Although he didn’t accomplish much on offense, Quadree Henderson was one of few Pitt players regularly making positive contributions on Saturday through his work on special teams. For that, he’s earned himself Panther of the Game honors.
One could argue that linebackers Saleem Brightwell or Oluwaseun Idowu warrant recognition for their defensive contributions, as they both had 10 or more tackles and accounted for the team’s two tackles for loss. However, Brightwell was also called for a needless roughing the passer penalty that negated a Dane Jackson interception. In addition to that, it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about a unit that knew the run was coming and still managed to give up 436 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
The special teams unit, meanwhile, bailed out Pitt’s stagnant offense on a few occasions, and special teams was the only phase of the game in which Pitt got the best of Georgia Tech. Specifically, the Panthers gained 204 yards and a touchdown on nine kick and punt returns, and kicker Alex Kessman was able to knock down a 55-yard field goal to keep Pitt afloat at the end of the first half. Punter Ryan Winslow also had another busy day, booting seven punts for an average of 50.1 yards.
Henderson, though, was the standout player of the standout unit of the team on Saturday, gathering 202 of those 204 return yards himself. He also scored on an 80-yard punt return to tie the game at 14 shortly after Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall ran in his second touchdown of the day. After Henderson’s big return, the Yellow Jackets opted to kick away from him, which should tell you all you need to know about his influence on the game.
As a returner, this was the biggest day of Henderson’s career, and it was also his best in terms of overall production since Pitt faced Syracuse last year. So despite some standout performances on defense, he certainly deserves the nod.