Pitt offense sputters again in defeat
ATLANTA — Pitt couldn't protect its quarterback, run the football or make big plays on defense at crucial moments Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
But the real shame of the Panthers' 21-10 loss to Georgia Tech — their second in a row and third in the past four games — was how defensive tackle Aaron Donald's epic performance was wasted.
Donald, a senior All-American candidate, recorded six tackles for a loss — about 10 percent of Georgia Tech's snaps — while trying to rally his team from a 14-3 halftime deficit. He finished the game with 11 tackles and two forced fumbles.
“AD made some big-time plays,” coach Paul Chryst said.
The game was decided by Georgia Tech's defense that sacked quarterback Tom Savage five times — the third time in the past five games he has been dropped at least five times — and Pitt scored only on its first possession of the third quarter and a 44-yard field goal by Christ Blewitt.
“I'm truly proud that our kids put themselves out there,” Chryst said. “The bottom line is there are plays to be made when the game matters. I don't think we made enough. Tech certainly did.”
After managing only four first downs in the first half, Pitt (4-4, 2-3 in the ACC) solved many of its problems on its first possession of the third quarter, moving 58 yards on six plays to trim the Georgia Tech lead to 14-10 on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Savage to Tyler Boyd, who ended up with a season-high 11 receptions for 118 yards.
But Pitt failed to successfully threaten the Georgia Tech defense after that, and the Yellow Jackets scored a late touchdown to ensure the victory.
Pitt started the game without two starting offensive linemen — left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and left guard Cory King were out with back injuries.
Freshman Dorian Johnson started for Bisnowaty and struggled with Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu. Savage was sacked four times in the first half, twice by defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu.
“Dorian was challenged tonight, but he did some good things and some things where he got beat,” Chryst said. “I have to do a better job of helping him on some of those.”
Savage said he tried to motivate Johnson, who made his first start.
“I played as a freshman (at Rutgers),” Savage said. “It's not easy.”
Johnson settled down in the second half when Attaochu, who rotated between the right and the left side of the Yellow Jackets defense, did not have nearly as much success.
When Pitt crossed midfield in the fourth quarter with a chance to take its first lead of the game, Savage was sacked by defensive tackle Euclid Cummings on a key third-down play with 10 minutes left in the game.
Without benefit of a running game — James Conner and Isaac Bennett combined for 19 yards on 14 carries — Savage played well when given time to throw. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 233 yards and no interceptions until his last attempt of the game. His longest completion, however, gained only 17 yards to Kevin Weatherspoon.
Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) used its ACC-leading running game, a strong pass rush and a little cunning to seize control of the game in the first half and take a 14-3 lead into intermission.
On the first play from scrimmage, Godhigh ran 30 yards with an option pitch. That led to fullback David Sims' 12-yard run, giving Georgia Tech a 7-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
Pitt started the game with three consecutive possessions without a first down.
Finally, Pitt gained enough yards to get freshman kicker Chris Blewitt close enough to kick a 44-yard field goal, his fourth in a row in the past four games.
Pitt appeared to gain respectability when Georgia Tech lined up for a punt on fourth-and-5 from the 50. But most of the Panthers' punt return team members turned their heads, and punter Sean Poole raced 12 yards for a first down.
Two plays later, Godhigh broke a tackle near the Georgia Tech sideline and ran into the end zone on a 35-yard run.
Pitt had a chance to score late in the first half when the Panthers took possession on their 33 with two timeouts. But Chryst failed to call a timeout after a 5-yard scramble by Savage and a 7-yard reception by Boyd. Time expired after Cummings sacked Savage at the 39.