There wasn’t much in the way of redeeming qualities when it comes to Pitt’s 26-21 loss to Georgia Tech Saturday night. Pitt was bad, and a loss to a bad GT squad is perhaps the worst in the Pat Narduzzi era.
The loss sets Pitt back to 3-2 (0-1 ACC), and it raises a lot of questions about the immediate and long-term future of Pitt’s season.
Another Bad Loss Knocks Pitt Off Course
Pitt was supposed to use this season, with an easy conference schedule, as a way to prove that last season’s success wasn’t exclusive to Kenny Pickett. That’s not exactly been the case through five games.
If Pitt could put together another 10-win season, win the ACC Coastal and make it back to the ACC title game for the second consecutive season, as was the expectation for many, it would provide a platform to stack success in both recruiting, program building and general winning.
A loss to Georgia Tech, who entered the game coach-less and a three-touchdown underdog, is the kind of loss that takes the wind out of a program’s sails. But Narduzzi said it wasn’t because of a lack of intensity entering the game.
“I think we were fired up,” Narduzzi said. “I think emotionally we were ready to go. Again, we’ll look at it. But I think we played good on defense. It’s hard to say half the team was fired up and half didn’t. The defense was ready to roll. Just couldn’t get in a rhythm in the first half. We’ve got to do a better job on offense.
“We’ve got to do a better job as coaches on offense, putting our kids in position to make those plays. And we got to make plays as players. Their job is to make plays, and it’s our coaching job to put them in position to make plays.”
Regardless of whether or not Pitt was fired up or scored two touchdowns late, Pitt lost. Pitt lost a game it should’ve won, and now the ACC championship return possibility is heavily dented. This isn’t to say Pitt cannot win the Coastal, but if Pitt wanted to prove that it’s a program with lasting relevance, this isn’t the way to do it.
What’s Wrong with Kedon Slovis?
Kedon Slovis’s night of 26-of-45 for 309 yards and three touchdowns with an interception is rather misleading.
Slovis started the night off 2-of-9 for eight yards before a late first half drive in which he did lead a 75-yard scoring drive. Slovis connected with three different targets, going 4-of-7 — hitting Gavin Bartholomew in space for a 29-yard score. However, that was about the extent of his night until late in the fourth quarter.
If the last two Pitt offensive possessions, against a lax Georgia Tech defense, were taken off the board, Slovis’s day reads as 16-of-30 for 153 yards and a touchdown with an interception. It wasn’t clicking early, and Slovis wasn’t making great decisions.
“Just felt like we didn’t get into a rhythm, there’s a lot of probably different reasons, but at the end of the day, we’ve gotta execute better,” Slovis said early Sunday morning. “It starts with me, and it starts with me getting the guys going.”
Slovis was lauded as a decisive, accurate thrower upon arriving from USC over the winter, and he was anything but against Georgia Tech. Slovis just appeared to be out of sync until the fourth quarter. His pocket presence was non-existent at times, he was a step slow in making his reads and he hesitated when finding receivers downfield.
“We could take advantage of certain passing situations better,” Slovis said. “It would probably be better to look at the tape and tell you what plays we didn’t execute on, certain plays that we missed, but overall I think there were plays there to be had. We just have to execute better.”
Narduzzi said that Slovis’s decision-making late in the game was really and was pleased with the way Pitt finished. Unfortunately for Pitt, Georgia Tech’s defense wasn’t exactly locked in down the stretch. Slovis will need to be better, shake off the rust and play with confidence, but it’s fair to wonder now if Pitt will have any sort of consistency downfield this season.
Defense Wears Down In Second Half
Pitt’s defense put on a clinic in the first half. Aside from a 33-yard pass play in which the 6-foot-7 E.J. Jenkins beat the 5-foot-9 Marquis Williams downfield, Pitt stifled the Georgia Tech offense.
Jeff Sims threw for 37 yards on 3-of-12 passing attempts and was sacked four times. And Pitt’s run defense held Georgia Tech to just 69 yards on 23 carries. And despite starting with solid field position throughout, Pitt held GT to just two field goals in the half. The second half wasn’t as clean.
Pitt limited Sims through the air all night, allowing just 102 yards on 42% completion. However, Georgia Tech ran roughshod on the Pitt rush defense in the second half. Hassan Hall racked up 157 yards on just 20 carries, Sims added 81 yards (117 gained before sacks factored in) and the team totaled 232 total rush yards.
Pitt somehow still had a chance with just under two minutes to go, following a 99-yard drive capped by a Jaden Bradley 27-yard touchdown reception. Pitt had all three timeouts left and elected to kick the football deep instead of going for an onside kick. Pitt’s defense needed to force a three and out to get the ball back with a decent amount of time on the clock.
Instead, Hall ran 63 yards on the first play of the drive, and Sims capped a three-play, 72-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown.
“Tired or not, we expect to go get a stop, so we’re not worried about that,” SirVocea Dennis said very early Sunday. “With a football game, everything is moving fast and flowing and just going — you should never be really tired.”
Georgia Tech won the time of possession battle 31:04 to Pitt’s 28:56, but the first quarter (10:57 to 4:03) and the fourth quarter (10:03 to 4:57) allowed to GT to build some momentum. Even if the TOP battle was close, Georgia Tech did start inside Pitt territory three times — an onside kick excluded — off of three Pitt turnovers.
Georgia Tech turned those into a touchdown and two field goals.
“Things happen,” Dennis said. “Everything doesn’t go your way, that’s not just football, that’s life. This game is a great teacher of life.”
Offensive Woes Continue Into Another Week
When Pitt decided to roll with Kedon Slovis last week against Rhode Island, it was with the expectation that Slovis would be able to operate an offense that would test the deep ball. He threw it further than 10 yards just three times last week.
So, when Slovis came out against an ACC defense — a poor ACC defense, at that — and looked rusty, it wasn’t really a surprise. Slovis himself didn’t feel like last week’s conservative play-calling had much to do with this week’s rust.
“No, I think our game plan was quite different going in,” Slovis said. “You just have to adjust to what they’re doing and execute the game plan better. They drop against our certain passes, we’ve gotta take those check downs sometimes. It’s unfortunate, but you gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
“You don’t really necessarily look at how someone’s covering somebody. You look at the defense structurally, see what concepts are gonna beat them. I thought our guys did a good job with some contested catches, and at a times they did a good job on defense, but I think we’ve gotta be better as a whole.”
Pitt’s offense racked up 411 yards of offense, but 167 of those yards came on the final two possessions against a lax Georgia Tech defense. It was an offensive performance in which three turnovers, inside Pitt territory, led directly to short fields — and 13 Georgia Tech points. Of Pitt’s 14 offensive possessions, seven resulted in drives of five or fewer plays.
“I’ll have to go back and watch the tape to see exactly,” Narduzzi said. “We just didn’t play good enough, period. We didn’t get in a rhythm in the first half. It was three and out, three and out, and just couldn’t get in a rhythm. It’s hard to call a game when you’re going three and out. You can’t set a play off a play. Just not a very good performance.”
Narduzzi mentioned how the first half of play offensively wasn’t good, but it wasn’t just the first half. It was three and a half quarters of poor offensive scheming and play.
The offensive line wasn’t particularly good, the wide receivers as a whole haven’t appeared to be in sync all season, Vincent Davis fumbled the football twice in relief of an injured Israel Abanikanda and Slovis is in limbo.
At Least the Defensive Line Got to Sims
If there’s anything positive to take away from the Georgia Tech game, it’s that the defensive line did generate quite a bit of pressure.
Calijah Kancey led the way with 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Bangally Kamara, Solomon DeShields and David Green each recorded a sack and tackle for loss, Devin Danielson racked up two tackles for loss, Haba Baldonado and Erick Hallett each recorded a tackle for loss and SirVocea Dennis recorded a half tackle for loss.
Pitt as a team generated 11 tackles for loss and four sacks against Georgia Tech, and while Kancey and Baldonado were the usual contributors, Green, DeShields and Kamara are players who will be counted upon in the future.
Pitt has risen to 20th in the NCAA (third in the ACC) with 36 tackles for loss and 13th in the NCAA (tied for first in the ACC) with 16 sacks.
It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for Pitt’s run defense, but the pash rush is slowly rounding into that NCAA-leading form.