Pitt didn't throttle MAC opponent Akron tonight, but with a 24-7 win, you'll take it, right? After all, things could have been worse.
The big news out of today was the quarterback play, obviously. The Panthers started Chad Voytik but he was on a very short leash. He didn't play particularly bad (6-8 for 32 yards while leading the team on a scoring drive), but as promised, head coach Pat Narduzzi got backup Nathan Peterman in there early. After tossing a nice touchdown pass to J.P. Holtz, he was in there for good and played the entire second half.
First things first - I didn't have a problem with leaving Peterman in there. He played reasonably well and didn't make any major mistakes. And if he's the better quarterback of the two, it only makes sense that he's in there. My preference now is that Pitt leave him in there and let him play. The flip-flopping on quarterbacks should end here unless Peterman proves to be incapable going forward.
I remain pretty baffled by the virtual insistence of forcing Peterman in there by Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Voytik really didn't get much of an opportunity this year after playing pretty well down the stretch last season. It's pretty clear that they weren't impressed with him and were going to get him out of there unless he came on and was absolutely incredible. I'm just not sure why Narduzzi repeatedly referred to him as 'the guy' when that clearly was not the case. But you can't argue with the results today and I'm all for playing Peterman going forward. Pitt has to let him get into a rhythm and that can't happen if they're both playing. Even Voytik himself acknowledged this week he wasn't sure how that would affect him.
Looking past the quarterbacks, there's more to talk about, too.
I was really impressed with what the defense did. The Panthers pretty much eliminated the big play, giving up only a 32-yard touchdown run by Conor Hundley, the guy who went off against them last year in Heinz Field. To hold Akron to seven points and really no huge plays was a great thing to see in contrast to last week's game against Youngstown State. The weather and conditions may have played some into that, but still nice to see them almost pitch a shutout on the road.
Looking at an individual unit, I was pleased to see the strong play of the defensive line. They are getting much more pressure this year after hardly putting any on opposing quarterbacks last season. I don't yet have the final stats on sacks and tackles for losses, but they had several of those tonight. I had Pitt down for four with 1 1/2 each coming from Jordan Whitehead and Rori Blair. We had a lot of questions about defensive line coming into the year, but getting Blair back tonight, that unit looks solid.
It should also be noted that Whitehead got his first start tonight. And based on how he played, it's probably going to be hard to get him out of there. He's only going to get better this year and had a nice game tonight.
Getting back to the offense a little, I'll be interested to see what was the situation with backup running back Chris James. James was touted as being ready to go by Narduzzi and in a game without James Conner, you figured he would get a lot of playing time. But Qadree Ollison manned the post at running back for most of the night and was spelled by Darrin Hall. James apparently wasn't ready to go as Narduzzi maintained this week.
Speaking of Ollison, he was solid but as expected, had a pretty significant dropoff from last weekend. After rushing for 207 yards against Youngstown State, Ollison came back to earth with 81 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Again, though, the field conditions weren't great with it raining quite a bit.
In the passing game, we really saw how much of a difference it makes when Tyler Boyd is in there. He was targeted early and often, and tied a career-high with 11 catches totaling 95 yards. He's easily the favorite target of both quarterbacks and with him, Pitt has a viable passing attack. Peterman and Voytik still only combined for 180 yards, but the passing game was much improved over last week.
Also worth mentioning the kicking game as Chris Blewitt again went 1-2. It's early, but he's 2-4 on the season and the field goal me missed tonight was from only 35 yards. To be fair, it wasn't a dead on kick and was on a soaked field, but a D-I kicker has to make that. Factoring in a subpar finish to last year and Pitt has some issues there to worry about. Blewitt has at times been reliable, but isn't off to a great start.
Before Pitt fans get too excited, it's worth pointing out that this wasn't a very good Akron team. Quarterbacks Tra'Von Chapman and Kyle Pohl really did next to nothing and when they did find a receiver, the pass was often dropped. It's a nice win for Pitt (especially in light of what we saw last year and even last week in a win against Youngstown State), but this was hardly a huge test. Still, the Panthers are 2-0 and, record wise, exactly where they need to be. They've avoided losing to two teams that have beaten them in the Paul Chryst era and that warrants at least some reason to be excited.
Pitt will get their first big test next week on the road against Iowa, which won on the road today against Iowa State.