What’s good, what’s worrisome as Pitt enters the home stretch
Pat Narduzzi used the words “spectacular” and “outstanding” when discussing his defense after a 20-10 victory Saturday against Georgia Tech.
He was not guilty of hyperbole, especially when considering:
• Senior free safety Damar Hamlin, the team’s second-leading tackler and a reliable pass defender, was “a little dinged up” and didn’t play. Narduzzi said Hamlin could have played, if necessary.
• Outside linebacker Kylan Johnson, a transfer from Florida, is on his way to an All-ACC season. His hard hit on Georgia Tech quarterback Lucas Johnson jarred the football loose at the goal line and changed the tone of the game after Cam Bright returned the fumble 79 yards.
• Outside linebacker Phil Campbell became the second Pitt player this season ejected for targeting and missed more than half the game. Campbell’s indiscretion happened in the second quarter, so he will be eligible for Pitt’s next game Nov. 14 against North Carolina at Heinz Field.
• For the eighth consecutive game, Pitt played without injured starting defensive linemen Rashad Weaver and Keyshon Camp.
Offensively challenged Georgia Tech is the fourth opponent Pitt held under 215 yards, but there are at least three reasons to worry about where this season is headed.
1. The passing game
Way back on Sept. 14 when Kenny Pickett threw for 372 yards against No. 5 Penn State, Pitt’s passing game looked like the strength of the team.
It still could turn out that way, but Pickett threw two more interceptions against Georgia Tech and has eight in nine games – two more than he threw last season. With nine touchdown passes, he is three short of last year’s total.
Blame drops. Blame the offensive line, (but not so much in Atlanta when Pickett was sacked only once). Blame the guy throwing the ball.
But the most important goal of the off week is to get Pickett back in sync with his wide receivers.
While it’s true Maurice Ffrench leads the nation with 75 receptions, he’s barely averaging 8 yards per catch. His yardage total (606) is the lowest among the top 13 pass catchers.
The next 11 days might be the most important of Pickett’s season.
2. The second half
Over the past 12 games (a full regular season), Pitt has failed to score a touchdown after halftime nine times. Pitt is 3-6 in those games.
This season, backup quarterback Nick Patti has one more touchdown pass in the second half than Pickett (2-1).
Pitt has only a field goal or no points in six of the past eight quarters.
The Cavaliers’ game at North Carolina on Saturday might have been Pitt’s best chance to overtake first-place Virginia in the ACC Coastal.
But Virginia (6-3, 4-2) won, 38-31, and retained its half-game lead on Pitt (6-3, 3-2). Now, the Cavs won’t leave Charlottesville for any of its final three games against Georgia Tech, Liberty and Virginia Tech.
The good news? Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins threw three touchdown passes against North Carolina.
Are the Tar Heels an opportunity for Pickett to re-discover his groove?
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .