In the professional wrestling world, there's an amusing little saying called LOLCenaWins. The idea, really, is that WWE superstar John Cena wins every single match, thus making the outcomes wildly predictable. Cena, of course, doesn't win all the time but it just seems that way.
Boys and girls, I give you the college football version of LOLCenaWins - the Pitt Panthers.
Pitt's 40-35 loss to North Carolina on Saturday was about as predictable as it gets when you think about it. Sure, the Panthers raced out to a nice little 14-0 lead, but then the cracks began to show just as they have all season. The mirage of the Panthers coming out with a victory lasted most of the game, but for most of us, it was a matter of when, not if the Panthers would eventually slip up.
Pitt has now lost six of their past seven games - a streak not equaled since 1998 when the team's only two wins that year were against Akron (how's that for irony?) and I-AA Villanova. Pitt, quite simply, can not be expected to win the majority of its games. A win against Syracuse is possible ... likely, even. But beyond beating the 3-4 weakest teams on the schedule, to expect a Panthers win these days just isn't all that realistic. Not because they're incapable of winning mind you - Pitt could have easily won against Duke and North Carolina, after all. Rather, it's because the team simply finds new ways to lose every week.
This week, the team's biggest problem all day was arguably stopping the Tar Heels on third down.
With the chance to take an important three-score advantage, the Panthers had a field goal attempt blocked. On the ensuing drive, converted 3rd and 16 (yes, 16) and 3rd and 10 plays led to a North Carolina touchdown. I don't want to play spoiler alert here for Chris' Turning Point of the Game tomorrow, but that could certainly be a candidate. Instead of a 17-0 lead, Pitt all of a sudden, held only a seven-point advantage.
Pitt went on to score again on a Chad Voytik-Tyler Boyd 50-yard touchdown catch, but 3rd down was again a problem for the Panthers. On the next North Carolina drive, the Tar Heels converted an improbable five consecutive 3rd down plays to score another touchdown.
Fast forward to late in the third quarter where Pitt had a slim 28-26 advantage. After punting, North Carolina converted another 3rd down play and also a 4th and 1 to score and take the go-ahead lead that they wouldn't relinquish. James Conner scored his fourth touchdown later in the quarter to put Pitt up 35-34 to give our younger Pitt fans (you know, the ones lacking any real history of Pitt's traditional botching of games) some hope. But none of us cagey veterans really figured that would hold up.
North Carolina predictably scored a touchdown and did so behind more help from Pitt's defense on third down. The Tar Heels converted a 3rd and 10 and after just falling short on 3rd and 8, a 4th and 2, scoring the game-winning touchdown shortly thereafter.
Saying you feel sorry for James Conner is like a broken record. Conner registered 30 carries for 220 yards and four touchdowns, and was again Pitt's best player. He won't realistically win the Heisman because his team isn't very good and barring some miracle, won't even make a bowl game. But when you consider the fact that Pitt doesn't have much of a passing attack, and that teams are lining up to stop him, know he's getting the ball, and still can do nothing about it, I'm not easily convinced he's not the best player in the country.
One more thing that stuck out to me was more questionable work out of Paul Chryst. You won't hear about it this week since it wasn't a factor in the game, but on Pitt's last scoring drive, Chryst made about as big of a head-scratching decision as you'll see. Conner had been a workhorse all day, but the head coach inexplicably removed him on both 2nd and 3rd down in place of Isaac Bennett. Bennett (and this is our key word of the day here) predictably fell short and Conner was brought in on 4th down to move the sticks.
We all understand Conner is tired and needs a rest. Guess what, though? When you need a touchdown in the fourth quarter, that's not the time for that. Chryst made an equally questionable call in the Duke game in overtime, sitting Conner to rest.
Had Conner been stuffed on that 4th down attempt, Chryst never would have heard the end of it. Why the nation's leading rusher isn't in there in the most dire of circumstances for the team was beyond me. Things, as I said, worked out, but that was in spite of what Chryst did - not because of it. My biggest problem with Chryst (who I've defended quite a bit) is that three years in, he still makes decisions that make you scratch your head. There's no defensible reason that one of the best runners in school history was left twiddling his thumbs on the bench with the game on the line. None.
In the end, though, it was another loss on another Sunday. And with six losses in the past seven games now, a Pitt loss is far more the rule than the exception.
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