Kevin Gorman: Storyline continues to repeat itself for Pitt
Pat Narduzzi couldn’t put his finger on the problem for his Pitt Panthers, as it wasn’t just one thing that caused them to lose their season finale to Boston College.
Was it the four turnovers? Yes, as the Eagles converted them into four field goals.
Was it the four false-start penalties? Yes, as they proved costly, especially on second-and-goal from the BC 5.
Was it the run defense? Yes, as AJ Dillon rushed for 178 yards on 32 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown.
It was all of that and more.
What Narduzzi couldn’t escape — or explain — is how Pitt’s 26-19 loss to Boston College on Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field is a storyline that keeps repeating itself like a skipping record.
It was the Panthers’ third defeat by seven points or less and their third home loss in the ACC.
“It is what it is,” Narduzzi said. “Every loss, whether it’s close or by 28 points, they’re all tough. They all count as a loss in the win column. It’s part of the game. What you don’t want to do is just give it to them.”
Forgive the faux pas, but Narduzzi’s right: Pitt is what it is.
The Panthers finished the regular season with a 7-5 record for the second consecutive year. Narduzzi built expectations when he led Pitt to back-to-back eight-win seasons to start his tenure but has since failed to match that mark. Where they won the ACC Coastal Division for the first time and advanced to play Clemson in the ACC championship game last year, the Panthers were left believing they are better than their record indicates.
“If I had to give us a record,” Pitt senior wide receiver Maurice Ffrench said, “we should have no more than three losses.”
Pitt had two losses that weren’t close: The Panthers lost their opener to Virginia by 16 points at Heinz Field and at Virginia Tech by 28, the latter defeat leaving a sour taste because it eliminated the Panthers from contention for the division title.
Narduzzi at least found a silver lining in that one.
“We wouldn’t have been there anyway,” Narduzzi said of the ACC championship, noting Virginia clinched with a 39-30 victory over Virginia Tech on Friday, “so it’s better to find out a week early than the night before.”
That might best explain Pitt’s lackluster start, its inattention to details and mishandling of the football. The Panthers performed like they had nothing to play for, even though it was Senior Day. If only Narduzzi would coach like he had nothing to lose, going for touchdowns instead of settling for field goals against Penn State, Miami and Boston College.
Three of Pitt’s turnovers involved freshmen, as running back Vincent Davis fumbled a handoff and receiver Jared Wayne fumbled after a catch and ran the wrong route on Kenny Pickett’s red-zone interception. But Davis scored on a 39-yard run and Wayne had six catches for 100 yards.
Want worse? Seniors were involved in the four pre-snap penalties — including one on a second-and-goal at the 1 — and a senior-laden defense failed to force any turnovers or stop Boston College in the final 5:26, when Dillon ran for 47 yards and four first downs on eight consecutive carries to run out the clock and prevent another comeback victory.
No wonder Narduzzi appeared disgusted afterward with the way the season ended, by following a thrilling overtime victory over North Carolina with back-to-back losses in the ACC.
“Yeah, there’s no question you’re frustrated,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think we’re playing our best. We should be better than what we are right now. You know, we’ve got a good football team, but it’s not easy.”
Nothing about Pitt’s season has been easy. To be fair, the Panthers didn’t just lose close games. They won in the same fashion, with five victories by seven points or less and the two others by 10. The highlight was a signature win that gained national attention for the Pitt Special that delivered the dramatic 35-34 victory that ended UCF’s 27-game regular-season win streak.
This just as easily could have been a four- or five-win season with no bowl game. There was no shame in losing to Virginia (9-3) or at Penn State (10-2), even if Narduzzi’s knucklehead decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the 1 against the Nittany Lions defied logic. But losing at home to 6-6 teams like Miami and Boston College shouldn’t be acceptable.
“We’ve won close games — a lot of close games this year — and we’ve lost a few close games this year,” said Pickett, who completed 30 of 40 passes for 323 yards but never found the end zone. “We’ve got to find a way to put teams away and get up on them like we’ve been trying to all year. It’s a work in progress and we’ve got to keep working towards that.”
We expected better from Pitt by Narduzzi’s fifth season, especially after the Panthers won the ACC Coastal last year.
Maybe we should know better.
Maybe Pitt is what it is, a team you can count on to put a loss in the win column.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .