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Still no answers on offense in the second half

MORE FROM THE GAME - FREE ARTICLE: For Pitt and Narduzzi, latest loss to UNC is "same old, same old" | PODCAST: The Drive Home from UNC | 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 | Slideshow: Pitt loses at UNC

Pitt has more than one vexing question as the Panthers sit at 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the ACC, but one query that no one can make sense of is the second-half offense.

How can the Panthers go from a rather effective unit that has scored 49 first-half points the last two weeks to a rather ineffective unit that has scored just 10 in the second halves of those games?

“There’s really no answer for it, really,” senior running back Darrin Hall said after the most recent game, a 38-35 loss at North Carolina on Saturday. “We have to execute and we have to score points.”

The thing about Saturday’s game was that the Panthers did score points. They put up 35 total, and before Saturday, Pitt was 10-3 when it scored at least that many since the start of the 2015 season. But 28 of those points came in the first half, and with UNC’s offense continuing to put points of its own on the board, the Panthers needed to keep pace.

Instead, they slumped. The Tar Heels scored 17 points in the third quarter; Pitt gained a net total of minus-five yards in that frame. The Panthers finally reached the end zone for their first post-halftime touchdown of the season when Maurice Ffrench had a nice catch late in the fourth quarter, but that was too late to complete the comeback.

The Panthers needed points earlier than the final three minutes of the game.

“The offense did a good job; when you score 35 points, you’d like to win a football game, I can guarantee you that,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said after the game. “I thought the offense had an excellent first half. I thought we had great balance. I thought Coach [Shawn Watson] did a great job calling the game and kept them off-balance. I thought it was good.

“In the second half, we get in bad field position and then we hurt ourselves. And it’s hurting it in special teams, defense will do something, offense will do something - it’s just careless things that we can’t do. We have to have focus for 60 minutes and we’ve not done that, and that’s the disappointing thing. You can do it in the first half but you can’t do it in the second half. But we have to get it fixed and we will. It takes time.”

Time isn’t exactly something Pitt has a lot of right now. The season is a third over and the next stretch on the schedule is a tough one. The Panthers will be back on the road next Saturday to face UCF, who has scored 56, 38 and 56 in its three games this season, and then will come home to host Syracuse, who has topped 50 points in three out of four games so far.

Taken together, the Knights and the Orange are averaging 49.7 points per game. And since relying on Pitt’s defense to hold those teams in check is a dicey proposition, at best, it will likely fall on the offense to keep up - and not just for 30 minutes, but for a full 60 minutes.

“I think it came down to us not really executing like we thought we could, not making plays when they needed to be made,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said Saturday. He completed 19-of-33 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns against the Tar Heels and also ran for a score, although he also took three difficult sacks in the loss.

Running backs Darrin Hall (6 carries, 84 yards) and Qadree Ollison (12 carries, 72 yards) also reached the end zone, and Pickett’s two touchdown passes went to Ffrench and fullback George Aston, while redshirt sophomore Taysir Mack had a strong day at receiver (2 catches, 76 yards).

But those plays were few and far between in the second half, when Hall and Ollison combined to rush for 30 yards and Pickett threw for just 51.

“Honestly, that’s really what it comes down to, and really, that’s it: we have to make plays. We didn’t make the plays that we needed to make today. Honestly, that’s it.”