Facing a fourth-and-goal from the Penn State 1-yard line with under five minutes left in regulation, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi had a decision to make.
Narduzzi, with his team trailing 17-10, had already made the bold decision to go for it from his own territory on a fourth-and-short play earlier in the drive and got a big conversion. This time around, his offense had already been stopped on three plays from the 1. Facing the rival Nittany Lions on the road, surely Narduzzi would try to tie the score, right?
The fifth-year Panthers coach perplexingly sent his kicker out. And the usually reliable Alex Kessman doinked the 19-yard try off the left upright.
When asked about the decision after the game, Narduzzi’s explanation did not provide much clarity.
Pat Narduzzi on why he opted for a field goal with a fourth and one with five minutes left, down seven
‘Because you need two scores to win the football game.’
He added that he doesn’t question that decision ‘at all’
— Craig Meyer (@CraigMeyerPG) September 14, 2019
After the miss, Penn State was able to drain some time off the clock before Pitt got one final chance with the ball with 1:39 remaining. The Panthers, thanks to a few highlight-reel catches from Taysir Mack, would advance all the way to the Penn State 26, but a last-second heave from quarterback Kenny Pickett fell incomplete and PSU was able to escape with a 17-10 victory.
It was an ugly game that was tied 10-10 at halftime thanks to a school-record 57-yard field goal from Penn State’s Jordan Stout.
The only points of the second half would come from Noah Cain, a true freshman running back who capped off an 88-yard drive with a 13-yard scoring burst with 5:50 left in the third. Cain’s score gave PSU a 17-10 lead it would not relinquish.
The Penn State defense — with some help from Narduzzi’s perplexing decision-making — would take things from there. Pitt punted on its first three second-half possessions, including once on fourth-and-2 from the Penn State 48 early in the fourth quarter.
But Pickett got things moving on the fourth drive of the half, impressively converting on several third-and-long plays. And a remarkable catch by Mack set up the Panthers with a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line with just under six minutes remaining. With their running game struggling, Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple kept the ball in Pickett’s hands, but Penn State got pressure on him, forcing incompletions on first and third down and stopping him for a loss of half a yard on second down.
Those efforts set the scene for what could prove to be one of the more dumbfounding coaching decisions of the season so far — trying to cut the PSU lead to 17-13 instead of going for the tie. And it proved costly for the Panthers.
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