The Pitt Panthers had a golden opportunity to save their season by pulling off a huge upset against the red-hot NC State Wolfpack but they didn’t seize it like they could’ve as they fell 35-17 on their Homecoming Day at Heinz Field.
“We did a lot of good things, but we ended up losing to a very good football team.” Said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi “I give NC State credit. They’re a good football team and they made the key plays that we were unable to. We win together, we lose together. It’s not just one group that lost this game.”
The Wolfpack pretty much gave the Panthers several opportunities as the offense failed to convert, especially in the first half, but the problem is their offense failed to capitalize. I’m convinced that last year’s team would’ve won this game. (See their upset vs. Clemson) but this year’s team continues to prove that they’re simply not talented enough to battle for victories.
There’s always a game that can make or break a team’s season and I really believe that such a game was like this for the Panthers. After losing to two ranked teams (Penn State, Oklahoma State), the Panthers needed to win this game vs 20th ranked NC State.
Trust me, Pitt had their chances, especially when they scored first when QB Ben DiNucci found WR Jester Weah on a 33-yard TD pass. But I guess the defense was still in celebratory mode as RB Nyheim Hines ran right through then for an 83-yard TD to tie the game at 7. After Pitt did nothing on their next drive, Hines struck again as he returned P Ryan Winslow’s punt for 92 yards to take a 14-7 lead.
The last player named Hines to dominate so much at Heinz Field? (no pun intended) Former Steeler Hines Ward.
But the Panthers were eventually able to put the clamps on Hines as QB Ryan Finley continued to struggle in the first half. Pitt tied the game on an impressive drive that ended with RB Darren Hall ran it in from the 1-yard line. NC State failed to convert an FG to close the first half and the Panthers were sitting pretty going into halftime tied at 14.
Just when you thought the Panthers would take advantage of the huge opportunity to begin the second half, they failed. DiNucci threw a pass that was intercepted and Winslow continued to punt the ball away. Late in the 3rd quarter, NC State’s offense finally woke up as Finley found WR Jakobi Myers for a 3-yard TD pass. On that play, Pitt CB Avonte Maddox blew his assignment, which left Maddox wide open in the back of the end zone.
NC State would score again to make the score 28-17 and then the Panthers made a shrewd move by replacing DiNucci with freshman Kenny Pickett (which is truly what the fans wanted) such a move made no sense to me as DiNucci wasn’t playing horrible, but he wasn’t excellent either. But the kid had only started one other game (vs. Georgia Tech) this season and Pickett was basically thrown in the fire in his first college game.
On 2 drives, Pickett was impressive, getting the ball to Weah and WR Rafael Araujo-Lopes, but Pitt could only generate a field goal out of one of those drives. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack put a final nail in Pitt’s coffin when Samuels ran right through them for a 40-yard TD run late in the 4th quarter. Then Narduzzi put DiNucci back in the game, he fumbles the ball, NC State recovers which ends the game.
I was a bit confused over to things:
1. Who is this team’s true RB? This season opened with Quadree Ollison, but all he could muster is 2 carries for 17 yards in this game. The leading rusher was Hall and S Jordan Whitehead, but you can’t really brag when you lead your leading rushers were a combined 16 carries for 46 yards and a TD. Not good at all. Quadree Henderson had 15 yards on 1 carry and freshman AJ Davis’s fumble sealed the game for NC State. Chantwez Moss is suspended indefinitely. This unit looks lost and they obviously miss James Conner in the worst way.
2. Why take DinNucci out and then put him back later in the game? Not feeling head coach Pat Narduzzi on this one. I can understand if Pitt was getting blown out, but they were only down by 2 TDs at the time.
3. The defense-They can’t still tackle anybody and they allowed NC State to rumble for 248 yards. Their linebackers are basically a non-factor and they have no pass rush. And to think that they have to face two more ranked teams in Virginia Tech and Miami.
“I thought DiNiccu did a good job in the first half.” Said Narduzzi “ But we really wanted to get Kenny in the game.”
In the end, it wasn’t the proper homecoming welcome that Pitt wanted for their alumni and fans and if they would’ve taken advantage of their opportunities, we would all be happy right now. But unfortunately, that dream didn’t become a reality.
Notes: Backup K Ian Troost became the first player to take a knee for the National Anthem when he did so prior to this game with DE Jyrd Jones-Smith standing behind him with a hand on his shoulder. “As I mentioned, if they want to do that, then I’m going to give the players the option of doing so.” Said Narduzzi
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