With a running back the caliber of Israel Abanikanda, Pitt should have a closer. A player to hand the ball off to in order to salt away games in the fourth quarter. It worked against Virginia Tech.
It didn’t quite work against Louisville or North Carolina the last two weeks.
Pitt held a 10-7 lead against Louisville entering the fourth quarter at Cardinal Stadium and allowed 17 straight points to lose a 24-10 game. Pitt held a 24-21 lead against North Carolina entering the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium and allowed 21 straight points to lose a 42-24 game.
Pitt has been outscored 48-0 in the fourth quarter of the last two games, both on the road against respectable ACC opponents, but it’s been a completely one-sided affair.
Against Louisville, Pitt took 16 offensive snaps in the fourth quarter, racking up 74 yards — drives ending with a punt, two turnovers on downs and a fumble.
Against North Carolina, Pitt took 16 offensive snaps in the fourth quarter, racking up 43 yards — drives ending with a fumble, a punt and a turnover on downs.
For reference, Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark returned a fumble 59 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Cardinals’ win.
“Like I told our team last night, we played three really good quarters, and we’ve got to find a way to finish it,” Pat Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I’m going to change some things up in practice this week. It’s really two fourth quarters that we’ve let two of them get by the last few weeks.”
Unfortunately for Narduzzi and the coaching staff, it hasn’t been just one area that doomed Pitt in the final frame. Pitt’s offense has been unable to muster any consistency and the defense — especially against North Carolina — has been unable to get off the field.
Historically, I think we’ve been a pretty good fourth quarter team, so is that something we’re doing or is it something the other team is doing?” Narduzzi asked. “If the other team is a good fourth quarter team, and both games are on the road in good atmospheres, so as a coach you never know what to attribute it to.”
When it came to Pitt’s offensive struggles against North Carolina in the fourth quarter, going just 4-of-10 for 22 yards, Jared Wayne doesn’t have an answer for what led to Pitt’s passing attack falling off the course.
“Honestly, I don’t really have an answer for you,” Wayne said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I thought we still stuck to our gameplan, they made some adjustments, of course, after we took some shots on them.
“We did see some softer coverage in the second half; they don’t want to give up those big chunk plays that we hit a couple of times.”
The passing attack wasn’t connecting, and it also didn’t help the defense that two of North Carolina’s drives in the fourth quarter began in Pitt territory. However, even with a short field, Archie Collins said that the defense still needed to be able to finish. It’s about embracing the short field opportunities and still forcing field goals and three and outs — he said that’s the mark of a good defense.
It was tough for SirVocea Dennis to pinpoint exactly what went wrong in the fourth quarter against North Carolina, but he echoed the same sentiments as Collins. Finishing. And it starts at home.
“I couldn’t really tell you, but we try to start here in practice,” Dennis said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “We go out there and try to emphasize the fourth quarter, that’s what we’ve been doing the past week and making sure that we can finish in the fourth quarter.”
Pitt’s coaching staff and players said it was a strong week of practice so far, diving into fundamentals once again, and the first chance to get back and put together a four quarter performance comes against No. 21 Syracuse this weekend at home.
There are four games left in the season, and while Pitt sits at a disappointing 4-4, the chance to win is still there. It will only occur if Pitt is able to fix its fourth quarter woes.