5 Takeaways From UNC's Loss At Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH – North Carolina was in another tight football game as the clock crept toward zero again Thursday night, and once again the Tar Heels lost, falling 34-27 in overtime to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.
Nine of UNC’s 10 games have come down to the last minute, and while the Tar Heels won the first two over South Carolina and Miami, they’ve now dropped six of seven. Overall, they are now 4-6 (3-4 ACC) and Pitt improved to 7-3 and 4-2.
Here are 5 Takeaways from UNC’s loss at Pitt:
(Note: Other takeaways are noted in different content items)
Long Drives Allowed
Pitt entered the game with the No. 87 offense in the nation averaging just 380 yards per game, but the Panthers well passed by that mark by the end of the third quarter and shattered it for the game, amassing 498 total yards.
Pitt had a lot of success generating long drives that consumed time and wore down UNC’s defense. Six of Pitt’s possessions went for 68 or more yards with four of them using 11 or more plays.
While Pitt hit on some really big plays, including a 74-yard touchdown pass, the longest UNC has allowed this season, and the Panthers had five pass plays that went 28 or more yards, it was the sustained drives that were crucial in the game’s outcome.
“We didn’t do anything right,” UNC Coach Mack Brown said. “We weren’t stopping the run, we weren’t stopping any passes, they hit two deep balls on us, so we’re not covering very well… The quarterback run hurt us again tonight.”
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett had his second best passing game of the season throwing for 359 yards and a TD and ran for 53 yards, a total that was 59 on 11 attempts if you take away UNC’s lone sack.
While Sam Howell and the Tar Heels have largely been outstanding in the fourth quarters of games this season, including Thursday night when they outscored Pitt 17-3, the two games they’ve played in overtime haven’t been nearly as fruitful.
In this game, the Heels had just one possession, in which they totaled eight yards in eight plays, ending with an incomplete pass into the end zone. Howell was 1-for-5 with eight yards and the Heels ran the ball three times for no yards. He was sacked for a loss of five yards on one of those runs.
Including the overtime loss at Virginia Tech, and the fifth and sixth OTs in Blacksburg don't factor here because the teams each ran one play as two-point conversion attempts, the Heels have run 29 offensive plays and totaled just 78 yards, which is an average of 2.7 yards per snap.
Now, since each possession starts at the opposing 25, there’s no chance to hit on big plays, but the offense must be better in these situations. In the OTs, Howell is 5-for-10 with 44 yards and the Heels have run the ball 14 times for 34 yards.
Howell Off, Howell On
Sam Howell completed his first nine pass attempts on the night but once Pitt’s pressure picked up Howell’s accuracy went south. He was 4-for-9 to close the half one time throwing an interception into double coverage. Eight plays before that and on the same possession, he got away with throwing the ball into triple coverage on Michael Carter. It was as if Howell wasn’t seeing downfield, especially over the middle, as well as he needs to.
Part of the problem was Pitt’s vaunted pass rush, which was No.2 in the nation entering the game. The Panthers got to Howell twice in the first half and forced at least one throw away.
But, Howell is a self-corrector during games, and this was no different. The line allowed him to go through his reads a bit more over the final 20 game minutes in regulation, so Howell caught fire again, finishing the night 27-for-43 with 322 yards and three more touchdowns along with that one interception.
“I definitely missed on some throws at times in this game,” Howell said. “I think overall the o-line did a really good job of keeping me protected, especially when the strength of their defense is their pass rush. I think they gave me plenty of time, it was just a couple of throws that I missed.”
Seemingly every time the Tar Heels needed a receiver to make a big play Dazz Newsome was there to get it done. The junior has become a much more polished receiver beating guys downfield, getting stuff on the edge, darting over the middle and making possession catches. He did all of that on this night and finished with 11 receptions for 170 yards and a touchdown. His longest reception went for 34 yards.
“Dazz was awesome,” Howell said. “I missed him a couple times but he’s open almost every single time he runs a route. He’s really great at finding space… he can take the top off whenever he wants to. Dazz is a really great player.”
Chippy, Chippy, Chippy
This game was chippy long before the opening kickoff. Pitt made no bones about how important this game was during the week, and it was clearly amped up. There was some stuff during warmups before the players even had on pads that was separated by coaches before it got ugly and there was more than customary talking and stuff on the field during the game.
On two occasions, the officials had to talk with the two head coaches when Pitt players found themselves next to UNC players grouped near the UNC bench. It was close to boiling over a few times but fortunately didn’t. To be fair, the chippiness went both ways.
“They got good at playing their game,” senior running back Antonio Williams said. “If that’s what they wanted to do they kind of did it early, so we had to try to stick to our game and as time went on it got onto us too late in the game.”