Louisville runs away from Pitt, 45-35
After a disturbing 45-35 loss to Louisville on Saturday — marked by questionable play calls, poor execution, shoddy defense and the failure to hold a lead — junior receiver Devin Street was asked if Pitt needs to develop a greater sense of desperation. A killer instinct, perhaps.
“Definitely, I can see that,” he said. “Every guy has to want it when we come out. You have to love it. You have to want it. You have to do everything you can to get it.”
Street said it's a concept not lost on the team, but — like everything involved in this latest makeover of the football program — it could use some work.
“I feel like some guys are (playing with a desperate edge),” he said. “But I think we can pick it up with some guys, myself included. I think that's something we have to work on.”
Put it on a growing list of problems coach Paul Chryst and his staff must fix before the end of a season that looks to be spiraling out of control.
The Panthers have lost four of their first six games and are 0-3 in the Big East, their worst conference start since 2001.
And the harsh truth is that some players are running out of time.
“This is our last go-round,” senior running back Ray Graham said. “We don't get things back.”
The loss to No. 18 Louisville (6-0, 1-0) in front of a crowd of 42,432 at Heinz Field embodied much of what is good about the Pitt team: A resurgent passing game and the emergence of freshman Rushel Shell as the marquee running back.
But the defense failed miserably, giving up six touchdowns — five on the ground — after allowing two total in the previous three games. Louisville's total represented the most points allowed by Pitt since a 45-44 loss to Cincinnati in 2009.
Still, the outcome turned on two calls by Chryst in which he trusted the offense but ended up paying a price.
The Panthers led, 21-14, with 55 seconds left in the first half, and Chryst wanted more, knowing how potent Louisville's offense is.
With a fourth-and-2 on the Louisville 42, Chryst went for the first down instead of punting. Shell was stopped for a 1-yard loss, and Louisville had plenty of time for John Wallace to kick a 45-yard field goal that cut the halftime lead to 21-17.
“We had enough time to try to finish (the first half) on an upswing,” Chryst said. “Our defense was playing all right. More importantly, you want to put it on our offense.”
After the break, the momentum swung toward the Cardinals, who took a lead they never surrendered on the first play of the third quarter — a 75-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to DeVante Parker, who outran hobbled cornerback K'Waun Williams.
Louisville seized control of the game with two more scores — short bursts by running back Senorise Perry — before the end of the quarter.
The first was set up when Bridgewater and Parker again victimized Williams, who has been playing with shoulder and leg injuries for several weeks. This time it was a 35-yard pass play to the 2.
The second came after punter Matt Yoklic fielded a snap off the ground and was tackled at the Pitt 16.
Pitt fought back to within 38-28 with five minutes left. The Panthers had a chance to cut the lead to seven with what would have been a 39-yard field goal attempt by Kevin Harper, who had missed from 50 earlier in the game.
Again, Chryst put the onus on his offense, and it failed to convert a fourth-and-8 when Sunseri overthrew receiver Cam Saddler in the end zone.
“I wanted to put it in the players' hands,” Chryst said. “I thought we were doing some good things, and I felt good putting the play call in. We didn't execute it.”
Pitt now must find a way to salvage the second half of the season.
Senior safety Jarred Holley said he is optimistic, but there still are questions.
“At this point of our season,” he said, “we will find out what our locker room is built of and who wants it and who is going to come ready to play.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.