After a 5-7 2017 that left them Bowl-less, the Pitt Panthers football team wanted to get off to a strong start in 2018 and they did so after beating FBS Subdivision Alabama 33-7 in front of 42,816 at Heinz Field.
Sophomore QB Kenny Pickett was also pretty strong as he passed for went 16-22 for 154 yards and 2 TDs and rushed for 42 yards. Both of his TDs went to WR Rafael Araujo-Lopes who also finished with 50 yards on 3 receptions. Indiana transfer Taysir Mack also added 3 catches for 44 yards for the Panthers who improve to 1-0 on the season.
“All right. Well, it’s always good to open up at Heinz Field and get a W.” Said Pitt HC Pat Narduzzi, who hasn’t lost a season opener during his time at Pitt. “I was really overall happy with the way our kids played in the first half. I don’t think we came out in the second half and played the way you’d like to be as clear.”
We got two turnovers in the second half offensively. One’s a tipped ball, and one’s, you know, I think the first thing I said to Kenny at the beginning of the second quarter on the sidelines when he was warming up, I said, “Listen, you do not take a hit, so you go down.” So, what’s he do? He goes up. He must have misunderstood down and up.
But the other star was WR Maurice Ffrench who got the party started when he took the opening kickoff and ran it for a 91-yard TD. Ffrench also scored on a 9-yard run. The Panthers scored all of their points in the first half.
The defense also did an excellent job on Albany and QB Vincent (Son of Vinny) Testaverde, intercepting him twice and sacked him 5 times. Pitt CB Damarri Mathis intercepted one of Testaverde’s passes and returned it 79 yards and set up Pitt’s second score.
“We’ll take sacks anyway we can. Narduzzi said about his defense. If you could get one, we’ll put you in. But I don’t care who gets them. The nice thing is they’re getting them. If you can get four-man pressure — I don’t know if it was four or five or six man, we’ll have to look at the tape.
I know Rashad Wheeler had a nice one at the end which I think was four-man pressure. But if it’s a D-line getting it, the question is how many came at that time? Did he get turned loose? Were there four, five, six guys going? That’s the question. So we’ll have to go back and look at that.”
For Albany, Testaverde passes for 263 yards and TD and those 2 interceptions, and WR Dev Holmes caught 9 passes for 148 yards and a TD.
Pitt must now prepare to face their cross-state rival, #10 Penn State as they visit Heinz Field next Saturday night. The Nittany Lions received a scare from Appalachian State before prevailing 45-38 in overtime.
“it’s great to be 1-0.” Said Narduzzi. “We were able to do it a little bit shorthanded in a few different spots. You know, which, again, just being smart. We’ll evaluate all of those. I’m not going to get into details, Jerry, okay, my man. I’m not going to get into details, but I feel pretty good for next week as far as our personnel goes, and hopefully we’ll be near 95%.”
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PITT POSTGAME NOTES: ALBANY
• Pitt opened its 129th season of intercollegiate football with a 33-7 victory over Albany at Heinz Field. This marked the first meeting between the two schools. Pitt moves to 16-1 all-time against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponents.
• Pitt is 84-43-2 (.659) all-time in openers. Since the 2000 season, Pitt is 14-5 (.737) in its initial game, including 4-0 under Pat Narduzzi.
• The Panthers’ starting offensive line included at left tackle Stefano Millin, making his Pitt debut following a graduate transfer from Kent State; redshirt freshman right tackle Gabe Houy, playing in his first collegiate game; and senior left guard Connor Dintino, who made his first career offensive line start. (Dintino has two starting assignments for his career as he opened at fullback against Villanova in 2016.) Senior right guard Mike Herndon made just his second career start.
• Sophomore Kenny Pickett, making his second career start, finished the first half 13 of 13 for 129 yards and two touchdowns. His first incompletion came on his initial attempt of the second half when he threw the ball away under pressure. Pickett finished 16-of-22 passing for 154 yards with two TDs and one INT. He additionally rushed for 42 yards on six carries and a score.
• Senior receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes had the first multiple-TD reception game of his career (with two). His scoring catches covered 3 and 42 yards. (The latter marked the longest reception of his career.)
• Pitt finished with 238 rushing yards and two TDs on 37 attempts. The Panthers are 13-3 under Pat Narduzzi when rushing for at least 200 yards.
• The Panthers’ starting defense included senior middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis and sophomore cornerback Damarri Mathis. It was the first career start for both players. Wirginis made his return to active duty after missing the entire 2017 season due to injury.
• Junior safety Damar Hamlin halted Albany’s first drive with an interception at the Pitt 2, returning it 79 yards. It marked the second INT of his collegiate career. The 79-yard INT return marked Pitt’s longest since October 16, 2010, when Ricky Gary had an 80-yard return for a score at Syracuse.
• Sophomore Damarri Mathis ended Albany’s opening drive of the second half with an interception in the end zone. The INT was the first of his collegiate career.
• Pitt compiled five sacks, led by sophomore defensive tackle Keyshon Camp’s two sacks. It marked Pitt’s highest sack total since recording five against Duke on Nov. 19, 2016. The Panthers are 11-3 under Pat Narduzzi when they record at least four sacks.
• Junior Maurice Ffrench returned the game’s opening kickoff for a 91-yard touchdown, the first kick return score of his collegiate career. It marked Pitt’s first game-opening kickoff return TD since Dec. 28, 2015, when Quadree Henderson had a 100-yard return against Navy in the Military Bowl.
• Pitt now has six kickoff return touchdowns during Coach Pat Narduzzi’s tenure (since 2015). www.pittsburghpanthers.com