There are games that in which a team just beats you and games in which you beat yourself. Pitt got some of both Saturday at Heinz Field. And now Pat Narduzzi’s team has to pick up the pieces.
The No. 24 Panthers committed 13 penalties for 125 yards, including 11 on defense and three on third downs, helping NC State to a 30-29 upset win.
The loss is Pitt’s first, keeping the program from its first 4-0 start in 20 years.
“Nobody cares what you did last week,” Narduzzi said. “It’s all what you do this week… Sometimes the best medicine is to get humbled, as far as who you are and what you do, and just remember how you got where you are.”
“We gave them the game with offsides penalties and we kept having penalties we should not have had,” defensive end Patrick Jones sad. “We should’ve did better in practice with it. It’s something we have to go in, next week, and work on. We can’t have that no more… It’s unacceptable.”
On top of the flags, Pitt failed to take advantage of trips to the red zone.
The Panthers settled for three field goals and, midway through the third quarter, were denied on four attempts from NC State’s 1-yard line.
"Heartbreaking and embarrassing,” Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey bluntly said of the inability to put the ball in the end zone.
“When you’re on the 1-yard line, we’ve got to punch it in early,” said quarterback Kenny Pickett, who passed for a career-high 411 yards. “That’s the biggest play that’s sticking out in my head right now.”
The futility near the goal line is not uncommon and something that Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple have been working to improve since Whipple arrived in Pittsburgh last summer.
“There’s things that we need to do better when we get down there,” Narduzzi said. “We focused on it more than we ever have. Give (NC State) credit, they’ve got a good defense and they played well today. We had our opportunities, but we’ve just got to finish.”
But it was NC State’s offense, and it’s hot start, that perhaps caught off guard a Panthers team that has received national acclaim for its stingy defense.
Pitt had allowed 177 yards on average in its first three games, but let up 204 yards to NC State on the first three Wolfpack series. Pitt flexed its muscles after that, letting up only 107 yards on the next 29 plays.
However, over the final two drives, NC State racked up 151 yards and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 23 seconds left.
“It was a very humbling loss,” defensive end Patrick Jones said. “It wasn’t a feeling we wanted to feel and it’s not a feeling we plan on feeling again.
"Next week we're going to bring it. We're going to bring our A game. We won't have any of the mistakes we had today. I'm going to make sure of it.”
Pitt’s season is not dead. The Panthers travel to face Boston College next week before back-to-back games against nationally ranked opponents in Miami and Notre Dame. So there’s room to get back into the ACC spotlight, no matter how crushing this loss might be in the moment.
"We have a high standard for this 2020 team and that standard's not going to change,” Morrissey said. “We're going to be a lot better next week."