Nov 19, 2022; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers defensive end Justin Mascoll (7) pushes over Miami Hurricanes quarterback Jacurri Brown (11) for a safety during the third quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Miami takes final shot at bowl eligibility against Pitt

The Miami Hurricanes have one more chance to become bowl eligible, and it will come on Saturday night in an ACC battle against the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers.

Miami (5-6, 3-4) opened as a six-point underdog against Pitt (7-4, 4-3) in what will serve as the regular-season finale for both teams.

The Hurricanes lead the annual series 29-11-1, and has won four in a row over Pitt.

However, Miami is coming off a 40-10 loss at Clemson and has yet to beat a team with a winning record this season.

Pitt, meanwhile, will enter Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium on a three-game winning streak. Those victories were over Syracuse, Virginia and Duke.

Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said he will have his team practice indoors this week to prepare for Miami’s heat and humidity.

“We’ll turn it up to 70 degrees,” Narduzzi said.

Weather reports indicate it will be in the 80s in Miami on Saturday night.

The Hurricanes struggled against Clemson, gaining 30 yards on 24 runs. Miami’s top two running backs, Henry Parrish Jr. and Jaylan Knighton, combined to rush 12 times for 20 yards.

“We didn’t get a ton of movement up front,” Miami coach Mario Cristobal said in an understatement.

One factor that could swing Saturday’s game would be the return of Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. The Hurricanes are 2-3 since he hurt his throwing shoulder against Duke, and it’s possible he could be back to face Pitt.

In his absence, Miami has turned to true freshman Jacurri Brown, who has flourished as a runner (4.4 average) but has lacked accuracy as a passer (59.5 percent completion rate, three touchdowns, two interceptions).

Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis hasn’t been great, either, completing 57.8 percent to go with seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

The Panthers are powered by running back Israel Abanikanda, who leads the ACC in rushing yards (1,320) and points (116). He has rushed for 18 touchdowns and a 5.9 average.

Pitt’s Jared Wayne ranks fifth in the league with 807 receiving yards.

Defensively, Pitt’s Calijah Kancey leads the league in tackles for loss (14 1/2) and is tied for second in the ACC with 7 1/2 sacks. Teammate SirVocea Dennis has 10 1/2 tackles for loss.

Miami’s Akheem Mesidor has 10 1/2 tackles for loss and is tied for fifth in the league with seven sacks.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back Israel Abanikanda (2) carries the ball to score a touchdown as Virginia Cavaliers defensive back Coen King (9) defends during the first half at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Aggressive defense propels Pitt in rout of Virginia

M.J. Devonshire and Marquis Williams each returned an interception for a touchdown as visiting Pitt overwhelmed Virginia from the start on its way to a 37-7 Atlantic Coast Conference victory Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.

Israel Abanikanda added 121 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries and Kedon Slovis threw for 208 yards and a score for the Panthers (6-4, 3-3), which became bowl eligible while ending the postseason hopes of the Cavaliers (3-7, 1-6).

Pitt also sacked Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong eight times and held the Cavaliers to 144 yards. Including the sacks, Virginia had minus 8 yards on 24 rushing attempts.

Calijah Kancy had three sacks and John Morgan III added two before he was ejected along with Virginia center Ty Furnish for fighting in the third quarter.

The first interception came from Devonshire, who crossed in front of a receiver and raced 29 yards untouched up the Pitt sideline to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.

On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Williams made Armstrong pay again as he picked off another pass near the Pitt sideline and streaked 39 yards to the end zone.

When the Pitt offense finally got on the field, it produced a 63-yard scoring drive. Abanikanda, who entered Saturday as the nation’s all-purpose yardage leader, carried on seven of the drive’s eight plays. His 1-yard plunge made it 21-0.

The next time Pitt got the ball, Slovis scrambled out of the pocket and found Bub Means open in the end zone on a 31-yard touchdown. The play put the Panthers up 28-0 before the game was 13 minutes old.

After a scoreless second quarter, Pitt increased its lead to 31-0 on the first of three field goals from Ben Sauls.

Virginia broke through late in the third quarter with a 65-yard march capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass from Armstrong to Malachi Fields.

Armstrong, who was without his top three receivers for the second straight game, finished with 17 completions in 33 attempts for 152 yards.

Slovis completed 14 of 24 attempts, with Konta Mumphield making seven catches for 60 yards.

–Field Level Media

Sep 1, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers running back Rodney Hammond Jr. (6) runs after a catch as West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Lance Dixon (5) and cornerback Wesley McCormick (11) chase during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Pittsburgh won 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

RB position a strength as Pitt takes on Virginia

Asked how he would employ his talented cadre of running backs Saturday at Virginia, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi joked that he was waiting for media advice.

Narduzzi was in a jocular mood coming off a 19-9 upset of then-No. 20 Syracuse as Rodney Hammond Jr., subbing for the nation’s all-purpose yardage leader Israel Abanikanda, carried 28 times for 124 yards and a touchdown against the top defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Not only did Hammond excel, Notre Dame grad transfer C’Bo Flemister emerged for Pitt. During a show-of-force, 11-play drive, Flemister was called on for 10 carries that produced 42 yards and a touchdown.

“If Izzy feels good, we want to give him his touches,” Narduzzi said. “Rodney, C’Bo — it’s a good problem to have.”

It was a much-needed win for defending ACC champion Pitt (5-4, 2-3), which lost three of its first four league games but can clinch a bowl trip with a victory over Virginia (3-6, 1-5).

The Cavaliers also had a chance for a big win on Saturday before falling to then-No. 17 North Carolina 31-28.

Minus his top three receivers, who were sidelined by injuries, Brennan Armstrong threw for 232 yards and rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Sackett Wood, who entered the game with five career catches, had six receptions for 94 yards.

Virginia also was missing its top rusher Perris Jones, giving Mike Hollins (16 carries, 75 yards) and Ronnie Walker Jr. (six carries, 30 yards, touchdown) a chance to thrive.

On Tuesday, Virginia coach Tony Elliott called all three of his sidelined receivers day-to-day but sounded optimistic about the return of top wideout Keytaon Thompson (53 catches, 579 yards), who is “probably the closest.”

Deep threat Lavel Davis Jr. (16 catches, 371 yards) is out of concussion protocol, Elliott said. And Dontayvion Wicks (30 catches, 430 yards) is nursing a bone bruise.

Elliott said he is preparing his team for a physical test against the mauling lines of the Panthers.

“They’re gonna play Steel City football,” Elliott said.

Pitt gained a 48-38 shootout victory vs. Virginia last year despite 487 passing yards and three touchdown throws from Virginia’s Armstrong.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Louisville, Kentucky, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers running back Israel Abanikanda (2) runs the ball against the Louisville Cardinals during the first half at Cardinal Stadium. Louisville defeated Pittsburgh 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

No. 20 Syracuse, Pitt trying to avoid losing streaks

Syracuse and Pitt both find themselves trending in the wrong direction as the regular season heads into its final month.

The Orange — ranked 20th in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season — visit the Panthers on Saturday in a match-up of ACC foes hoping to avoid their third straight defeat.

Syracuse (6-2, 3-1 ACC) opened the season with six consecutive victories, including quality wins over Louisville, Purdue and North Carolina State. The Orange then led by 14 at undefeated Clemson before crumbling down the stretch in a 27-21 defeat.

Their problems were compounded last weekend in a 41-24 home loss to Notre Dame, when they allowed 246 rushing yards and lost quarterback Garrett Shrader to a second-quarter concussion.

Shrader’s status against Pitt is cloudy, as Orange coach Dino Babers would not say this week whether the senior quarterback would get the nod against the Panthers, or whether it would be Carlos Del Rio-Wilson making his first career start.

“All that stuff is in consideration behind the curtain, but I just can’t talk about that stuff in the press conference,” Babers said.

Standout running back Sean Tucker (758 yards, 7 TDs) has found the end zone five times in the past four games. He has, however, carried only 35 times the last three games and could be in for a heavier workload Saturday.

Syracuse wraps up its regular season with four ACC games, three of which take place on the road.

“Non-conference is over,” Babers said. “We were 3-1 in non-conference. We lost to Notre Dame. Now it’s all conference play. We’ve got one loss and we have to see how we’re going to finish this thing up.”

The Panthers (4-4, 1-3) also have four league games remaining, and they hope those contests go smoother than the last two games. After getting off to a 4-2 start, Pitt has dropped lopsided decisions to Louisville (24-10) and North Carolina (42-24).

They have been outscored 38-0 in the fourth quarter of those two games.

“The fourth quarter wasn’t good enough,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said seeing a 24-14 lead against UNC punctured by four unanswered touchdowns. “We turned the ball over again in the fourth quarter, which started the tumble. It seems like every week we’ve got one of those.”

On the bright side, Pitt receiver Jared Wayne had a career-high 161 receiving yards on seven catches against North Carolina. And Israel Abanikanda racked up 127 rushing yards and three scores on the ground.

“They’ve got the best running back in the country,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said of Abanikanda, who has an ACC-best 1,086 rushing yards and a national-best 16 touchdowns through the first eight games.

On the other hand, Pitt’s defense will need to be better against Syracuse. The Panthers have given up at least 24 points to seven opponents (Western Michigan was the only exception) and UNC scored the most, with 42.

Pitt has won 17 of the last 20 matchups with Syracuse, including the past four in a row. The Panthers captured last season’s meeting 31-14 behind four TD passes from Kenny Pickett, who is now starting for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Durham, North Carolina, USA;  North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) with the football during the first half at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Drake Maye leads No. 21 UNC into battle against Pitt

No. 21 North Carolina will strengthen its grip on the top spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division if it can top visiting Pitt on Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.

UNC (6-1, 3-0 ACC) is coming off a bye week, having last played on Oct. 15, when it went north on Tobacco Road and beat rival Duke 38-35 in Durham. That contest was another stellar outing for Tar Heels redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye, who completed 28 of 38 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing 18 times for a net gain of 70 yards in the win.

Maye leads the ACC in adjusted passing yards per attempt this season with a mark of 11.4. He also leads the conference in completions (162), passing yards per attempt (9.9), touchdowns responsible for (27), completion percentage (70.1), passer rating (184.8) and total yards (2,661).

Simply put: The Tar Heels wouldn’t be in a position to potentially play for an ACC championship this season if it wasn’t for Maye.

But he could be better, according to UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo. He told reporters this week that Maye spent the bye week working on his mobility and protecting the football.

“We want (Maye) to move when he needs to move, but we would like to have quieter feet in the pocket,” Longo said. “There are times, and Drake could tell you where we kind of skate to the left or the right, and we’ve got a good pocket. And now you’re making the life of the O-line a little bit more difficult.”

Pitt (4-3, 1-2 ACC) has the potential to make things difficult for Maye and the UNC offense. The Panthers have 21 sacks this season — tied for 21st in the nation — and average 6.4 tackles-for-loss per game.

The Panthers’ defense hasn’t always been stout as this season, but under Pat Narduzzi, it’s typically been a source of pride for Pitt. Since Narduzzi took over in 2015, Pitt has 18 defensive touchdowns and are 13-5 when they have at least one.

“You look at the defense, there’s still things that we can get better at,” Narduzzi said this week. “Defense will have a great challenge (against UNC). Offense has got to rebound and take the football and score points.”

The Panthers are coming off a 24-10 loss at Louisville. Last season, Pitt had offense powered by quarterback Kenny Pickett and a lethal passing attack that led it to an ACC championship. Pickett is now in the NFL, his top receiver — Jordan Addison — bolted for Southern California and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple went to Nebraska. So now, this is an offense fully molded in Narduzzi’s vision.

And against Louisville, it mustered just 158 passing yards.

Still, Narduzzi stood behind quarterback Kedon Slovis after a performance with two interceptions and zero touchdowns.

“I think he’s done a great job,” Narduzzi said. “I watch practice every day, and we’re playing our best football player right now at quarterback. I’ve got no doubt about it. Kedon is our best quarterback to help us win a football game right now.”

UNC and Pitt have a history of playing some pretty competitive games. Twelve of the 15 meetings between the two sides have been decided by single digits. Pitt has won two straight in the series, both in overtime and both in Pittsburgh. The Panthers are 0-6 in Chapel Hill.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) runs the ball against Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White (45) during the second quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers top Bucs as Mitch Trubisky relieves injured Kenny Pickett

Mitchell Trubisky tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool early in the fourth quarter to lift the host Pittsburgh Steelers to a 20-18 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Trubisky relieved rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, who sustained a concussion midway into the third quarter after he was hit in the chest by Buccaneers linebacker Devin White. The tackle caused Pickett’s head to bounce off the ground.

Trubisky completed 9 of 12 passes for 144 yards and Claypool had seven receptions for 96 yards. The two connected on a scoring strike with 9:55 left in the fourth quarter to help the Steelers (2-4) snap a four-game losing skid.

Tom Brady hooked up with Leonard Fournette on an 11-yard touchdown to bring Tampa Bay within two with 4:38 to play. Brady, however, was unable to connect with Chris Godwin on the ensuing conversion attempt.

Brady completed 25 of 40 passes for 243 yards and Godwin had six catches for 95 yards for the Buccaneers (3-3), who have lost three of their last four games.

Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate was placed on a stretcher and removed from the field following a 6-yard catch late in the third quarter. He was hit in the head on a tackle by Myles Jack, who promptly signaled for assistance from the medical staff for Brate.

Pickett completed all five of his pass attempts for 37 yards on the Steelers’ first possession, capping the possession with a 6-yard scoring strike to Najee Harris. The touchdown on an opening drive was Pittsburgh’s first since Week 10 against the Detroit Lions last season.

Ryan Succop trimmed the deficit with field goals of 30 and 27 yards, but Chris Boswell countered with a 55-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 10-6 lead. Boswell’s kick was aided by a fortunate bounce off the crossbar.

Succop responded with a 54-yard field goal just before halftime. The kickers then traded short field goals in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

Kenny Pickett (8) of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks to pass during the second half against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on October 2, 2022.

Pittsburgh Steelers Vs New York Jets Week 4

Steelers’ Kenny Pickett gets first career start against Bills’ top pass defense

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett will get his first career start on Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers as the team goes on the road to face the Buffalo Bills, which has the NFL’s top pass defense.

And the last rookie quarterback to earn his first career start against the league’s best defense against the pass was another Steeler, Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh won on that day in 2004, 13-3 at the Miami Dolphins. It was the start of 14 straight wins for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.

Like the last quarterback it selected in the first round, Pittsburgh (1-3) hopes that Pickett can provide a similar spark.

“We’re optimistic and thoughtful in our thought process. We believe in Kenny,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Kenny has shown us maturity at every point throughout this process.”

The first quarterback taken in the 2022 draft, the Steelers selected Pickett with the 20th overall pick. The University of Pittsburgh product saw his first bit of regular season action last week, relieving starter Mitchell Trubisky in the second half. Pickett ran for two touchdowns and completed 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards, but he also threw three interceptions as the Steelers lost 24-20 at home to the New York Jets.

While the Bills (3-1) are heavily favored in the matchup, Pickett’s confidence hasn’t wavered.

“I want to raise the level of play of everyone around me,” Pickett said. “I’ve got to do my job. I have 100 percent trust and confidence that every guy in that huddle will do their job. I was just raised that way. Everyone has to just own their business and own their job, and we’ll be alright.”

Buffalo is coming off a 23-20 win in Baltimore against the Ravens, which saw reigning league MVP Josh Allen throw and rush for touchdowns as he piled up 283 yards of total offense. The Bills are 21-1 in games in which Allen has at least one rushing and one passing touchdown.

And the Bills pass defense remained stout against Lamar Jackson. Buffalo safety Jordan Poyer intercepted a pair of passes, and the Bills had two sacks as they held Jackson to just 144 yards through the air on 29 attempts — an average of 4.97 yards per pass attempt.

Buffalo has seven interceptions this season, which is tied for the league lead. Through four games, the Bills have allowed just 603 passing yards — the least in the NFL.

“Just to see our guys take it one play at a time and continue to make plays, it speaks to the character of our players,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.

Part of Buffalo’s defense are two players Pickett knows well in Damar Hamlin and Dane Jackson, two of his college teammates at Pitt.

“We will definitely probably jersey swap at the end of the game,” Hamlin said.

Pittsburgh will be without TJ Watt (pectoral) on Sunday as the edge rusher is still on the IR. The Steelers are 0-7 when Watt doesn’t play.

Additionally for the Steelers, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring) and safeties Terrell Edmunds (concussion) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee) did not practice Wednesday. Cornerbacks Cameron Sutton (groin) and Levi Wallace (foot) and defensive tackles Cameron Heyward (elbow) and Chris Wormley (ankle) were limited in practice. Rookie receiver Calvin Austin III returned to practice this week after suffering a foot injury in training camp.

The Bills were without nine players in practice on Wednesday, including Poyer (ribs), edge rusher Von Miller (rest) and tight end Dawson Knox (foot). Four other players were limited, including defensive tackle Ed Oliver (ankle), while receiver Gabe Davis (ankle) and corner Cam Lewis (forearm) were full participants.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kedon Slovis (9) throws a pass against the   Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt tries to straighten out up-and-down start vs. Virginia Tech

Through the first month of the season, Pitt experienced the euphoria of opening with a dramatic win in the “Backyard Brawl” over West Virginia, followed by a disappointing overtime loss to Tennessee.

Then came the frustration of last week when the Panthers could never get anything going and fell to visiting Georgia Tech, a program that just fired its coach.

The Panthers hope to rebound from the loss that knocked them out of the Top 25 when they host struggling Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Pitt (3-2, 0-1 ACC) remained No. 17 after its win over West Virginia and was ranked No. 24 when it went 2-for-12 on third downs and got whistled for 12 penalties in Saturday’s 26-21 home loss to Georgia Tech.

Quarterback Kedon Slovis completed 26 of 45 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Two were in the final two minutes, when Pitt tried to overcome a 19-7 deficit. The Panthers struggled after running back Israel Abanikanda exited with an upper-body injury late in the first half.

“I don’t know if there’s ever a good loss because you can learn from a bad win, too. We’ve done that, as well,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We just got to keep getting better as a football team. We’re going to learn regardless of a loss or a win. We’re going to make our adjustments, regroup, start over again.”

Abanikanda is the ACC’s second-leading rusher behind Syracuse’s Sean Tucker, and if he is out, Vincent Davis would get a bulk of the carries after gaining 80 yards Saturday.

Virginia Tech (2-3, 1-1) is off to an inconsistent start under first-year coach Brent Pry. The Hokies have scored the third-fewest points in the ACC.

Virginia Tech earned consecutive wins over Boston College and Wofford but followed it up by getting outscored 74-20 in losses to West Virginia and North Carolina.

Against West Virginia, the Hokies held the ball for just 21:16, committed 15 penalties and rushed for 35 yards. In last week’s 41-10 loss to North Carolina, Virginia Tech improved slightly in those areas but allowed 527 yards to the Tar Heels.

“As a team and everybody individually, we know what we’re capable of. We see it every day (at practice),” Hokies wideout Kaleb Smith said. “Just have to execute.”

Pitt has won three of the past four meetings, including last year’s 28-7 win in Blacksburg and a 47-14 rout at home two years ago when it racked up 556 yards on offense.

–Field Level Media

Oct 2, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (89) is stopped by New York Jets linebacker Kwon Alexander (9) for no gain during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Jets gut out late win against Steelers

Breece Hall rushed for a 2-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 16 seconds remaining as the visiting New York Jets edged the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-20 on Sunday afternoon.

New York (2-2) called 11 plays to drive 65 yards in just 3 minutes, 18 seconds to punch in the game-winning score. Hall finished with 66 yards on 17 carries, while quarterback Zach Wilson completed 18 of 36 passes for 252 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his season debut.

The Steelers (1-3) had scored 20 straight points to take a 20-10 lead with 13:36 left in the fourth quarter before Wilson connected with Corey Davis for a 5-yard scoring strike.

Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett spearheaded Pittsburgh’s comeback after replacing Mitchell Trubisky following halftime. Pickett threw for 120 yards on 10-for-13 passing and rushed for his first two career touchdowns. However, he also threw three interceptions.

Najee Harris rushed 18 times for 74 yards, and George Pickens had six catches for 102 yards for the Steelers.

Pickett’s first career pass attempt was intercepted by Jordan Whitehead.

New York couldn’t take advantage, though, as Wilson also got picked off. Minkah Fitzpatrick came down with the interception and returned it to the Jets 4, and three plays later, Pickett’s sneak gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead.

Wilson threw an interception while in field-goal range with 20 seconds left in the first half. Trubisky threw a deep ball to the end zone to try and score before the break and it was intercepted, but a roughing the passer penalty negated the pick and allowed Chris Boswell to kick a 59-yard field goal to pull the Steelers within 10-6.

Lamarcus Joyner intercepted Trubisky with 7:35 left to play in the first quarter, setting the Jets up at the Pittsburgh 36. New York turned the takeaway into a 36-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein to take a 3-0 edge.

The Jets added on to their lead on a double reverse play early in the second quarter.

On an end around, Wilson handed the ball off to Garrett Wilson, who then flipped it to fellow wide receiver Braxton Berrios. Berrios then threw a 2-yard TD pass to a wide-open Zach Wilson.

–Field Level Media

Dec 30, 2021; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi on the field prior to the game against the Michigan State Spartans during the 2021 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

No. 24 Pitt readies for Rhode Island, Pat Narduzzi’s alma mater

No. 24 Pitt concludes its nonconference schedule on Saturday afternoon when it hosts coach Pat Narduzzi’s alma mater in FCS member Rhode Island.

FCS foes traditionally have provided little resistance for the Panthers (2-1), who are 19-1 in such matchups.

Israel Abanikanda finds himself in a tie atop the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing (302 yards) after rolling up 133 in Pitt’s 34-13 romp at Western Michigan last Saturday.

The Panthers revealed their hand early by rushing on 14 of their first 15 offensive plays. The reason to do so likely stemmed from both Abanikanda’s success and Pitt’s decision to start redshirt freshman quarterback Nate Yarnell, who received ACC Rookie of the Week honors following his performance against the Broncos.

“I told (Yarnell) before the game, ‘I got you. No matter what, I got you. You’ve got no reason to be scared,’” Abanikanda told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He showed that he’s tough. I’m proud of him.”

Yarnell completed 9 of 12 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown while playing in place of starter Kedon Slovis (undisclosed) and backup Nick Patti (ankle).

Narduzzi elected to play it safe with Slovis on Saturday despite the latter participating in practice all week prior to the game against Western Michigan.

Slovis, a transfer from USC, hasn’t played since the second half of the Panthers’ 34-27 overtime loss to Tennessee on Sept. 10.

While Narduzzi didn’t reveal his plan for the game against Rhode Island, he did gush about Yarnell during Monday’s press conference.

“Every day we’ll find out,” Narduzzi said. “I know we know a lot more and have a lot more faith from what Nate did on game day. You could see him in practice and you could see him on the scout field, but when you see how a guy operates the game, it definitely gives you an idea that we have another piece to the puzzle — one we may have to use at another point in the season.”

As for Narduzzi himself, Saturday’s game may hold a bit of extra importance. He was a three-year starter at linebacker with Rhode Island from 1987-89, and he graduated from the school in 1990.

The Rams (2-1) followed up road victories over Stony Brook and Bryant by allowing Delaware to score the game’s first 28 points last Saturday. Rhode Island attempted to rally before dropping a 42-21 decision.

“It was a very disappointing outcome to a game that was so highly anticipated,” Rams coach Jim Fleming said, per the Providence Journal. “The work you put in to be able to achieve some respect — all of a sudden it unfolds this way. It’s the worst possible scenario.”

Pennsylvania native Kahtero Summers reeled in a pair of touchdown receptions to boost his total to three over the last two games.

Ed Lee, who scored a touchdown in each of the first two games of the season, leads the team in catches (15) and receiving yards (265).

Kasim Hill has thrown at least two touchdown passes in seven straight games dating back to last season.

–Field Level Media