First and foremost, I have to give credit where credit is due, and that is to the Rutgers football program, head coach Greg Schiano and his staff, their defense, and their running game. Pitt was thoroughly outplayed on both of those fronts, and Rutgers, to me, proved it's a legitimate threat in the Big East. Congratulations.
Pitt's defense in the first half was superb. Holding the Scarlet Knights to two field goals despite an average starting position of around midfield was all that could have possibly been asked for. It bent, but didn't break, thanks to excellent play by two of the defense's leaders, H.B. Blades and Clint Session. In the second half, it was clear the defensive unit, especially the line, was really starting to wear down, which I think can be marked down to age and inexperience. The backbreaker was the huge run by Ray Rice on the very first play after Oderick Turner scored to bring the Panthers within three early in the fourth quarter and the ensuing kickoff coverage had pinned Rutgers at their own 10. But what a play by Darrelle Revis to make up ground in a hurry and bring him down. I'm sure glad that guy is going to be around next year, unless he leaves for the NFL, which is well within the realm of possibility.
If I hear one more idiot Rutgers fan tell me that Pitt got "MIKE TEEL'D," someone is going to get hurt. Honestly, that guy is one of the worst collegiate quarterbacks I've ever had the misfortune of witnessing. He's seriously a detriment to the Rutgers offense, and if any team can somehow find a way to shut down the run, Mike Teel is simply not going to be able to beat anybody on his own (and no, Navy doesn't count, because they essentially threw everything at the run, and my left arm probably beat Navy with eight guys concentrating solely on stopping the run). Mike Teel's final numbers were 10/18 for 74 yards, basically meaning what he did complete were worthless screen passes. I can tell Rutgers fans didn't even pay attention to the program until this year when they say things like that, because anyone who's not completely unknowledgable would at least tell me we got RAY RICE'D or something.
Tyler Palko, on the other hand, proved that he's one of the best college quarterbacks around today. If only Matt Cavanagh had let him take complete control of the game earlier, things could have been much, much different. Once Cavanagh let Palko go no-huddle in the third quarter, Rutgers began to look completely lost on defense, not to mention Palko's huge scrambles for first downs throughout the game. He's one of the smartest quarterbacks I've ever seen play, he knows exactly when to tuck and run, and when to throw the ball away. His touchdown pass to Oderick Turner particularly was a thing of beauty. On a completely broken play, Palko did all sorts of neat things in the backfield to create enough time, and Turner, to his credit, broke off his route and came back across the end zone to create a target for Palko. And let's not forget that at least three 20+ yard passing plays were negated by drops by receivers, and in Derek Kinder's case, a sensational grab followed by a fumble on the run after the catch.
It's too bad that Palko is gone after this season, because I would love to see him behind this offensive line and running backs and receivers with another year under their belts, as well as the defensive front and secondary. It'll really be on Wannstedt to see if he can bring in a suitable heir apparent to Tyler Palko to play behind what is shaping up as a very exciting core of young players.
With this loss, Pitt's bid for a ranking in the top 25, as well as its chances at the Big East crown are essentially finished, barring a miracle scenario in which Pitt knocks off both Louisville and West Virginia. Honestly, I'd be content with just beating the Mountaineers, because I absolutely hate that fucking team.
That said, I think I'll be rooting for Rutgers the rest of the way. I always have a soft spot in my heart for the underdog, barring mitigating circumstances like if the underdog is a team that I really don't like at all, and I have no real reason to dislike Rutgers. Plus, they've been so bad for so long, they've essentially been the Pirates of the NCAA. It's really a shame that idiots like those who think Mike Teel is anything close to a competent quarterback actually tempt me to not want to see Rutgers succeed. The people who cared nothing for the team when it was going 1-11 just a few years ago.
To that end, despite tonight's heartbreak, I don't think I've ever been so proud to be a Pitt supporter. Pitt is really one of the few colleges in the country that receive national consideration in both football and basketball on a yearly basis that don't also have a national following of bandwagoners. Someone said to me tonight as the clock wound down that "maybe Pitt just isn't that good," to which my response is, "what the fuck am I supposed to do, change teams?" The disgusting bandwagon mentality throughout college sports is one of the reason I can never really get into college sports except for Pitt and the Big East. But I won't let it get me. I was born Pitt, raised Pitt, and I will be Pitt until I'm no longer breathing, come hell or 1-11 seasons.