PITTSBURGH – Following a big win over Central Florida a week ago, Pitt wraps up its non-conference schedule as the Panthers (2-2, 0-1) take on FCS opponent Delaware Saturday at Heinz Field before Pitt finishes the season with seven consecutive ACC games.
The Panthers are favored by 28 points over the Fightin’ Blue Hens (3-1, 1-0, ranked 19th in the FCS coaches poll) in only the second-ever matchup between the two teams. Pitt dominated the first game, winning 62-0 in 2014.
Despite the lack of history between the two football programs, the game will be personal for both head coaches.
“History with Delaware for me goes way, way back to the old Yankee Conference. I've coached against them. I've played in games against them, three of them,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said this week, referring to his time as a player and assistant at Rhode Island.
However, what sticks out about Delaware for Narduzzi isn’t when he played or coached against the Fightin’ Blue Hens; it’s about when he was a ball boy against them.
“I was a little ball boy against these guys back in 1979,” Narduzzi said. “(In) 1979, the only team we lost to at Youngstown State when my dad was head coach was Delaware.”
Narduzzi’s father, Bill, was coach at Youngstown State from 1975-85. Delaware beat the Penguins 38-21 in the 1979 Division II Championship, the only time Youngstown State competed for the title under the elder Narduzzi.
“I tell our kids all the time these games have got to be personal. It's personal for me,” Narduzzi said. “I'll never forget 1979. Never forget getting beat in Austintown-Fitch Stadium or getting beat in the national championship game down in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Youngstown expected to win the championship. We didn't get it done because of Delaware.”
The game also has personal stakes for Delaware coach Danny Rocco. Rocco spent his formative years in the Pittsburgh area, playing high school football at Fox Chapel, where his father, Frank Sr., was coach at the time. Rocco later went on to play college ball at Penn State.
Rocco was hired at Delaware in 2016, following head coaching stints at Richmond and Liberty. Since taking over the Fightin’ Blue Hens, Rocco has recruited more heavily in western Pennsylvania and Delaware’s current roster has seven players from the WPIAL, who undoubtedly want to shock the Panthers at Heinz Field.
The Blue Hens will have their hands full, particularly with Pitt’s defensive line.
Delaware has played two quarterbacks in three of four game this season, sophomore Nolan Henderson and senior Rick Kehoe. Two weeks ago against North Dakota State, currently ranked No.1 in the FCS, Henderson and Kehoe were sacked a total of seven times. A week ago, Pitt’s defense manhandled Central Florida’s offensive line and sacked quarterback Dillon Gabriel six times; Gabriel had been sacked once prior to the Pitt matchup.
The defensive line will have help in the secondary, as both Jason Pinnock and Damarri Mathis should be available at corner this week. The two suffered injuries against Central Florida, but Narduzzi said he expects them both to play this week, welcome news for a defense which has already seen its share of injuries.
Despite an emotional upset last week and ACC play on the horizon, Narduzzi isn’t overlooking Delaware.
“They've got a very, very good coaching staff. They've got really good players and they will come in here ready to go,” Narduzzi said.
“It's my job to get our guys to come back after a big win and get another one.”