Panthers not getting ahead of themselves after Clemson upset
PITTSBURGH (AP) — As a general rule, Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt tries to steer clear of social media. He logs onto Facebook only occasionally, joking he likes something every couple of months so people know he’s still alive. Twitter is pretty much out. Consider it an act of self-preservation to avoid the all-too-convenient puns that pop up whenever one of his kicks sails wide of the mark.
Funny how all those puns vanished when Blewitt drilled a last-second 48-yard field goal that lifted the Panthers over then second-ranked Clemson 43-42 and sent shockwaves throughout the College Football Playoff picture.
“It’s always fun to be able to shut people up,” Blewitt said.
Something Blewitt and the Panthers (6-4, 3-3 ACC) did with one frantic fourth-down fourth-quarter stop and one final sweep of Blewitt’s right leg in what by any stretch is the program’s biggest victory in nearly a decade, September’s thriller over Penn State included.
“Based on my phone blowing up, it was bigger than the Penn State win,” coach Pat Narduzzi said.
Now comes the hard part: backing it up. As cathartic as holding off the Nittany Lions felt in the renewal of a rivalry that was dormant for 15 years, the momentum didn’t last. Pitt went on the road and dropped its next two games, narrow losses to Oklahoma State and North Carolina.
Doing the same while wrapping up the regular season at home against Duke (4-6, 1-5) and Syracuse (4-6, 2-4) and all the joy will fade quickly. And the Panthers know it.
“At 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, nobody cares what you did last week,” coach Pat Narduzzi said.
True, though if there’s one hallmark Narduzzi has tried to imprint on the Panthers during his two seasons on the job it’s this: be resilient. It’s why he gave Blewitt a kiss (literally) after an early extra point attempt was blocked. Yes, really.
“I’d say it definitely was a first,” Blewitt said. “I do appreciate the message, but the gesture caught me off guard.”
Narduzzi understood there would be a point later in the game when Pitt would need Blewitt to come through again and rather than have Blewitt spend 15 minutes on the bench beating himself up, Narduzzi opted to take a more optimistic approach. For all of Narduzzi’s sideline histrionics, he makes it a point to never publicly chastise his players. That’s what practice is for, not the games.
“I could tell he was down a little bit,” Narduzzi said. “He just had that look on his face. I told him, àWipe that off.’ There’s not a player on offense, defense, that didn’t make a (mistake).”
Blewitt atoned — and then some — by nailing the kick that served as the tipping point of a wild Saturday in which the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 teams in the College Football Playoff ranking lost. Seeing the replay, the one in which Blewitt raised his arms to signal “good” almost the instant the ball left his foot, was cool. Yet it was one step in the process.
“I wouldn’t say, àI did it,'” Blewitt said. “I’d say our team definitely came through.”
It also allowed the Panthers to head home without the pressure of trying to become bowl eligible. Pitt, however, is quick to avoid the notion that it has finally arrived. Celebrating on the field in Death Valley was a sweet moment to be sure, but also a fleeting one if it doesn’t turn into something more.
“It’s great to knock off the No. 2 team in the country,” Narduzzi said. “If we’re capable of coming to Heinz Field and getting it done, it’s just as big. Other people might not think it but (we do). … We still have got a long way to go.”