As expected, Pitt looked better this weekend against Ohio than they did vs. a talented Virginia team. And the result was better, too, with the Panthers winning, 20-10. The win evens their record up at 1-1 while Ohio falls to that same mark.
The final score wasn’t wildly impressive but the Panthers could have also won by a bigger margin, too. They missed another field goal and dropped a sure pick six along the way. And after getting up 17-0, taking some off the gas isn’t something that would come as much surprise, either.
The defense put together a very solid effort and that’s where I’m starting. I was particularly impressed with the pass rush that, despite being down two starters, still managed to get a lot of pressure on Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke. I don’t have the final stats yet but, in particular, Jaylen Twyman was all over the place. That he’s only a sophomore is kind of exciting as he looks like he could be a force up front for, potentially, a couple of more seasons. The defense continues to show like they could be a real force going forward - especially with some stability and guys ultimately settling into positions.
The counter to that, of course, is that this was only Ohio and that the Bobcats were overmatched from a talent standpoint. Both are true, of course, but the unit still looked very impressive.
Offensively is where we hoped to see a lot of improvement and we definitely saw some, despite the modest point total. The passing game was markedly better, obviously. Quarterback Kenny Pickett played very well, completing 26 of 37 passes for 321 yards and a touchdown. That was only the second 300-yard game of his career and, assuming that total stands without any adjustments, is a career high.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi made a great point after the game when asked about how much PIckett improved from this week compared to last week. He was quick to counter with a question of his own — if that was really Pickett or if he just had more help from sure-handed receivers this week. And if you missed the game, Pickett definitely got a better game out of his receivers.
Last week, guys had several drops. But early in today’s game, Maurice Ffrench took a medium-range pass to the house for a 74-yard score. In all, Ffrench had ten catches for 138 yards and Tre Tipton had a couple of grabs (and a third great effort where he was ruled just out of bounds). Tight ends also caught a total of seven (!) balls and Taysir Mack had three grabs for 57 yards. Ffrench was the star, obviously, but a lot of spreading the ball around today, which was good to see. The level of competition was down and Pickett responded nicely.
The running game was a bit up and down and there were plenty of carries that seemed to be throwaways. The numbers weren’t quite as bad as it might have seemed in watching the game but I’m hard-pressed to call this unit solid. A.J. Davis ended up with 89 yards on only 13 carries and freshman Vincent Davis did an adequate job with 50 yards on a dozen carries. But Todd Sibley had three carries and managed only three yards and Pitt still seems to have some trouble adequately finding a sweet spot in integrating V’Lique Carter into the game or getting the jet sweeps to work to the level they once did.
At this point, you have to wonder if Sibley will off the two deep in favor of Vincent. Previously, he’d been listed as an ‘OR’ starter with A.J. Davis, which seems laughable at this point. Narduzzi talked a little about the running game afterwards and continued his mindset of going with the hot hand, in speaking about Vincent Davis. That’s not uncommon and is a theme Narduzzi has gone with his entire tenure at Pitt. It’s hard, then, not to think Pitt will go with some combination of Davis and Davis, and then mix Sibley if/when one of those guys falters. Sibley being listed as a co-starter would be disingenuous as it’s clear he’s, at best, second fiddle to A.J. Davis and, at worst, behind Vincent Davis and maybe even V’Lique Carter, too. Still, that may not result in a physical black and white change on the depth chart because, frankly, those have not always been accurate. Narduzzi has often joked that media relations head E.J. Borghetti is responsible for drafting them.
Selfishly, it would have been nice to see more of a blowout in this one and it looked like that was the way this was headed after Pitt got out to the 17-0 lead. But at the end of the day, you got what you needed to here — a win after a pretty rough opener. Hard to argue with the result and doing so would be a fruitless activity, anyway. Pitt has had several uninspiring wins against weaker non-conference foes and it isn’t a great indicator of where the team is or isn’t, typically.
Pitt now will head into the next couple of weeks as a decided underdog and with pretty low expectations against Penn State and UCF. Competing in either would surely be a bonus and losing both, even by significant margins, would be expected. I’m convinced the narrative for the next two weeks is less about winning the games and more about gauging just how good the defense (and, of course, Pickett) can be.