Coming into the 2022 season many Pittsburgh Panthers fans thought this team would have a great chance to compete for the ACC Championship that they were defending, and fans would be correct to feel that way, but the season did not pan out that way. Playing down to inferior teams and keeping too many games plagued this team all season, but it still led to an 8-4 record, the second highest under Pat Narduzzi.
West Virginia: The return of one of the most heated rivalries in College Football did not disappoint with being the game of the season. The hype of this game brought College Gameday to town and lived up to expectations by being a nailbiter. On the final play of the game West Virginia quarterback JT Daniels lobbed a deep pass to the endzone only for the ball to be incomplete and lead the Panthers to a 38-31 win. Pitt QB Kedon Slovis did not disappoint in his first Panthers start going 16 of 24 for 308 with a touchdown. Rodney Hammond JR held down the rushing game with 16 carries for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Tennessee: The Johnny Majors Classic was the first game on the schedule that had Pitt fans questioning what the outcome would be and just like the West Virginia game went down to the final possession, even heading into overtime. Kedon Slovis would start this game for the Panthers going 14 of 24 for 195 yards and a touchdown but would also throw an interception. Come the second half of the game, backup quarterback Nick Patti would be under center for the Panthers going 9 of 20 with 79 yards and a touchdown, leading the team to a tied game heading into overtime. The Panthers would put up a strong effort against the Volunteers defense but ultimately a sack and incomplete pass on Pitt’s final two plays of the game would lead the Volunteers to win the game 34 – 27.
Western Michigan: The matchup that I feel had every Pitt fan worried about what the outcome may be, not because Western Michigan is a deeply competitive team, but because the Broncos were the first team last season to topple the eventual ACC Champions. However, this season the Panthers put the pedal down and did not give the Broncos a chance to put up a fight by winning 34 – 13. 3rd string quarterback Nate Yarnell took the start under center for this game and had a decent start for what its worth, going 9 for 12 for 179 yards and a touchdown. Running back Israel Abankikanda put up the first major step in a dominate season by having 31 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown.
Rhode Island: The Panthers returned home to Acrisure Stadium to battle the Rams and put up another dominate performance to move to 3-1 on the season. Kedon Slovis returned under center for the Panthers and did not disappoint by completing 20 of 27 attempts for 189 yards. The running game however was the backbone of the offense with Israel Abankikanda putting up 4 touchdowns and 177 yards on just 19 carries. MJ Devonshire decided to show his speed on a punt return by bringing it to the house for a touchdown to boot. Ultimately, the Panthers won this contest by a score of 45 – 24.
Georgia Tech: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have not been a team that has had much to talk about over the past few seasons, but they gave the reigning ACC Champions a run for their money the night of October 1st by squeaking out a win 26 – 21. Kedon Slovis put up a stellar performance, besides his interception by throwing 26 of 45 for 305 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Yellow Jackets defense had a fantastic run defense by holding all Pitt runners to just 107 yards. That is one of the biggest reasons the Jackets secured the win and put the Panthers record at 3 – 2.
Virginia Tech: After the heartbreaking loss to the Yellow Jackets, the Panthers looked to have a bounce back game and they did just that by picking up the win 45 – 29. Much like the team overall, the run game had a resurgence with Abankikanda at the helm rushing for 320 yards and 6 touchdowns in 36 carries. The run game was the cornerstone of the Panthers in this game and without a doubt is the reason that Pitt beat the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Louisville: Louisville put together a performance just like the Yellow Jackets and held the Panthers running backs to only one touchdown and just 169 yards. Quarterback Kedon Slovis did not put one of his best performances by throwing 2 interceptions and only completing 16 passes for 158 yards. These struggles led to a thumping by the Cardinals 24 – 10.
UNC: The Panthers had their first and only back-to-back losses of the season thanks to the North Carolina Tarheels. Israel Abanikanda put up every Panther touchdown in this contest (3) and rushed for 127 yards, but in terms of offense that is about all to talk about. Slovis threw for 236 yards on only 14 completions but failed to reach the endzone. Once again, these offensive struggles hindered the Panthers and caused a loss to the Tar Heels 42 – 24.
Syracuse: Pitt looked to show the ACC what they could do on a bounce back against the Syracuse Orange, and it wasn’t pretty, but the Panther secured the victory 19 – 9. One of the biggest reasons for the struggles for the Panthers this game was the fact that Abanikanda did not play and Rodney Hammond Jr. was the starting back. Hammond Jr. ran for 124 yards and a touchdown in 28 carries. Slovis, for his 4th straight game did not have a touchdown but threw for 176 yAards in 16 completions. This game was defensive football at its best with the Panthers not allowing Carlos Del Rio-Wilson to record a touchdown, and to only have 8 completions for 120 yards. This performance put the Panthers record at 5 – 4.
Virginia: The Panthers offense came to battle the Virginia Cavaliers and did not disappoint. Slovis put up one of his best performances of the season, especially after his recent dry spell, and threw 208 yards over 14 completions and a touchdown. Abanikanda returned to the team as the starting running back and ran for 121 yards and a touchdown over 24 carries. The Panthers defense put up another performance to talk about with 5 sacks and holding the Cavaliers to only 7 points. The Panthers would win the game 37 – 7 in what would tragically be the Cavaliers final game of the season due to the tragedy that would take place only 2 days later.
Duke: When a football fan talks about a close game, this game is one to bring up as the Panthers would improve to 7 – 4 on the season, but only won the game 28 – 26. Slovis went 15 of 32 for 190 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions. Abanikanda would once again reach the endzone. However, the biggest play for the Panthers this game was Brandon Hill’s fumble recovery for a 30n yard touchdown. Without this score the Panthers would have likely lost this game. Instead, the Panthers went into the final week of the season trying to get 8 wins.
Miami: Miami has been a team that has either destroyed the Panthers or been destroyed by the Panthers. This game was the latter. Abankikanda ran for 111 yards on 15 carries with 2 tocuhdowns to cap off his tremendous season, and Slovis had one of his best games of the season. While he still had an interception, he threw 3 touchdowns and 256 yards in 18 completions. Once again, the defense put up a great performance by having 2 interceptions and only allowing 2 touchdowns. This game topped off an outstanding season for the Panthers and gave a final record of 8 -4.
While there was no trip the Charlotte for an ACC Championship that does not mean this season was a failure. Israel Abanikanda that he is one of the top running backs in the nation, and this defense proved that it can be deadly with the filling of some holes. The quarterback position is a question for this coming season, but this team is in great hands under Coach Narduzzi and do not be surprised to see this team fight for an ACC Championship in the 2023 season.