Pitt’s Maurice Ffrench took the season opening kickoff back for a touchdown and the Panthers never looked back in a convincing 33-7 victory over Albany.
I suppose Pitt had some miscues. A careless fumble by quarterback Kenny Pickett. A tipped interception by same. No second half points. And, let’s be clear here - the degree of difficulty was not exceedingly high, boys and girls. But it is really hard to ask for much more from the Panthers in what turned out to be an easy opener.
The ease of the victory was particularly noteworthy in that, as I wrote earlier in the week, head coach Pat Narduzzi’s teams have really not looked all that great in past openers. There were really nice things to take away from every phase of the game. That, despite the opponent, is encouraging with questions about several positions.
Starting with special teams, Ffrench’s kickoff return was noteworthy because of what Narduzzi mentioned previously, indicating that standout Quadree Henderson didn’t make plays on special teams all by himself. I don’t know if that was a dig so much as it was merely pointing out that every great return man needs help. Pitt has a lot of talented athletic guys that could fare well back there and Ffrench is clearly one of those guys. Pitt’s loss of Henderson as a returner seems to be minimized by that fact and it’s one less thing to worry about.
On offense, Pitt didn’t do a ton but they did enough to get the job done. The biggest takeaway for me was just the poise that Pickett played with. He looked extremely comfortable and the good protection he got from the offensive line was a big part of that. I think Pickett just played a pretty clean game and looks like a veteran. Yes, the competition is questionable. And yes, he had a mistake with the fumble. A deep ball caught by Rafael Araujo-Lopes was underthrown. He also threw a pick on a batted ball. But I came away very encouraged by what he did. When he was pressured, he was mostly pretty cool and had a nice balance of knowing when to take a short completion and knowing when to use his legs. Pickett didn’t have monster numbers (16-22 for 154 yards, three touchdowns, and the pick and fumble) but I thought he was pretty effective.
Defensively, Pitt had a really good day, obviously. They forced two interceptions from Albany quarterback Vincent Testaverde and the recipients of those were Damar Hamlin and Damarri Mathis. The secondary did give up 263 passing yards but, considering the entire unit only allowed seven points, I don’t know how you complain much about that. Plus, Albany was also forced to throw quite a bit as they were playing catchup the entire game. Pitt was also able to get a good amount of pressure from the front seven as that unit had five sacks. The front four, particularly, was very good. Solid day from the entire defense.
Watching the game, it was easy to see how Testaverde has bounced around a bit. He wasn’t particularly good today and, even as a senior, was prone to some mistakes. But despite that, I was still very impressed with what the defense did today in nearly pitching a shutout. Holding any team to seven points, particularly when you have a big lead and can get a little sloppy, is not an easy accomplishment, regardless of the opponent.
I think there were a lot of questions coming into the game and, if we’re being fair, those questions should remain. It’s obviously going to get tougher from here so the optimism at this point is still kind of guarded. Albany is only an FCS program and, frankly, you’re supposed to win these kinds of games by this kind of margin. But it was still a nice win for a program that has a lot of new guys expected to make contributions. The day really couldn’t have gone much better. There is plenty to work on but all teams are in that situation at this point in the year.
Next up? Penn State, who, safe to say, had a bit of trouble today.