Under Pat Narduzzi, Pitt has made a habit of scaling back the offense in the Panthers' opener. Last year, the strategy seemed to pay off. The team comfortably won a largely boring contest over Villanova, 28-7. More importantly, James Franklin and Penn State seemed to be caught off guard by a dynamic Pitt offense a week later that showed a new arsenal of plays.
This year, the Panthers clearly took the same approach to the opener this year against Youngstown State. Unfortunately for the team, it nearly came back to bite them. Pitt blew a 21-0 and, after going scoreless in the second half, allowed the Penguins to tie the game, sending it to overtime. The Panthers ultimately prevailed but could easily have lost the game.
I understand Narduzzi's decision to hold things back and not publicize them for the Panthers' biggest opponents. But the reality is that the strategy could backfire and even cost the team an embarrassing loss.
The counter, of course, is that even with a scaled back version of the offense, Pitt should be able to win anyway. They have more talent than FCS teams and, even though they shouldn't need it, they even have an added advantage playing them at home.
I would agree. Here's the problem.
Pitt's coaches are constantly telling us that every game counts. They are reinforcing that message to their players. But at the same time, they are holding certain plays back that could be beneficial. If you're a player, how do you take that message? And when you jump out to a 21-0 lead, I'm not sure how you don't start thinking to the next game if you're a 19-year-old kid that's essentially been told by the coaches that the opponent isn't good enough to warrant using all of your best plays.
I'm not saying that's the message the coaches are trying to send. I'm saying that when you're a college kid and you see that, coupled with a big lead, it would be easy to let up a little bit.
None of that excuses the players and they hopefully learned a valuable lesson after today's debacle. And, as stated, that strategy worked perfectly for the program last year. But after such a close call on Saturday, it makes you wonder if that's the right approach going forward.