Spring football games usually have their fair share of fireworks, touchdowns and big plays — but not Pitt’s Blue-Gold Game Sunday.
A rather dull intersquad scrimmage ended with the Blue team squeaking out a 19-17 win.. And instead of any specific plays or moments sticking out, reactions to the end of spring practice took center stage.
Veterans like Adam Bisnowaty and breakout players like Jester Weah and Chawntez Moss, as well as Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, spoke to the media about the end of the 15-practice cycle.
BENEFITS OF BLUE-GOLD
From the press box or the stands, it’s difficult to gauge just how much teams can get out of scrimmages that, in Pitt’s case, can’t even draw more than 8,000 fans to a stadium that houses 60,000 people.
But according to redshirt senior offensive tackle Bisnowaty, the scrimmage caps off an investment of hard work from the new lineup.
“I think spring ball really helps improve different skill sets that you have to work on for the year,” Bisnowaty said. “You have to self-scout yourself and notice what you need to work on and improve on that throughout the 15 practices.”
In his self-scouting, Bisnowaty said he focused on improving pass blocking and durability.
“Coach Narduzzi is a big goal setter,” Bisnowaty said. “We have goal cards every week for the season this year. We had one for spring ball. My biggest thing was working on my pass sets, footwork and staying healthy.”
Narduzzi, though, also mentioned the mental benefits of getting those 15 practices and the spring game.
“We had 15 days to get together and play the game of football that we love,” Narduzzi said. “I think the knowledge is something that we gain. I don’t think I can put my finger on one [benefit] but the biggest thing is that knowledge.”
MOSS MAKING A NAME
As an early enrollee, running back Chawntez Moss has had a leg up on the rest of Pitt’s 2016 recruiting class. He’s thrived in spring practice, and his success led to him being the first running back selected in Pitt’s Blue-Gold draft.
Moss finished the day with a respectable 28 yards on seven carries. But Narduzzi said fans just didn’t get a taste of Moss’ explosiveness.
“He didn’t make a huge gainer or have a long catch, which he showed Thursday at practice,” Narduzzi said. “But that shows, sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t.”
Narduzzi also highlighted offensive line play as a reason Moss couldn’t quite get it going.
“It’s a little bit different, going out there with a different O-line,” Narduzzi said. “One time [Alex] Bookser went the wrong way and got him killed in the backfield.”
Moss was pleased with his performance overall, and thrilled to play in front of Pitt fans for the first time.
“It was a great environment and a beautiful day for football. One of the most beautiful days since I’ve been here actually,” Moss said. “All of the fans coming out to support us just shows that our hard work is paying off … Heinz Field is always a great experience.”
The biggest mystery heading into Pitt’s 2016 season is who will replace former Pitt wide receiver and the program’s all-time leading pass catcher Tyler Boyd.
Dontez Ford, Pitt’s second leading receiver, is returning, but the Panthers need more explosiveness in the pass game.
“We’ve got to be able to make those big plays. I think that’s what we were lacking last year,” Narduzzi said. “That’s what we didn’t have last year, was that outside guy.”
As of now, the Panthers will rely on junior Jester Weah to be that deep threat. The speedy wideout recently won the Ed Conway Award, given annually to both an offensive and a defensive player who improved the most throughout spring practice.
Narduzzi projects Weah, at 6-foot-3, can be that big speed demon on the outside — he just needs to haul in the ball.
“He can get vertical, and if he can go up and catch it, we’ve got a chance,” Narduzzi said.
Catching the ball has been the primary concern for Weah, as he has yet to haul in a reception in his career. He recognizes his difficulties bringing the ball in, but said his drops are behind him.
“I struggled in the past,” Weah said. “But now I just catch the ball and have that high confidence.”
That confidence rose after Weah’s breakout game on Saturday, when he snagged four catches for 107 yards.
Quarterback Nathan Peterman said having that type of performance in live-game action will further fortify Weah’s mindset.
“All spring we have been synced,” Peterman said. “It was good to come into Heinz Field and do the same. It is especially good for him mentally. He can come back to this mentally and tell himself that he has made the plays before.”
In replacing Boyd, Weah said he understands that the former star will always be the comparison.
“Media always brings up Tyler,” Weah said. “He’s been a great player, and we just need to pick up where he left off.”