There are some ‘sure things’ in life: Death, Taxes and the play of the 2017 Pitt Panthers football team. (Sorry Ben Franklin) After an impressive 2016 season that saw them beat Penn State and upset Clemson, it was expected that the Panthers would have a jump start to even greater things in 2017. Even I thought this team would be better as they had lots of optimism that was fueled by their head coach Pat Narduzzi.
My mistake (and I’m sure yours too) This Pitt Panthers team is proving that they’re not as talented as last year’s team and I’m saying that nicely. Right now, this team is a far cry from the team that went to the Pinstripe Bowl and I admit, I didn’t think the departure of several Pitt players (other than RB James Conner) would hurt them as much, but after watching this team play 3 games and lose 2, I admit that I was wrong. This team needs help. Lots of it.
The Panthers weren’t expected to do much vs. the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but I had hoped that they would put up more of a fight, especially on defense after a not-to-shabby performance vs. Penn State last week.
Like I said, my mistake.
The Panthers defense were the main culprits in an embarrassing 59-21 loss to the Cowboys, dropping their record to 1-2. It was easily the worst Pitt home loss at Heinz Field and their second loss in consecutive weeks to a Top 10 team. And if they thought to bring a team like the Cowboys would put folks in the Heinz Field seats, then that was their mistake. Their performance basically sent folks home before the first half.
In last year’s matchup, the Panthers only lost 45-38 to the Cowboys, mainly because the offense was better. That unit could match big plays with anyone. Quite the opposite in this year’s game, especially under Browne.
Let’s be honest: This game was over before the first half and part of the reason was the play of starting QB Max Browne, the graduate transfer from USC. Unfortunately, this young man hasn’t lived up to his hype after 3 games, but his performance has confirmed why USC benched him last year. He has zero chemistry with the offense and at times he looks lost and confused in the pocket and I can only feel for WR Jester Weah who was the main deep threat for the Panthers last season, but of course, that was when Nate Peterman was under center.
So far, Weah has as many yards as I do, and I haven’t been on the field since August (So what if I wasn’t in uniform) He misses Peterman as we all do. Narduzzi apparently had enough of Browne (60 yards passing, 0 TDs) as he was replaced by Ben DiNucci the rest of the game.
Here’s how the scoring went down: Oklahoma St scored first as RB Justice Hill runs it in for 20 yards. 7-0 Cowboys. After Pitt Punts, Ok St scores again as QB Rudolph finds WR Stoner for a 54-yard TD pass to extend their lead to 14-0.
Pitt looked like it was showing signs of life as they converted a couple of first downs, but then QB Max Browne deflated Pitt’s chances when he overthrew a wide-open WR Jester Weah and then got sacked on the next play. And how die the cowboys respond? Another TD of course as Rudolph found WR Keene Aetman for a 69-yard TD pass to extend their lead to 21-0. The most crushing part of that play was when Pitt had several chances to sack Rudolph, but missed and allowed him to find Aetman who easily eluded his defender en route to the end zone.
The Panthers tried to make their mark on their next drive, but each attempt was ruined by foolish penalties. Head Coach Pat Narduzzi chose to go for it on 4th down, but Browne’s pass was dropped by WR Aaron Matthews. And once again, what did Oklahoma St. do in response? They scored again. Rudolph found WR Jalen McClesky for the 6-yard TD to extend their lead to 28-0.
Pitt once again does nothing on their next offensive drive as Browne looks as confused as ever and punts the ball with over 12 minutes remaining. The Cowboys scored once again (now I’m sounding like an echo) when Rudolph found McClesky once again for the TD, extending their lead to 35-0.
Pitt then replaces Browne with DiNucci and what does he do? Finds WR Quadree Henderson for a 75-yard pass and then finally score when RB Chawntez Moss ran it in from the 5-yard line to trail the Cowboys 35-7.
You’d think that Pitt’s defense would take inspiration from that TD, but then you had to remember that we’re talking about Pitt’s Defense. Yes, they scored again as RB Hill scored from 15 yards extending their lead to 42-7. On DiNucci’s second drive, it looked like Browne was still in there as Pitt did nothing on offense and punted the ball back to the Cowboys with over 5 minutes left to play in the first half.
You know I’m going to say it…how did Oklahoma St do? Score, of course. As McClesky scored his 3rd TD of the game, this time from 48 yards to extend their lead to 49-7. On Pitt’s next drive, they scored again when DiNucci found WR Rafael Araujo Lopes for his first collegiate TD, as Pitt now trailed 49-14.
Pitt gets the ball in the second half and after showing signs of life with the play of DiNucci, they go nowhere as he gets sacked on 3rd down, punting the ball back to Ok St who took over at their own 1-yard line. The Cowboys looked like they were about to add to their lead as they drove down the field with as much effort as driving home until Rudolph’s pass was intercepted by Pitt CB Avonte Maddox.
But that sheer bit of joy was short-lived as DiNucci’s pass was intercepted by Cowboys DB Justin Phillips to extend their lead to 56-14. DiNucci looked like he was about to get the Panthers into the end zone again, but his pass was intercepted by Cowboys DB Tre Flowers near the 5-yard line. It was intended for forgotten WR Jester Weah.
After both offenses exchanged drives, Pitt scored again when Cowboys punter missed the snapped and as the ball sat in the end zone, Pitt DB Jason Finnock fell on it and Pitt now trailed 56-21. Th Cowboys would add a 25-yard FG to extend their lead to 59-21.
If there were any positives in this game, I would point at the play of DiNucci, who played his heart out despite the odds, (228 passing yards, a TD and 2 Interceptions) and freshman WR Lopes who emerged as the team’s leading receiver of the day with 89 yards on 6 catches and his first-ever college TD, but nothing else honestly went right for the Panthers. who now must shake this off and prepare to travel to Georgia Tech next weekend.
The Cowboys truly had a field day against Pitt as Rudolph passed for 497 yards and 5 TDs. Hill rushed for 91 yards and McClesky led his team with 162 yards on 6 receptions. In fact, four Cowboys receivers had 100 yards apiece against the Panthers secondary who now
Pitt now must shake this off and prepare to travel to Georgia Tech next weekend as Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play begins. And beating the Yellowjackets won’t be a sure thing either.
Notes: Pitt legends Hugh Green and Tony Dorsett were honored at Saturday’s game. Green was the honorary captain and Dorsett was given the Legend of the Game ball in front of a standing ovation.
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