PITTSBURGH – Coming off a thrilling win over a ranked Central Florida team a week ago, Pitt was not only expected to beat Delaware, but favored by four touchdowns.
A blowout win was not in the cards for the Panthers (3-2, 0-1), as they squeaked by the Fightin’ Blue Hens (3-2, 1-0) 17-14, at Heinz Field.
Quarterback Nick Patti got his first career start as Kenny Pickett was held out of the game. Pitt was also without running backs A.J. Davis and Vincent Davis. Three important offensive players on the sidelines created plenty of confusion early in the game.
College teams are not required to report injuries and coach Pat Narduzzi is notoriously tight-lipped regarding injuries that are not season-ending, though he provided some insight after the game saying the call to sit Pickett was a game-time decision.
“I just don't think Kenny was 100 percent, and I thought all week he was going to be able to go,” Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi added that cornerback Jason Pinnock, safety Jazzee Stocker, and linebacker Chase Pine were all “banged up” after a physical game against Central Florida.
Patti, who said he found he’d be starting about 45 minutes before kickoff, was 23 of 37 for 271 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The freshman quarterback led Pitt on a 90-yard drive early in the fourth quarter that put the Panthers up for good. Patti was three-of-four for 73 yards on the drive, connecting with wide receiver Taysir Mack for a 48-yard play and a 12-yard touchdown three plays later.
“He stayed cool. He was composed,” Narduzzi said of Patti on the game-winning drive.
Mack, who came into the game as Pitt’s leading receiver with 302 yards, added another 124 yards on five receptions.
Patti said after the game Pickett helped him greatly from the sidelines.
“(He was) extremely helpful. Anytime that you got a starting Power Five, ACC quarterback giving you tips, it’s going to be really helpful,” Patti said. “He was just kind of telling me what he saw, and I was just playing off that.”
The Panthers were unable to get much going on the ground early with their two leading rushers out, but Todd Sibley Jr. wound up finishing the day with 106 yards on 22 carries. It was the first 100-yard performance by Sibley and the first 100-yard rusher the Panthers have had all year.
The defense had another strong game, allowing 170 yards, the lowest total the unit has allowed since 2015. Both Delaware touchdowns came on short fields after turnovers, one following a Patti interception that was returned to the Pitt 41-yard line and one coming after a Maurice Ffrench fumble at the Pitt 21. The defense had another six-sack game, the unit’s third game with six sacks this season.
Pitt’s defense failed to force any turnovers for the fourth game this year. The unit has only two turnovers, both interceptions that came against Central Florida last week.
Cornerback and defensive captain Dane Jackson thinks the defense would be even better if it could force turnovers.
“I think it would be a lot better if we forced more turnovers, but I think we got to keep emphasizing it in practice,” Jackson said after the game. “It’s funny, because we get a lot of turnovers in practice, but somehow it doesn’t translate over to the game. So we just got to keep emphasizing it.”
The Panthers played a sloppy game, getting penalized 13 times for 115 yards. A controversial running into the kicker call midway through the fourth quarter negated a Ffrench punt return into Delaware territory. Replay showed that Delaware punter Nick Pritchard did not appear to be touched. Ffrench wound up calling for a fair catch on the 30 on the re-kick. The ensuing drive stalled out at the Delaware 39 with Pitt clinging to a three-point lead.
“I shake my head on that one,” Narduzzi said about the questionable penalty.
Pitt would pull out the win with help from a roughing the kicker call on the Blue Hens as they hit Pitt punter Kirk Christodoulou with a minute and a half remaining in the game, giving the Panthers an automatic first down that allowed them to run out the clock.