From opening the season with an overtime win to closing the season with a victory over an undefeated team, the Pitt football team had some times to celebrate this season. But in finishing with a losing record and not qualifying for a bowl game, the Panthers played a few games they’d probably like to forget.
Here are the Panthers’ best and worst moments of the season:
- Beating Miami
Pitt showed once again how it can lose to terrible teams such as North Carolina, and then dominate the No. 2 team in the country for the final game of the season. The 24-14 win over the Hurricanes saw the Panthers gaining a sense of who their future quarterback is, as first year Kenny Pickett threw for more than 193 yards on 18-29 passing and ran for 60 yards, including a 22-yard bootleg touchdown to put the lead up to 24-7. It was second straight year that Pitt beat a No. 2 ranked team after beating Clemson last season. It was a great win for a program that finished with a mediocre 5-7 record and suggests next year may be a breakout season.
- Darrin Hall’s performance against Duke
With the Panthers 2-5 and in need of someone to step up, Darrin Hall did just that. The junior running back ran for a career-high 254 yards and three touchdowns in the 24-17 win over Duke. He had two long rushing touchdowns — one for 79 yards and one for 92 yards — and set a record for the longest rushing touchdown in program history.
- Max Browne’s game against Rice
Pitt was coming off the back of two ugly losses to Penn State and Oklahoma State and a bad conference defeat away at Georgia Tech. The Rice game provided some breathing room for the Panthers to get back on track with redshirt senior Max Browne. After losing the job to redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci the week before, Browne threw for 410 yards and completed 28 of his 32 passes — including four for touchdowns. It was a lone bright spot for Browne, who suffered a season-ending injury to his right shoulder in the following game against Syracuse.
- Interception to win game against Youngstown State
A game against an FCS opponent is usually one in which an FBS team, such as Pitt, runs up the score, gets new players some playing time and tries to see what needs to be fixed against better teams. Unfortunately for Pitt, it ended up being a dogfight with Youngstown State. After the Panthers went up 21-0 at halftime, they let the Penguins back in the game to tie it, 21-21, at the end of regulation, sending it into overtime. After a Panther touchdown, redshirt first-year defensive back Bricen Garner picked off a Penguin pass to seal a Pitt victory and start the season with a 28-21 win.
- Dominating performance against Virginia
The Panthers had no problem with the Cavaliers, jumping out to an early 21-0 lead in the first half. Although Virginia tried to come back in the second half, cutting the lead to 28-14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Pitt defense came up big. The Panthers forced Virginia to turn the ball over on downs twice in their final two possessions and ended up with a 31-14 win.
- Oklahoma State
The worst moment of Pitt’s season was the performance against Oklahoma State at home. Oklahoma State senior quarterback Mason Rudolph threw at will, ending the game with 497 yards passing and five touchdowns before being taken out in the third quarter. The Cowboys scored 35 unanswered points to start the game, including a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. The Panthers’ choice to play man coverage against the Cowboys’ taller and more athletic receivers resulted in an embarrassing outcome on national television. But hey, at least everyone who stayed til the end got a free beverage!
- Failing to score on the 1-yard line vs Virginia Tech
Pitt was in need of a win to keep its nine-year bowl game attendance streak alive. The Panthers came to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on a good Virginia Tech squad. The teams went back and forth throughout the game, with both teams playing great defense. On the final drive, the Panthers were down 20-14 and needed a touchdown to win the game. On fourth down and four, Pickett threw a pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Jester Weah, who broke two tackles and ran 74 yards to make it to the one-yard line. With about a minute to go, Pitt had four downs on the one-yard line to score a touchdown that would keep its bowl hopes alive. Unfortunately, Pitt failed to capitalize on its great position, running twice on the first two downs going for zero yards. After a failed quick pass to Weah on third down, the Panthers went in shotgun on the final down and, instead of passing it, Pickett handed it to junior Darrin Hall for a loss of three yards and turned the ball over on downs. The loss ended any hopes of a bowl game for the season and highlighted the Panthers’ season overall — not playing well enough when it mattered most.
- Losing to 1-8 North Carolina
Coming into the Thursday night game at Heinz Field, the Panthers were flying high. After starting the season 2-5, they got wins at Duke and at home against Virginia to give them hope for getting at least a bowl game. UNC looked like a team that would be a sure win for Pitt. The Tar Heels came in with a 1-8 record and hadn’t won an ACC game either, making the Panthers confident they could snatch an easy win. Beginning with a UNC touchdown return, the two squads played a back-and-forth game. But Pitt failed to capitalize on scoring chances throughout the game, falling to become the ACC’s worst team with a final score of 34-31.
- Losing to rival Penn State
Beating Penn State at Heinz Field last season was a huge win for Pitt, which hadn’t played its hated rival since the 2000 season. Going to Happy Valley this season and getting a win was never going to be easy, especially with Penn State being ranked No. 4 and coming off a season in which they won the Big Ten Championship.
Pitt went down 14-0 in the first quarter and had a hard time scoring throughout the game. Browne threw for just 138 yards and completed 19 of his 32 passes. He ended up being replaced by redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci, who lead the Panthers to their only touchdown drive of the game late in the fourth quarter. On the other side of the ball, Pitt couldn’t stop Penn State’s star players from scoring — senior tight end Mike Gesicki and junior running back Saquon Barkley each grabbed a pair of touchdowns. Though Penn State was undoubtedly a better football team, the 33-14 loss exposed the team’s weaknesses on both sides of the ball.
Before the season started, the Panthers had trouble with some disciplinary issues. Head coach Pat Narduzzi decided to suspend three players — redshirt junior offensive lineman Alex Bookser, senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis and star junior defensive back Jordan Whitehead. He also dismissed senior defensive end Rori Blair, who had been disciplined in 2015 for a DUI charge. Bookser was only suspended for one game after a May DUI charge, while Wirginis and Whitehead were suspended for three games for unknown reasons.
The suspensions of Wirginis and Whitehead noticeably weakened the Panthers, most visibly when Oklahoma State scorched the undermatched Panther secondary.