Pitt hosted New Hampshire, a 3-0 team ranked No. 22 in the FCS coaches poll, at Heinz Field on Saturday and looked to bounce back from an embarrassing 44-41 loss to Western Michigan, and the Panthers succeeded in that endeavor, pummelling the Wildcats 77-7.
The first two points of Pitt’s 77 came one minute and 15 seconds into the matchup, when Panthers linebacker Phil Campbell took down Wildcats quarterback Bret Edwards in the end zone for a safety. Edwards got a throw off, but it was ruled intentional grounding, leading to two points for the Panthers. Pitt would go on to accrue 14 points in an unusual manner, as the team built on its two-point lead when it scored on a sneak by Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett and a pick six by Panthers cornerback Damarri Mathis. But Panthers kickers Sam Scarton and Ben Sauls would both miss extra-point attempts, making the score 14-0.
However, that wouldn't be it for Pitt in the first quarter, as the team put in a full game’s worth of work in the first 15 minutes. The next score would come from Panthers running back Israel Abanikanda, who ran the ball in from 15 yards out to put the team up 21-0, with a successful extra-point attempt by Scarton. And with just under a minute left in the first frame, Pickett would roll to his right and find Panthers receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis in the end zone for what would be the first of five passing touchdowns on the day for the super senior.
New Hampshire responded with its first successful scoring drive of the day, as Wildcats running back Carlos Washington broke off a 70-yard run to put his team on Pitt’s five-yard line. And from there, Edwards would toss a four-yard pass to Wildcats receiver Sean Coyne to make it 28-7. But the Wildcats would have little to say about the outcome of the game after that, as the Panthers reasserted their dominance with a pair of scores by Panthers receiver Jordan Addison. The first of those scores came on a slant route that put Addison in position to collect a pass from Pickett in stride and run it in from 24 yards out. The second came on a dump-off pass that Addison collected at the 50 and ran in after spinning out of two tackles and breaking free.
After that, Pickett would find Panthers receiver Taysir Mack in the back of the end zone to put Pitt up 49-7, and that 42-point lead would remain intact at the halftime break. But to the surprise of many, that would not mark the end of Pickett’s day, as he led the Panthers down the field on one more scoring drive to start the second half. That drive culminated in a 46-yard bomb from Pickett to Addison that extended Pitt’s lead to 49 points. However, Pickett would sit out the remainder of the game, giving Nick Patti, Davis Beville, Joey Yellen and Eli Kosanovich all opportunities to see the field. And while none of them found the end zone, Rodney Hammond put on a show, accruing 100 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries to bring the final score to 77-7.
The game was historic for Pitt, as the team’s 77 points were the most the Panthers had scored in a game since 1926, and the 707 yards accrued by the Pitt offense were the most in program history. But while the dominant performance of the offense will grab headlines, perhaps the most reassuring aspect of the game was the unrelenting effort by the Pitt defense, which conceded just 160 yards to New Hampshire and did not allow the Wildcats to convert on a single third down despite 12 attempts. The defense also won the turnover battle, as it forced and recovered a fumble in addition to taking a pick to the house.
With all that said, New Hampshire is the weakest opponent Pitt will face this season, so the result should not drastically change anyone’s view of the team or its outlook. But the Pitt offense appears to be in fantastic shape heading into ACC play, and the Pitt defense has now posted two promising performances in four games and seems to be finding its rhythm at the right time. Whether the team is able to continue to learn from its mistakes and improve as the season wears on will determine how successful it will be as it wades into its conference schedule, and its first test will come next Saturday in Atlanta, where Pitt will face Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon, and the game will air on the ACC Network.