Pitt has had some fairly bad defensive performances the past few years, but given the opposing offense the Panthers faced yesterday, this one likely will go down as one of the worst.
That's because Rutgers, which entered the game ranked 97th in the NCAA in total offense and 115th in scoring offense, did what it wanted with little resistance and rolled up 442 yards while dishing out a 54-34 spanking to the Panthers in front of a homecoming crowd of 51,161 at Heinz Field.
The Scarlet Knights amassed 371 passing yards as quarterback Mike Teel broke a school record by throwing six touchdown passes. He is the fourth player in Big East Conference history to accomplish the feat. In the Scarlet Knights' previous seven games, Teel had thrown a total of three touchdown passes.
Before yesterday, the Scarlet Knights' top offensive output against a Division I-A defense this season came in a loss against Navy when they scored 21 points. Furthermore, Rutgers (3-5, 2-2 Big East) had averaged 13 points per game in its first three conference games.
"I really thought that coming into this game, that this would be a 17-10 type of game one way or the other," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "This is the most disappointing defensive performance since I have been here. And the only thing they did different than we thought -- we expected them to come out running the ball and they came out throwing it. We didn't get much pressure on them, and they ran right by us, just right by us.
"So, it was very disappointing from a defensive standpoint, particularly with the guys we have and how we have played to this point as a defense."
On top of the loss, the Panthers (5-2, 2-1) also might be without starting quarterback Bill Stull for a few weeks after he was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a neck injury when he was hit trying to throw a pass. Stull was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to Presbyterian Hospital for testing. A Pitt spokesman said Stull was awake, talking and moving when he left the stadium.
The news wasn't so good for starting center Robb Houser, who was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with what Wannstedt said likely is a broken ankle. If an MRI confirms the break, Houser will miss the rest of the season. Starting left guard C.J. Davis will take over at center, and senior Dom Williams will fill in at guard.
The Panthers' defensive breakdowns overshadowed another stellar performance by tailback LeSean McCoy, who ran 26 times for 146 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Pitt also wasted a big day from freshman receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who had five catches for 81 yards.
The Scarlet Knights torched the Panthers' secondary play after play after play as Teel completed 14 of 21 passes for six touchdowns and one interception, The Scarlet Knights had two receivers, Kenny Britt (5 catches, 143 yards) and Tim Brown (4 catches, 132 yards) with at least 100 receiving yards. The Scarlet Knights' first two scores came via passes that covered more than 60 yards, and two others from Teel were longer than 25.
After the game, the Panthers' defensive backs said Rutgers' passing success stemmed from play-action working well. But the puzzling thing was the Scarlet Knights didn't run the ball well -- they finished with 30 carries for 71 yards, and the running game usually sets up play-action passes.
"We just didn't make any plays," said cornerback Aaron Berry, who was torched for a 79-yard touchdown pass from Teel to Britt.
"We knew they were going to take shots, we just didn't execute and make plays. I know I misjudged one, and that's on me, but Teel did a good job and threw some good balls..
Pitt safety Eric Thatcher added: "Their play-action was good, I guess you could say, but we didn't flat out cover -- we didn't cover on the back end, we didn't give the front seven enough time to make plays and that is what we have been doing all year. We've been covering good all year, and today we just didn't cover. "
The Scarlet Knights came out throwing, and the Panthers' defense played most of the first half on its heels. But Pitt's offense kept the Panthers within striking distance as McCoy scored three first-half touchdowns.
Rutgers led at the half, 34-24.
But McCoy scored his fourth touchdown on a 1-yard touchdown run with 8:58 left in the third quarter to pull the Panthers within 34-31. Pitt then forced a three-and-out and a Scarlet Knights punt, which seemed to shift the momentum.
But Berry fumbled the punt, and Rutgers recovered it at the Panthers' 36. One play later, Teel hit Brown with a 36-yard touchdown pass. Pitt never really recovered.
Here's an update on Stull ...