Instant Analysis - Meneke Car
Pitt 19 ... North Carolina 17
The big story of the day had nothing to do with Urban Meyer. Pitt really
did win a close, tough game under Dave Wannstedt.
Pitt had lost its last three bowl games, but only one was under
Wannstedt last year's 3-0 shootout against Oregon State in the Sun
Bowl). The big problem has been when Pitt has needed to win and was
expected to come up with the victory (the 2007 win over West Virginia
doesn't really count in the gag factor). Closing against Cincinnati this
year was the big killer, preventing a trip to the BCS, but there have
been several games when, arguably, the most talented team in the Big
East came up short.
Wannstedt has recruited his tail off. He has stockpiled a tremendous
array of weapons like RB Dion Lewis, WR Jonathan Baldwin, TE Dorin
Dickerson, along with a slew of top-shelf defensive linemen, but not
winning a Big East title has made the era a disappointment. Following up
a nine-win season with a ten-win campaign and a bowl win is a huge step
for Wannstedt and it shows that this really needs to be the star of the
conference for the next few seasons. Cincinnati is in a state of flux,
West Virginia continues to be solid, and South Florida, Connecticut, and
Rutgers are always going to be decent, but Pitt has more talent than
anyone else, and if this game shows that the team can win close when
everything isn't going right, it might show that it's time to go to a
whole other level even with some rebuilding needing t be done on the
lines and at corner. There's more talent where the current starters came
If Pitt goes on to win that elusive Big East championship in 2010, it'll point to this bowl game in Charlotte as the launching point.
As much as any team in the postseason, the Panthers absolutely needed to get out of 2009 with a victory. No one had a more excruciating close to the regular season, losing Nov. 27 on a last-second field goal to rival West Virginia and then a week later, 45-44, to Cincinnati with the Big East title at stake. A third straight loss in a nail-biter heading into the offseason would have been devastating for Dave Wannstedt and his players. Now, beating North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl won't erase those what-might-have-been feelings from earlier in the month, but it sure will make the next few months a whole lot more bearable in Western Pennsylvania.
Yeah, it's sort of the obvious angle on this 19-17 squeaker, but it's impossible to not focus attention on Panther freshman RB Dion Lewis, who has gotten better as the season progressed and could be the fourth consecutive sophomore Heisman winner in 2010. He's really that good. Those 159 yards on Saturday came against the nation's No. 9 ranked run defense, a unit loaded with next-level players. Carolina had allowed just one team—Georgia Tech—to run for that many yards in a game all season. Not only did Lewis put up the numbers, but he was the driving force in the game-winning drive that led to Dan Hutchins' game-winning field goal.
1) After this error-filled evening at Bank of America Stadium, is it any wonder that these two programs have yet to find the championship trophies that will allow them to reclaim the heights they both enjoyed in the very early 1980s? This ugly win – but a win nonetheless, thank you very much – gives Pitt its first 10-win season since Jackie Sherrill coached in the Steel City and Dan Marino pitched the pigskin around the ballpark in 1981. Speaking of 1981, that was also a year when North Carolina – though not the ACC champion (national champion Clemson took the league) – finished in the top 10 and took down Lou Holtz and Arkansas in the Gator Bowl. The proliferation of banana-peel moments in this contest creates the distinct impression that neither Pitt nor UNC is ready to make a run at the brass ring. Pitt will benefit from quarterback or coaching transitions next year at West Virginia and Cincinnati, but even in a moment of victory, the Panthers displayed their old modus operandi in the Meineke Bowl. They can't continue to make the same mind-bending mistakes if they want to be playing in a far more prestigious bowl in January of 2011.
2) How amazing and ironic is it that Dave Wannstedt – whose Pitt team tried to give away this game in Charlotte – won a close game because an opponent made the kind of miscue that has afflicted the Panthers on so many occasions in the past? Moreover, how remarkable is it that the man on the opposing sideline – the coach who had to endure the kind of moment Wannstedt has repeatedly suffered at Pitt – was none other than Butch Davis, Wannstedt's good friend and longtime former colleague with the Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys? The football gods sure have a sense of humor.