To be honest, these college football scrimmage games intrigue me. In a sport in which there aren’t any pre-season or exhibition games, I guess this is the closest thing to it. After all, there surely won’t be any scrimmages during their Summer training camp.
Anyhoo, this is a day in which most schools have their annual scrimmage which closes out their mini-camps. They may not mean much from the official standpoint, but you can guarantee that it means a lot to the kids who are getting ready for the upcoming 2017 season, especially those who’re graduate transfers. (Incoming Freshmen are still in High School)
Such is the case of the University of Pittsburgh football team who had their annual Blue-Gold Spring Game at Heinz Field Saturday Afternoon. What I appreciate about this game is the fact that the weather wasn’t frightful (Sunny and 82 degrees) compared to when I was at these games in 2012(very rainy) and 2013 (cloudy and cold) and I’m sure that the families of the players also appreciated the weather as well.
I mentioned how this game benefited the graduate transfers, and a good example of one is QB Max Browne who came to Pitt from USC. The fact that he spent a couple of years with the Trojans puts him in the running for the starting QB spot, which was vacated by the graduation of Nate Peterman. Browne’s competition for that spot are redshirt SO Ben DiNucci(#3), FR Kenny Pickett(#8), and FR Thomas MacVittie (#7) so you would think that Brown should win the job over those others, right?
Not exactly. Those other 3 kids know HC Pat Narduzzi’s offensive scheme, Browne is still learning it. But after watching the Gold beat the Blue 23-14, I would say that Browne made an impression after he completed 13 for 28 passes for a team-leading 144 yards and a TD, which was to WR Tre Tipton to give the Blue their final points of the game.
In contrast, MacVittle went 1-1 for 4 yards, but he had a 12-yard TD run for the Blue, Pickett passed for 36 yards (6-13) and DiNucci was a perfect 5-5 for 60 yards. But none of them passed for scores like Browne and that will get lots of attention. I think Browne will have the starting QB job, or at least have the first shot at it.
“It was good to have all 4 QB’s get snaps.” HC Pad Narduzzi said.
The other standout in this game is one who you would know, and that’s All-Purpose Man Quadree Henderson, who is basically making his case as the superstar of the team. Henderson ran through Pitt like he did most of the ACC last season as he totaled 133 all-purpose yards (84 rushing, 53 passing) and his 54-yard TD run was the first points of the game. His 27-yard catch was pretty impressive too. It makes me wonder how he will be used since former offensive coordinator Matt Canada is no longer with the team. If they’re smart, they need to keep those jet-screens and using him just like they did last seasons…If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Of course, the main concern for Pitt last season was their defense, which truly had their struggles, especially in the secondary. They will have returning SR Avonte Maddox, but to be honest, that’s not much of a ringing endorsement, but they will also have sophomore Dane Jackson and a slew of freshmen hoping to make their mark. That unit will also see the return of S Jordan Whitehead and LB Elijah Ziese who missed the majority of last season with injuries. Neither had significant impacts in this game, but their presence on the field is pretty huge.
One defensive player that really stood out for me was SR DL Rori Blair who had 2 sacks and 4 tackles. It’s not a mystery that Pitt is looking for another pass-rushing specialist after the graduation of DE Ejuan Price, and Blair looked like he’s thrown his name in the hat for that job. Fellow SR DL Allen Edwards had Pitt’s other sack.
The running game? Not so impressive (I know it’s just the Spring Game, don’t remind me) The best running back not named Quadree Henderson was SO Chawntez Moss who finished with 59 yards on 8 carries. It bugs me that JR Quardee Ollison didn’t look too impressive. I think he should be taking that starting job by the horns. After all, he filled in for James Conner in 2015 had had a 1,000-yard season and won ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. But he finished with 37 yards on 18 carries in this game. FR Shawn Wood finished with 23 yards on 6 carries.
As for the receivers..other than Henderson, of course, it was Tipton who had 51 yards, but freshman Ruben Flowers III looked pretty impressive with 4 catches for 47 yards. I’m expecting SO Aaron Matthews to step it up this season as the team will try to take advantage of his 6-4 frame. He finished with 1 catch for 11 yards. Last year’s leading WR was Jester Weah and he caught 1 pass for 9 yards in this game. But he will be fine.
“After 15 practices, you feel good where we are, right now we have a lot of work to do, but you wish that you had them all together against an opponent.”-said Narduzzi.
All in all, it was to be expected in this kind of game, some good, and some opportunities to improve. They will move onto the summer camp in a few months and that’s when we will see who has earned specific starting jobs, and we will also see the additions of the incoming freshmen as well.
Notes: The Panthers honored Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney by adding the Steelers logo to one side of their helmet. Rooney passed away Thursday at age 84. Ziese and OL Jaryd Jones-Smith were winners of the 2017 Ed Conway Award as most improved players of Pitt’s Spring Drills.
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