Outmanned. Outgunned. Pick a verb, any verb you like. Just make sure it’s one that adequately describes Pitt as flat out not having enough firepower tonight.
The Panthers lost the ACC Championship to a terrific Clemson team, 42-10. That wasn’t unexpected, folks. Pitt was a big underdog here and most were expecting a blowout. It might be somewhat disappointing but few gave the Panthers little chance of keeping it competitive, let alone winning.
It, of course, was not competitive. Despite an error-filled start (seems like we’ve heard that before), Pitt managed to not let this game go the way of the Penn State or UCF games and kept things relatively close for a half. Well, almost a half.
Trailing by ‘only’ 11 and the first half coming to a close, Pitt decided to try to pick up some points. That was despite having poor field position buried in Clemson territory, not being able to pass, and even getting the ball to start the third quarter. It wasn’t the worst decision in the world, despite me laying it out as such. But quarterback Kenny Pickett threw a terrible pass that was intercepted and Clemson added a touchdown to go up 28-10. That effectively ended the game.
I said as much in the gamethread but if you’re Pickett there, you can’t throw that ball. The only passes you make with under a minute left are incredibly safe ones. Otherwise, go into the half thanking God that you’re only down 11. Just too many mistakes tonight and that was arguably the biggest one.
Pickett, in general, had the worst game of his career. He was repeatedly harassed by the defense and finished with only 4-16 for eight (not 80, indeed, I mean eight) yards. I don’t put all of that on Pickett, obviously. Pitt’s offensive line was clearly overmatched. But at this point, there will continue to be questions about his ability.
Maybe he is the guy. After all, he’s played pretty mistake-free football this season, with only six interceptions (against 12 touchdowns). But his inability to make plays with his arm has been a problem, too. Take this game out of the equation, even. Pickett has had only a single game of passing more than 200 yards all year long. 137 against Syracuse. 126 against Notre Dame. 61 against Virginia. 55 against Penn State. Forget 200 yards. In seven of Pitt’s 13 games, he’s not even had 150. If Pickett is indeed the guy, Pitt will need to find other ways to win and, as of now, anyway, can really expect only a game manager role out of him. The 316-yard output against Wake Forest a few weeks ago is very clearly the exception and not the rule. Pickett struggles with the short ball, struggles with the long ball, and he’s mostly been underwhelming this season.
I say that, by the way, as someone who generally likes the kid. He made a gutsy run taking on a Clemson defender head on in an effort to pick up a first down. He’s done that plenty of other times, too. But that’s simply not enough. A quarterback has to adequately throw the ball to keep defenses honest and there’s not been enough of that this year.
Keep in mind. That is with the presence of a running game that has been borderline incredible. Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall had nearly 2,100 yards combined coming into this game. Typically, that forces teams to respect the run and opens up the passing game. But that’s happened very little this year. Not turning the ball over is admirable and Pickett has done a good job of keeping Pitt in games. But that said, when you’re trying to get to the next level, it’s also not really enough.
Pickett wasn’t the only dud for Pitt. The Panthers again had a slew of penalties — eight of them, to be exact.
There was one sequence of a false start, delay of game, followed by a timeout, followed by a false start. And after the opening kickoff of the third quarter, Pitt was forced to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. I mean, that sort of stuff is just inexcusable. This isn’t Pop Warner. Get it together. Season opener? Okay, maybe you get bizarre stuff like that. But when you’re doing it in championship games it’s kind of ridiculous and the coaches, as they should have been in other games where Pitt has been heavily penalized, should just be kind of embarrassed.
Defensively, it was what it was. I honestly thought Pitt did a decent job on that side of the ball for almost three quarters. But Dennis Briggs bit on a juke by a receiver and got burned for a long pass play just before the end of the third. Clemson added two touchdowns after that. Again, you’ve got to do it for four quarters.
On defense, Pitt had done a decent job for about three quarters, really. They gave up the touchdown just before the half but on a ridiculously short field. And then, you get the long pass play just before the end of the third. Another one of Clemson’s early touchdowns also came on a very short field as Pickett fumbled the ball deep in Pitt territory. By and large, they did some nice things, but still work to be done there for sure. Clemson ran for 301 yards and that’s just too many.
Rough game. I don’t think many of us expected Pitt to win but you also wanted a closer outcome than this. The Panthers will now wait to see what their bowl fate is and, with two straight losses, are certainly not as attractive an option as they were a few weeks ago.
The story on the season is not yet written. But with two straight losses by a total of 53 points, it’s safe to say that the Panthers are backing into a bowl matchup here.