Most figured that Pitt would have trouble slowing down UCF’s offense in today’s game. The Knights had scored 30 points or more in every game going back to more than two years ago so that concern was warranted.
But most didn’t count on Pitt putting 35 points up on the scoreboard, either.
When you tallied all the points at the end, the Panthers scored one more than their worthy opponent, pulling off a 35-34 shocker over a 15th ranked UCF team that had aspirations of a playoff bid. They weren’t likely to get there but, after today’s game, that certainly won’t be happening.
Regardless of which team you rooted for, what can’t be denied is that it was just a great game. Back and forth, crazy swings, chippy penalties — all the kinds of things that makes for a really compelling game. If you were going to crap away about 3 1⁄2 hours of your Saturday afternoon, watching this was the way to do it.
I figured Pitt could play well defensively but did not think the offense was as capable of scoring as many points as they did. That was the Panthers’ problem as they’d averaged only about 15 points per game through the first three contests. But that side of the ball looked great today with plenty of guys playing a part. No 100-yard receivers or rushers for Pitt today but just a sharing of the wealth among a lot of athletic kids.
If you missed it, Pitt surprisingly raced out to a 21-0 lead. Everything was clicking and after a blocked punt return for a touchdown to create that margin, the Knights were officially on upset alert. That, it turns out, was a lead that they would live off of for the entire game.
As expected, Central Florida stormed back. They scored ten points before the half and then exploded in the third to take a 31-21 lead, scoring 31 unanswered. With most teams facing that kind of early deficit, that would be unheard of. But UCF scores points in bunches and had no intentions of making things easy for Pitt.
At that point, it seemed easy to write Pitt off. I certainly did. But the Panthers rallied, scoring a touchdown of their own to cut the lead to 31-28. A UCF field goal pushed it to 34-28 and that set up Pitt’s final dramatic drive of the game.
With under five minutes left, Pitt calmly marched down the field moving inside of the Knights’ red zone. Ultimately, they were left with a 4th down play inside the ten. A bit of confusion had Kenny Pickett drifting away from the center, the ball being snapped to Aaron Mathews, and a completion to Pickett in the end zone in the trickiest of trick plays.
Pitt left just under a minute left on the scoreboard but continued to get pressure, sacking the quarterback twice. With no timeouts and backed up, UCF simply ran out of time.
For head coach Pat Narduzzi, it’s yet another landmark win. His teams have yet to break through for a double-digit win season but the Panthers have been in the hunt more often than not in the role of David facing Goliath. If you’re not going to put together great seasons you need to put together great moments. And that’s what Narduzzi has really held onto as he tries to build the program into a winner.
Realistically, you can argue the win should have come with a bit less trouble. Kicker Alex Kessman is officially in struggle mode as he missed kicks of 35 and 41 yards. This isn’t about Kessman not being talented. After all, we’ve seen him routinely make kicks from much larger distances. It seems like a mental thing at this point and you just hope he can bounce back. Pitt could have used those points today but fortunately didn’t need them to win.
Going back to that final play, it was interesting that Maurice Ffrench was not on the field. Obviously, he was not a factor on that play but you’d think that having out there as a diversion could at least draw the attention of some defenders.
That final play, of course, went to quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett was 25-47 for 224 yards and a touchdown. He wasn’t great and missed on several relatively easy throws. But he played a tough game and the catch at the end of the game was obviously clutch, given he was kind of banged up at that point.
We also saw some play from backup Nick Patti who got in when Pickett came out for a while with an injury. Hopefully Pickett is fine going forward — given that he reentered, you would expect he would be. But for his part, Patti did a solid job. He threw a short touchdown pass and, aside from one ball that could have been picked off, really looked fine out there. He even looked a bit like Kenny in eluding defenders on a few occasions. It was great to see him look like a very capable backup.
Speaking of backups, Pitt also had a few other guys on defense go down at different points and we’ll have to wait to see if any miss any time going forward. The good news is that with next week’s game against Delaware, that will hopefully be a game where all hands don’t necessarily need to be on deck.
One final bit of roster news that shouldn’t be lost is that Vincent Davis was the one getting the work with the offense on that last drive over A.J. Davis. Both backs were decent but A.J. suffered a fumble earlier in the game. You have to wonder if Vincent is, for now, anyway, the top back. That is, of course, if it wasn’t an injury thing with A.J.
Just a really great win for Pitt. The Panthers have been beaten down by a pretty tough non-conference schedule the past few seasons and it’s great to see them continue to pull off upsets. More specifically to this year, this looks like a pretty good team, folks. They’ve played very well against two ranked teams and beaten one of them. It’s still early but this is starting to look like a team that will be capable of doing some damage this year.
Next up for Pitt is the final non-con game of the year with Delaware.