4-game winning streak looks good, but Pitt needs to address issues
Pitt committed eight penalties, allowed three quarterback sacks for the second consecutive game, dropped two passes in key situations and was the recipient of some good luck during a 27-20 victory Friday night against Syracuse.
But it was more than luck that carried Pitt to its fourth consecutive tight victory.
The most significant reason Pitt survived is tied to the coaches, how they recruit and, of course, the players. When the opponent punches, Pitt is there with a counter-punch.
Coach Pat Narduzzi breathed a sigh of relief in the bowels of the Carrier Dome on Friday night, grateful for the victory but aware of the reality.
Pitt (5-2, 2-1), winners of four straight, needs to play better because their margin of error in the ACC Coastal is slim.
“We still want more,” he said.
Let’s take a look at the four elements identified above and how they can impact the final five games.
Narduzzi objected last week when it was suggested his team might be leaning toward undisciplined tendencies in recent weeks.
“I don’t think there’s a discipline problem at all,” he said.
He knows his team better than anyone and surely will defend it at every opportunity.
But he can’t hide from the facts: Pitt has committed 40 penalties during its winning streak.
How did Syracuse not score — Andre Szmyt missed a 49-yard field goal attempt — when Pitt was called for three pass interference penalties on the same drive in the second half?
The defense stepped up by stopping Syracuse on 13 of 18 third downs. But how long can Pitt count on digging itself out of a hole?
“Looks like we were hands-y out there at times,” Narduzzi said. “The last one I don’t know. We’ll watch the tape. We don’t want to play with our hands behind our back.”
This is less of a problem because Kenny Pickett, under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, gets rid of the ball more quickly. He also has thrown only four interceptions in six games.
The pass protection could be worse, but it needs to be better in the coming weeks.
Not a huge concern when you remember wide receivers Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack have combined to catch 101 balls for 1,033 yards and five touchdowns.
But tight ends Will Gragg and Nakia Griffin-Stewart let a couple get away. As a result, Pickett’s completion percentage has fallen a tick below 60 percent, and he’s playing better than that.
The good news is the emergence of sophomore wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis, who has assumed a more prominent role in the passing game the past few weeks.
“We have a whole bunch of playmakers people don’t really know of,” Ffrench said.
What about luck?
Let’s say Syracuse defensive tackle Kenneth Ruff had reached running back Vincent Davis a split second sooner and wrestled away the football before the play was ruled dead in the fourth quarter.
Syracuse would have had the ball on the Pitt 37 with more than two minutes to send the game into overtime or win it. The call was overturned on replay review, and Pitt retained possession and won the game.
The bottom line is Pitt is creeping too close to the cliff. So far, they’ve remained upright, but no one is immune to an unexpected loss. Wisconsin lost to Illinois on Saturday. Miami lost to Georgia Tech.
If the Panthers continue committing penalties, dropping passes and putting Pickett at risk, no amount of good luck will save them.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .