By Ray Porter Jr.
PITTSBURGH, PA–The #24th ranked Pitt Panthers once again used the running game to defeat their opponent, and again, it was courtesy of RB Israel Abanikanda. The junior not only posted his 3rd consecutive 100-yard game, he finished with a career-high 177-yards and 4 TDs, (also a career-high) as Pitt beat the Rhode Island Rams 45-24 at Acrisure Stadium.
“You know, good outing by our guys. Again, I say ‘good,'” said Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi. “I don’t think it was great. I didn’t think we had the emotion I think you need to come with every Saturday afternoon for whatever reason. I thought the offense ran the ball really well and were efficient.”
Abinakanda had 245 all-purpose yards on the day. His 4th TDs were a first for Pitt since RB Darrin Hall did so in 2017, and his 177 yards was his 3rd consecutive 100-yard game for the first time since Hall did so in 2018. Fellow Pitt RB Vincent Davis added 51 yards and a TD as the Panthers rushed for 271 yards and 5 TDs as a team.
“Yeah, Izzy has done a nice job. When he pops through there, he can pop through as you guys see,” Narduzzi said. “The offensive line did an outstanding job, so they’ve done — we took what they gave us today, and we were able to run the ball, and if we can run the ball and have the ball for 35 minutes, it’s a good day.”
Most felt like Pitt shouldn’t have had any problems against the FCS Subdivision Rams, but they know as much as anyone to never take their opponent for granted, which they did not do today.
After Punt Returner M.J Devonshire’s 82-yard TD gave the Panthers their first points, Abanikanda took over as he scored TDs of 67 yards, (first quarter), 12 yards (2nd quarter), 24 yards (3rd quarter), and 13 yards (4th quarter) before Davis’s 18 yarder closed out Pitt’s scoring for the day.
“He’s been a punt returner. He’s only had two prior to today, and he didn’t catch either one of them, so you’re a little afraid of putting him back there, but we made a decision to put him back there, take some off the receivers because we’re shorthanded there, and he did a nice job,” Narduzzi said of Devonshire. “He’s fast, and we saw that in the WVU game. If you get the ball in his hands — again, I think it gave him a lot of confidence today, gave the coaches a lot of confidence when he goes back there, something good can happen. Great blocking, as well.”
QB Kedon Slovis returned to action after missing last Saturday’s game and finished with 189 yards passing. (20/27) He was the perfect game manager for the Panthers as they improved their record to 3-1 on the season while closing out their non-conference schedule.
“I think it was okay. Again, he was efficient with the football, 20 of 27. Took what they were giving us. Didn’t make bad decisions throwing the ball into coverage down the field, and I thought he was good,” Narduzzi commented.
The Pitt defense was able to hold the Rams to 24 points and sacked QB Kasim Hill 4 times. Their biggest challenge was RB Marques DeShields as he led Rhode Island with 82 yards in 10 carries, and his 67-yard TD run gave the Rams their first points. He would also score again on a 1-yarder late in the 2nd quarter. Hill (17/30, 223 yards, TD) would lead the Rams to their 3rd TD of the day when he found WR Darius Savedge for a 15 Yd pass late in the 4th quarter.
“Defense- wasn’t happy. Gave up a big run. Never like to do that. Gave up some RPOs out of some different formations and stuff,” said Narduzzi.
The Panthers will now prepare for Atlantic Coast Football (ACC) play as they host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets next Saturday at Acrisure Stadium.
“Give Rhode Island credit. They do some nice things on offense, which we knew coming in. Again, a good football team. A lot better than what we looked like back in the old days,” said Narduzzi. “Coach Fleming, good football coach, and from there, again, it’s a win, and preseason is over. We get into Georgia Tech and the ACC next week, and I think that’s what our kids are excited about…Just getting the opportunity to go play No. 5 and be 1-0 next week, that’s the goal.”
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Image: Vince Butts