Enigmatic Panthers keep spinning wheels
Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst is a stickler for consistency, treating each week the same no matter the opponent. If only the Panthers' results were as easily predictable as their coach's behavior.
A week after upsetting Notre Dame to move within a game of becoming bowl eligible for the sixth straight season, the Panthers saw a late comeback fall short. They lost 34-27 to North Carolina, dropping Pitt to 5-5 and 2-4 in the ACC.
It's a pattern that's dogged the team for years, though Chryst insists these problems can be fixed for Saturday's game at Syracuse.
''It's not like guys are riding waves of being into it and out of it,'' he said Monday. ''It's more that guys are taking their turn with making mistakes that we can't rally past. The way we're playing, we're living on a fine line. There's a small margin for error.''
Particularly on offense, where quarterback Tom Savage's weekly battle to remain upright continues. The Tar Heels sacked him seven times Saturday. Pinning the poor protection to one thing is unwise. Chryst said there are times when Savage needs to get rid of the ball and others where a lineman simply got beat.
The news for an already undermanned and inexperienced line isn't getting any better. The Panthers played without starting left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and left guard Cory King because of back injuries.
''You're concerned about them, but you don't know how they happened,'' Chryst said. ''They could have just happened. ... It's Cory's senior season, so we want to see him playing. (Bisnowaty) has been fighting through it. But what you feel good about is that we don't have to go far for really good care.''
Freshman Dorian Johnson started for Bisnowaty, but he was replaced by fifth-year senior Juantez Hollins in the second half. The move seemed to give the running game some juice. James Conner found more space to maneuver and the Panthers roared back from a 24-point deficit to tie the game before letting it slip away.
The inconsistent play isn't limited to the offense. Outside of senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Pitt's defense remains an enigmatic mixed bag. North Carolina dominated much of the first half but was shut down over the final 28 minutes.
''We don't want to miss tackles, but they do occur,'' Chryst said. ''We don't want to miss blocks, but that happens. So, if you have a lot of assignment mistakes, that's more disconcerting than it would be than a guy getting beat. And is he getting beat from his help side or otherwise? So, we have to just keep grinding away at it.''
Two losses in the secondary with injuries to backups Trenton Coles and Titus Howard certainly hampered things and two-year starting cornerback Lafayette Pitts was replaced in the first quarter by Jahmahl Pardner for an undisclosed disciplinary reason. That didn't help Pitt's defense get off to a fast start, either.
Coles was clearly missed on special teams as well. He was a gunner on the coverage units that allowed a 29-yard kickoff return and punt returns for touchdowns from 65 and 61 yards by North Carolina's Ryan Switzer, which were the difference in the final score.
NOTES: Chryst said TE Scott Orndoff and DE Ejuan Price are doubtful to play against the Orange. Orndoff missed the last game and Price has been out four weeks. ... Savage and WR Devin Street, injured against North Carolina, would be evaluated this week along with Coles and Howad and Bisnowaty and King.