I really hate to take the focus off of the defense in Pitt's bad loss on Saturday against Iowa - mostly because after looking dominant for a half, they did a 180 in allowing the Hawkeyes to not only catch up, but ultimately win. To not give some blame to the offense, however, would be unfair.
Coming into the game, Pitt's offense had scored at least a touchdown and no fewer points than ten in a half. They kept that streak alive in the first half of Saturday's contest, scoring 17 points, but fell off the face of the earth in the second, scoring only three as Iowa went on a 17-3 run to win.
Pitt had the same number of drives in the second half as they did in the first (four), excluding the desperation drive in the game's final 25 seconds - so what gives?
Mostly, Iowa's defense just was more active. After the game, James Conner said that he didn't notice anything different they were doing and Pat Bostick said Iowa didn't change anything schematically. But they were more aggressive and just seemed like they had more fire after that first half.
That said, I really wanted to take a closer look at the team's second-half possessions. What I found was that it all came down to a few key plays that didn't go Pitt's way.
Pitt got the ball to start the third quarter and immediately, it seemed like things would go the same way they did in the first half. James Conner broke out a 24-yard run to start things off and Pitt added another first down. The Panthers really should have a shot at a field goal here with a first down and getting down to the 39-yard line, but Conner and James both had no running room and an incomplete Voytik pass meant a punt. A few more yards could have resulted in a field goal, but Pitt had to instead punt it away. That's big because instead of needing a touchdown at the end of the game, Pitt may have just needed a field goal if they could have scored some early points.
On the next drive after an Iowa TD, Pitt caught a break with a weak personal foul penalty against Iowa. But again, it was a case of a few yards making potentially a big difference. Pitt had a first down at Iowa's 19-yard line, but suffered a false start penalty, backing them up five yards. In addition, on 3rd and long, Chad Voytik's throw to Ronald Jones just didn't have enough zip on it and what should have been a first down meant Jones finished a couple of yards short as defenders closed in. Pitt had a good chance at a touchdown, but again, a couple of yards forced them to settle for a field goal.
After a 52-yard field goal by Iowa, Pitt had a three and out, 'led' by a holding penalty that backed them up ten yards and made it hard to get anything going. No rest for the defense, who then went right back on the field for Iowa's go-ahead touchdown drive.
Pitt's final drive, as did the three before them, was flawed as well. Pitt made plays to get the ball down the field, but needing a touchdown, was really in some trouble. The ideal scenario there is that the running game can take over and drive the length of the field, running out the clock. But Iowa's defense was better and the running game was held in check. Five runs by James Conner (and one Tyler Boyd run) resulted in only 12 yards and Pitt was forced to move the ball through the air. They were able to do that, but Iowa's DBs made some plays at the end, twice denying the ball to Tyler Boyd. Outside of a desperation drive in the last 25 seconds, the game was over.
You can say this about every close game, but it seemed particularly true on Saturday. A few more yards and the result could have been different for Pitt - it really was that close.