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Slow starts a problem for Pitt football

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With a 6-2 record through the team's first eight games, Pitt's football team got off to a fast start to the season. However, the Panthers haven't exactly begun each of those individual contests all that great.

Pitt trailed North Carolina, 20-3 at halftime on Saturday and despite having some opportunities in the first half, came out pretty slow. Head coach Pat Narduzzi talked a little about the slow start this week in particular at his recent press conference on Monday.

"I think we had a little bit more emotion in the second half," the head coach said. "Just as you're watching the game, I'm seeing guys being more emotional in the second half—celebrating more so than the first half, and even though there was nothing to celebrate. I didn't feel like we had the energy and passion we needed to have in the first half. It was the entire team all bottled up."

In regards to only the North Carolina game, Narduzzi actually talked about his dislike for the Thursday night games following a Saturday game. Like most coaches, I imagine, he said he preferred to have a bye week on the preceding Saturday to avoid having such a drastic turnaround. I tend to agree with him, but the flipside is that most of the time, the opposing team is also at that disadvantage. It's not ideal for anybody, really.

The end of the first half in the Tar Heels game was the height of frustration. Pitt concluded the half with four drives gone bad. The first resulted in a long missed field goal, which gave the Tar Heels a short field and three points of their own. Dontez Ford fumbled on the second in Pitt territory, giving the Tar Heels great field position and a touchdown. The Panthers then punted and there was, of course, the epic fail just before halftime where the team didn't manage the clock well and lost an opportunity to put points on the board.

And, obviously, it wasn't only that game, either. The Panthers have had a history this season of getting out to slow starts:

  • They trailed Syracuse 17-13 at halftime before winning on a last-second field goal
  • They trailed Georgia Tech 21-14 in the second quarter before winning on a last-second field goal
  • They trailed Iowa 10-0 early before losing 27-24
  • They led Akron only 10-7 at halftime before pulling away in the second half
I've said this before, but while the fourth quarter energy boost is great, Pitt sort of shoots itself in the collective foot by not starting games a little better. That was particularly evident against North Carolina on Saturday. Pitt won the second half 16-6, but by then it was too late because the hole was too deep. It gets very hard to defeat a Top 25 caliber team when you're down by 17 points at halftime.

I suspect Pitt will continue to be able to outplay opponents in the second half because they've done it all season. Whatever they are doing, the coaches seem to make incredible halftime adjustments to get the team on the right track. Only once all year have the Panthers lost the scoring battle after halftime - to Youngstown State. The problem is, though, that the competition they faced through much of the season has been lackluster.

Pitt may have been able to get away with slow starts against the weaker teams on their schedules. But we'll see if that holds true as the schedule continues to get more difficult.
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