Pitt Panthers continue downward spiral

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The sad goal of bowl eligibility could be slipping away from the Pitt football team, which means that so is the hope of escaping the bonds of mediocrity that have enveloped the team for the past two seasons.

In view of the their 21-10 loss to Georgia Tech Saturday night, which left them at 4-4, the Panthers look to be a team moving in the wrong direction with four games remaining and two of them against nationally ranked teams.

Ten points rarely gets it done in football, be it the NFL, the NCAA or the WPIAL. That’s all Pitt could muster against the Yellow Jackets -- three in the first half, seven in the second -- as a running game, once rich with promise, could do nothing and quarterback Tom Savage, a fifth-year senior, continued to be not good enough.

The Panthers were held without a first down in the first quarter and could accumulate only 55 yards in a miserable first-half performance, which left them trailing, 10-3. They netted only one yard on their first three possessions.

But it was the defense, which otherwise played well, that let Pitt down on the biggest play of the game.

Georgia Tech, leading by four with about three minutes remaining, faced a third and seven from the Pitt 46. It was not the kind of field position in which the Yellow Jackets thrive. The situation called for a pass and of the 123 Division I teams, they ranked 118 in passing offense. In other words, Pitt had Georgia Tech right where it wanted.

Except for this: Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee basically put the ball up for grabs into double coverage and DeAndre Smelter made him look brilliant by outjumping two Pitt defenders for the ball at the 12. Two plays later, the Yellow Jackets scored to take an 11-point lead and effectively end the game.

Pitt could not begin to mount a running game against the Yellow Jackets, which left Savage open for hell-bent pass rushes, the result of which were five sacks.

James Conner, who earlier this season ran for 119 and 173 yards against New Mexico and Duke, gained three yards on eight carries. Isaac Bennett, who savaged Old Dominion for 240 yards on 30 carries two weeks ago, ran six times for 16 yards. Including quarterback sacks/carries, Pitt rushed 21 times for -5 yards.

It’s hard to win a football game when your lines have lost control of the line of scrimmage. That was the case, obviously, when Pitt had the ball. When Georgia Tech had the ball, it ran 53 times for 276 yards.

The second season of coach Paul Chryst is not going well. Last week Pitt lost a game it was expected to win, and on Saturday it lost a game it could have won.

The Panthers face No. 25 Notre Dame in seven days at Heinz Field. The Irish had almost as much trouble with Navy, winning by four Saturday, at the Panthers did last week, losing by three. The Irish have won four straight and are 7-2.

After the Irish, in consecutive weeks, Pitt plays North Carolina, 3-5, which beat North Carolina State, 29-19, Saturday; Syracuse, 4-4, which lost 56-0 earlier in the season to Georgia Tech, and Miami, ranked seventh in the nation.

Bowl eligibility is a possibility and some might want to to proclaim that a hint of success. But the two most recent Pitt teams also achieved bowl eligibility and no one is bragging about those seasons.

The Panthers will need to score an upset, Notre Dame or Miami, to make this season a forward step.


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