Pitt had a lot to celebrate when it visited Iowa this weekend, but not as much as it thought it had.
Not only was it revealed that the Panthers were deserting the Big East along with Syracuse and jumping to the ACC, assuring themselves survival in what has become a Panther-eat-dog world of college football, but the team had built a 21-point lead over Iowa in the second half.
They did it playing as well as they have all season under new coach Todd Graham.
"For the first time, I stood on the sideline and thought, 'This is how it's supposed to look,'" Graham said of his "high-octane" offense.
Then the roof caved in and Iowa, for the first time in its history, overcame a 21-point deficit and won, 31-27.
Certainly, the conference change will be the most memorable part of the day, for it moves Pitt into a stable "super conference", and not only puts the Big East in jeopardy of surviving as a football conference, but makes the ACC into a basketball league that might even rival the NBA with Pitt, Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, etc., etc.
Graham, however, will not forget the loss quickly.
"That one really hurt a bunch," the coach said.
It hurt, in part, because Graham blamed himself for one coaching decision, opting to go for a 4th and 3 on the Iowa 36 with eight minutes left.
"I told them they had two downs, and we were going to take a shot," Graham said. "Our guy got held up (by the defense), so we overthrew it. We came back on fourth down. I should have punted the ball."
After another quarterback Tino Sunseri incompletion, Iowa took over on downs. The Hawkeyes scored seven plays later.
--LB Max Gruder had one of his best days with 14 tackles including one for a loss at Iowa.
--LB Ejuan Price had a two-sack afternoon, half of the four sacks the Panthers were able to record against the Hawkeyes.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The on-field leadership of the Panthers. Blame was being placed in a lot of areas for blowing a three-touchdown lead at Iowa. "It's leadership. It's me," said DT Chas Alecxih. "It's on the rest of the seniors. The senior leadership was horrendous, and mainly with me. Just making sure some of the younger guys ... know their stuff." Coach Todd Graham added, speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "I'm proud of how hard our guys played, but close games are won and lost on leadership and it is my responsibility to get those guys and do a better job of coaching them down the stretch so we can win a game like that."
LOOKING GOOD: WR Devin Street became the go-to guy at Iowa, catching seven passes for 138 yards, more than half of QB Tino Sunseri's 255 passing yards. Sunseri had a decent day with 23 of 33 passes completed, but there were a couple of interceptions and three sacks. RB Ray Graham continues to be the motor, carrying 22 times for 97 yards. Pitt's pass rush caused a problem for Iowa, recording four sacks.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Pitt's pass defense came completely apart at Iowa, allowing QB James Vandenberg go off for 399 yards. He led the comeback from a 21-point deficit by completing 17 of his final 20 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns. While Pitt lost only one fumble, the Panthers put the ball on the ground five times and that's too many. The offensive line allowed three sacks and that won't get it done with a quarterback who isn't really mobile.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We took our foot off their throats," he said. "(Iowa) fought to the very end, and we gave it away." -- Pitt senior DT Chas Alecxih, quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, after blowing a 21-point lead at Iowa.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Ray Graham just missed a third consecutive 100-yard rushing game as he finished with 97 yards against Iowa.
--The play of the game involved a little trickery, set up by the attention paid to RB Ray Graham. Pitt handed the ball to Graham to get flow going one way, but the play was a reverse and Graham handed off to WR Ronald Jones. As the defense bit, WR Cameron Saddler came wide open downfield for a 30-yard touchdown.
--G Chris Jacobson was knocked out of the Iowa game with a knee injury. He was replaced by Cory King.
--CB K'Waun Williams suffered an undisclosed injury and left the Iowa game.
--DT Chas Alecxih suffered an ankle injury and, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, said it might have been the result of an Iowa player leaning on it after the whistle blew.