The undoubted star of Pitt’s season-opening 33-7 win over Albany was wide receiver Maurice Ffrench, who returned the game’s opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. For good measure, he tacked on a rushing touchdown later in the first quarter to put the Panthers up 19-0 on the Great Danes early in the game. For that, he was honored as the ACC Specialist of the Week.
Ffrench’s return was the third score of his collegiate career and his first ever on a kick return. In addition to that, it marked a first in program history, as the Panthers had never opened a season by returning a kickoff for a touchdown before Saturday.
However, while Ffrench was the only Panther formally recognized by the conference, three of his teammates caught the attention of Pro Football Focus, which distributed its own ACC honors for the week. As a result, cornerback Damarri Mathis and offensive linemen Jimmy Morrissey and Gabe Houy were named to the Pro Football Focus ACC Team of the Week.
PFF Week 1 ACC Team of the Week on offense pic.twitter.com/R46keiKv6v— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 4, 2018
Houy’s inclusion is an intriguing development, as he was playing in his first game as a redshirt freshman and filling in for Pitt captain Alex Bookser at right tackle. The honor should not only serve as confirmation that he performed admirably in his first action, but also ease concerns about a position group that has lost six players since the end of the 2017 season.
Morrissey, meanwhile, is no stranger to acclaim from Pro Football Focus, as the same website graded him as Pitt’s top returning player for the 2018 season.
PFF's ACC Team of the Week for Week 1 on defense pic.twitter.com/mrYGzrlEbJ— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 4, 2018
Mathis was perhaps the most surprising honoree of the week, as he was part of a Pitt secondary that struggled to stop Albany quarterback Vincent Testaverde from moving the ball downfield. However, he was a standout in the position group, as he managed to come up with an interception and avoided getting burnt for big yardage, unlike several other Pitt defensive backs.
While Albany is far from the ultimate test college football has to offer, it’s heartening that members of position groups that have been in question recently stepped up in such a significant way while a player who was quiet for much of 2017 managed to carve himself out a piece of program history.
Pitt will need its players to continue stepping up in a similar manner when it hosts intrastate rival Penn State at Heinz Field on Saturday for what may be the last time for more than a decade.