I picked Pitt to win today's game against Miami. That was about them believing they should actually beat the Hurricanes on the road and more about believing they would earn a split against Miami and Virginia Tech. Lesson learned.
The Panthers went out and were beaten badly by the Hurricanes, falling 51-28 in a pretty ugly game.
Now, it's not as if Pitt was blown away from the start, mind you. They actually led in the second quarter, 21-20, before allowing a touchdown for a 27-21deficit. But it was then that the game came off the rails.
Most of you watched the game, I'm sure, but here's a recap of the awful offensive end to that game in case you needed a reminder:
- Shortly before halftime, quarterback Nathan Peterman hit a wide open Jester Weah straight in the hands for a likely touchdown before the receiver dropped it
- Fumble on first drive of the second half deep in their own territory to allow the Hurricanes to score a quick touchdown
- After a punt and nearing a touchdown inside the Miami five-yard line, Peterman threw an interception
- On the next drive, Chris Blewitt missed a 43-yard field goal
- After a touchdown, Pitt's offense couldn't score any more points the rest of the way out.
We've put a lot on Pitt's defense and rightfully so. Those guys were again not very good today and much of the problem they had was not getting enough pressure on Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya. Even the run defense suffered after the Panthers improbably lost starting defensive tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto on the same play. I still have an incredibly hard time imagining just out fluky that is.
As expected, you put a good quarterback in there against Pitt's secondary, which again allowed big plays, and you get a predictable result. Kaaya threw for 356 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. At this point you just hope the secondary minimizes the damage and shuts down the running game. That didn't happen and with Soto/Jarrett out of the middle, Miami ran for 178 yards, including a particularly ugly (for Pitt, anyway) 55-yard touchdown run late in the game.
But the offense had more than their fair share of mistakes today and wasn't impressive, either. The costly interception, the just-as-costly Henderson fumble to start the second half, the lack of a running game (Conner led the team with 40 yards), the Peterman misses, offensive line penalties, the Weah drop ... the list just went on and on today. Plus, keep in mind that seven of the team's 28 points came on Henderson's electric kickoff return touchdown. Again, just not a great day offensively.
One more thing I wanted to point out that I thought was important. It may not get a lot of publicity today and over the weekend, but I was incredibly disappointed with how Pitt ended the game.
The Panthers punted the ball with 4th and 1 on their own 10-yard line, which I thought was the correct call. At that point, they were down only 13 and the game was still within two scores. If you're able to stop Miami completely or even keep them to a field goal, presumably, you get the ball back with a decent amount of time left and down only 16 points. That was exactly the way it played out and I thought Pat Narduzzi made the correct call there.
What I had a problem with came after that.
Pitt's drive was stalling but still had one more chance with a 4th and 5 with somewhere around three minutes left deep in their own territory. At that point, it's still a two-score game but Pitt decides to punt the ball away.
Now, let's be clear here. It wasn't exactly giving up as it was just a poor decision. Pitt did call the timeouts they had remaining and try to stop Miami. But think about it - the odds of converting a 4th and 5 and scoring two touchdowns have to be significantly higher than getting the ball back with about a minute less and doing the same if the field position is about the same. Perhaps Narduzzi thought the team could force a turnover or get better position than they had, but again, they'd still have less time to work with. Frankly, I didn't get it and thought it was a terrible play call.
Regardless, it was the decision the coaches made so the hope is that they would get the ball back, maybe with better field position, right? Well, that only lasted so far as after Pitt burned its timeouts, Miami rattled off that aforementioned 55-yard touchdown run. The ugly part about that play was the sheer volume of Panthers that could have made a stop there. Several were near him before he broke off and galloped the rest of the way, passing up a few more guys who could have made a play. Granted, after he got the first down, the game was over. But to have so many guys in position to stop him from scoring and come up empty was disappointing to see.
The late-game execution was, like most of the second half, pretty much a disaster.
No, this is not a call to fire Narduzzi. Part of the thing I loathe about sports is that fans think that a coaching change will fix all sorts of problems. Plus, as I said when the Jamie Dixon stuff went down, how many quality coaches do you even think will come to Pitt if you're out there routinely dumping perfectly fine coaches?
I still believe that he is the right guy for the job. The fact of the matter is that he is not even two seasons in and is going to need time to get better talent in for what he needs to defensively. Yes, Pitt could try to give more help in the secondary and yes, there's no excuse for missed tackles, dropped touchdown passes, and errant throws in the second half when Pitt needs to move the ball offensively. All of those things are elementary. But the reality is that Pitt is not only short on talent but banged up to boot at this point.
Narduzzi, I'm convinced, still has this train headed in the right direction. But at the same time, the team needs less efforts like today going forward.