Taking the pulse of the team and the game on the morning after.
Walter Stewart’s achievement probably didn’t go unnoticed by many, but he still gets the award for unsung hero because of the little contributions he made that, in the end, made all the difference for the Bearcats. Stewart finished the game with 5 tackles, one of which was for a loss. He also finished with 2 pass breakups and a forced the fumble that sparked the Bearcat’s third quarter rally. It’s safe to say that, without Walter Stewart, the Bearcats walk away without a win.
For the third consecutive Big East game, Cincinnati came from behind to win. This time, the Bearcats overcame a 10-point third-quarter deficit to beat Pitt 26-23 and remain in first place in the league standings. At 7-1 and 3-0 in the Big East, the Bearcats are the team everybody is chasing. They could even afford to lose a game and still win the Big East because they already beat the only other team with a loss -- Louisville.
Yet Cincinnati rallied doing what it’s done all season: Forcing opponents into careless turnovers and turning them into points. Pitt led by a touchdown late in the third quarter when Sunseri appeared to scramble for a first down. The ball popped out, however, and the Bearcats recovered at the Pitt 27. Cincinnati needed just three plays to tie it at 23, with Collaros plunging over from 3 yards out for his second touchdown of the game.
J.K. Schaffer is probably going to be named the Big East defensive player of the week, but Walter Stewart had as big an impact on this game as anyone.
Pittsburgh entered Saturday night's game leading the nation with 36 sacks allowed. In the second half, protection for quarterback Tino Sunseri evaporated and the Bearcats pass rush kept the Panthers' offense out of sync and off rhythm. Even in Week 10, the talented offensive line is still struggling with the new offensive scheme. Pittsburgh's offensive inefficiencies in the second half gave Cincinnati enough opportunities to to climb back into the game. Credit the Bearcats defense for stepping up the pressure and allowing Cincinnati to remain undefeated in conference play.
I thought UC's advantage up front would come to bear much earlier in the game. Pitts O-Line played great for about a half, but they were dominated in the second half.
It was hard to watch. Not the first 34 minutes of the game. At that point, Pitt led, 23-13, and looked as if it was going to win easily. Its defense was the best unit on the field, turning in the biggest play -- an interception and 39-yard return to the Cincinnati 4 by linebacker Todd Thomas in the second quarter. Its offense had scored on five of its first six possessions, the final time early in the third quarter on a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tino Sunseri to H-back Hubie Graham. It didn't commit a penalty or a turnover.
"Turnovers," Sunseri said when asked how Cincinnati seized the momentum. "[My fumble] is when the tide really started to turn on us. You can't have turnovers at your own 30, especially against an offense like Cincinnati's, where they are high-powered and can score a lot of points. "I have to make sure that I play turnover-free."
Miliano said he had a terrible week of practice and wondered if he would even kick against Pitt after missing eight of nine kicks from 40 yards on Tuesday.
One thing that really hurt was that Cincinnati did what UConn didn't - they took away Pitt's short pass. There were several times when Pitt was able to turn a short pass into a nice gain, but the Bearcats defense also stopped the play several times for short or no gains. I think that, maybe more than anything, was the big reason for the lack of offensive consistency in the second half. As I wrote in the post-game report over at SB Nation Pittsburgh, despite playing from behind for a big chunk of the half and throwing the ball often, Sunseri threw for only 94 yards in the second half.
The combination of the pass rush cranking up and the DB's playing the short stuff really shut Pitt down in the second half.