ATLANTA -- It certainly wasn't as demoralizing or damaging to Pitt's bowl hopes as last week's loss to Navy, but this one probably won't sting any less. Once again, Pitt had an opportunity to seize the game and take a lead in the second half, but once again they failed to do so. Here's a link to my quick game story from the P-G website, and here are a couple of thoughts to send you off into the night...
- Yet again, Pitt only played one complete half of football. Last week, it was the first half against Navy. This week, it was the second half. In a lot of ways, this game was almost a mirror opposite of the Navy game. Pitt was thoroughly outclassed in the first half, but caught enough breaks and found one or two stops to keep them within striking distance at halftime. Once the offense started moving in the second half and the defense found itself against the triple-option, it seemed that it was only a matter of time before the Panthers got the go-ahead score. This might be one of those situations where Pitt, as a team, just hasn't learned how to close out these types of games. Georgia Tech certainly didn't make many "winning" plays in the second half, but the 42-yard pass from Vad Lee to DeAndre Smelter was the only one they really needed. And on that play, it's tough to find any fault with Ray Vinopal and Lafayette Pitts in coverage. Both guys were there and tried to make a play. Smelter was just bigger and came down with a heck of a catch. Sometimes, the other team just makes good plays no matter what you do, and there's nothing to do except tip your cap and move on.
- Tom Savage showed some improvement, but the game-breaking ability seems to be gone from Pitt's offense. Savage looked more comfortable in the pocket tonight, especially in the second half. He was a little more erratic in the first half and had some times when he needed to get rid of the ball. The Pitt offense hit tonight on a lot of short five- to eight-yard crossing routes, mostly to Tyler Boyd (11 rec, 118 yds, 1 TD), but couldn't push it downfield with any effectiveness. Savage's completion rate was good (25 of 37), but he averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt. There were a couple of scenarios where he really needed to take a chance and let it fly downfield, even if it meant risking an incompletion and forgoing a short, safer pass. Particularly, at the end of the first half when Pitt faced 3rd-and-18 from its own 46-yard line. He checked down to a short crossing route to Devin Street that didn't get the first, rather than take a shot down the field. There's little downside to throwing deep there. Even if it's picked off, it has the same effect as a punt, whereas Street had no shot of getting the first down where he caught the ball. Savage was fine, but this was more the type of game we saw from Tino Sunseri last year, with a lot of short passes, rather than one where Pitt took advantage of Savage's superior downfield ability.
- Next week's game is big. This is pretty obvious, as it'll be against a ranked Notre Dame team in front of of a sold-out Heinz Field, but let's just go through where Pitt stands heading into the game against the Irish. With a win, the Panthers one victory away from bowl eligibility with a very beatable North Carolina team coming into Heinz Field, and they have the momentum of a win over a ranked Notre Dame team. Plus, it would probably be pretty sweet revenge after the way last year's game in South Bend went down. Let's also remember that Pitt generally plays Notre Dame tough every year, and the Irish certainly didn't look dominant holding on for dear life against Navy this week, so Notre Dame is certainly beatable. If the Panthers lose, though, they're suddenly on a three-game losing skid (something that didn't happen last year) and have even less margin for error when it comes to bowl eligibility. It's hard to call next week a "must-win" when it would be an upset victory, but sitting at 4-5 and having lost 4 of your last five is not a place the Panthers want to be.