PITTSBURGH - Turns out North Carolina punt returner Ryan Switzer and Pittsburgh's enigmatic season have something in common.
Each are tough to get a handle on.
The Panthers spent 15 minutes erasing a 24-point deficit against the Tar Heels on Saturday and 15 seconds watching Switzer make the rally immaterial. The freshman's zig-zagging 61-yard return for a score with 4:46 remaining lifted North Carolina to a 34-27 victory on Saturday and continued a confounding pattern that Pitt coach Paul Chryst has been unable to solve in two seasons on the job.
A week after an emotional upset of Notre Dame, Pitt (5-5, 2-4 ACC) couldn't find a way to build on it and now needs to win one of its final two games to become bowl eligible for a sixth straight season.
"I don't know necessarily if complacency was an issue," Chryst said. "I don't think we didn't care about it. They made more plays and we didn't."
Quarterback Tom Savage shook off seven sacks and a brief injury scare to throw for 313 yards and two scores but running back James Conner was drilled on fourth-and-1 at the North Carolina 26 with 1:10 to go as a bid for one of the more improbable comebacks in program history fell short.
"I thought I saw something, but the two middle linebackers were pressed up the middle," said Conner, who ran for 102 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that tied the game at 27. "I knew it was going to be tough, and I knew if I was going to get it that it wouldn't be by much. But the refs said I didn't get past it. So, that was the end of it."
One or two more hands on Switzer would have helped. The freshman raced 65 yards untouched down the sideline for a score late in the first half to help the Tar Heels take a 24-3 lead at the break.
The second score proved more difficult. Switzer fielded the punt at the North Carolina 39 and headed to his right. He appeared to be hemmed in at the Pitt 35 but cut all the way back across the field, running through two arm tackles in the process.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
North Carolina7 17 3 7-34
Pittsburgh3 0 7 17-27
Pitt-FG Blewitt 28, 10:09.
NC-Williams 16 run (T.Moore kick), :39.
NC-FG T.Moore 26, 11:02.
NC-Williams 10 run (T.Moore kick), 5:14.
NC-Switzer 65 punt return (T.Moore kick), 1:03.
NC-FG T.Moore 27, 11:27.
Pitt-Street 33 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), 8:13.
Pitt-Bennett 8 pass from Savage (Blewitt kick), 13:28.
Pitt-FG Blewitt 42, 9:49.
Pitt-Conner 2 run (Blewitt kick), 8:52.
NC-Switzer 61 punt return (T.Moore kick), 4:46.
Time of Possession23:0136:59
RUSHING-North Carolina, Williams 15-79, Logan 10-55, Francis 7-17, Morris 2-6, Tapley 1-(minus 8). Pitt-Conner 19-102, Bennett 12-26, Parrish 1-1, Savage 8-(minus 83).
PASSING-North Carolina, Williams 15-27-0-173. Pitt-Savage 23-38-0-313, Voytik 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING-North Carolina, Q.Davis 4-27, Ebron 3-73, Francis 2-23, Switzer 2-21, Howard 1-11, Tabb 1-11, Thorpe 1-6, Morris 1-1. Pitt- Boyd 5-92, Street 5-81, Garner 5-68, Holtz 5-48, Conner 1-13, Bennett 1-8, Weatherspoon 1-3.