Barnes Burner: There’s not all that much to take away from Pitt’s latest victory

By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

Pitt head football coach Paul Chryst is already off to a better start in his second year as a byproduct of the Panthers’ 49-27 victory over New Mexico on Saturday. This contrasts Chryst’s first year, in which Pitt suffered a 31-17 home-opener loss to Youngstown State followed by a 34-10 loss in Cincinnati the next week. 

So Pitt is 1-1 through two games, back to .500 and showing improvements across the board. Got it.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

Pitt took care of business in the win over New Mexico. The most important aspect of the victory was that Pitt managed to win a game it was supposed to win — a point of order they haven’t necessarily followed through with in recent years. 

But after two weeks, there’s no way to get a definitive read on this Panthers team quite yet. One would like to think Pitt isn’t so bad that it will lose by more than 20 points every week, as it did to Florida State in week one, but they are not so dominant that they will win by 22 points each week, as it did Saturday.

That’s not to say there weren’t positives to take out of Saturday’s win, because there certainly were. Freshman receiver Tyler Boyd followed up his impressive debut against Florida State with an even more impressive game against the Lobos, racking up 195 all-purpose yards and two scores. 

Boyd’s performance earned him the distinction of ACC Receiver of the Week and 247Sports’ True Freshman of the Week. 

The Panthers dominated the line of scrimmage on offense, with Pitt’s offensive line allowing only a single sack and opening wide lanes for James Conner and Isaac Bennett out of the backfield. Conner rushed 12 times for 119 yards and two scores, while Bennett also topped 100 yards on 14 carries and scored twice. 

Overall, the Panthers’ ground game racked up 288 total yards after Pitt’s running backs combined for 72 yards against Florida State. 

Redshirt senior quarterback Tom Savage worried Pitt fans with his early interception, but he rebounded on his very next pass when he hit Boyd inside the hash marks for a 51-yard gain that set up a four-yard scoring toss to Scott Orndoff. 

Redshirt senior receiver Devin Street had a solid game, as well, with five catches for 80 yards. Street moved into third place among all Pitt receivers in terms of receptions with his performance Saturday. 

Defensively, Pitt stifled the Lobos through the entire game. New Mexico eventually logged 270 yards of offense and 27 points, but most of that came in the second half against a Pitt defense consisting primarily of substitutes. 

Redshirt junior linebacker Todd Thomas returned to the starting lineup, tallying 10 tackles and stopping a fake punt attempt. His presence is a good one for Pitt, and he is listed as the starter for Pitt’s game against Duke this weekend. 

Of all defenders, senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald stood out the most. He was in the backfield seemingly on every play, and he ended up with two sacks, two other tackles for losses and five total tackles. 

Although it was nice to see Pitt dominate a team, it won’t be like this every week. Pitt turned the ball over multiple times, which isn’t dangerous against a team like New Mexico but could turn into 20 or more points for a more promising opponent. 

The matchup with Duke Saturday should be the best litmus test for the 2013 Pitt team. Duke was one of two teams voted to finish below Pitt in the ACC’s Coastal Division. If Pitt is going to end up somewhere between the different versions of itself against Florida State and New Mexico, playing a team like Duke is the best place to start when looking to understand this team.