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When it rains, it pours: Yellow Jackets upset Panthers at home 26-21

Mother Nature reared its ugly head on Pittsburgh Saturday, dumping rain on the City nearly the entire day. But it wasn’t just the rain coming down at Acrisure Stadium.

The fans that weathered the storm at Acrisure Stadium were not pleased with the team’s lackluster offense and made sure the team heard it. The Panther faithful rained down boos after the offense’s ineffective drives consistently ended in three-and-outs.

As the saying goes, when it rains it pours.

Pitt (3-2, 0-1 ACC) turned the ball over three times and fell to the Yellow Jackets (2-3, 1-1 ACC) 26-21 on Saturday night. The Panthers went 2-12 on third-downs and scored just 21 points against the Yellow Jackets. Head coach Pat Narduzzi said the loss is nobody’s fault but his own.

“It starts with me,” Narduzzi said. “There’s no finger pointing in our locker room. It starts with me. Number one, obviously I didn’t do a good enough job getting them ready. We’ll go back to work tomorrow at 2 o’clock with our kids and go back to get on to Virginia Tech.”

The Panthers have struggled to stop the run on the second level this year and that trend bled into the early portion of this one. Georgia Tech ripped off a few runs to keep its opening drive alive before a 33-yard pass from sophomore Jeff Sims set the Yellow Jackets up in Pitt territory. The Yellow Jackets capitalized on the field position and nailed a 37-yard field goal to pick up an early 3-0 lead. Senior linebacker SirVocea Dennis said he was surprised with how many yards the Yellow Jackets piled up.

“232 [yards]?” SirVocea said. “Yes I am surprised at that. 232 wow. We just have to go look at the tape and clean up what we can.”

Pitt didn’t have much offensive success early on. On its first three drives, the offense picked up a combined five yards and Slovis completed just two of six passing attempts. The Yellow Jackets surrendered 239.7 yards rushing per game coming into their clash with the Panthers. But offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti opted to throw the ball six times in the opening drives.

The Yellow Jackets’ offense wasn’t doing much either after their opening drive. But a flurry of mistakes from the Panthers granted Georgia Tech extra chances. Senior safety Erick Hallett dropped a pair of interceptions on the first couple of drives. To make matters worse, sophomore specialist PJ O’Brien roughed the punter on fourth-and-long to give the Yellow Jackets a fresh set of downs.

But the Yellow Jackets simply couldn’t take advantage of the extra opportunities, keeping the score at 3-0.

Cignetti eventually decided it was time to run the football and it paid off. Senior running back Vincent Davis ran the ball four straight times for 27 yards, finally finding some sort of rhythm for the offense. Just as it seemed the Panthers found their groove, a false start penalty and a Pitt timeout put an end to another futile drive.

After Georgia Tech’s opening drive field goal, the two teams had drives that ended in a punt on eight straight possessions.

On their sixth possession, Pitt came within striking distance. The offense faced a fourth-and-five from their own 33-yard line and head coach Pat Narduzzi sent out his kicking unit to attempt a field goal. But he decided to burn a timeout and put his offense out there to go for it — it didn’t pay off. Yet another Slovis incompletion led to a turnover-on-downs, giving the Yellow Jackets possession.

Georgia Tech took advantage of favorable field possession and kicked another field goal to tack on three more points.

On the ensuing drive, Pitt flipped the script and took advantage of a couple of mistakes from the Yellow Jackets. A roughing the passer penalty on Georgia Tech set the Panthers up for a scoring opportunity. Despite his struggles early on, Slovis composed himself and hit sophomore tight end Gavin Bartholomew for a 29-yard touchdown. After a successful extra point, Pitt took a 7-6 lead, which it would take into the half.

After the first half, both offenses combined for just 224 yards of offense and 13 points. The Panther defense kept them in the game, picking up four sacks and six tackles for a loss in the first half alone. Slovis said he has to play better in order to help the Panthers win football games.

“I think at times I should’ve been more decisive,” Slovis said. “Tonight I’ve got to play better for us to win.”

Pitt came out of the second half and ran the ball well in its opening drive. The Panthers made their way into Georgia Tech territory but Davis fumbled and the Yellow Jackets scooped it up and returned it all the way to the Pitt 17-yard line. But the Pitt defense refused to break and held the Yellow Jackets to a field goal. Georgia Tech’s third field goal of the game gave the Yellow Jackets a 9-7 lead halfway through the third quarter. 

Slovis’ struggles continued in the second half, throwing an interception which led to another field goal for the Yellow Jackets to extend their lead to 12-7. Pitt took back over after the fourth field goal from Georgia Tech and promptly turned the ball over once again. Davis fumbled for the second time in the contest, giving the Yellow Jackets the ball back in Pitt territory.

Sims didn’t squander this opportunity. He led a four play, 34-yard touchdown drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown to senior EJ Jenkins, giving Georgia Tech a 19-7 lead. Pitt again failed to generate a threat on the ensuing offensive drive, as the game slipped away.

With this one all but over, the crowd began filing out of the stadium after the Georgia Tech touchdown. Slovis did give the Panthers some life after he led a 99-yard scoring drive to bring the score to 19-14. But it was too little, too late. Georgia Tech added one more touchdown before the final whistle blew for good measure, deflating an already small crowd.

The Panthers will have a chance to avenge this week’s loss next week against Virginia Tech. The game against the Hokies will kickoff at 3:30 p.m. and air on ACC Network.

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