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Three takeaways from Pitt’s first ACC win

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Redshirt senior running back Qadree Ollison (30) celebrates after running for Pitt's first touchdown against Georgia Tech.

Redshirt senior running back Qadree Ollison (30) celebrates after running for Pitt's first touchdown against Georgia Tech.

Thomas Yang

Thomas Yang

Redshirt senior running back Qadree Ollison (30) celebrates after running for Pitt's first touchdown against Georgia Tech.

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

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After a morale-crushing 45-point blowout loss to Penn State last weekend, Pitt’s football team got back on track with a 24-19 win against Georgia Tech Saturday. It was a rebound game for the Panthers’ season and revenge for their 35-17 loss to the Yellow Jackets in 2017 — and Saturday also gave Pitt its first win in crucial ACC play.

A conference victory is certainly a step in the right direction for the Panthers (2-1 overall, 1-0 ACC), but there were times where the team still looked more flawed than improved. Accounting for all the highs and lows, here are some of the foremost takeaways from Pitt’s third game.

Ollison has the keys to the backfield

After the Panthers’ week one win over Albany, it remained unclear who was the lead running back in Pitt’s backfield. Senior Darrin Hall finished as the team’s leading rusher in 2017 but received only four carries in the opener, while fellow senior Qadree Ollison rushed seven times for 73 yards. Surprisingly, sophomore AJ Davis ended up leading the Panthers with 13 carries.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi revealed that the distribution of carries against Albany was more of a facade in Pitt’s second game versus Penn State Ollison carried the Panther offense, amassing 21 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown. No other running back carried the ball more than seven times.

This week, Ollison confirmed that the Penn State game was no fluke. He once again dominated the backfield touches, producing 17 rushes for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Ollison displayed both speed and power on his first 31-yard touchdown run (shown in the first clip below), breaking several tackles as he toasted the Georgia Tech defense.

With Saturday’s performance, Ollison now ranks fifth in the ACC with 283 rushing yards on the season. He’s been the most consistent player on Pitt’s offense this year and has rightfully taken the keys to the backfield. Expect Ollison to keep things rolling when the Panthers face off against a weak North Carolina team this upcoming week.

The Panthers have a second-half scoring problem

Pitt has now played three games this season and has scored 63 points in those three games combined. Only three of those points have come in the second half.

It was fair to give the Panthers a pass for not scoring any second-half points against Albany — they were up 33-7 at halftime and made the decision to take their foot off the gas. In an ugly, penalty-ridden second half against Penn State, the Pitt offense routinely started with awful field position, which also made it difficult to move the ball toward the end zone.

But against Georgia Tech, there’s no excuse for scoring only three points in the second half. This was a very important game and Pitt essentially laid an egg after halftime. Luckily, the Panthers built up an early 21-0 lead and the defense managed to stall the Yellow Jackets’ rushing attack just long enough to bail out Pitt’s listless offense.

Through three games, it appears the Panthers officially have a second-half scoring problem. Their offense consistently drops off after halftime, as shown by the half-by-half yardage splits in each contest — 270 then 137 against Albany, 231 then 69 against Penn State and 215 then 120 against Georgia Tech.

It’s not entirely clear whether opposing defenses keep figuring out Pitt’s offensive strategy during halftime and make adjustments, if offensive coordinator Shawn Watson resorts to overly conservative play calling when his team has a lead or if Pitt’s offensive players simply clam up in the game’s final frame. Whatever the problem may be, the Panthers need to figure it out quickly if they want to be a contender in the ACC.

Hopefully, someone on Pitt’s offense will step up to score the team’s first second-half touchdown of the season this Saturday at North Carolina.

Jake Scarton: X-factor

There’s an old saying that goes “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

Well, Pitt found that out the hard way against Penn State, when little-known first-year backup kicker — and most importantly, field goal-holder — Jake Scarton missed the game because of an undisclosed arm injury. The coaching staff had to scramble for a backup holder, plugging first-year punter Kirk Christodoulou into the role. The results were disastrous — Christodoulou bobbled an extra point attempt and a 35-yard field goal attempt, erasing at least four points off the board in the 51-6 loss.

Thankfully, Scarton was back in action this week. The field goal unit operated smoothly with its primary holder at the helm, as sophomore kicker Alex Kessman converted all three extra point attempts, as well as a 33-yard field goal.

Field goal holder isn’t the most glamorous position, but — as the Penn State loss showed — it’s an extremely vital one. It’s also a harder job than most assume, as the holder must catch the high-speed long snap then simultaneously spin and place the ball so that the laces face away from the kicker — all within a matter of seconds. There’s only one man for the job on the Panthers and that’s Jake Scarton — so remember the name.

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Three takeaways from Pitt’s first ACC win