PITTSBURGH — There’s a moment in the 1999 football film “Any Given Sunday” where embattled coach Tony D’Amato, played by Al Pacino, gives the following locker room speech to his team prior to a playoff game:
“You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small.”
It’s hard to think of a more apt metaphor for the recent fortunes of Pitt’s football team, which fell 31-30 in overtime to Boston College on Saturday a week after losing to North Carolina State, 30-29.
“Obviously, the last couple weeks we've come up a point short, which in my career I don't know if I've ever been a point short two weeks in a row,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said on Monday. “We're this far away from really being 5-0, and that's really the attitude we take.”
It’s easy to point to particular moments in each of the past two games that led to the results.
'We're that close'
Against Boston College, kicker Alex Kessman missed the extra point in overtime and two field goals during the game. Pitt’s defense couldn’t stop Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec from scoring on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the second quarter.
Against North Carolina State, Pitt’s offense was stuffed at the one-yard line on fourth down and failed to make a two-point conversion after a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“There's the inches that we've lost, whether it's getting more first downs and getting into probably a manageable field goal situation for (Kessman),” Narduzzi said, noting that Kessman’s missed field goals against Boston College were from 55 and 49 yards.
“I loved our kids' attitude,” Narduzzi said. “I loved their toughness, but those inches that we've got to get, whether it's we're down on the goal line, it's fourth-and-1 on the goal line and (Deslin Alexandre) has got the quarterback by the back of the jersey and goes to pull him and he starts to tug him and it just lets go.
“That's what I'm talking about. Just we're that close. He's in perfect position, (Jurkovec) ain't getting in if we pull him back, but that's fourth-and-1 at the goal line. That's seven points there.”
'Find a way'
That these games have been so close isn’t the exception for the Panthers – it’s the rule.
Since the beginning of 2018, Pitt’s record is 18-14. Of the 18 wins, 10 have been by one score; of the 14 losses, nine have been by one score, including three one-point losses. Since the beginning of last year, Pitt’s largest margin of victory over an FBS opponent is 11. Throughout 2019, the Panthers didn’t have a margin of victory greater than 10 points.
Pitt will travel to face No. 13 Miami this week. The 2019 matchup between the two teams is emblematic of the Panthers’ difficulties getting the necessary inches and watching games fall out of their grasp. Ahead 12-10 with under six minutes remaining in the game, Pitt’s offense ran it three consecutive times and failed to make a first down, giving Miami ample time to drive for the game-winning score. Pitt lost 16-12.
The game story against the Hurricanes this year has yet to be written, but Narduzzi knows Pitt needs to come through at crucial times, make more plays and find a way to finish strong, unlike the past two weeks.
“If you make a couple plays, you're this far away from (winning),” Narduzzi said. “You're a few plays away, and we've got to win it in the fourth quarter. We've got to find a way to finish the darned game.”