With another chance to make a statement, Pitt's football team fell short again. At home on Saturday, the Panthers fell to No. 5 Notre Dame, 42-30.
That score, of course, wasn't indicative of how much the Panthers were overmatched as the Panthers scored 14 points pretty late after things were decided.
Pitt could have done any number of things to make this game closer. But blaming the team for a loss here due to effort isn't fair. Pitt was outgunned from the beginning and that's going to happen most of the time when you're unranked and facing one of the top teams in the country. Notre Dame has significantly more talent than Pitt and the Panthers really needed to catch some breaks along the way to keep things close.
The big problem was that they didn't get them. Time after time, they just fell short, particularly in the first half where they shot themselves in the foot.
- When Notre Dame fumbled in their own territory, they couldn't recover.
- As in the North Carolina game, we saw Pitt get inside the 10-yard line and have to settle for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown.
- In the second quarter, Dontez Ford nearly hauled in a long pass that was overturned.
- On that same drive, Pitt got close to the red zone, but Nathan Peterman threw a horrible pass into double coverage to Jordan Whitehead of all people, and was intercepted.
- Pitt had two drives late in the second quarter and couldn't score a single point
I wrote about the slow starts earlier this week and we saw that again today as Pitt fell behind 21-3 at halftime. Pitt sort of lucked their way into making the final score respectable with a few Notre Dame errors late, but in general, whenever they needed a big play, they didn't get it. They also continued to win the second half by technically outscoring the Irish (27-21), but giving up 21 in the third and fourth quarters, anytime they scored, Notre Dame usually responded.
I said it earlier, too, in the Q&A with SB Nation's Notre Dame blog, One Foot Down, the Irish just had a lot to play for. It's not that Pitt didn't, but at the end of the day, this wasn't a conference game and the Panthers aren't playing weren't contenders to get into college football's playoff. The Irish are and had their national championship hopes on the line. It showed as they were pretty dominant despite the late score by Pitt.
Other than that, the Panthers secondary had a rough day. We often talk about needing to get pressure up front and that didn't happen. Still, the unit had a very difficult day, led by Avonte Maddox who could do absolutely nothing against Will Fuller. I like Maddox a lot and have praised him quite a bit. But he just had nothing today. Pressure was one thing but Fuller often just ran right by Maddox. Some double teams may have helped, but, well, whatever. The glaring fact here is that Pitt is just hurting for cornerbacks. We can revisit the decision made in the preseason to play Whitehead at safety, but he's also played well there, so I'm sort of at a loss of what the team can do going forward. Pitt is in real need of cornerback help and somehow, they'll have to address that.
Getting back to Whitehead, I'm very excited to see what he can do on offense. He is simply too athletic to keep off the field and while I'm not sure if he's fully a two-way player, I think the decision of the coaches to get him onto the field on offense in some capacity is a great idea. It's also one that could pay off for next year as the Panthers will presumably be without an NFL-bound Tyler Boyd. Now's a great time to get him some experience and try to integrate him into the offense. The direction this goes will be very interesting. If anyone could make the transition to a two-way player, it's him. With somewhere in the neighborhood of ten tackles and two touchdowns, that's a really big day.
There were the missed opportunities but Peterman under center today just had a horrible first half. Several times the offensive line hurt him but he also had problems even when he had time. He couldn't complete several basic passes and while his receivers did have some drops today, he was more bad than good and most passes should have been thrown better. I can't kill him for the interception in the end zone because he's really done a good job of taking care of the ball. But Pitt certainly needed him to be better today. He finished only 12 of 31 passing and that's not enough when you're trying to pull off an upset of this magnitude.
To that point, we've talked a lot about Jim Chaney and some of the questionable decisions. But to be fair to him, this can't be pinned on him. Peterman and the receivers needed to do a better job in the first half and getting that deep in the hole is hardly all on a coordinator that's not on the field.
As a brief aside, Tyler Boyd set the school's all-time record for receiving yardage on a late 51-yard touchdown. We'll have more on this later, but it was a nice spot in an otherwise bleak day.
I can't overestimate enough the need to not jump off bridges here. Pitt had an incredibly difficult matchup and as the North Carolina game proved, the Panthers just need more talent right now. At the end of the day, the team's three losses are to teams that are in the polls and have a combined two losses. We can safely say this isn't a great Pitt team this year, but the future is still a bright one under Pat Narduzzi.
We knew Pitt would be facing a better team today and that they would need a few things to go their way. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they couldn't make the plays to remain competitive.