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For Narduzzi and Pitt, latest loss to UNC is 'same old, same old'

MORE FROM THE GAME - Narduzzi on the loss to UNC, the defensive issues and more | Post-game video: Narduzzi's press conference | Post-game video: Pitt players after the loss to UNC

CHAPEL HILL (NC) - As he sat down for his postgame press conference after Pitt’s 38-35 loss at North Carolina on Saturday, Pat Narduzzi pulled out a notepad.

That was for reference, as Narduzzi proceeded to list off the various plays that had gone wrong, the errors and mistakes and little details that derailed Pitt’s bid for its first 2-0 start in ACC play since 2015 and its first win against UNC since joining the conference in 2013.

He mentioned a holding penalty on a punt, a fumbled kickoff return, an offsides penalty - but before he got into those plays, before he listed the minutiae of Pitt’s latest defeat at the hands of the Tar Heels, he uttered these nine words:

“A little bit of the same old, same old.”

That wasn’t in Narduzzi’s notebook; it was an off-the-cuff remark that opened his press conference. And it summed up the feeling in the aftermath of yet another loss to North Carolina.

It’s becoming a habit at this point, no matter the circumstances. In the first few years of Pitt’s membership in the ACC, the Tar Heels had talented quarterbacks and high-end skill players. But last year, UNC entered its November game against Pitt with one win. This year, the Tar Heels were 0-2 and two weeks removed from a drubbing at the hands of East Carolina.

And both times, a seemingly down UNC team was decidedly up when it faced Pitt. Both games were decided by three points, but both went in the favor of Larry Fedora’s squad.

It’s not just about losing to UNC, though. That wasn’t the only “same old, same old” in Narduzzi’s statement. On Saturday, Tar Heels quarterback Nathan Elliott, he of the one-touchdown-and-four-interceptions stat line this season, threw for 313 yards - his first career 300-yard game - and two touchdowns on a sparkling 22-of-31 completion rate.

Just as there were breakdowns in the pass defense in countless games over the last three seasons, so were there breakdowns on Saturday. Cornerback Dane Jackson had tight coverage on a 37-yard pass that UNC receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams pulled in, but for the most part, the Tar Heels moved the ball through the air on throws through open windows.

Those pass defense issues were a continuation of a theme that has become all too prevalent during Narduzzi’s time at Pitt.

(UNC also rushed for 173 yards, including running back Antonio Williams’ first career 100-yard game, but that breakdown of Pitt’s supposed strength on defense is another matter altogether.)

When asked after Saturday’s game why the players still seem to struggle in effectively implementing the defensive scheme, Narduzzi talked in specifics - tackling issues, or the way junior safety Damar Hamlin approached a bubble screen late in the second quarter. But those specific examples don’t seem to address the bigger question of why these issues keep popping up, and Narduzzi himself didn’t have an answer.

“We didn’t get off the field on third down at times and it just puzzles me,” he said. “We just didn’t make the plays or execute it the right way.”

The first three games of Pitt’s 2018 schedule saw the Panthers face an FCS opponent, an intense in-state rival and a triple option team; now the team has moved into the second quarter of the slate and will face a run of high-powered offenses, starting next week with Central Florida.

North Carolina wasn’t expected to be one of those high-powered offenses, at least not this week with Elliott at quarterback (the team’s top quarterback, Chazz Surratt, will come off suspension for next week’s game) But the Tar Heels put 38 on Pitt Saturday afternoon, and the Panthers leave Chapel Hill with more questions than they brought to town - or, in the worst case scenario, with answers about the state of their defense and team.