Pitt Experiences Two Different Seasons
Dec. 17, 2001
By Tony Haynes
Nothing at Disney World could possibly match the roller-coaster ride that the University of Pittsburgh football team experienced this season. Back in mid-October, if you would have told coach Walt Harris that his Panthers would be playing NC State in the December 20th Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl, he would have called security and ask that they bring a straight jacket with them just in case.
After posting an impressive 31-0 victory over East Tennessee State in its opener, Pitt would go on to drop five consecutive games, including a humiliating 45-7 defeat at Boston College. There was also an embarrassing 35-26 home loss to South Florida that started the downslide in week two.
By mid-season, Harris, his players and his entire program were the victims of unmerciful attacks from the local press. On talk radio, the venom being spewed by callers was nearly as frightening as the dialogue heard in the recently release Osama bin Laden video.
"To say it didn't bother me, I wouldn't be telling the truth," Harris told the Tribune Review. "I'm as human as the next guy. But I've become tougher-minded. I've become more mature. And what I mean by that is that I now have a better understanding of what this is all about. You either win or else. It doesn't matter what kind of person you are, nothing else matters. It only matters that you win."
The winning started with a 33-7 romp over Temple in week seven. Scrapping the no-huddle offense that produced more headaches than touchdowns in the first six games, Harris went back to a more traditional approach that put more of a premium on the running game.
After whipping Temple, the Panthers came of age when they drilled highly ranked Virginia Tech on Nov. 3, 38-7.
"When you look at the statistics of that game," said NC State head coach Chuck Amato, "they're even more in favor of Pitt than what the final score was."
He's right. The Panthers racked up 393 yards in total offense compared to the Hokies' 151. Pittsburgh held Virginia Tech to just 15 yards rushing on 25 attempts.
Not only did Pitt win its last five games, it did so in dominant fashion, outscoring its opponents 160-37. The turnaround was incredibly dramatic as the Panthers authored "A Tale of Two Seasons."
A defense that yielded an average of 31.5 points in the first six games gave up only 7.4 points over the last five. Pitt finished the year with 38 sacks, 25 of which came after week six. By the end of the year, the Panthers ranked sixth in the nation in passing defense (165.5 avg.) and seventh in total defense (284.6).
On offense, Pitt put up an average of 32 points over its last five games, almost doubling its output for the first six games of the season. And after turning the ball over 17 times during its 1-5 start, the Panthers gave the football up on eight times the last five weeks.
By season's end, Pitt had become one of the most impressive 6-5 teams college football has seen in a long time. Certainly more impressive than anything at Disney World.