Whee! Pitt surprises with comeback ... doesn't surprise with special teams disaster

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

"If I felt for a second we were shortchanging it, if we weren't looking at it, especially in times like this, you have more power. I've been on staffs where you have one special teams guy and when they struggle it's all on him, whereas we have a bunch of guys. I'm not saying we have the best way, because we have to be better there, so as coaches you tell yourself that you have to be better. I don't question that part of it right now. The punt return, we have to do a better job on the operation, and when covering kicks, the ball has to get up in the air a little bit more. Then we have to make tackles when we have the chance to. We just have to keep working at it, but I'm not worried about the way they're getting coached."

Paul Chryst after Duke game

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A guy walks into a bar ... sorry, wrong line.

Mediocre Pitt team overachieves to defeat ranked team then promptly comes out and lays an egg. Oh, you have? Never mind.

Pitt, predictably as predictability goes, came out and laid an egg against the Tar Heels. Falling behind 27-3, there didn't appear to be much reason to watch the rest of the game. The unexpected happened, though, as the Panthers somehow found a way to tie it up (Sure, I'm skipping ahead quite a bit, but does it really matter?).

What happened after that, however, wasn't something we haven't seen before. A special teams meltdown led to a North Carolina punt return for a score late in the game. Drive home safely.

That quote above was Chryst's attempt after the Duke game to explain that everything was fine in regards to the coaching of special teams. For the record, Pitt doesn't appear to have a special teams leader as they do at other positions - instead, relying on an assistant to handle to duties, presumably with the help of Chryst or other coaches.

Yeah, it's complicated.

It's been said over and over, but hey, why not again? The fact that Pitt doesn't believe special teams is important enough is the joke to end all jokes. The Panthers have failed on all phases in that area this year from blocked kicks to short kickoffs to botched punts to allowing long returns. The special teams have been nothing short of a disaster for the most part this season and it's the irony of ironies that the pesky 1/3 of a game again cost Pitt dearly.

For something that's worth so much (particularly when you ask any coach), it's curious why so little emphasis is placed on giving the unit a true leader. That won't likely change this year, but if Chryst isn't taking a long, hard look at bringing in a head guy for that unit, it would reek of utter foolishness.

Credit has to be given, of course, for the comeback. And some late turnovers forced by Ray Vinopal (who suddenly is turning into a playmaker, by the way) and Malcolm Crockett gave Pitt a chance to win a game they didn't have any business winning after falling behind by 24. Credit also should be given to Tom Savage who helped get Pitt into the end zone while clearly not at 100% after his knee injury. But my bigger issue is with the way the team played early.

Pitt came out looking good offensively, but after a long drive, had to settle for a field goal. After stopping the Tar Heels' offense, Pitt again had a chance to score until Tom Savage fumbled the ball away. Instead of being up 10-0 or even 14-0, a 3-0 lead was all the Panthers had to show for some nice drives and a defensive stop.

You can get away with that against weaker teams, but not the better ones and North Carolina made them pay.

And just like that, we're all left with wondering what could have been.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and manager/editor of Cardiac Hill @AnsonWhaley

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