There aren't too many ways you can slice it: Pitt's loss to Navy on Saturday was a bad one. The Panthers lost to a less talented team (no disrespect to Navy, but Pitt is bigger, stronger and faster than the Midshipmen at pretty much every position). The defeat also really puts them behind the eight-ball when it comes to qualifying for a bowl game this year. Had the Panthers won, they would only have needed one more victory to ensure a sixth consecutive bowl appearance with the meat of their schedule coming up down the stretch. Now, they either have to take care of business against both Syracuse and North Carolina in games they should win, or pull an upset against Notre Dame, Georgia Tech or Miami. To put it simply, the loss to Navy was about as damaging to Pitt's bowl hopes this season as any one loss could be.
Quarterback: Tom Savage was quietly pretty effective for most of the game Saturday. He finished 20 of 27 for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, which, when taken by itself, is a pretty solid stat line. The problem, of course, is that context matters, and Savage had some bad plays at the worst moments. The two most notable ones came on Pitt's disastrous final drive of the game. He took a sack for a loss of seven on first down that put the Panthers behind the sticks to start. On that play, Chryst said the protection was set incorrectly, something that's usually the quarterback's responsibility, and allowed Navy's Obi Uzoma to come free off the edge. Two plays later, Savage had no receiving options available, so he started to scramble, but the defenders buzzed down at the last minute to prevent him from getting the first down with his legs. He was stuck in a sort of no-man's land and ended up rushing for no gain.
After the game, there were some calls for redshirt freshman Chad Voytik to start getting some playing time over Savage. I don't see that happening for a couple of reasons. First, Savage is, at this point in his career, just better than Voytik. There's a reason he won the job in training camp and he gives Pitt a better chance to win every Saturday than Voytik would. Second, Pitt still does have plenty to play for this season. The loss to Navy was bad, no question, but you can make a legitimate argument that each and every one of Pitt's remaining games is winnable. Finally, I don't buy the argument of benching Savage to get Voytik experience for the future. Chryst is trying to build a culture that is centered around focusing on every practice, every play, every game, and not worrying about the long-term future. It would be very antithetical of him then to essentially punt this season in favor of projections down the road.
Running back: Not exactly a banner day for Pitt's running backs. Isaac Bennett got the bulk of the work with 22 carries for 77 yards, a good-not-great 3.5 yards per carry average. The bigger concern in the running game was that Pitt absolutely pounded the ball on Navy up the middle on the first drive, but couldn't manage much on the ground consistently after that. On that possession, Bennett and James Conner combined to run 12 times for 73 yards. After that, the running backs had 17 carries for 32 yards (1.9 ypc). Center Artie Rowell said the Midshipmen made a minor adjustment after the first drive, moving their defensive tackle off of him and onto the guards, but that doesn't explain the complete lack of a running game for Pitt after that first drive.
Conner also didn't see any action after he fumbled the ball in the second quarter on a play where he tried to jump over a pile to convert a third-and-one. Chryst said afterwards that Conner was held out for a little bit because of the fumble, but also cited Pitt's limited possessions in the second half (they only had four drives). Ultimately, it's hard to say definitively that Conner would have run better than Bennett given how few chances Pitt had to move the ball on the ground in the second half. New Mexico has really been the only game this year where both Bennett and Conner both ran the ball well. Except for that one, one has taken the reins in every game this year.
Wide receiver: After taking a week off for injury against Old Dominion, Devin Street was back to his usual consistent self Saturday. With the exception of the New Mexico game, Street has had either 100 yards or a touchdown (or both) in every game he has played this year. He finished Saturday with nine catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, and could've had a few more but he and Savage failed to connect on a couple of attempts. It looks like Street is very clearly Savage's first option on most passing plays at this point, and that can become a detriment sometimes when there are other options available.
One of those other options would be Tyler Boyd, who was Pitt's only other receiver to register a catch Saturday. It was Boyd's third consecutive "quiet" game, and he had three catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. It's easy to say that the Panthers need to get Boyd the ball more, but there are a lot of factors that go into that. For one, it looks like defenses aren't caught off guard by Boyd at all any more, and key on him more than they might have earlier in the year. Also, as I said, Street appears to be Savage's first option on most plays, and is almost always the guy Savage has gone to in key situations recently. Yes, if Pitt's offense is going to be better, it will likely involve more Tyler Boyd, but it's a little too simplistic to just say "get him the ball."
Tight end: The game started for Pitt with a five-yard pass to Scott Orndoff, for the first non-touchdown catch of his career. Beyond that, not a whole lot from this position. Manasseh Garner had a 28-yard catch on Pitt's second-quarter touchdown drive, and continues to play his sort of wide receiver/tight end hybrid role. More than halfway through the season now, and the tight ends haven't become the versatile offensive weapons that a lot of people expected before the year started. A lot of that has to do with Boyd's emergence as a legitimate No. 2 receiver, but it also speaks to how the passing game as a whole has really struggled since the Duke game. In a more perfect world, the tight ends would have picked up some of the slack for Boyd's diminising numbers over the last few weeks, but they really haven't.
Offensive line: It's sort of hard to gauge the improvement of the offensive line since the disastrous Virginia Tech game because Pitt's last two opponents have been pretty inept when it comes to rushing the passer. So, yes, one sack on the day is good (on a play where Chryst said after the game the protection wasn't set up correctly), but Navy only has six sacks on the season, so there's no point in getting carried away. Georgia Tech isn't a dominant pass rushing team, but they average 1.75 sacks per game, so this week will provide a slightly tougher test.
The bigger concern this week was Pitt's inability to run the ball after the first drive of the game. A lot of that had to do with game situations, but a more consistent run game might allow the coaches to lean on it a little bit more. No, you don't necessarily want to run when you have 1st-and-20, but if you feel confident you can get five or six yards, it becomes a more realistic option.
I did think this was another nice game from Ryan Schlieper filling in at left guard for Cory King. King could be back this week, but it has to make offensive line coach Jim Hueber feel good that he has seven guys (starters plus Schlieper and Dorian Johnson) that can play for him.
Defensive line: For the second time this season, Aaron Donald finished the game without a sack, but still played a pretty good game. One of the keys for Pitt stopping Navy's offense early in the game was how the Panthers totally took the fullback out of the game. Navy fullback Noah Copeland had four rushes for just nine yards in the first half, and a large part of that was the work of Donald and Tyrone Ezell clogging up the middle of the line. When you can take away one piece of the triple option without really doing anything special, which is what Pitt did in the first half Saturday, it makes defending the quarterback and pitch man even easier.
At the end spots, Bryan Murphy and David Durham got most of the snaps, especially early, in Ejuan Price's absence. We saw a little bit of Shakir Soto in the second half, but it was still mostly Murphy and Durham. Murphy had another really strong game and has now strung together a couple in a row. His speed off the edge has been a bit surprising, and he used it to get Pitt's only sack of the day, a 10-yard loss in the third quarter.
Linebackers: Shane Gordon got banged up midway through this one and didn't finish the game, and freshman Matt Galambos stepped in in his place. As would be expected for a freshman against the triple option, there was some good and some bad with Galambos. He finished with seven tackles, second-highest on the team, but also had some problems, especially when Navy dropped back to throw the ball. The passing game in the Midshipmen's offense is entirely reliant on tricking the defenders to get receivers wide open, and it worked a couple of times Saturday. Galambos and Pitt's other freshmen defenders should be the ones helped most by having seen the option when they face Georgia Tech this week.
After spending most of last week on the sideline, Todd Thomas was back in action Saturday. He led the team with nine tackles and had a very solid game all around. This is starting to become the norm for him, and I would expect him to have another strong game against the Yellow Jackets this week.
Secondary: This is a tough game to really assess from a secondary point of view because of the way Navy plays, but Pitt's defense was sort of a mixed bag when the Midshipmen did decide to throw the ball. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds finished 8 of 18 throwing the ball for 105 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Not great numbers, but for some context, it was Reynolds' second-highest yardage total through the air this season.
It did look like there were some plays where Pitt corners and safeties had their eyes in the backfield looking to stop the run and Navy capitalized by getting guys wide open through the air. If you take out the weird 58-yard touchdown pass that bounced off two players' hands before Marcus Thomas brought it in for a touchdown, Pitt's pass defense looks a lot better. K'Waun Williams had an interception to end a Navy scoring threat at the end of the first half, and Ray Vinopal almost had another one that would have ended Navy's go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter. Vinopal also made a very athletic play on 2nd-and-5 in the fourth quarter with Navy driving to break up a pass. Reynolds rushed for 31 yards on the next play to make it moot, but Vinopal has been playing much better since early on when he was the target of a lot of criticism.
Special teams: Chris Blewitt made both of his field goal attempts, from 25 and 44 yards in the first half, and there wasn't much of note in any of the return games.
The most notable special teams play was Matt Yoklic's 20-yard shank in the fourth quarter that gave the Midshipmen the ball in Pitt territory to go for the game-winning field goal. Yoklic averaged just 35.2 yards per punt on four kicks Saturday, and that one ended up costing Pitt the game.
Yoklic's overall numbers aren't bad this season, averaging 43.0 yards per kick (25th in FBS), so that's the kind of kick where you just have to sort of say "it happens." College kickers aren't perfect (even punters) and are going to have bad kicks every once in a while. Yoklic isn't going to lose is job this season, barring an injury, but I can say that freshman Ryan Winslow looked very good kicking the ball in training camp. He's heading for a redshirt year, but should be a solid option for Pitt at punter next season.
Coaching: The major coaching point from this game has to be Chryst's usage (or, more accurately, non-usage) of his timeouts at the end of the game. He said afterwards that he didn't want to give Navy more chances to move the ball and get even closer than the 30-yard field goal that ended up winning the game.
I can see both sides of the argument here. Calling the timeouts would have potentially given the Panthers the ball back with at least some time to go down and get a tying or winning score. If you use the timeouts, though, you need to really trust your defense to get a stop. It would increase the likelihood that Navy would have kept running plays and not settled for the field goal. Given Pitt's inability to stop Navy in the second half, it seems likely that the Midshipmen would've been able to grind out some more yards and end up with a chip shot field goal.
Monday, Chryst said the one situation where he wished he had used a timeout was after Vinopal's non-interception. That would have given the replay booth more time to look at it and maybe call for a review. It's easy in retrospect, but tough at that point in the game if you're not absolutely positive to burn a timeout.