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Opinion

Saunders: Late-Game Drama Overshadowed Pitt’s Defense Dropping the Ball vs. Miami

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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.

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.

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.

Wendell Davis missed a tackle and Hallett took a terrible angle, allowing Jaylan Knighton to take off free for a 40-yard score.

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.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Krackerjack Kid
Krackerjack Kid
1 month ago

Narduzzied once again!

PittBand
PittBand
1 month ago

We are now into desperation time. Manny Diaz is in danger of being fired from Miami and that goes for all his coaches. The Miami play calling was one of desperation on both offense and defense. Until Whipple and Bates realize that they have to apply the same attitude we can lose the Coastal.
The All Carolina Conference refs aren’t going to be in our corner either.

Rusty Shackelford
Rusty Shackelford
1 month ago

That was a tough game. Two teams battling back and forth and it gets decided by a group of men from the south who are either clearly biased and favor southern schools, don’t know the rules of football, or physically handicapped and need to have their eyes examined.

Class of ' 69
Class of ' 69
1 month ago

Average coach below average recruiting and a clueless AD. How many players on Pitt’s team had offers from Miami . Florida or Florida State? With this combination how can you expect success.

Mark Recker
Mark Recker
1 month ago

The author writes “Nor was it a fait accompli that Pitt would have won the game if they had been awarded the safety. The Panthers would have had to drive the length of the field with two timeouts & 3:43 to play.” A safety would have made the score 38-36 so they would not have to drive the length of the field. After a Miami free kick 3:43 would have been plenty of time to kick a winning field goal.

jpenguin
jpenguin
1 month ago

There is no reason a defense should have communication issues 8 games into the season. And someone needs to remind me why Hallett is still starting.

jpenguin
jpenguin
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Saunders

That’s not a good commentary on their safety depth.

Michael Roth
Michael Roth
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Saunders

And that’s pretty awful. Hallet has been taken to school in their 2 losses this year and he can’t tackle. As someone else alluded to, a free kick from the 20 sets Pitt up very nicely if the safety is called to kick a game winning FG. Only need to drive to the 30 for that, but then, did miss one at the end of the 1st half. Pitt played sloppy and made mistakes. Couple the refs robbing Pitt of first downs on a penalty on #70, who didn’t exist on the field and all 5 lineman dropped to pass… Read more »

Ron Slover
Ron Slover
1 month ago

What happened to the video that showed the very best angle regarding the play Pitt thought was a safety? Some fan obviously took the video, it was on here and now it’s gone. It definitively showed that it was not a safety, disappointing but true. Where is that video clip?

TJ
TJ
1 month ago

Goals still ahead and plenty of football left …. plus, at our current 6-2 (3-1), we still are ahead of where most local and natl “experts” predicted us to be. ACC preseason was 3rd in Coastal and 8 wins. Of the more “local” guys, only Wanny and Zeise had more than 9 wins, and Zeise may have been the only one having us winning the coastal. That means that, including yesterday, most of these guys had us losing 2-3 of the last 5 games. What is extremely disappointing though, is how special this season could have been. The Defense should be… Read more »

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