Against Iowa, it was a 57-yard field goal that helped cost Pitt a game. On Saturday, one of nearly the same distance won it for the team.
Behind a 56-yard field goal from Chris Blewitt, the Panthers dropped Georgia Tech, 31-28 to move to 3-0 in the ACC and 5-1 overall. There's lots to digest here, so let's get to it.
First things first - thanks to those that came out to the game watch today at Cupka's. It was a great time if you happened to be there and the feeling of the ball going through the uprights among a crowded venue is much better than at home on your couch. And also thanks to Cupka's for welcoming us with open arms. We'll definitely be doing more of these.
To the game, I tried to wrap my head around a theme on my way home. No particular one stood out, though. The entire thing was incredible and as JD and I briefly shared, it was so un-Pitt-like The Panthers didn't come out and immediately take themselves out of the game as they did last season against Georgia Tech. While the defense started slow and out of sync, they eventually figured things out and whatever the adjustments were that were made at halftime worked tremendously. And, of course at the end, they made a big play to win a game rather than giving one up.
Tyler Boyd was, as always, incredible. I missed his first touchdown grab live, but between that and the second one, you saw a really big game from him - far bigger than the eight catches for 68 yards will show. There was also the key fourth-down catch that he made on the Panthers' last drive. Nathan Peterman delivered the ball well and if he doesn't come down with that, the Yellow Jackets would again have given themselves great field position. And let's not forget about the trick play that resulted in Boyd nearly throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass. Somewhat off balance and taking a big hit afterwards, Boyd completed a pass to Zach Challingsworth that was almost a touchdown. He didn't do great work in the return game, fumbling a ball that was fortunately recovered by Pitt, but he again continued to show why he's an otherworldly receiver.
Defensively, Pitt didn't shut down Georgia Tech ... but they mostly did in the second half. As I said earlier, the adjustments made worked very well and the Yellow Jackets had a much harder time of things, scoring only seven second-half points. They also caused two turnovers (three if you count the blatant missed fumble that for some reason went unreviewed late in the game) and really settled down. Part of it was probably tweaks made at halftime, but I'm sure that part of it probably came from just seeing that offense in the first half and getting a little used to what they were going to do.
And, hey, also deserving a lot of credit is punter Ryan Winslow. Winslow hasn't had a great season overall, but he was huge in this game. All four of his punts were inside the 20 and he did a terrific job of helping to handicap the Georgia Tech offense. Too many times, we gloss over the special teams. That shouldn't be the case here - really solid job today from Winslow.
Then there's the hero.
Chris Blewitt has been a really up and down kicker. He's only five of eight on the year and through his first two seasons, has been right around the 75% mark. He's been good at times, but as we saw last year with the Duke flub, has had some issues.
Through it all, though, the thing that can't be ignored is his ability to make long kicks. Blewitt has struggled at times, but has also sufficiently made kicks beyond 45 yards and is now 2-2 from beyond 50 (his other one was a 52-yarder against Houston) in last year's bowl nightmare. He's not automatic but if there's one thing we've seen from him, it's the leg to make a longer kick. Winning the game had to be a nice piece of redemption for him after some of the misses he's had since the Duke game last season.
Just as big as the Blewitt storyline, of course, was head coach Pat Narduzzi's decision to even attempt the kick. Looking back, it was an incredibly risky move and one that I wasn't all that in favor of. The defense had performed well in the second half and a miss there gives them very good field position near the middle of the field. The only way that play makes any sense at all is if Narduzzi really, really (really) believes that his kicker is going to come through there. And with a 56-yard yarder (which, by the way, was a school record) on the road, man - that's some kind of call.
But any good head coach is going to take some chances - and Narduzzi's paid off. Just a really gutsy call and beyond that, he's just a gutsy head coach. Through Todd Graham and Paul Chryst, this is the kind of guy that Pitt fans have wanted for a while. I have no idea if Narduzzi will pan out as a head coach, but six games in, it's hard to feel like he won't. And at the very least, I think Pitt has a guy that is going to go out there and actively look to win games rather than just staying in them.
The whole Same Old Pitt narrative is a little tiresome to listen to and it really hasn't fit this team at all this year. But we're also starting to see that label shed. Think about what we've seen so far this year. The Panthers, to date, have won the games they were supposed to and didn't have the surprising non-conference loss. Sure, there was the Iowa game, but that was more a product of a team making a jaw-dropping play at the end. Pitt had a test on the road against Virginia Tech and passed that. They avoided a letdown to Virginia at home last weekend. They went out and grabbed another big road win today.
This just feels different.
About the Yellow Jackets, say what you will about their 2-5 record. But as I said coming in, they've had a very difficult schedule with the likes of Notre Dame, Clemson, and one-loss North Carolina and Duke teams. That is a team that is not as bad as its record would indicate.
Looking ahead, Pitt finds itself in all kinds of good shape. The Panthers are in for yet another road game next week, but it's against a beatable Syracuse team and they have a real chance to get to 6-1.
Pitt has been due for a win like this for a while. Sure, the Panthers have taken down better teams. But many of those have come in the middle or later in a season when hope has sort of dried up. Two years ago, they defeated a ranked Notre Dame team - but that only got to them to 5-4. The year before that, they defeated a Top 15 Virginia Tech team - but that was after an 0-2 start. Later in that same season, they beat a No. 18 Rutgers team - but that took them to 5-6. The year before that, they defeated a Top 20 South Florida team - but that made them only 3-2.
Big wins for Pitt have recently come at inopportune times after the life has been sucked out of fans.
Again, Georgia Tech isn't ranked but it's a quality win that comes at a time when the team is really on a roll, unlike those past years.
Things are looking up, friends. Way up, actually.