The Paul Chryst era of Pitt Panthers football got off to a memorable start Saturday evening – just not the start that Chryst and many Pitt fans envisioned when he was hired last winter to replace Todd Graham.
Chryst committed a first in Panthers’ history as Pitt lost to an FCS program for the first time – 31-17 to Youngstown State at home nonetheless.
The loss was the school’s first in 11 all-time games against FCS opponents. It was the Panthers’ third meeting all-time against the Penguins. In the previous two meetings, Pitt outscored Youngstown State 79-3.
A year ago under Graham, the Panthers struggled in their season opener against MAC opponent Buffalo and followed that up with a less-than-spectacular showing against FCS opponent Maine.
Pitt couldn’t get lucky Saturday night, but looked like the same old Panthers team, one that lacks the big play on offense and can’t get off the field on defense.
The sad part of the entire game is that this hardly seemed like an upset as the Penguins were clearly the better team on both sides of the ball.
Ray Graham made his return to the Panthers lineup, 10 months after tearing his ACL, and made the first mistake of the game – losing a fumble on Pitt’s first drive, one they were moving the ball effectively on.
The Penguins quickly capitalized, scoring on a 27-yard pass from quarterback Kurt Hess to Andre Stubbs.
The Panthers evened things up on their next drive on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by an Isaac Bennett four-yard run, but it was all Penguins after the first quarter.
Hess hit Will Shaw with a 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter and took a 14-10 lead into the locker room, but took control of the game in the second half.
They scored the only points of the third quarter on a halfback pass from Jamaine Cook to Shaw and scored early in the fourth on a 13-yard run by Stubbs to stretch the Youngstown State lead to 28-10.
Tino Sunseri hit Joshua Brinson with a 35-yard touchdown with nine minutes left, but it proved to be meaningless as Pitt couldn’t get anything going the rest of the game.
The often criticized Sunseri didn’t play horrible, but also didn’t do much to help the Panthers win. He didn’t throw a pick and completed 19-of-30 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown.
Graham was effective carrying the ball in the first half, but only received three touches in the second half. He did finish with 71 yards rushing on 14 carries in his return to action.
The bottom line though is that it’s the same old story with this current group and that it lacks the big play on both sides of the ball.
This wasn’t a last-second stunner. The Penguins never trailed, controlling the ball and the tempo with a spread offense that kept the Panthers off balance during a soggy night at Heinz Field.
Pitt brought in Chryst in January hoping the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator could bring a sense of calm to a program that went through three coaches in 15 months, but while Chyrst has won over the locker room, winning his first game will take a while longer.
Chryst was brought in to give Pitt’s offense some spark; but his concerns about the Pitt defense that featured seven new starters was the real issue on Saturday. The Panthers certainly looked inexperienced as the Penguins put together a series of clock-chewing, game-shortening drives.
Defensively, Pitt couldn’t get off the field on third down and when they had the ball they couldn’t convert in those same situations to extend drives.
Those aren’t quick fixes, but they will need to be addressed quickly as Pitt opens up Big East Conference play on Thursday when they travel to Cincinnati.
Chryst announced before the game that six players were suspended for disciplinary reasons. That list of players included: freshman wide receiver Chris Davis, junior defensive lineman Tyrone Ezell, sophomore defensive back Anthony Gonzalez, senior defensive lineman Shayne Hale, sophomore wide receiver Ronald Jones and freshman running back Rushel Shell.
FIRST QUARTER YSU PITT
TD 08:25 Andre Stubbs 27 Yd Pass From Kurt Hess (David Brown Kick) 7 0
TD 02:47 Isaac Bennett 4 Yd Run (Kevin Harper Kick) 7 7
SECOND QUARTER YSU PITT
TD 10:14 Will Shaw 14 Yd Pass From Kurt Hess (David Brown Kick) 14 7
FG 06:13 Kevin Harper 33 Yd 14 10
THIRD QUARTER YSU PITT
TD 12:07 Will Shaw 23 Yd Pass From Jamaine Cook (David Brown Kick) 21 10
FOURTH QUARTER YSU PITT
TD 12:21 Andre Stubbs 13 Yd Run (David Brown Kick) 28 10
TD 09:17 Joshua Brinson 35 Yd Pass From Tino Sunseri (Kevin Harper Kick) 28 17
FG 03:02 David Brown 25 Yd 31 17
Photo Credits: CBS Sports