Next to the individual excellence of Bryant, defense was the main reason for North Carolina's high preseason ranking (the Tar Heels were No. 10 in SI's poll, and remain there this week). "That's the best defensive team we've ever played," said Pitt Offensive Guard Ron Sams. "They shut down everything we wanted to do."
Almost everything. Perhaps it was the chorus of Danny Boy that the Pitt band played at the end of its halftime show, but Marino looked every bit The Candidate on Pitt's second series of the second half. Trailing 3-0, the Panthers marched 69 yards on seven plays, the last a four-yard scoring pass from Marino to Tailback Bryan Thomas who curled in under Tight End John Brown. Marino completed three other passes for 42 yards on the drive.
But that was about the sum of Marino's heroics. On Pitt's first offensive series, Marino and Flanker Dwight Collins just missed connecting on a 55-yard bomb that Collins caught out of bounds. Thinking he could throw deep, Marino did just that—Poole called it the "get-rich-quick theory"—and three of his bombs were picked off without a Pitt receiver close. To put Marino's night in perspective, All-America candidate Collins had as many tackles as receptions—two.
Marino, who hadn't been held under 200 yards passing since his sophomore year, didn't try to defend or rationalize his erratic performance against North Carolina. "Most of the time I didn't play intelligently," he said. "First, I would make a mistake, then somebody else would make a mistake, and then somebody else would make a mistake. I'll just have to work a little harder."
Bryant credited Pitt's defense for his poor showing, but he also said he was hurting physically. He had suffered a bruised left foot on Aug. 23 and missed eight practices. Before his first run from scrimmage, he hadn't been hit in about three weeks. Feeling Bryant was lacking in stamina, Crum used sophomore Ethan Horton (14 carries for 39 yards) almost as much as Bryant.
Bryant broke free only once—midway in the second quarter when Hill tripped him up after the 19-yard gain on a sprint draw. Eventually, the Tar Heels drove to the Pitt 16, but they blew two golden opportunities. First, an illegal motion penalty nullified a swing pass to Fullback Alan Burrus that would've put the Heels on the three-yard line. Then Bryant, with running room after catching another short pass, simply dropped the ball without being touched; and Hill, who spent part of the summer practicing his coverages against his brother-in-law. Drew Pearson of the Dallas Cowboys, recovered on the 14. "It just slipped off my jersey," said Bryant.
Obviously, Pitt's defense hasn't suffered at all since the arrival of Defensive Coordinator Charlie Bailey from the University of Kentucky last February. Though Bailey is philosophically more conservative than the blitz-happy Fazio, he's as much of a "wild man on the field," according to Hill.
Bailey feels the key to Pitt's defense is the interior three: Dave Puzzuoli and J.C. Pelusi and junior Bill Maas. Puzzuoli is 6'3", 248 and runs a 4.9 40; Pelusi is 6'1", 251, 4.8; Maas is 6'4", 260, 4.9. None of their elevators, Maas assures us, goes to the top floor.
Maas's sack of Quarterback Rod Elkins late in the fourth quarter stopped a Carolina drive at the Pitt 31. Rob Rogers did kick a 48-yard field goal that made it 7-6 with 4:57 remaining, but Carolina could get no closer. That was Pitt's No-Maas defense. However, it was also the overaggressive Maas who helped Carolina score its first points (on a 39-yard field goal by Brooks Barwick in the second quarter) when he kept a drive alive with a roughing-the-kicker penalty.
"You know something," said Marino upon seeing Maas in the hall after a team meeting on Friday, "you're my favorite player."