of the explanation, the fact remains that Pitt has struggled with turnovers this season. In the Panthers' five losses this season, they have lost 14 turnovers (7 fumbles and 7 interceptions). In the other six games, Pitt has turned the ball over five times (three fumbles and two interceptions).
"We've moved the football against everyone, pretty much; when we've gotten stopped, in most cases, it's because of penalties or turnovers," Wannstedt said.
Similar issues for Cincinnati
Pitt will play at Cincinnati in the regular-season finale this Saturday, and the Bearcats have dealt with some of the same problems as the Panthers. Cincinnati ranks first in the Big East in total offense, scoring offense, and passing offense, but the Bearcats are 4-7 overall and 2-4 in the conference largely due to turnover margin:
Cincinnati ranks last in the Big East with a minus-13 turnover margin. The Bearcats have turned the ball over 25 times (13 fumbles, 12 interceptions).
"When you look at Cincinnati, they're almost as explosive as they were last year on offense; the difference has been turnovers," Wannstedt said. "This will be as big a challenge as we've had all year long defensively, without a doubt."
Focused on the Bearcats
The disappointment of getting blown out by rival West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl was tough to swallow for Pitt players and coaches, so much so that Wannstedt said the team's first practice after the game started slowly.
But Wannstedt stressed that the biggest goal was to get past the WVU loss with great haste.
"We moved on to Cincinnati as fast as we could," Wannstedt said. "We did a couple drills against each other, Pitt vs. Pitt, but my talk to the team yesterday was very, very short. It's pretty clear to our guys; our guys do understand what wins and loses games. It was clear what happened in that football game, why we didn't win, and we moved on to Cincinnati as fast as we could."
Pitt has struggled at a number of positions this season, and cornerback is certainly one of them. Redshirt senior Ricky Gary has been vulnerable due to his size, and junior Antwuan Reed has been inconsistent, particularly in the South Florida game when he was called for a quartet of pass interference penalties.
"Ricky Gary has played steady all year," Wannstedt said. "Antwuan needs to bounce back a little bit. He has played steady; we've got to just keep coaching him up. He's got good ability, he's got good 'want-to;' we've got to just keep coaching him up and get more out of him."
But despite the struggles for Gary and Reed, and the emergence of redshirt junior Buddy Jackson, who has played well on special teams and in situational packages on defense, Wannstedt said not to expect much in the way of roster moves.
"We're not going to make any wholesale changes, but we're going to try to play as many guys as we can."
Odds and ends
- Senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard was one of 25 players named to the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) All-America Team. Sheard has recorded 45 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, four forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery this season.
"That's a great honor for Jabaal, a great honor for our team," Wannstedt said Monday. "I think his numbers speak for themselves. I think he's had an outstanding year, particularly under the circumstances when Greg Romeus went down; all of a sudden, there was a lot more responsibility put on him. There was a lot more expectations that we all had that he needed to step up as a leader, and I think he's been excellent doing all of those things."
- Redshirt sophomore kick/punt returner Cam Saddler left Friday's game with back spasms, but Wannstedt said that Saddler was back at practice on Sunday.
- Redshirt junior Greg Gaskins started at right guard on Friday and played the first series of the game in place of junior Lucas Nix. Nix returned to the lineup for the rest of the game after that first series.
"There was a reason for that. Just something in-house," Wannstedt said.
Quote of the day
"We don't have control of things right now, we know that, but we have an awful lot to play for this week and our kids understand that." - Dave Wannstedt