Column | If the Panthers want to start winning ‘game of inches,’ they need to capitalize on chances


Patrick Cavanagh | Senior Staff Photographer

Sophomore wide receiver Konata Mumpfield (14) attempts to catch the ball during the Johnny Majors Classic Saturday vs. Tennessee.

By Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt showed guts in Saturday’s 34-27 loss to Tennessee, but there was no glory to show for it due to a multitude of missed opportunities. The Panthers didn’t take a stranglehold of the matchup, and it cost them in a back and forth affair that proved why football is a game of small margins. Head Coach Pat Narduzzi said his team lost because they couldn’t capitalize when they needed to.

“It was a game of inches,” Narduzzi said after the loss. “And there were inches all over the place that we needed to get.”

Here are some takeaways from Pitt’s first loss of the season.

Slovis is better operating in the shotgun

The Panthers got out to a 10-0 lead early, and they did it all out of the shotgun.

That’s not a hyperbole. They didn’t run a single play with senior quarterback Kedon Slovis under center on their first two drives of the game, and that trend continued throughout the first half.

Before his injury, Slovis looked poised and in rhythm passing out of the shotgun, leading to a great start offensively. The Panthers didn’t just find success passing the ball out of the shotgun early, but also running the ball as well. Junior running back Izzy Abanikanda darted 76 yards for a score to put Pitt up two scores.

But Pitt struggled to find a balance after that and went too pass-heavy. Just because you are in a shotgun doesn’t mean the offense is one-dimensional. Abanikanda carried the ball just two more times the rest of the half after his touchdown run. That shouldn’t happen. 

Pitt definitely found something with its shotgun-heavy offense with Slovis at the controls — they just need to clean some things up. But that might not matter, as the severity of his injury hasn’t been disclosed yet. If he’s out for a while, that changes a whole lot, as we saw in the second half. If he returns soon, Pitt should look to return to the same gameplan. 

Offensive line underwhelms for second straight week

The offensive line couldn’t protect Slovis or senior quarterback Nick Patti — who filled in for Slovis in the second half — all game. 

The Vols finished with 15 quarterback hurries. For such an experienced group, that is unacceptable. Constant pressure on the quarterback was a huge reason why the Panthers couldn’t come away with the victory.

After Slovis left the game, Patti got banged up and could hardly walk for much of the second half. Pitt isn’t going to accomplish much unless the offensive line does a better job of protecting the quarterback.

Last season Pitt’s offensive line collectively grew and improved over the course of the season. This season, they have taken a step backward as a unit. They certainly haven’t been close to being one of the strengths of the team as many expected them to be out of camp. 

If they don’t improve, it limits Pitt’s potential the rest of the way.

Too many points left on the board

I’m not sure where to even start with this one.

Pitt left almost 20 points on the field on Saturday. 

Pitt sophomore wide receiver Konata Mumpfield dropped a pass on Pitt’s opening drive that would’ve been good for at least a first down, but they had to settle for a field goal. 

Later, sophomore wide receiver Bub Means dropped a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone which fell into the arms of a Volunteer. If Means pulled the ball in, Pitt would have gone up by 17 points, changing the game drastically. 

And that was just the start of the Panthers’ miscues. 

Pitt opted to go for it on fourth down deep inside Tennessee territory but couldn’t convert. Right before the half, Slovis fumbled the ball away at Pitt’s own 28 yard-line after taking a hard hit. The Vols turned it into points just three plays later. 

Pitt sophomore kicker Ben Sauls missed two field goals in the second half — from 36 and 46 yards out. The Panthers blocked a punt and took over at Tennessee’s 25 yard-line and forced a fumble inside Volunteer territory to set up those opportunities for Sauls. To start in that field position and get no points out of it is an absolute backbreaker. 

Pitt needs to put touchdowns on the board in situations like that, but at the very least, the offense needs to come away with points. To not get any points on two separate occasions was the difference between winning and losing the game.

Mistakes happen. That’s part of football. But you need to take advantage at some point and take control of the game. Pitt didn’t, and the team is likely kicking themselves for it, because this game was more than winnable, even without Slovis. 

Defense showed its potential in second half

After giving up 24 points and 266 total yards in the first half, the Panther defense showed how dominant it can be after coming out of the break. 

Tennessee scored just three points in the second half prior to overtime, averaging less than a yard per carry on 11 carries. Pitt held the Volunteers to just 1-7 on third downs and recorded two sacks, along with forcing a fumble.

Pitt’s defense flat out took over the game. While the Panthers offense couldn’t take advantage, the defense kept them in the game and gave them every opportunity to come away with a victory. 

The Panthers put up as good of a defensive performance as you could ask for against a high-tempo, explosive offense. Their defensive backs got beat for some deep balls, but that is to be expected in a Narduzzi defense.

After holding an offense of Tennessee’s caliber in check for an entire half, Pitt’s defense should continue to dominate with the schedule softening up over the next few weeks. 

Pitt needs to get healthy

The Panthers need to get back some of their key contributors. 

If Pitt gets Slovis, sophomore running back Rodney Hammond and others back soon, they could string together a lengthy win streak. If they are out for an extended period of time, they will be vulnerable down the road in ACC play. 

It’s really that simple. If the Panthers are healthy, they have the talent to win another ACC Championship. As the schedule eases up over the course of the next month, the Panthers should look to put games away early to grant their players some extra rest.