Defense falters in second half in loss at UNC


Pitt’s defense seemed to undergo an identity change from the first half to the second on Saturday.

Facing the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the unit held the hosts scoreless and to 36 total yards in the first quarter.

The Tar Heels, which entered the matchup having scored 40 or more points four times this season and averaging 423 yards a game, looked lifeless.

Pitt took advantage of its opponent’s condition, establishing an early lead on a James Conner rushing touchdown that it would hold for approximately the next 43 and a half minutes of play.

That success in suffocating a strong offensive attack began to slip, and didn’t return, ultimately resulting in a 40-35 loss for the visitors, their third straight. It was also the third consecutive game that the defense has allowed the opposition to score 40 points or more and amass 500-plus yards of total offense.

Sophomore Tyler Boyd expressed frustration afterward.

“Every week we’re toe to toe with an opponent, and it’s ‘We got the win,’ or it comes down to the wire every time. I don’t know what it is. I just don’t like it. It’s rough for me. It’s rough for James [Conner]. I’m a competitor. I love to win and hate to lose,” Boyd said. “Nobody likes losing, and, once you lose consistently, there’s nothing you like about it.”

He and running back Conner combined for five touchdowns and 380 offensive yards.

Sophomore linebacker Matt Galambos said UNC didn’t change what it did after he and the rest of the defense had that early success stopping it. 

“The biggest thing with their tempo is if we could get a three and out right away or stop them from getting going, then we were pretty confident,” Galambos said. 

Pitt forced UNC into such a situation on two of its three possessions in the opening quarter — something it would only do once in the second half.  

But, in the second quarter, UNC quarterback Marquise Williams began to run and throw his team back into the game.

He scored Carolina’s first two touchdowns, the second coming right before halftime on a two-yard play-action scramble. No Pitt players were in his vicinity until the end, when cornerback Lafayette Pitts — listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds — met the 6-foot-2 220-pound quarterback on the goal line, and Williams pushed him backwards into the end zone with a stiff arm.

By the time the game ended, he had collected 398 yards of total offense and four touchdowns — another rushing and one passing — tormenting Pitt head coach Paul Chryst in the process.

“Thought going in, the quarterback was a heck of a player,” Chryst said. “Obviously, he was.”

UNC’s momentum carried over into the second half, as it maintained its rhythm without disruption for the remainder of gameplay, something Chryst rued afterwards.

“Football’s game of momentum swings, and if one team has the momentum, you’ve got to get it back,” Chryst said.

The Tar Heels outscored Pitt 27-14 in the second half. 

Chryst didn’t blame the defensive struggles on UNC’s spread attack offense, a type that Duke also used with success last week in its 51-48 win over Pitt.

“Whatever you’re playing, whoever you’re playing, whatever style, we’ve got to be better,” he said.

Time is running out. Pitt needs to win its last two games in order to become bowl-eligible. It hosts Syracuse next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.