Five takeaways from Pitt’s weekend bowl game


By Dan Sostek / Assistant Sports Editor

After a loss that saw the team surrender a 28-point lead to the University of Houston in the fourth quarter of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Friday, there’s a litany of negatives we can harp on regarding the Pitt football team’s performance in its final game of the 2014-2015 season. Despite the result, here are some positives that we can take from the disappointing loss.

ISAAC BENNETT: Bennett left the game early because of a knee injury, but the senior running back punctuated his Pitt career with a rushing touchdown, scoring on a 12-yard scamper for his 14th and final rushing touchdown of his career. Despite seemingly always falling in the shadow of a flashier running back like Ray Graham or James Conner, Bennett thrived as a complementary third-down running back and special teams player, and the Tulsa native deservedly found the endzone in his final contest.

CHRIS BLEWITT: After starting the season 9-9 on field goal attempts, sophomore kicker Chris Blewitt went through a bit of a dry spell towards the latter portion of the season, missing five of his final 10 attempts. Most notably, Blewitt shanked a potential game-winning 26-yard field goal against Duke. When Blewitt faced the challenge of a 52-yarder against Houston, it seemed natural for Panther fans to be skeptical. Despite less-than-ideal rainy conditions, Blewitt nailed the long field goal, setting a career high and an Armed Forces Bowl record. He converted a 29-yard attempt, too.

CHAD VOYTIK: Voytik continued his progression as a passer against Houston, for the most part throwing accurate passes and making sound decisions both in and out of the pocket. He finished with 222 yards passing, the third-highest mark of his career, during a game in which Pitt relied more heavily on him than usual because of star tailback James Conner’s injury. The redshirt sophomore flashed his mobility as well, running for 40 yards on six carries. Voytik, who at times appeared to be overwhelmed this season, gained a solid grasp on running the Pitt offense.

JOE RUDOLPH: Despite the late-game collapse, Pitt interim head coach Joe Rudolph’s handling of the Pitt offense was encouraging. While Rudolph’s future as  Pitt’s offensive coordinator under incoming head coach Pat Narduzzi is uncertain, he coached admirably on Friday. Rudolph provided a bit of a different look for a Pitt offense that could at times appear predictable under former head coach Paul Chryst. From the early risk he took going to a fake punt on inside their own 30-yard line and his increased use of an, at times, underutilized passing attack.

T.J. CLEMMINGS: With his only real negative play being a false start, senior right tackle T.J. Clemmings once again provided tremendous protection in both the run and pass game for the Panthers. Named a second-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, Clemmings used his tremendous size and strength to help lead Pitt to 227 yards rushing, while Voytik enjoyed a comfortable pocket for the majority of the game. Clemmings is considered a potential first round pick in the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft, and could only have helped his stock with his performance on Friday.

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