Pitt figured to have a difficult time with No. 13 UCF today and by the end of the game, things went even worse than expected. The Panthers were demolished in what was a no contest, really, losing 45-14.
This is one of those games where you’re not getting much analysis from me. I’m sure other sites will have plenty on the breakdowns and a closer look at what happened. But honestly, there’s little point in closely rehashing what was a pretty big disaster. The tl;dr here is that Pitt is not very good and UCF is a great team. That seems overly simplistic but, there’s really not much more to it, folks.
I was really frustrated at how Pitt started the game. You can take getting beaten by a better team, which UCF clearly is. But the Panthers didn’t even give themselves a chance early with some really dumb penalties. Pitt had six of them in the first quarter alone, including a crucial one when they got a 3rd and long stop. The penalty wasn’t for holding or something of substance. No, Pitt was penalized, as they have been earlier this year, for an illegal substitution. UCF got another crack, hit a deep pass, and tacked on a touchdown.
You’ve got to play a great game if you expect to win here and if you’re having issues with penalties, you might as well not even show up. The Panthers had 11 of them for 125 yards and you don’t need me to tell you that’s far too many.
It only got uglier from there and anytime Pitt got even a bit of momentum, something happened. A glaring example was that Damar Hamlin had an interception and a long return just before halftime called back on an admittedly weak roughing the passer call. UCF tacked on three more points and instead of going into the half down 28-14, Pitt found themselves trailing, 31-7. Still, I’m not getting too caught up in that. The announcers were incredibly gracious to Pitt talking about ‘a play here, a play there’ but while the Panthers may have been able to keep it closer, they were not competitive here. At all. The result, save for a few points on the scoreboard, was not going to be any different.
Pitt had seven points through three quarters but those weren’t even the result of the offense as they came on special teams from a Rafael Araujo-Lopes 85-yard punt return. The offense was legitimately MIA all day and scored a garbage time touchdown on a nice shovel catch and run by Maurice Ffrench. I think we’re getting the point where Kenny Pickett is going to be questioned more and more. He was not real good today, going 16-26 for 163 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Even Pickett’s numbers were inflated as his only touchdown and about 65 yards came on that Ffrench score, which was basically a running play. The passing game was largely non-existent.
It’s clear that he’s not doing enough for the team to win right now. He’s not yet thrown for even 200 yards once this year and has a pick in every game except one - a loss to North Carolina. That’s not to say he can’t be the long-term solution or that he’s been terrible. Or, certainly not that he’s never going to be any good. I know some hasty fans will rush to that side of it and want to jettison him from the roster. But, and I say it every game, he’s a guy with very little experience. He’s played only a little more than half a season at this point and very few quarterbacks have it figured out that soon.
That’s not necessarily a call to bench him. I think getting trigger happy with benching quarterbacks is an easy way to lose a team and what Pickett really needs is more playing time. But it’s also not something that is completely out of the question if the offense continues to remain stagnant and I don’t think a lot of fans envisioned him making such a small impact. But as I cautioned on more than one occasion in the offseason, he’s still got a lot to prove.
While I didn’t expect Pitt to win here or even keep up with UCF, I was surprised they couldn’t muster more offense. Heck, UConn scored 17 against them. Even FAU scored 36. I figured the Panthers would be good for at least three of our touchdowns and to finish with seven offensive points is just horrendous.
I know a lot of fans will be inclined to give up on this season and there’s no way I’m going to try to talk folks out of that. It’s too tough a sell and that’s the job of the athletics department, not me. But I also think that, looking at the schedule, you could have seen a 2-3 start as a realistic possibility with losses to UCF and Penn State, as well as possibly one to GT or UNC. This is not a good start but one that was entirely reasonable given the circumstances.
The issue here is how Pitt has looked. Blowout against Penn State. Blowout today. Loss to what looks like a very bad North Carolina team. 2-3 may have been a reasonable outcome but I don’t think most fans figured they’d have looked as badly as they have in some of these.
The Pat Narduzzi hot seat, whatever level you think it could be at this point, has to get a little warmer. Again, you don’t expect Pitt win these games. But what you expect is for the team to be more competent and not be blown out by more than four touchdowns. The ugly losses are piling up for Narduzzi now and that’s the type of stuff that gets fans angry. I think Narduzzi should almost certainly get another year but if he does, that seat is probably going to be blazing hot by the beginning of next season just because of how some of these losses have looked.
Things don’t get much easier, either. Next up? Upstart Syracuse. Then a game against top ten Notre Dame. After that, you’ve got Duke, who is newly ranked at No. 22. Games against Wake and Virginia look winnable, I suppose, but then you’ve also got Virginia Tech and Miami.
Add it all up and, given how Pitt has looked so far, the Panthers could be looking at a pretty bad year.