If there was one ACC bowl game that I thought was a lock, it was Pittsburgh over Northwestern. One thing I didn’t count on was the embedded up and down culture that permeates Panther football. They are capable of beating just about anyone they play, but they never seem to be work those wins into something bigger.
This season Pittsburgh beat Big 10 Champs Penn State and ACC Champs Clemson. Those were incredible wins. Today with a chance at 9 win season and a top 25 finish, the Panthers were sloppy in the redzone failing to convert multiple opportunities into TDS. There were untimely penalties and unforced errors. Basically it is what we’ve seen from Pitt for years.
Part of the issue this year was how horrible the Panthers could be on defense. As my blog partner @Hokiesmash pointed out…
@TalkinACCSports Pitt has the 127th ranked pass D in terms of yards permitted – why do anything else but pass on Pitt ever?
— Matthew (@hokiesmash) December 29, 2016
Northwestern’s 77th ranked offense had 462 yards of offense in the Pinstripe Bowl. We knew the Panther had defensive problems, but I thought they would be able overcome it, but a sloppy start doomed the Panthers. When they needed a big play on either side of the ball to close the game out they couldn’t get it. I know Pitt lost starting RB James Conner, starting QB Nathan Peterman, and All-American Offensive Lineman Dorian Johnson with injury during the game, but the Panthers were in a fight before then.
This is going to be Narduzzi’s biggest obstacle going forward. Like Clemson during the Tommy Bowden years, it isn’t a matter of being able to to compete with the best teams on their schedule, it is a matter of bringing consistent play game in game out. Some programs need that signature win to get over the hump. Pittsburgh has those. What they need to get over the 8 win ceiling is to figure out how to get more consistent play.
It wouldn’t hurt to elevate the talent especially in the defensive backfield as well.
Pat Narduzzi has done a lot of good things at Pittsburgh. It’s a program you can’t overlook, but if they want to be a top 25 program the consistency issue has to solved.