No matter how you look at it, this game was Max Browne’s Coming Out Party. As a Pitt player, he gave us a glimpse (and probably some justification) of why the Pitt Panthers signed him as a graduate-transfer out of USC and why he was named this season’s starter as he passed for to lead the Panthers to a win vs. the Rice Owls.
“It’s good to get a win. It’s been 3 long weeks.” Said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.
Just one week after splitting the duties with Ben DiNucci, Pitt Narduzzi decided to start Browne for this game and looked like a genius as Brown passed for 410 yards and 4 TDs as to lead the Panthers to a 42-10 victory to improve their record to 2-3. (0-1 ACC). His 410 yards were the most yards by a Pitt QB since Ben Savage passed for over 400 in 2014.
“He looked comfortable in the pocket.” Narduzzi said of Browne “Overall, you have to be happy with the passing game.”
Browne showed poise, patience and was finally able to get the ball down the field, something that we had not seen in Pitt’s first 4 games of the season. In fact, Browne looked like Tommy Maddox out there at times as he froze in the pocket like a statue. In this game, he looked like Ben Roethlisberger as he was a bit more mobile in the pocket which kept drives alive.
In fact, Browne kept Pitt’s first quarter drives alive which led to TDs as he found RB Chawntez Moss, WR Jester Weah for TDs and RB Quadree Ollison ran it in for 10 yards as the Panthers lead 21-0 after the first quarter of play. The defense wasn’t too shabby as well forcing the Owls offense to punt on 3 straight drives. After Moss fumbled on their 4th drive, he redeemed himself on the next drive when he scored a 1-yard drive, extending their lead to 28-0.
I must admit felt that it was DiNucci’s time to lead the Panthers, but he wasn’t impressive at all in their 35-14 loss to Georgia Tech. I was never one who agree with teams using a 2-QB system, but apparently that is what Narduzzi has in mind. It also gives more proof of why the Panthers miss Nate Peterman.
Even though Rice woke up on the first drive of the 3rd quarter as they drove 69 yards on 12 plays but settled for a 23-yard FG by K Haden Tobola and a 70-yard strike from QB Tyner Jackson to WR Walter Austin to close Pitt’s lead to 28-10, that was honestly as close as they got as the Panthers eventually woke up and scored more points courtesy of Browne.
The Panthers QB concluded his day with 2 more TDs, one to RB Daren Hall and the other to TE Chris Clark before being replaced by DiNucci late in the 4th quarter.
In addition to Browne, it was also a Coming Out Party for WR Aaron Matthews as he caught 4 passes for 50 yards and Clark as he finished the day with 5 catches for 23 yards. In the previous 4 games, Clark couldn’t buy a pass.
What also impressed me about Browne’s game was the fact that he finally found Weah, and he found the deep-threat WR often as he caught 4 passes for 137 yards and a TD in which he was so wide open that it makes me wonder if Rice’s defense knew there was a left side of the field. Weah is the type of playmaker that Pitt needs if they’re serious about turning their season around. Freshman WR Rafael Araulo-Lopes also had another impressive game as he caught 4 passes for 72 yards and Moss finished with 63 yards on 2 receptions as the passing game came alive against the Owls.
Pitt’s running game wasn’t as impressive as they finished with 69 total yards with the one TD by Ollison, who finished with 17 yards. In fact, it was S Jordan Whitehead who led the offense with 24 rushing yards. This young man is such a talent and never disappoints when he gets the ball in his hands.
“You can’t expect to win games when you only rush for 69 yards.” Said Narduzzi
The defense also got the job done as they limited the Owls to 10 points and forced Tyner into throwing 3 interceptions which helped stall 3 Rice drives. CBs Dane Jackson, Damar Hamlin and S Dennis Briggs each picked off passes for Pitt.
In a day in which there isn’t a such thing as a guaranteed win, the Panthers truly beat a team that they were expected to beat. Listed as 20-point favorites Rice showed why they weren’t as good as a team and Pitt took advantage of it. They proved they were better, but the Panthers know that there won’t be any easy games like this the rest of the season as they continue ACC play next week vs. Syracuse.
Question is, can Browne continue this success the rest of the season as they will face some superior opponents. He didn’t look to impressive in his first 4 games, but hopefully he will allow this game as inspiration for the rest of the 2017 season. But the Panthers will need him, especially next week against Syracuse and then the following week against NC State. Time will tell.
Notes: FB George Aston started his first game of 2017, but it was short-lived as he left the field with an injury on their first drive. He did not return.
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