In a 24-21 loss at Navy last week, Pitt couldn't hold on despite a good first half.
This week, they started slow out of the gate. Despite a stronger second half this time around, they couldn't complete the comeback in a 21-10 loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday night.
The loss brings Pitt back to .500, a 4-4 overall record on the season, and a 2-3 record in conference play.
"You have to give Georgia Tech, they made some plays, especially at the end," head coach Paul Chryst said. "There's plays to be made when the game matters, and I don't think we made enough."
The good news is that the Panthers finish with three of their final four games at home. The bad news is that their four remaining opponents--Notre Dame, North Carolina, Syracuse and Miami--all have won at least two of their last four games at this point of the season. Unlike a Pitt team, that all of a sudden has just one win in its last four games, following a 3-1 start to the season.
Tom Savage completed 24-37 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Boyd set a career-high with 11 receptions, totaling 118 yards and a touchdown. Aaron Donald was a force on defense, finishing with 11 solo stops, six tackles for losses and two forced fumbles.
"He's a phenomenal player," Savage said of Donald. "That's really all I can say about it."
With some minor changes on the offensive line, true freshman Dorian Johnson made the first start of his career at left tackle. On Pitt's first drive of the game, Johnson got beat by senior defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, who dropped Savage for a 10-yard loss, forcing the Panthers to punt.
"He's one of the toughest guys I've met," Savage said of Johnson. "I've been there before. I know that feeling. At the end of the day, you have to go out there and play ball."
Georgia Tech answered with a 12-yard touchdown run from David Sims. The Ramblin' Wreck's offense drove 64 yards on seven plays, with ease, highlighted by a 30-yard run by Robert Godhigh on the first play. Georgia Tech averaged 9.5 yards per rush on six running plays, on the first drive.
The Ramblin' Wreck was heading for another easy score. That was until Sims dropped the ball, untouched, after gaining five yards. Matt Galambos jumped on the loose ball for the Panthers. Pitt took over, down 7-0, with 3:10 left in the first quarter.
Even better, Georgia Tech held a decided advantage in total yards--115 to 1--yet Pitt only trailed 7-0.
Even when given a turnover, Pitt couldn't capitalize. A loss on a screen pass, followed by a completion to Artie Rowell on third down. Good for Rowell, the center, for making a heads up play and making the catch. Also bad, because when the center makes the catch, it's a penalty for ineligible receiver downfield.
Pitt trailed 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, with one total yard after 15 minutes of play.
Georgia Tech even took a cue from Navy's game plan, going for it on fourth down and six at the Pitt 37. Lee tried to scramble out of the pocket. Thanks to some pursuit on the backside, Aaron Donald was there for the sack. Pitt took over at its own 38.
Though Pitt was able to answer with a 44-yard field goal from Chris Blewitt, the got the biggest help from a 15-yard personal foul call on defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu.
Georgia Tech held a significant edge in total yards and time of possession. Yet, they only led Pitt 7-3, thanks to a turnover deep in Pitt territory, and that 15-yard penalty that led to Pitt's first score of the game.
And as a Georgia Tech was feeding Pitt mistakes, keeping the Panthers in the ball game, Pitt's defense was able to make a stop. Donald, again, stopped Lee on. Third-and-short situation. It looked like the defense was catching up, maybe allowing the Pitt offense get into a groove. Punter Sean Poole had other plans. He snuck a 12-yard run on a fake punt attempt.
His run set the Ramblin' Wreck up with a first-and-ten at the Pitt 38. Two plays later, Robert Godhigh ran it in from 35 yards out. Georgia Tech took a 14-3 lead with 5:58 left in the first half, which better resembled their advantage in total yards (224-22) and time of possession (15:10-8:52).
The Pitt offense showed some sign of life on its next drive--Savage completing passes to Kevin Weatherspoon and Devin Street, before facing a 4th-and-8 at the Georgia Tech 43. With just under two minutes left, Paul Chryst decided to punt the ball away, giving the Ramblin' Wreck one more shot at it.
The Pitt defense tightened up, holding Georgia Tech to a three-and-out. Pitt also had one more shot at it, but the half ended with Euclid Cummings sacking Tom Savage for the fourth time of the day. Georgia Tech led 14-3 at the half.
It appeared to be a tale of two halves for a second week in a row. The first time Pitt's offense took the field in the second half, it looked the most confident and efficient that it's bee in quite some time. Savage guided the offense on a six-play, 58-yard drive that lasted just over three minutes.
Pitt managed just four first downs in the entire first half. Pitt matched that total on the opening drive of the half, with Boyd responsible for three of them. He caught three passes for 34 yards, including the 12-yard touchdown.
"Once we hit one play [on that drive], we were clicking," Boyd said. "Once we hit another, we were rolling, just like we do in practice. Once we get it like that, it's hard to lose."
Donald came up with another turnover for Pitt. He stopped Sims for no gain, forcing a fumble in the process. The ball was recovered by Darryl Render at the Pitt 39. Still down, just 14-10, Pitt had a change to take the lead. Instead, they went three-and-out, giving the ball back to Georgia Tech with 5:52 left in the third quarter.
But Pitt's defense rose to the occasion again. Even when Lee went up top for Darren Waller, defensive lineman Shakir Soto got to him. Corner Lafayette Pitts had plenty of time to knock the pass away. Anthony Gonzalez came up with a big stop on Lee on he very next play--a six-yard loss. Lee felt pressure from the backside, Donald. Instead of being hunted down by Donald again, who stopped him four times for losses to this point of the game, Gonzalez made a great read, dropping Lee for the loss.
Unfortunately for Pitt, they had to start on their own 14. Despite the not-so-great field position, Savage got things going with the offense. Tight end Manasseh Garner made a couple big catches to give Pitt some breathing room. He caught two passes for 17 yards.
Pitt mixed it up on third-and-short situations. Bennett ran for a gain of seven, Street caught a 15-yarder over the middle to get Pitt across midfield. After three quarters, Pitt trailed 14-10. Left for dead after the first half, Pitt's third quarter left them with hope.
Despite converting two third downs on this drive, the Panthers could not convert a third. Facing a third-and-seven at the Georgia Tech 47, Savage's pass was slightly ahead of Boyd. Pitt punted in Georgia Tech territory for a second time in the game, the ball going in the end zone for a touchback.
After another three-and-out, Pitt got the ball at its own 35, barely two minutes into the fourth quarter.
Savage found Boyd and J.P. Holtz for completions. That was it. Savage was sacked by Euclid Cummings on third down, a loss of eight. Pitt punted back to Georgia Tech, 10:04 left in the third quarter.
Georgia Tech took over seven minutes off the clock, marching 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by an 11-yard touchdown run by Robert Godhigh.
Donald didn't make it easy for the Georgia Tech offense. After crossing midfield. Lee bounced off one of his linemen, for no gain. The credit went to Donald, who pushed the lineman back, throwing off Lee's rhythm.
"I thought [Donald] made some big-time plays," Chryst said. "Certainly they were challenged, and that's a good offense."
Two plays later, it appeared Donald was the hero for Pitt once again. He stopped Lee in the backfield for a loss of six, forcing a fumble in the process. The fumble was recovered by Godhigh, but Georgia Tech had to convert a third-and-17.
That's when Lee went to the air. Though Georgia Tech only averages six completions per game due to their heavy emphasis on the triple-option attack, Lee completed the biggest pass of the game--maybe the season--putting a jump ball up for 6-3 receiver DeAndre Smelter. Smelter outreached corner Lafayette Pitts (5-11) and safety Ray Vinopal (5-10) to make the grab. It was a gain of 42. Two plays later, Godhigh took it in for the score.
"It really was [a jump ball]," Chryst added. "That's all it was."
Sims led Georgia Tech's attack with 94 yards rushing and a touchdown. Godhigh finished with 89 yards and two scores.
"It's frustrating losing, but we have to find a way to win," Savage said. "It's not easy, but we have to do it."