The numbers show it all. Pitt has outscored opponents by a combined 73-35 in the first three quarters of all three games. They also have yet to give up a single point in the first quarter. Unfortunately, the fourth quarter tells the tale. Despite being 2-1, Pitt has been outscored 41-24 in three games, including this past Saturday where they gave up three fourth quarter touchdown passes.
A closer look at the fourth quarter passing statistics is even more disturbing. Buffalo completed 12-of-18 passes for 103 yards with a touchdown run. Maine completed 13-of-19 passes for 150 yards, a touchdown pass and a touchdown run. On Saturday, Iowa completed 8-of-12 passes for 162 yards and three touchdown passes allowed. That's a combined three game total of 33-of-49 (75.5%) completed passes by opponents for 415 yards, four passing touchdowns allowed, two rushing touchdowns allowed, with no turnovers forced. Outside of the fourth quarter, opponents have completed 57-of-94 (60.6%) for 594 yards, 1 touchdown pass and two interceptions.
The numbers are significantly increased in that one quarter—the fourth quarter—compared to the rest of the season totals for the third quarter.
Where does this start, and what can the defense do to correct things? Pitt did start the fourth quarter of the game at Iowa with a 24-10 lead. Conventional wisdom says you can just run the ball to eat up some clock, possibly on your way to another school. Head coach Todd Graham says that his fact-pace, no–huddle type of offense doesn't call for that.
"There will be times where we will slow down and strategically do things differently," Graham said. "An offense is about running a rhythm and you can't just change the rhythm and expect to be successful. We wouldn't have changed anything about our tempo in that game. We ran plays about every twenty seconds, which is a couple of seconds slower than we have in the past. Our tempo is not why we lost the game, but because we turned the football over and made too many mental errors."
Since it's the fourth quarter, are the players getting tired? Chas Alecxih doesn't think so. He did offer a suggestion that does make sense; one that also falls in line with the team's overall response to making a transition in this new system.
"I think we got up by so much, so early, we just got complacent," Alecxih said. "We weren't playing like we were behind. We weren't playing like it was a close game. We were playing like we're up 21—which we were—but as you saw, that's dangerous to do. The key is playing like you're behind, when you're ahead."
The cornerbacks tightening up their coverages is something that is more visible; something Graham feels is on its way to being corrected. He placed that blame on himself and the coaching staff.
"There were a couple of times where the players had the wrong call," Graham said. "It was a communication problem. It is our fault as coaches and it is our responsibility to do a better job with communicating to our players. I think we also overestimated how much we can do. We need to teach our system better and continue to run the system."
Cornerback K'Waun Williams feels there are just little things in regards to the coverages that are close to working themselves out.
"Just minor stuff, like Coach Graham says; little coverages and stuff that he's calling," Williams said. "I think we put it all together. We're going to be good for Notre Dame.
"It's not really a scheme, it's just little things like certain calls and alignments, and things like that. We're playing to the system. Whatever alignment (Graham) calls for, that's what we're going to play. I think we're playing pretty tight."
Is there a way for other positions to help out the secondary with that?
"Just that we have to finish," Alecxih said. "We took our foot off their throat. We can't do that if we want to be successful. We're going to finish games from now on."