Pitt fell to North Carolina 41-24 on Saturday night in a clearly one-sided affair. The Panthers were no match for redshirt sophomore quarterback Drake Maye and North Carolina, as the game quickly became a tough one to stomach for many Panther fans.
Coming into the game, Pitt strived to open up conference play with a statement win versus a ranked opponent, but it would not ultimately come to fruition. Here are some keys to why that happened.
Maye and his receivers were near-perfect
For the majority of the game, Pitt could not stop any sort of momentum from North Carolina’s offensive front. Maye threw for 296 yards and a touchdown against a sputtering Pitt secondary. Additionally, Maye ran the ball into the end zone for two more touchdowns, bringing his touchdown total on the day to three.
Maye now ranks No. 15 in the country in completion percentage, tied with Georgia’s redshirt sophomore Carson Beck.
One important aspect that allowed North Carolina’s offense to thrive was their receivers’ catching abilities. Over the course of the entire game, the North Carolina receiving core registered just two dropped passes, both happening in second down and long situations. While Maye is one of the most talented quarterbacks in college football right now, much of the credit from this game has to go to the remarkable moves and catch attempts from his receivers.
Pitt’s defensive strength changed
The Panthers entered this contest with the second-best passing defense across college football and a slightly above average rushing defense. What transpired during the game seemed to signify a shift in where Pitt’s defensive strengths lay.
The Panthers could not stop Maye and his receivers in the air, allowing almost 300 yards on the pass. They even allowed Maye to complete a touchdown pass mid-sack with his nondominant left hand.
Their strength, however, came on run defense. The Panthers held the Tar Heels on the ground to just 77 yards, 66 of which came from sophomore running back Omarion Hampton. Additionally, the longest rushing touchdown allowed by the Panthers was seven yards.
The defense was entirely unsatisfactory, as they allowed 40 or more points for just the third time since 2020. The last time the Panthers allowed 40 or more points in a game was against Maye and North Carolina last November, in an away defeat that ended 42-24.
The offense is full of confusion
Following two rough outings against Cincinnati and West Virginia, redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec looked to prove doubters wrong to open up conference play. He achieved exactly that in the first half against North Carolina, completing smart passes for first downs. He connected with Pitt receivers on his first seven passes in a row, totaling 57 yards. He additionally was able to rush for 20 yards on the first drive, igniting a previously stagnant offense.
Right before the end of the first half, however, Jurkovec became a victim of a helmet-to-helmet hit that would sideline him for the rest of the contest. Redshirt sophomore Christian Veilleux played the second half. According to Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, Jurkovec did not enter concussion protocol following the hit.
Veilleux could not get much done on the offensive side of the ball, as Pitt did not score a single point in the second half. The redshirt sophomore ended the game credited with three turnovers, two interceptions and a fumble.
In the first half on Saturday, Jurkovec looked a lot like the quarterback that Panther fans hoped for when he transferred to Pitt last spring. Considering his performance, Jurkovec will likely start throughout the remainder of the season.
One brighter spot on the offense was the running backs. The Panthers totaled 110 rushing yards and both of the team’s touchdowns on the day came on the ground. Junior Rodney Hammond rushed for 89 of those yards and averaged 5.9 yards per rush. They were able to gain separation for the first time this season and create plays in the backfield in an offense that is typically run-heavy.
Overall, the Tar Heels played as observers would expect a top 20 college football program to play, and the Panthers were not ready to take on the challenge.
There were some glimmers of hope, but many glaring holes in the Panthers’ gameplay. The schedule does not get easier from here, so Pitt fans should expect close games as the Panthers continue the rest of ACC conference play.
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