Pitt beat Ohio 20-10 at Heinz on Saturday, and the win brought the Pitt fan base back to equilibrium. There was a fair amount of trepidation going into the game, but it turned out to be unwarranted because Pitt’s defense held the Bobcats to just 212 total yards. This was probably helped by the fact that (Ohio QB) Nathan Rourke was feeling under the weather, but regardless of Rourke’s condition it was clear that Pitt’s defensive line was dominant. Pitt sacked Rourke six times en-route to -43 yards rushing and just 177 yards passing. Pitt also tallied 10 total TFL, and five additional quarterback pressures. At this point you probably all know that Jaylen Twyman notched three sacks, and he’s the first Pitt player to do that since the “other” #97, but I’m going to repeat it because well, it bears repeating. I’m also going to say that this is the Pat Narduzzi defense we have been waiting five years to see, and damn doesn’t it look fine?
And now that the Narduzzi defense seems to be fully operational, this kind of performance should be the expectation against lesser competition – even higher-end lesser competition like Ohio. For comparison’s sake Buffalo put up 429 yards against Penn State. If Ohio had put up 429 yards against Pitt I can guarantee you that most of the fan base would be calling for Narduzzi’s head on a platter (and I would probably be one of them).
On the other side of the ball, the offense showed signs of life. Kenny Pickett bounced back from his dismal opening week performance and threw for a career-high 321 yards, with one TD and no interceptions. Pickett generally did a good job of staying behind the line of scrimmage when pressured and looking downfield instead of trying to run. It looked to me like he had practiced this all week and was consciously working on it in the game. Case in point, the 74 yard Maurice Ffrench TD could have just as easily been a 10 yard scramble but instead Pickett stopped before the line and uncorked a throw to the wide-open Ffrench, who then used his run-after-the-catch skills to good effect.
I will stop here and say that Pickett is far from a finished product and one-good-game-against-a-suspect-secondary-does-not-a-Dan-Marino-make, but Pickett did show improvement and he could have just as easily laid and egg on Saturday. His passes were not terribly accurate but his receivers stepped up and for the most part caught anything that was in their general vicinity. There were a couple of notable drops – Ffrenchy dropped a leaping (and slightly contested) pass in the first quarter in the red zone. Taysir Mack had an egregious drop on a third down that would have moved the sticks. Nakia Griffin-Stewart let a perfect pass clang off his hands in the first half. But once Pickett and the offense got rolling in the second quarter I didn’t see a lot of mistakes from the receiving corps.
Speaking of the receiving corps, the Tight Ends caught seven balls for 60 yards on Saturday. That pretty much eclipses all of last year’s production (kind of joking here but not really…) The Tight Ends showed some run-after the catch ability as well. Griffin Stewart also bulled over an Ohio defense back en-route to a first down in the second half. Will Gragg made a linebacker miss on a key third down to keep a drive alive. If Pickett can continue to develop rapport with these guys it will be a good thing for the offense (and for the position, because Lord knows we need to recruit a Tight End.)
The offensive line started out shakey, but the consensus is that they seemed to get better as the game wore on. Granted Ohio’s pass rush is…not stellar, but it did seem like they were blitzing and once Pitt figured out the pickups, things were solid. The other encouraging sign is that the line seemed to figure out how to do some run blocking. Pitt pretty much jammed the ball straight down Ohio’s throat during the final possession of the game. I full-on smiled when I read the following line in the ESPN recap:
The Panthers took over at the Pitt 7 with 7:05 remaining and never let the Bobcats get the ball back, bleeding the clock behind an offensive line that pushed Ohio around until the clock hit zero.
Now again, I’m going to temper any irrational exuberance here. The O-Line blocked well for one drive against a MAC team. That is no guarantee that they can do it consistently and against better competition. They also had way too many pre-snap penalties, and that needs to be corrected.
Speaking of run blocking I need to mentione the running backs. The 1-2 punch of Davis and Davis (AJ and Vincent, both from Florida. No relation), finished with 139 yards on 25 carries (5.56 avg). I’ll take that production all season long thank you, whether it’s from one guy or two. AJ showed a little wiggle in the open field and made some guys miss. Vincent showed that he can be electric. I still don’t understand why they kept running him inside during the final drive, but I’m guessing they wanted to see how he did and get him some experience. At 170 pounds they better be judicious with that kind of experience because we need him to last the whole season. Speaking of lasting the whole season, V’Lique Carter left the game after his helmet hit the ground hard during and out-of-bounds tackle. If I had to guess I’d say he’ll be in the concussion protocol but nothing official has been published, and this is pure speculation on my part. Whatever the outcome, lets hope he’s okay.
As a side note on the final drive, I saw Coach Borbs – who is also our “Run Game Coordinator” hovering next to Whipple during the fourth quarter. I can only wonder if he was feeding Whip running plays at Narduzzi’s direction. This is pure speculation on my part, but given that Borbs designed all of Pitt’s running plays last season Pitt could do a lot worse that to have him in Whipple’s ear when it’s time to eat clock.
Special teams were…an adventure. Kessman had a bad missed field goal from 41 yards, and it looked like his foot hit the turf before striking the ball. Weird and not good. He bounced back and hit two shorter attempts though. Christendoulu didn’t have any kicks blocked (although someone pointed out that he did not seem in a hurry to get any kicks off) and finished with a respectable 45.3 avg and a long of 54. On the receiving end Maurice Ffrench dropped not one but two punts, but fortunately he recovered them both. He’s going to have to do better going forward. Perhaps calling for a fair catch once in a while would be in order.
So that’s it. A lot of my thoughts are in the post above, but I’ll give you a quick Good, Bad and Ugly, and I would love to hear yours.
Good: Pickett passed for 300+ and curtailed the happy feet. Offensive Line got better as game went on. Davis & Davis showed we have a little talent in the running back room. Tight ends caught passes. Defense dominated and spent pretty much the whole day in the backfield. Tre Tipton made some absolutely beautiful catches (although he was ruled out of bounds on one of them…)
Bad: Only 20 points against a team we could have probably scored 40 against. Too many pre-snap penalties on the O-line.
Ugly: The O-Line in the first quarter (and really the first half). If they revert to that against better competition, we are royally hosed. Egregious drops from both Mack and Griffin-Stewart. Narduzzi’s in game coaching. What the heck was he thinking going for it on 4th and 1?
Okay POV’ers what do you say? What was good, bad and ugly during our Win vs Ohio?
One more Good! Received from Pics from “Major Majors” this weekend. Looks like Fran’s POV tailgate was a great time as usual. For anyone who lives in the Burgh these tailgates are open to all, and Fran and the crew is very welcoming to all Pitt fans. I’ll make sure I post the location on future articles.