Predicting what is going to happen in the ACC Coastal Division is hardly an easy task. The division has had six different champions reach the ACC Championship Game in the last six years. This year, Pitt (5-2, 2-1 ACC) is hoping to become the second team in the division to play in back-to-back ACC Championship Games, joining Virginia Tech (2007, 2008). On Friday night, a 27-20 victory at Syracuse (3-4, 0-3 ACC) helped keep that goal alive.
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett passed for 232 yards and two touchdowns, with six of those receptions being hauled in by Maurice Ffrench (92 yards, 1 TD). The Panthers held a 24-6 lead at halftime and had to hold off a rally by Syracuse. Among the highlights for Pitt was a lateral back to Pickett, who connected deep Aaron Matthews early in the game. The play had to be reviewed as an illegal double forward pass penalty was originally flagged by the ACC official. Replay correctly overturned the call and awarded Pitt the go-ahead touchdown. The Panthers never trailed the rest of the night.
Since losing their road game at Penn State in non-conference play in Week 3, Pitt has rattled off four consecutive wins, beginning with an upset of UCF. One more non-conference win against Delaware led into back-to-back ACC wins against Duke and Syracuse. The victory against Duke was key because the Blue Devils are a division opponent. And the quick decline of Syracuse this season made for an easier road game than perhaps was to be expected before the season started (Syracuse won 10 games last year and is now in jeopardy of missing out on bowl eligibility).
Pitt now gets ready for a key stretch of division games that could ultimately determine if the Panthers can get a second crack at an ACC title (likely against Clemson). Next up will be Miami, next week in Pittsburgh. Pitt upset the Hurricanes in western Pennsylvania two seasons ago, dealing a near-fatal blow to Miami’s College Football Playoff hopes (Clemson put the Hurricanes to rest in the ACC Championship Game). If the Panthers can get the win against Miami, the remaining schedule has some favorable draws with road games against struggling Georgia Tech (1-5) and Virginia Tech (4-2, but a far from encouraging 4-2) and home games against UNC and Boston College (both schools are 3-3 coming into the week).
Pitt would lose out on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia but does own the tiebreaker with Duke. Pitt fans will be watching to see what happens between Duek and Virginia Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville. A Duke win would, essentially, put Pitt in the driver’s seat.
We may still get some ACC Coastal Chaos, but Pitt has played themselves into a bit of a decent spot within the division race.
A week of verbal jabbing and pettiness culminated in the 100th meeting in the rivalry between No. 13 Penn State (3-0) and Pitt (1-2) on Saturday afternoon. After a delayed start to the game due to weather conditions in the area, the last regular-season meeting between the two programs on the schedule certainly felt like an intense game, as Penn State held off the Panthers 17-10 to move to 3-0.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was under pressure all day against a feisty Pitt defensive line, and at times he certainly looked like a young quarterback who was feeling the pressure. He ended the game completed less than half of his passes (14-of-30) but did throw for 222 yards without an interception (one was waved off due to a Pitt penalty). Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was much more effective with shorter passes and lobs that were somehow caught by his receivers for big gains, as he passed for 372 yards. But like Clifford, Pickett was unable to get his team in the endzone through the air. The only touchdown allowed by the Penn State defense came near the end of the first half with Vincent Davis briefly giving the Panthers a 10-7 lead.
Penn State managed to tie the game just before halftime on a school-record 57-yard field goal by Jordan Stoudt, avoiding a second straight week trailing their opponent at halftime at home. Penn State’s defense wasn’t perfect in the second half, but the Nittany Lions shutout the Panthers after the break. A 13-yard run up the middle of the Pitt defense gave Penn State the go-ahead and eventual game-winning score in the third quarter. From there, it was all about the defense.
Both teams had their share of struggles on third downs, but both teams thrived on fourth down. Pitt was a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth down, which made a decision by Pat Narduzzi to kick a field goal from the Penn State one-yard line all the more puzzling in the fourth quarter. With 4:54 to play and trailing by seven, Narduzzi sent kicker Alex Kessman out for a 19-yard try that bounced off the goal post.
There are no meetings between the two schools currently scheduled for the future, so, for now, the 100th meeting will give Penn State the in-state bragging rights. Pitt won the first meeting in this four-year revival, but Penn State won the last three meetings, including two in decisive fashion. For now, Penn State will get a bye week to prepare for their Big Ten opener in two weeks at Maryland. Maryland will be looking to bounce back after being upset in southeastern Pennsylvania just prior to Penn State finishing off Pittsburgh. Maryland was upset at Temple as their high-powered offense was nowhere to be seen.
Pitt will return to action next week with another good quality opponent. The Panthers host UCF a week after the Knights are playing Stanford.
Penn State nearly found themselves in the same halftime deficit at home from a week ago, but a school-record field goal from 57 yards by Jordan Stoudt tied the game at 10-10 with just seconds to go until halftime. Pitt took a late first-half lead on a Vincent Davis touchdown run before Penn State was able to answer before halftime.
In a slightly familiar theme for the first half for Penn State, a slow start on offense must be overcome. Last week, Penn State trailed Buffalo at halftime by an identical 10-7 deficit, and Buffalo also took the lead late in the first half. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett got off to a rough start but has calmed down and found his poise with short, high-percentage passes to methodically attack the Penn State defense. Pitt’s gameplan to work the clock has worked with the Panthers controlling the football for nearly double the time Penn State has held the football, and the defense for the Panthers have not made things easy for Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford.
Clifford has been under pressure for much of the first half. If not for an 85-yard run by Journey Brown on third-and-long from the Penn State three-yard line in the first quarter, Penn State may have only had three points the way the first half has gone. Brown’s long run led to Penn State opening the scoring with a Devyn Ford touchdown run from the one-yard line to cap a 98-yard touchdown drive.
So once again, Penn State has some work to do with the offense at halftime. Protecting Clifford has to be a priority. Meanwhile, Pitt can stick to their slow and methodic style until pressed to make a change. This is the kind of game that plays to Pitt’s advantage.
Defense and running the football tend to be the keys to success for both Pittsburgh and Stanford. So far, after one half of play in the Sun Bowl, that recipe has been slightly more kind to the Panthers. Pittsburgh leads Stanford 10-7 at halftime of the Sun Bowl, a game that has not been full of much offensive flair.
Pitt was dealt a bit of a blow on offense with the loss of leading rusher Qadree Ollison. After five carries for 23 yards, Ollison was evaluated for an injury on the sideline and was seen taking his pads off and sitting on a cart.
After a scoreless first quarter, Pitt was the first to put a dent on the scoreboard in the second quarter with a 29-yard field goal by Alex Kessman. Stanford would take a 7-3 lead a few possessions later when they string together their first drive of the day. After being limited to just three yards of offense for the first 20 minutes of the game, the Cardinal orchestrated a 64-yard drive ending with a short touchdown run by Cameron Scarlett.
Pittsburgh regained the lead on the ensuing possession on the strength of quarterback Kenny Pickett utilizing his legs to provide a spark for the Panthers. Pickett had runs of 14 yards and 11 yards on the drive in addition to a few passes good for first downs. Darrin Hall would end the drive with a six-yard touchdown run.
With Bryce Love sitting out of the game to prepare for the NFL, Stanford’s leading rusher has been Scarlett, with 27 yards on seven carries. Hall has 89 yards for the Panthers.
Pitt gets the ball to start the second half.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi may have been signed to a contract extension recently, but the Panthers are quickly getting shallow at the quarterback spot on the depth chart for 2018. For the second time in as many days, Pitt is losing a quarterback to a transfer.
Ben DiNucci is the most recent of the two to announce his decision to leave the program. Though DiNucci did not say where he is heading next, he did say in a brief message on Twitter he will be enrolling in January. He will have two years of eligibility to use, although he would have to sit out the 2018 season if he transfers to another FBS program. He would be eligible to play right away if he transfers to a lower division football program. A report from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests the latter will be the case, with James Madison and Towson the two leading candidates to add DiNucci.
DiNucci was Pittsburgh’s leading passer this season with 1,091 yards and five touchdowns, although he was used mostly as a backup for Max Browne until Browne was injured after appearing in six games. DiNucci also added 126 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown, which came in Week 2 against Penn State.
DiNucci’s announcement comes just one day after Thomas MacVittie announced his own decision to leave the Panthers behind. The redshirt freshman did not appear in any games this season and was passed over on the depth chart by freshman Kenny Pickett. Pickett now becomes the top option in the passing game for the Panthers heading into the spring, unless Pitt happens to add a transfer to the mix.
Pitt will have another scholarship quarterback on the way in 2018 with the addition of incoming freshman Nick Patti out of New Jersey. Patti is not expected to be enrolling early, so he will not be around in the spring.