For once, Pitt didn't dominate their opponent in the second half. Fortunately, they did that in the first two quarters on their way to a 45-34 win over Louisville.
The Panthers put together an impressive offensive display in the first half, which included four touchdown passes by quarterback Nathan Peterman. Pitt led 42-24 at halftime and save for a Hail Mary touchdown pass by Louisville at the end of the half, was cruising. The Cardinals however stormed back and Pitt's offense went stagnant. Including that late touchdown pass, Louisville would score 17 unanswered points. Fortunately, the Panthers put together a solid drive and got a field goal out of it to push the lead back to 11, which would be the final margin.
Defensively, the Panthers did fine in the second half. To give up only ten points there really wasn't a bad job and when you consider that the offense virtually disappeared and more pressure was on them to perform, you've got to be pleased with what they did.
The big question will be what happened to the Pitt offense in the last two quarters. But what I don't want to happen is for us to forget how effective they were in the first half. The offense ran incredibly smoothly and we saw a great run/pass balance. It was nice, too, to see quarterback Nathan Peterman break out and just be very accurate and throw for a ton of yards. We also saw Tyler Boyd, Jordan Whitehead and company in there again on some unique plays and there was very little that didn't work early in the game. The second half offense, as I'll get to in a second, had some problems. But those guys played very well in the first two quarters and that shouldn't be forgotten.
As to the second half struggles, I think it can be attributed to a few things.
For one, Nathan Peterman is just streaky sometimes. He had an unreal first half, but that was balanced out in the second. He missed some open receivers and just couldn't make the throws he did in the first half. Overall, Peterman has done a nice job this year but there's no question that he misses throws sometimes. He was 15-20 in the first two quarters but only 7-14 in the second half. He just flat out missed a few throws that would have been big and that can be the difference between keeping drives alive and scoring touchdowns as opposed to having to punt.
I also think Louisville's defense just showed up in the second half a bit more. As I wrote in the preview, that's clearly the strength of their team and the halftime adjustments they made seemed to work as well. While it didn't help them win the game, one key series they had was against Pitt in the fourth quarter when the Panthers were inside the five. Louisville had an impressive stand in keeping the Panthers out of the end zone there and they were just playing a bit better. I don't know that they did everything right on defense - they were helped by Peterman being a little more inaccurate and missing some open receivers. But there's no question that they were better in the second half.
The other thing is a problem area that I've mentioned before - I think Pitt got away a little from the run and was evident if you look at the first five drives.
Pitt had only one rushing attempt in the first two drives combined. Equally frustrating was what happened on the third drive. The Panthers actually got back to the run and were moving the ball. They picked up 42 yards on seven carries and seven of the first eight plays were running plays. But facing a 2nd and eight, they went back to the air and threw two incomplete passes, forcing a punt. Drive 4 included a first-down rush resulting in two yards, but then two passes and another three and out. The fifth drive was again a one-rush drive and another three and out.
Every down, of course, can't be a rushing attempt. In addition, Peterman had a lot of success in the first half passing the ball, so I didn't have a huge problem with the pass-heavy attack. But it just goes to show that Pitt really can't afford to get away from the running game. They relied a little too much on Peterman in the second half and as we saw, that didn't work out.
Pitt's two drives in the second half that went anywhere both included a heavy dose of running the ball. The Panthers shouldn't lose sight of that.
Individually, several guys had monster games. Ollison had 152 rushing yards and a touchdown. Boyd had 153 yards combined receiving and running with 11 catches and a touchdown. Even Peterman who was slowed dramatically in the second half had 232 passing yards and the four aforementioned touchdown passes. They may have all been trumped defensively by Ejuan Price, who had ten tackles, and an unreal five sacks and six and a half tackles for losses.
Sticking with individuals, one player I remain a bit concerned about is cornerback Avonte Maddox. To be fair, I think Maddox makes plays. He had an interception return for a touchdown today the pick was his third of the season. He's also knocked down his fair share of passes so to say he isn't contributing just isn't true. However, his height (a listed 5'9") continues to be an issue. Even when he's in position, he can give up long pass plays that are jump balls. We saw that today and he also gave up the end of half touchdown. I don't pin that one all on him and I wonder why there weren't more defenders back in that scenario, but the fact remains that he can give up big plays in a heartbeat. When you add things like the foolish penalty in slamming a receiver down out of bounds, he's arguably the most up and down player on the team.
The problem, as we've said before, is that Pitt is just very thin at cornerback. There aren't many options and with Lafayette Pitts graduating next year, they're even thinner in 2016. It just means they really need to continue to recruit there and develop some of the guys currently on the team.
The second half was shaky, but Pat Narduzzi continues to keep this thing going. We've talked about this before, but these are the kind of games we've seen the Panthers lose in the past. Most recently, see the collapse against Houston in last year's bowl game. You hate to see a game that was a blowout wind up so close, but it's also really encouraging to see Pitt find ways to win games instead of lose them.
With eight regular season wins, the team is now two games better than any Pitt squad since 2010. And with a beatable Miami team at home, a ten-win season is still in the cards. Eight wins for most this year would have been considered a success, but the best way for Narduzzi to keep the momentum going is to pull another win, or even two, out of his hat. You hate to keep asking more of him and this team, but the fact is that the more they win, the more you want as a fan.
And having high expectations isn't exactly the worst thing in the world.