Panthers pounce on Georgia Tech, 24-19, in ACC opener


Thomas J.Yang

(Photo by Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor)

By Sami Abu-Obaid, For the Pitt News

On a sunny Saturday afternoon Pitt fans saw a complete turnaround for Panther football when they handily beat Georgia Tech 24-19. Exhibiting a major improvement from last week’s game against Penn State, the Panthers showed promise both offensively and defensively in a home game against Georgia Tech — maintaining a consistent lead throughout the game, according to Coach Narduzzi.

“You know it’s important to bounce back and it shows you kind of football team that we got,” Narduzzi said.

Neither offense started the game well, with Pitt ending its first drive on a punt and Georgia Tech answering back with a three-and-out of its own.

But on their second drive of the game, the Panthers found success in the passing game, opening up the field for their offense. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett connected twice with senior receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes to help relieve pressure on the running game. Once at the 31-yard line, senior running back Qadree Ollison carried the ball straight through the middle for a touchdown, giving Pitt a 7-0 lead with 8:38 left in the first quarter.

“You get knocked down you got to get back up and swing,” Pickett said. “That’s what we did.”

Pitt’s defense continued to stifle Georgia Tech’s offense, stopping three straight runs — again forcing a three and out, then stopping the fake punt attempt. Starting on the opposing 26-yard line as a result of the successful fourth down stop, it took Hall just two rushes to find the end zone, giving the Panthers a 14-0 lead.

Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson got creative on the Panthers’ next offensive possession, dialing up a flea-flicker to great effect — Pickett launched a 60-yard completion to sophomore receiver Taysir Mack. Faced with a third and one at the opponent’s eight-yard line, Ollison found space again to rush for his second touchdown of the day, bringing the score to 21-0 with three minutes left in the half.

The Panther offense would get the ball back with 1:17 remaining, but Pickett gave Pitt fans a brief scare when he went down with an apparent leg injury after completing a 7-yard pass to Araujo-Lopes. Junior quarterback Ricky Town entered the game in relief, and Pitt would punt shortly after.

On the following Georgia Tech drive, Pitt appeared to suffer another crucial blow when senior linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu left the game due to an injury. Luckily for the Panthers, the Yellow Jackets missed the 52-yard field goal attempt before halftime, and both Pickett and Oluwaseun would return to the game.

Georgia Tech received the kick to open the second half. Instead of a sack and a fumble recovery, a costly penalty gave the Yellow Jackets a first down. It took six plays for Georgia Tech to find the end zone; however, the special teams missed the extra point attempt, giving Pitt a 21-6 lead.

Upon Pickett’s return, Pitt’s offensive confidence grew as their quarterback showcased his passing ability. Idowu was forced a fumble and sophomore defensive end Rashad Weaver recovered it — leading the nation with three fumble recoveries. Pickett ended up throwing an interception at the goal line, and the Yellow Jackets capitalized on the mistake. Georgia Tech finished an eight play drive for a touchdown, but failed the two point conversion attempt.

Georgia Tech worked hard to threaten Pitt’s lead, but their attempts proved unsuccessful as Pitt senior cornerback Phillipie Motley intercepted an errant pass by Marshall. The Panthers would drive to Georgia Tech’s 46-yard line before punting, and first-year punter Kirk Christodoulou finally played a positive role by pinning the Yellow Jackets at their one one-yard line.

Finally finding a break in the defense, Georgia Tech stormed its way down the field for a 99 yard drive, to push the score up to 24-19. With their backs against the wall, the Yellow Jackets attempted an onside kick and failed. Having only 37 seconds was left on the clock, Pitt decided to run the clock out to finish the game. In the end, the Panthers improved to a 2-1 (1-0 ACC) record.

Pitt enjoyed many improvements from last week’s big loss against Penn State. Kenny Pickett found more success in the air, as he threw for nearly 200 yards. Although he threw an interception, there were moments when Pickett was precise and made his receiver’s day much easier.

“We had them off balance all game,” Pickett said. “I really don’t think they knew what was coming.”

Shawn Watson also found success in a balanced game plan, but for the first time this season the Panthers were held to under 200 yards rushing. Qadree Ollison had a productive day, gaining 78 yards off of 15 carries while scoring two touchdowns.

A week after giving up an astonishing 14 penalties for 116 yards, Pitt improved its discipline and it paid off as they only gave up four penalties for 38 yards. Pitt’s offense was effective all game gaining 335 total yards, although they allowed 386 total yards. The Georgia Tech offense rushed for 320 yards, but the Panthers clamped down in the passing game, allowing only 66 yards through the air. For the third straight week, the Pittsburgh ground game has picked up at least 125 yards rushing each game.

“All our goals are still intact,” Ollison said. “Nobody said that you had to be undefeated to go to the ACC Championship, or National Championship.”

The Panthers will continue their season next week away from home against North Carolina on Sept. 22 at 12:20 pm.