Pittsburgh Football: 5 Biggest Challenges Panthers Face After Historic Defeat

Jake Adams@jakeadams520Contributor IISeptember 3, 2012

Pittsburgh Football: 5 Biggest Challenges Panthers Face After Historic Defeat

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    Well, things don't exactly look rosy for those in the Steel City.

    Things didn't exactly go as planned for coach Paul Chryst in his debut at Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh's stunning 31-17 loss to Youngstown State exposed a lot of problems with the Panthers, especially on defense.

    The Penguins seemed able to move the ball at will throughout the game, and consistently capitalized on mistakes.

    So where does that leave Pittsburgh after Week 1? Who knows. But they have a lot of work to do to right the ship starting Week 2 against Big East rival Cincinnati.

    Here's the Panthers' biggest problems moving forward.

1. Run Defense

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    The Panthers got steamrolled on the ground for 204 yards on 46 carries.

    That's not exactly what you'd expect from a presumably bigger, faster and stronger FBS squad when hosting an FCS team.

    The defenses problems can be traced back to stopping the run, especially when you see that Andre Stubbs averaged 11.8 yards on just six carries.

    Pitt wasn't able to get off the field.

    The coaches are going to have to make changes, whether it's in scheme or personnel. It's still a bit early to tell what the culprit is, but they'll have to shore up the run defense quickly or teams like Temple in the Big East—who just ran over Villanova for 301 yards—who feature the run will be tough to stop.

2. Stopping the Big Play

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    Youngstown State didn't have to pass much, but when it did, boy did it find success.

    Look at the scoring plays for the Penguins. Kurt Hess completed a 27-yarder to Stubbs to open the game and followed that up with another 14-yard TD pass to Will Shaw. Even starting running back Jamaine Cook connected with Shaw for 23 yards in the third to put them up 21-10.

    The third down efficiency numbers continue to show that Pittsburgh just didn't know how to stop the big play when the opposition needed it. Youngstown State was 11-16 on third down and Cook's TD came on a 4th-and-1.

    Somebody in the secondary is going to have to step up, and fast. Whenever Hess wanted to go deep, it seemed like everything went his way.

    And long passes only open up bigger running lanes...

3. Pass Rush

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    Another part of the problem for Pittsburgh's defense was getting to the quarterback.

    While Hess didn't light up the stat sheet with 13 of 23 passing and 154 yards, he definitely had time to scan the field and find the open man, especially downfield.

    Every team knows that one of the easiest ways to stop big passing plays is to get to the quarterback. Apparently Pitt didn't get the memo.

    Again, Pitt should have played bigger and stronger than its opponent and easily pushed its way through to the quarterback, but if it couldn't do that against Youngstown State, how does it plan to against Big East foes?

    The team travels to Cincinnati next week. I guess we'll find out.

4. Sustaining Drives

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    While the offense was far more successful than the Panthers' defense, they weren't entirely without fault, either.

    Pitt lost the turnover battle 2-0 and had trouble pushing the ball down the field when they got into opposing territory.

    The very first drive ended on a fumble in the red zone. Not a good start. Another red zone attempt ended with a field goal and two other drives ended just outside the opposing 20 with a turnover on downs and another fumble.

    Granted, not every drive is going to end in a TD, or points, for that matter. But it's hard to be comfortable with a Big East squad only getting 10 points from inside the opponents 20 and fumbling twice in scoring position.

    That doesn't bode well for the rest of the year, especially as the season gets tougher.

5. Not Quitting on the Rest of the Season

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    Pitt hasn't had stability in the coaching staff for a few years now.

    Fans are having trouble finding a reason to believe in this team.

    The players, however, cannot afford to give up this early. Yes, the season didn't start out as planned, but there's still plenty of season left to right the ship.

    If the Panthers can't string a few wins together, it'll be interesting to see how they take to Chryst the rest of the season.

    Thursday's matchup against Cincinnati will be a good chance for the team to prove its mettle.