Breaking down Pitt's loss to North Carolina and the rest of the season
Pitt’s 38-35 loss at North Carolina on Saturday isn’t about how it reduced hopes for winning the ACC Coastal.
It’s about how it happened in a vacuum, with mistakes (one big one on special teams and several others in pass coverage), the disappearance of Pitt’s running game after halftime and no big stop after cutting the lead to three in the fourth quarter.
Unless coach Pat Narduzzi can get those things fixed, the ugly reality of the big picture will surface later.
Here are three thoughts:
1. It looked too easy
North Carolina quarterback Nathan Elliott tortured Pitt’s pass defense like his name is Mason Rudolph.
Elliott started the day with four interceptions and a total of only 356 yards and one touchdown passing in two losses. Pitt was just the tonic he needed, offering little resistance as Elliott threw for 313 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns.
North Carolina amassed 486 total yards after missing four days of practice and one game due to Hurricane Florence.
Isn’t this a Pitt defense loaded with seniors? So how do we explain mistakes like the one in the first half that left running back Michael Carter alone in the secondary for a 31-yard touchdown? Or, another round of poor tackling?
Let’s assume Narduzzi shows up to work Sunday morning wearing a scowl and keeps it all day while watching video.
2. What happened after halftime?
Maybe some analysts will wonder why Pitt didn’t run as often in the second half, but that’s not the beef here.
The difference in rushing attempts was only six from the first half to the second (21/15), but the yardage total fell off a cliff (175/53).
The problem was lack of execution when opportunities surfaced. Before finally scoring its first second-half touchdown this season late in the game, Pitt had five possessions and three of them ended with minus-12 and minus-1 yards and a fumble by kick returner Maurice Ffrench that set up North Carolina’s decisive field goal. None of them had more than six plays.
Also, Pickett instinctively, but wrongly, caught one of his deflected passes..
“There are going to be some of those things that come up until he learns to manage a game properly,” Narduzzi said of his sophomore quarterback.
3. Looking ahead
After losing to a team victimized by suspensions and schedule disruptions, how many of Pitt’s eight remaining games (only three at home) can it win? Seven of the opponents are a combined 23-3. If that answers the question, look out.
Nothing that has happened this season is irreversible. But it should be a troubling to the coaching staff that a veteran defense that was supposed to give the young quarterback time to mature has allowed 876 yards in two losses.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.