Special Teams Meltdown Dooms Pitt

Panthers kicking game atrocious in near-record loss

Josh Rowntree
September 09, 2018 - 1:12 am
Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins (3) runs on his way to scoring a touchdown on a punt return past Pittsburgh Panthers punter Kirk Christodoulou during the third quarter at Heinz Field

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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There’s a reason football coaches always lump in special teams when discussing being sharp in all facets of the game. 

On Saturday night, in front of a sold out crowd at Heinz Field, Pitt found out what happens when you have a total meltdown in an area most people take for granted. 

A mishandled snap on an extra point, another on a field goal attempt, another on a punt. Short punts. Multiple penalties on coverages and returns, the allowance of a dagger punt return and a late muffed punt. Throw in an accidental fair catch at their own 4-yard-line on a kickoff as a cherry on top of the disaster sundae. 

Pitt may not have beaten No. 13 Penn State if all of those things didn’t happen, but they certainly didn’t help the cause in the Panthers 51-6 loss. 

“The first thing I want to do is apologize to Pitt nation out there,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said. “That was not Pitt football right there.”

The mistakes, which centered around freshman punter/holder Kirk Christodoulou, snowballed into the third-largest margin of victory in the 99 career meetings between the two rivals. 

For Christodoulou, a former Australian rules  football player in his native Australia, it was the first time holding after an injury last week at the position. 

“Kirk was the holder in the Spring,” Narduzzi said. “He doesn’t need that much pressure on him. But he was the next-best guy. 

“We knew Tuesday, so we worked it all week. We had an injury there. We’ll just keep digging there. But I doubt he’s going to have both duties next week. He needs to punt. It’s a lot of pressure to put on one kid to be the punter and the holder. 

Playing in a steady rain on a sloppy surface, Christodoulou could not handle an extra point snap that would have tied the game at 7-7. Instead, Pitt’s first score had some air taken out of it with the failed conversion.

In the second quarter, Christodoulou was unable to control a snap on a field goal try, resulting in a 35-yard attempt to be missed by kicker Alex Kessman. 

“We’ll have to make a change there,” Narduzzi said of the holder position.

Christodoulou, who is 21-years-old reportedly had family come in from Australia to watch him play for the first time.

On top of other snap snafus, he could not manage to grab a punt snap, which was recovered by Penn State and allowed the Nittany Lions a short field before halftime. 

The Nittany Lions hit the end zone, taking a 14-6 lead to the half. He later had a short punt returned for a touchdown, essentially putting the game out of reach at 30-6.

“I just told him to keep his head up and keep moving forward,” said Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. “That’s all you can do. I’m really good friends with him, I’m going to continue to, obviously, be really good friends with him.”

“It is what it is. We’ll just keep moving on.”