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Pitt's Alex Bookser 'shocked' by mistakes in Penn State game

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, 8:30 p.m.

Not long after the end of the game, Pitt offensive tackle Alex Bookser sat down to review video of the loss to Penn State.

He’s a big boy. He can take it.

That doesn’t mean he has to like it.

A loss, especially one by 45 points, reveals a team’s warts, and Bookser expected as much. But not to the level exposed by the video recorder Saturday night. The mistakes he witnessed struck a personal note with him.

“If you go out there and get beat by the guy in front of you, you can take that. ‘OK, I got beat,’ ” he said Tuesday after practice.

Trouble was, it was more than that.

As a senior co-captain, Bookser holds himself accountable for everything that occurs on the field. He said watching the video “was tough, personally.”

“Me, I did some things out of character a little bit away from my fundamentals,” he said. “I look at that, and I’m shocked by it. I should be far enough along where I’m not making those type of mistakes.”

The mistakes were mostly of the variety that only a player or coach would recognize, and even then, the video would need to be in slow motion — turns, footwork, body placement.

Bookser understands a player can be out of position just a hair, and it still can impact a play. He didn’t give details on how many of Penn State’s four sacks or Pitt’s seven possessions without a first down in the first three quarters could be traced to a lack of fundamentals. But the fact he was still thinking about the situation three days later makes a significant statement of humility.

“Anytime you lose a game, and you’re doing some fundamental things wrong, it’s frustrating,” he said, “but at the same time, it’s encouraging.

“We have good guys in the (offensive linemen’s) room. We know we’re all good players. We just have to do the right things.”

Protecting quarterback Kenny Pickett was a problem against the No. 11 Nittany Lions. Aside from the four sacks, pressure from the pass rush often forced Pickett out of the pocket before he could find an open receiver.

As a result, Pitt is last in the ACC in passing offense (112 yards per game), 31.5 yards less than Georgia Tech, the next opponent Saturday at Heinz Field. And Georgia Tech typically does not throw much.

The good news is Pitt running back Qadree Ollison is third among ACC running backs with an average of 96 rushing yards per game.

“We’re really not getting perfect plays out of it,” Bookser said, “but we’re getting most of our guys padded up (blocked). Once we get everything where it needs to be, we have a real shot to be explosive in the run game.”

Pitt is sixth in the ACC in rushing offense (241.5 yards) while getting only 11 carries for 50 yards from last year’s leading rusher, Darrin Hall.

Ollison has hurdled Hall on the depth chart, rushing for a total of 192 yards, which is a 1,152 pace — more than he gained (1,121) in 2015 when he replaced James Conner and became ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Yet, none of that matters when viewed against a 51-6 loss to Penn State.

Pitt (1-1) is encouraged, however, because their ACC goals remain intact. Leadership from seniors such as Bookser and linebacker Elijah Zeise could help the younger players snap to attention.

“Nobody’s hanging their head,” Bookser said.

“We have a lot of maturity in the room,” Zeise said. “We got our butts beat a little bit. It sucks, but at the same time, where we want to go this season, our goals are right in front of us. We can’t dwell on it.”

Bookser said his bruises felt “a little worse” after the loss. But he knows only one way to make it better.

“You come in and you go back to work,” he said.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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