ATLANTA -- Last week, Pitt played a strong first half against Navy only to collapse in the second.
Saturday night, the Panthers went toe-to-toe with Georgia Tech for the second 30 minutes but were done in by a subpar first half.
In their 21-10 loss to the Yellow Jackets, the Panthers were within striking distance for the vast majority of the second half but couldn't find the go-ahead score.
The Yellow Jackets drove the final nail in the coffin with just over two minutes left. Facing third-and-17 from their own 46, Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee heaved a 42-yard pass to DeAndre Smelter, who outjumped Pitt defenders Ray Vinopal and Lafayette Pitts to come down with the reception. Two plays later, Robert Godhigh ran 11 yards into the end zone for the clinching score.
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage threw an interception on the ensuing drive to end any hope of a comeback.
Pitt's offensive problems stemmed mainly from the Panthers' inability to run on Georgia Tech's defense. Pitt finished with minus-5 rushing yards as a team and leading rusher Isaac Bennett had 16 yards on six carries.
Defensively, Pitt struggled to contain Georgia Tech's triple-option offense in the first half. But, like the offense, the defense improved after halftime.
The Yellow Jackets rushed for 196 yards in the first half and finished with 276, but scored just the once in the second half. David Sims led the way with 94 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries for the Yellow Jackets. Godhigh added 89 yards and two scores on six carries.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald did his part to try and stop Georgia Tech by himself. He finished with 11 tackles, six for a loss, and forced two fumbles, including one Pitt recovered to cut short a Georgia Tech threat in the third quarter.
The Pitt offense also came out strong in the second half. After the defense forced Georgia Tech into a three-and-out on its first drive, Pitt took over at its 42 and moved down the field to find the end zone for its lone touchdown.
Savage completed back-to-back passes to freshman receiver Tyler Boyd in the red zone, the latter a 12-yard floater to the back left corner of the end zone that cut Georgia Tech's lead to 14-10.
Boyd finished with 11 catches for 118 yards and the score.
But after that, Pitt's offense couldn't string together enough plays to take the lead.
Savage finished 23 of 37 for 233 yards and one touchdown. He was efficient, if unspectacular. He routinely hit short crossing patterns but rarely tested the Yellow Jackets downfield.
As in the Panthers' previous two Atlantic Coast Conference games, Savage was also under constant pressure from a relentless Georgia Tech pass rush. He was sacked five times.
Ultimately, he didn't do enough to complete the comeback from the deficit the Panthers dug themselves into in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets marched 64 yards on their opening drive, with 57 of those yards coming on the ground. Sims punched in the touchdown on a 12-yard run with 9:41 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers caught a break on Georgia Tech's second drive when Sims fumbled a pitch at the Pitt 22, but the offense went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. The Panthers did not earn their first first-down until early in the second quarter.
On that first drive of the second quarter, Pitt finally established some offensive momentum, moving 36 yards before stalling at the Georgia Tech 23. Freshman kicker Chris Blewitt hit a 44-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.
The Yellow Jackets didn't waste any time extending the lead. On their next drive, they used a successful fake punt to convert a fourth-and-5. Two plays later, Godhigh broke through some tackles en route to a 35-yard touchdown run.
The Panthers got the ball back on their 33 with 1:13 left in the half and two timeouts, but coach Paul Chryst opted not to use them and the Panthers could only get two short completions before the half expired.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published November 2, 2013 10:09 PM