Pitt dominates UMass 51-7, led by strong defensive front seven

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Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

A.J. Davis Jr., a redshirt senior running back, receives and runs the football for a 12-yard touchdown during the UMass game Saturday afternoon.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi assured the media earlier this week that Saturday’s offensive playcalling would not be “vanilla,” but more in the vein of “butter pecan.” While reporters weren’t necessarily sure what Narduzzi meant by this on Monday, it became much clearer what he meant on Saturday — explosive.

Pitt’s offense gashed the Minutemen for nearly 600 yards. The offense was didactic and methodical, poking holes in the Minutemen pass coverage and winning the battle in the trenches to clear the running lanes for a number of ball carriers.

The Panthers defeated the UMass Minutemen 51-7 at Heinz Field on Saturday, the first time since the 2019 season that a near-capacity crowd was allowed into the stadium, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett led the offense with 262 yards through the air, while the defense’s dominating performance kept the game from being close at any point throughout the game. The performance earned Narduzzi’s approval.

“Overall, the offense put up 51 points and the defense was pretty nasty,” Narduzzi said. “There’s a lot great things to see on tape.” 

The offense stumbled out of the gate, with a few mental and physical lapses early on. On the Panthers’ first drive, Pickett was moving the ball downfield, picking apart the Minutemen defense. But after an ineligible man downfield penalty, it seemed the momentum Pickett was building dissipated.

The offense was marching again on their next drive until redshirt senior running back A.J. Davis Jr. fumbled and the Minutemen recovered, putting an end to another promising offensive drive.

But once the kinks were worked out, it was smooth sailing from there.

Pickett and the Panther offense, utilizing the no-huddle, started to find their groove. Pickett capped off a 60-yard, eight-play drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior tight end Lucas Krull to get the offense rollin

Despite missing all of last year, Krull didn’t show any signs of rust Saturday. Pitt hasn’t used the tight end position as a pass catcher in recent years, but it looks like Krull is out to change this trend after posting five catches for 58 yards on top of his first quarter touchdown. It seemed sophomore wide receiver Jordan Addison and the rest of the offense were excited to have their tight end back.

“[Having Krull on the field] makes it a tough job for the defense,” Addison said. “Having a big guy in the middle that can make those contested catches, loosens the stress off of [the wide receivers].”

In the very next sequence, Pickett led another near-perfect 74-yard scoring drive when he found Addison for a seven-yard touchdown, giving the Panthers a quick lead.

Narduzzi and offensive play-caller Mark Whipple didn’t take their foot off of the gas.

The Panthers would go on to tack on four more touchdowns and a field goal in the game, but the story of the game was the Panther defense. The Panthers conceded just 50 yards and allowed just three first downs in the first half.

Narduzzi had praised the linebacker group throughout all of camp and Panther fans weren’t let down. The linebacker trio of redshirt seniors John Petrishen and Phil Campbell III plus junior SirVocea Dennis was flying all over the field, combining for 14 tackles and three sacks in the contest. Petrishen said playing as a unit rather than for individual stats is a mindset that certainly played to their strengths in the win.

“We’re all really excited to see each other’s success,” Petrishen said. “I know our linebacker group, we’re all happy for one another when someone does well and I think that transfers from the d-line to the linebackers to the secondary. My two sacks wouldn’t have happened today if it weren’t for the d-line doing their job and the secondary doing their job.”

The defensive line made sure the linebackers weren’t the only ones making plays, though. UMass graduate transfer quarterback Tyler Lytle was under pressure nearly every time he dropped back in the pocket, giving the transfer a hard time making his progressions. Lytle didn’t find much help from his running backs either as the Minutemen rushed for a feeble 42 yards.

It seemed there was always at least one member of the Panther defensive line in the backfield. Sophomore defensive lineman Calijah Kancey was a primary disrupter Saturday as he tallied four tackles and a sack on the day.

As a unit, the defense allowed 209 total yards and held the Minutemen to just 11 first downs to turn in a dominating effort.

Once the fourth quarter rolled around, most of the Panthers’ starters were on the sideline singing and dancing along to “Sweet Caroline” with the Panther Pitt. The Minutemen would go on to score their first and only touchdown in the quarter, but it didn’t seem the Panthers ever felt threatened.

Both backup quarterbacks, junior Nick Patti and sophomore Davis Beville, led scoring drives of their own in the second half to cap off the Panther victory.

While the game may have been a blowout and a good portion of the student section had filtered out after the third quarter, the Panthers were appreciative to see fans back in the stands.

“I love Panther Nation,” Kancey said. “They cheer me on, they cheer us on as a team.”

Krull added that looking up into the Panther Pitt after scoring the season’s first touchdown was quite the moment.

“It was special,” Krull said. “Scoring that touchdown right there in front of our student section and everyone’s going crazy — that really gets you going.”

The Panthers now shift their eyes to their matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers next Saturday in Knoxville.

“We took care of business,” Pickett said. “We have a really good road test against a really good team. We got some confidence [today], we have to put the work in this week and get prepared and give it our all on Saturday.”

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