Just over a week ago, there was a possibility Pitt could be a 10-win team and perhaps make an appearance in the Orange Bowl. After defeating North Carolina in overtime on Nov. 14, Pitt was 7-3 and the program seemed poised to take a step forward.
Back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech and Boston College have ended that possibility and dropped Pitt to 7-5. The Panthers suffered a 26-19 setback to the Eagles at Heinz Field on Saturday in one of the most frustrating losses of the Pat Narduzzi era.
Now the Panthers will wait to see what mid-tier bowl game they will wind up playing in when bowl selections are announced on Dec. 8.
It’s hard to win with minus-4 turnover margin: There are many reasons why Pitt lost to Boston College, but none stand out more than four turnovers by the offense, all of which led to Boston College field goals. Freshman wide receiver Jared Wayne and freshman running back Vincent Davis fumbled on back-to-back drives in the first quarter. Pitt trailed by four and the offense was moving the ball early in the second half when Kenny Pickett was intercepted as it appeared Wayne had run the wrong route. The Panthers were down by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter when running back A.J. Davis coughed up the ball at midfield. In a game Pitt lost by seven points, the 12 points that the Eagles scored off of turnovers were critical.
Pitt didn’t commit many penalties, but one was a game-changer: Pitt was flagged four times for 19 yards, a major improvement considering the Panthers came into the game averaging 75 penalty yards per game. On the first play of the second quarter trailing 6-0, Pitt faced a second-and-goal from the 1. Senior wide receiver Aaron Matthews failed to get set as Pitt was trying to quick snap the ball. Matthews was called for a false start, backing Pitt up four yards. The Panthers couldn’t punch it in from there, so instead of taking a 7-6 lead, they were forced to settle for a field goal and a three-point deficit.
The defense couldn’t stop the run: There was no question the country’s third-best running back would present a challenge to Pitt’s defense, but A.J. Dillon and company simply gashed Pitt on the ground. Pitt’s defense gave up more yards rushing than they had all season. As the Eagles rushed for 264 yards. Dillon had 32 carries for 178 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown. When Boston College got the ball back after a Pitt field goal with 5:26 remaining in the game, the Eagles ran it eight straight times and the Panthers never touched the ball again.
The Panthers couldn’t get out of their own way: Whether it was a bad penalty, a turnover, or a missed tackle, Pitt failed to seize control of the game at any point on Saturday. After Vincent Davis broke a 39-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat early in the second half, Pitt was up 16-13, its first lead of the day. Momentum seemed to be swinging the Panthers way, but their lead was short-lived. The Eagles needed just three plays and 51 seconds to retake the lead when Dillon broke through a Paris Ford tackle and ran 61 yards to the end zone.
Pitt just can’t get over the hump: Pitt hasn’t won more than eight games since the 2009 season. While what happened before they arrived is obviously not the fault of the current players and coaching staff, it’s still disheartening that Pitt can’t reach nine or 10 wins in a season. Pitt’s defense entered the Boston College game ranked ninth in the country; statistically, it’s the best Pitt defense in recent memory. Winning only seven games with a top-10 defense is disappointing, especially considering three of Pitt’s five losses were one-score games. The Panthers will again have an offseason to mull over what went wrong and what they can do to take a step forward.