PITTSBURGH — It’s natural that the last things that happen in a game are the things that most people remember, so for a lot of people, Pitt’s loss to Miami on Saturday is going to become “The Safety Game” after Phil Campbell III tackled Jaylan Knighton near the goal line on the game’s final drive.
Knighton was very close to getting out of the end zone. He was marked one foot outside the goal line. Whether he actually got there, no one will ever know for sure. No conclusive replay angle could be obtained, and the call from the field was allowed to stand.
Even unofficially, holding our standards to a lower one than the conclusive evidence required to overturn a replay review, it looks like Knighton was at least plausibly out of the end zone, if not likely.
safety or no?
— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) October 30, 2021
Knighton was at the most within inches of being out of the end zone. A close call didn’t go Pitt’s way. It was not some kind of travesty of football justice.
Nor was it a fait accompli that Pitt would have won the game if they had been awarded a safety. The Panthers would have had to drive the length of the field with two timeouts and 3:43 to play.
I’d like their chances in that scenario, but then again, I liked their chances moving down the field before Pickett threw an uncharacteristic interception to give Miami the ball back.
The point is that call or no call, that’s not what cost the Panthers the game and any chance of grabbing a College Football Playoff spot. That happened when Pitt’s defense gave up 21 points in the first eight minutes of the game, to Miami’s backup quarterback Tyler Van Dyke.
“We felt like the game fell on the defense at the end of the day,” linebacker John Petrishen said after the game, and he’s right. But it wasn’t just that the defense was beaten: it was how it was beaten.
There are schematic problems with Pitt’s quarters defense that can make it easy to attack at times, specifically out of certain formations. That’s what sunk Pitt against Western Michigan. It’s hurt Pitt multiple times over Pat Narduzzi’s tenure.
That wasn’t what happened against Miami. Instead, an inexperienced quarterback and streaky offense took advantage of mistakes by the Panthers.
In the first quarter drives that build Miami’s lead, Pitt had multiple preventable errors that aided the Hurricanes.
There was a missed assignment or miscommunication between Erick Hallett II and Marquis Williams that left Keyshawn Smith wide open for a 57-yard pass play on Miami’s first drive.
Lincoln Alumni Keyshawn Smith making plays . pic.twitter.com/Re09EIkoym
— San Diego Football (@Daygofootball) October 30, 2021
Damarri Mathis and Brandon Hill didn’t properly exchange players on Miami’s trick-play touchdown, leaving Will Mallory wide open down the sideline for another 57-yarder, this one a touchdown.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 30, 2021
Wendell Davis missed a tackle and Hallett took a terrible angle, allowing Jaylan Knighton to take off free for a 40-yard score.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) October 30, 2021
This isn’t Narduzzi’s defense getting schematically abused. This isn’t anything other than players that have played well and normally executed at a high level failing.
To a man, Pitt’s players and coaches that spoke after the game said that the team was focused and well-prepared, that they didn’t take Miami lightly.
But that start put Pitt in a position where it needed perfection the rest of the way to win the game. They couldn’t get it. Failing perfection, the Panthers could have used some luck with a favorable call from the stripes, and they didn’t get that, either.
But it wasn’t the safety, it wasn’t the referees, and it wasn’t Pickett, even though his final pass attempt was the most costly. He played the kind of game that any team would take from its starting quarterback: a school-record 519 yards and three touchdowns compared to two interceptions.
Pitt just couldn’t overcome the hole that its defense put the Panthers in.