PITTSBURGH – After a disappointing loss to Virginia a week ago and games against two ranked teams in the next two weeks, Pitt did exactly what it needed to do on Saturday defeating Ohio 20-10 at Heinz Field.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett led the way, completing 26 passes while throwing for 321 yards, both career highs.
“Kenny did a heck of a job throwing the ball, I thought his feet were good in the pocket,” coach Pat Narduzzi said.
“I think it was important for our whole team to have a bounce-back game, not just myself,” said Pickett, who completed 70 percent of his passes, up from 51 percent last week.
Receiver Maurice Ffrench had a career day as well, snagging ten balls for 138 yards, including a spectacular 74-yard touchdown.
Ffrench’s touchdown came on the first play of the second quarter. Following a first quarter that saw the offense go three-and-out twice and stall at the Ohio 9-yard line before going ahead with a field goal, it looked like Pitt’s offense might again be struggling to find a rhythm.
The second quarter began with the Panthers facing a third-and-4 at their 26 when Pickett connected with Ffrench, who streaked down the field for a touchdown.
Pitt’s tight ends also got involved in the passing game against the Bobcats. Will Gragg and Nakia Griffin-Stewart combined to make seven catches for 60 yards, nearly matching last year’s season totals at the position – Pitt tight ends caught just ten balls for 69 yards last year.
“I am happy with the tight ends,” Narduzzi said. “It's what we expect, and I think those two guys, Nakia and Will Gragg, will continue to get better and help this football team get better and win football games.”
The running game also got going, led by Davis and Davis – junior A.J. Davis and true freshman Vincent Davis. A.J. Davis paced the offense with 89 yards on 13 attempts, while Vincent Davis added 50 yards on 12 attempts.
The offensive line looked much improved from a week ago, when Pickett was frequently under pressure and was sacked four times compared to just once against Ohio.
Narduzzi said the offensive line is “work in progress.”
“(Pickett) still got touched more than I'd like,” Narduzzi said. “We've got to keep him clean.”
Despite posting good numbers, Pitt’s offense struggled to score in the second half, with the team held to a lone field goal.
But the play of the defense was good enough that Pitt didn’t need to score much.
The defense held Ohio’s dual-threat quarterback Nathan Rourke in check by being in his face all day, sacking him a total of six times. Following Ohio’s lone touchdown drive near the end of the third quarter, Pitt’s defense tightened up and didn’t allow the Bobcats in Pitt territory again.
Sophomore defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman notched three of the team’s six sacks himself.
“I've been impressed with Jaylen this whole camp,” Narduzzi said. “He is a different guy than he was a year ago. You watch tape, you can see it. It's different. I just think he's going to continue to get better as the weeks go on.”
Twyman’s three sacks were the most by a Pitt defensive tackle since his idol, Aaron Donald, had three against Utah in 2011.
“It’s definitely a blessing and an honor,” Twyman said. “I’m just happy to be able to perform at that level and I give all credit to the scout team for giving me a great look this past week.”
Twyman said the defense didn’t feel too much pressure despite the offense’s difficulty scoring in the second half.
“Pressure only busts pipes and makes diamonds,” Twyman said.
Twyman said he received some advice leading up to the game from fellow defensive tackle Keyshon Camp, who injured his knee against Virginia and is done for the year.
“He was just saying, ‘you got to step up more and be more vocal,’” Twyman said.
“I took that into consideration and just went out and performed.”