Penalties continue to pile up for Pitt
Pitt coach Paul Chryst didn't accept inexperience as an excuse for mistakes on the first day of training camp.
He's certainly not going to accept it now, with the Panthers (2-3) approaching the midpoint in the season.
Asked if tough losses, such as the 14-13 decision in Syracuse on Friday night, are part of a young team's growing pains, he questioned the premise.
“Young, but are we?” he said. “Defensively, they rose up on a lot of occasions.”
Pitt began the season with one senior in the defensive starting lineup. It has since added linebacker Manny Williams, who got hurt and didn't finish the Syracuse game. Senior safety Jarred Holley was joined by classmate Andrew Taglianetti against the Orange when the Panthers opened with five defensive backs.
Turned out, defense was the team's strongest ally in the Carrier Dome: Syracuse's offense didn't score over the game's final 55 minutes.
Pitt's defense is ranked 22nd and 24th nationally in total and passing defense, respectively. The rushing defense, which allowed Syracuse three first downs on the game's last sequence, is 49th out of 120 schools.
“I feel like guys, defensively, battled their tails off,” Chryst said.
Offense was the culprit. Quarterback Tino Sunseri played well at times but didn't get enough support. He was sacked five times, four by defensive end Brandon Sharpe, and kept getting pushed backward by penalties.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Pitt appeared to be riding momentum, moving to the Orange 29.
Then two false-start penalties by guard Chris Jacobson and left tackle Corey King cost Pitt 10 yards.
When the Panthers were forced to punt, they lined up in an illegal formation — a call Chryst appeared to dispute with officials. Matt Yoklic's punt went to the 10-yard line, but Pitt lost another 6 yards when forced to replay the down.
“We did a great job of punting and pinning them down,” Chyrst said. “Then you have a guy that's not lined up on the line. ... So it comes back.”
Pitt got the ball back and eventually had a first down at the Syracuse 17. The Panthers were within a 34-yard field goal of taking the lead in the final five minutes.
That's when an intentional grounding penalty against Sunseri and a sack pushed them out of range.
Overall, on the two scoring chances, Pitt gave up three sacks totaling 18 yards and was penalized four times for a loss of 30.
The result: Pitt is ranked near the bottom of FBS schools in two penalty categories — 87th in number per game (7.2) and 83rd in yards lost per game (62.8).
Note: Chryst said he hopes running back Rushel Shell (back) can play Saturday against Louisville. “Hopefully, we will get him back full strength,” he said. “We need all hands on deck going forward.” Since rushing for 157 yards against Virginia Tech, Shell has been limited to 14 carries and 43 yards in two games.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.