Despite Four James Conner Rushing Touchdowns, The Pitt Defense Collapses And Falls To UNC 40-35


Nov 15, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) runs for a touchdown as North Carolina Tar Heels defensive tackle Justin Thomason (98) and cornerback Desmond Lawrence (2) and running back Malik Simmons (11) defend in the first quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into today, Pitt needed to win two of three games to become bowl eligible.

Pitt sophomores James Conner and Tyler Boyd gave it all they had, but Pitt still couldn’t manage to come out with a win at North Carolina.  The Tar Heels knocked Pitt off 40-35 in a high scoring affair.

Conner barreled into the end zone on a 22 yard run to give Pitt a 35-34 advantage with 3:33 remaining in the fourth quarter.

For as awful as the Pitt defense was playing, Pitt fans knew there was too much time left on the clock.

Despite the UNC kicker’s struggles this year, the Panthers could not hold UNC to a game winning field goal attempt.  Their longest field goal this season was only 23 yards.

Instead, the Tar Heels went right down the field, and Williams converted a 4th down and 2, when the whole stadium knew he was going to run for the first down.  UNC capped the 75-yard drive with a game winning 1-yard touchdown, in similar fashion to their victory against Georgia Tech last month.

For Pitt, Conner had 30 carries for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Boyd had 5 receptions for 160 yards and 1 touchdown.  Sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik was only 11 of 16 passing for 218 yards and 1 touchdown.

Conner broke Pitt and ACC records for most rushing yards as a sophomore, but I am sure he would have much rather wanted the win than a record.

Despite jumping out to a 14-0 lead, the Pitt defense forgot that Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams was a mobile playmaker.  Williams ran 19 times for 122 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He also threw for 276 yards and 1 touchdown.

Conner opened up the game with a 56 yard rushing TD, followed by another 16 yard rushing TD as Pitt lead 14-0 in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Williams scored on a 23-yard rush to make it 14-7.  Tyler Boyd then dashed into the end zone on a 50-yard TD pass from Voytik, but Williams punched it in from 2 yards out to make it 21-13 at the end of the second quarter.  The Tar Heels went for a two point conversion that failed.

Nov 15, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Tyler Boyd (23) scores a touchdown as North Carolina Tar Heels running back Donnie Miles (15) defends in the first half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In the third quarter, the Pitt defense lost sight of Ryan Switzer, whose punt returns were the difference in last year’s game at Heinz Field.  Switzer scored on a 63-yard TD pass to make it 21-19.

Conner, who would go on to surpass LeSean McCoy’s sophomore rushing yardage record in this game, scored from 2 yards out to increase the Pitt lead 28-19.  However, on the following drive, Charles Brunson scored from 17 out to cut the lead to 28-26.

In the fourth quarter, Williams flew into the end zone from 45 yards out, as it appeared that no Pitt Panthers defenders were even on the field.  Despite Pitt blowing a lead it held for most of the game, Conner continued to power Pitt with a 22-yard TD late in the fourth.

The downfall was that Pitt left too much time on the clock, and Matt House’s Pitt defense had no answers for the Tar Heels quarterback.  A methodical drive down the field was punched in from 1 yard out by T.J. Logan to make it 40-35.

Voytik scrambled on the ensuing drive and fumbled after a 21 yard pickup with under 30 seconds to play.

This is another devastating loss that nearly eliminates Pitt from bowl eligibility.  Huge efforts by Conner and Boyd were ruined due to the inability to stop Marquise Williams, when everyone in the stadium knew he was going to try to make a play.

The Pitt defense has looked horrendous the past three games against Georgia Tech, Duke, and now North Carolina.  There have not appeared to be any adjustments, and the lack of defense has resulted in another miserable weekend for Pitt Panthers fans.

It is very frustrating to lose when your top playmakers, like Conner and Boyd, put up huge numbers.

The Panthers cannot simply rely upon Conner and Boyd every game.  Voytik and other young playmakers need to step up on offense for Pitt to become a better team.

Pitt will host Syracuse next Saturday for their final home game of the season.


Brett is a staff writer for City of Champions Sports.  Follow him on Twitter @BJoseph21.