Sep 25, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Taysir Mack (11) and quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) talk before a play against the New Hampshire Wildcats during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Pickett powers Pitt past Georgia Tech

The Pittsburgh Panthers continued their torrid offensive pace with a 52-21 romp against host Georgia Tech in an Atlantic Coast Conference contest Saturday in Atlanta.

Pitt (4-1, 1-0 ACC) extended a school record by scoring 40-plus points for a fifth straight game to start the season. Kenny Pickett finished 23-of-36 passing for 389 yards with four touchdown passes to four different targets. Jordan Addison (six catches for 117 yards and a TD) and Taysir Mack (five receptions for 121 yards and a TD) both topped the century mark.

Israel Abanikanda added 60 yards rushing and two touchdowns for the Panthers, who entered No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense (52.5 points per game) and eclipsed the 50-point mark for the third time in five games.

Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-2) entered with the No. 25 passing defense in the country and had allowed just 36 points combined in its first two league games. But Pickett threw for 300 yards and the Panthers had 42 points by halftime.

Jeff Simms completed 24 of 33 passes for 371 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Yellow Jackets. Jahmyr Gibbs had six catches for 125 yards.

But Georgia Tech had three empty red-zone trips thanks to a missed field goal and failed fourth-down conversions in the third and fourth quarters.

Pitt put the game away in the first half with a barrage of big plays. The Panthers intercepted each of Sims’ first two passes, the second of which resulted in John Petrishen’s 33-yard pick-six and a 14-0 lead with 9:16 left in the first quarter.

The Yellow Jackets got on the board with Sims’ 44-yard scoring strike to Nate McCollum but simply couldn’t keep pace.

Pickett threw an 11-yard touchdown to Addison for a 21-7 lead, and his 55-yard heave to Mack down the left side made it 28-7 early in the second quarter.

Georgia Tech pulled to within 28-14 on Dontae Smith’s 3-yard TD run, but Abanikanda’s second touchdown run — from 6 yards out — pushed it out to 35-7 with 6:14 left in the half. Pickett’s 16-yard touchdown to Lucas Krull gave the Panthers the 42-14 lead at the break.

–Field Level Media

Sep 18, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) warms up before the game against the Western Michigan Broncos at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Pickett, Pitt look to right ship vs. New Hampshire

Pittsburgh aims to pick itself up following last week’s letdown when it hosts FCS member New Hampshire on Saturday afternoon.

The clash against the Wildcats at Heinz Field serves as the last tune-up for the Panthers (2-1) before they play eight straight games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.

Offense hasn’t been the problem for Pittsburgh, which eclipsed 40 points in three consecutive games to start the season for the first time in the history of the program.

Kenny Pickett threw for 382 yards and a career-best six touchdowns in the Panthers’ 44-41 setback to Mid-American Conference opponent Western Michigan last Saturday.

Pickett moved past Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino into second place on Pittsburgh’s all-time passing yardage list. His 8,923 yards trail only career leader Alex Van Pelt (11,267 in 1989-92).

Jordan Addison reeled in a career-best three scoring strikes and finished with six catches for 124 yards last Saturday. Tight end Lucas Krull found the end zone twice to double his touchdown total on the season.

“My eye test tells you the receivers are pretty good and Kenny Pickett’s pretty good. I want to run the ball better,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said.

Pickett leads the team with just 115 net rushing yards on the season.

As for the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh’s defense surrendered 517 total yards last Saturday and saw the Broncos hold the ball for 40 minutes, 15 seconds.

“Everybody looks at the yardage and all that stuff and again, it’s stats, and I always say stats are for losers, but pull the stat together yards per minute you’re on the field, OK?” Narduzzi said. “Pull up our offense per play on the field. Defense was on the field for over 40 minutes. I mean, two thirds of the game they’re on the field.”

Bret Edwards tossed two touchdown passes to Brian Espanet to lead New Hampshire (3-0) to a 19-13 win over Lafayette last Saturday.

“They’ve got a good feel for each other,” Wildcats coach Sean McDonnell said of Edwards and Espanet, who have teamed up on four touchdowns this season. “Brian’s done that his whole career here. … He has great hands and he’s got a good feel for trying to find spots in the end zone.”

Espanet’s totals in catches (13) and receiving yards (171) trail only those of Sean Coyne (16, 189) for the team lead.

Two former New Hampshire assistant coaches are now coordinators with Pittsburgh. Mark Whipple is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, while Randy Bates is the defensive coordinator.

–Field Level Media

Nov 28, 2020; Clemson, SC, USA; Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) warms up with his team before their game at Clemson at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt rules out playing in bowl game

Pittsburgh’s win on Thursday at Georgia Tech made the Panthers bowl eligible, but they have decided not to accept an invitation to a bowl game if one is issued, following the rigors of a pandemic-scarred season.

Friday’s announcement from the school came one day after fellow Atlantic Coast Conference member Boston College said it would forgo any bowl opportunities this season.

Both schools, which finished the season with the required six wins to earn bowl eligibility, also emphasized wanting the players to have the opportunity to be around their families over the holidays.

Pitt’s decision “was made by the team and fully supported by the university,” according to the statement from the school, and the coach and the athletic director said they were “proud” and “thankful” for the players’ effort amid trying times this season.

Coach Pat Narduzzi said that in his “decades as a coach, I’ve never been around a group of players who have faced greater challenges beyond the field than our team this year. And yet, from the time they arrived back on campus in early June, these young men never wavered — not in the face of rigorous health protocols, multiple rounds of COVID(-19) testing each week or while handling the mental and physical challenges of playing 11 games in a pandemic.”

“I’ve always been proud to be Pitt’s head football coach. That pride was especially great in working with this 2020 team. They have my eternal gratitude and respect,” Narduzzi said.

The school’s athletics director, Heather Lyke, called the players’ sacrifice and commitment “extraordinary,” adding, “We are thankful and proud of how they handled the past six months and want them to have a well-deserved restful holiday season with their families and loved ones.”

Pitt (6-5, 5-5 ACC) wrapped up its season with a 34-20 win on Thursday. The program had been to a bowl game in five of the last six seasons.

–Field Level Media

Sep 21, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Aaron Mathews (6) leads the PITT band in the alma mater after defeating the UCF Knights at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech wraps up regular season in showdown with Pitt

The Pitt Panthers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are both looking to get back on the winning side when they meet Thursday in Atlanta.

Pitt (5-5, 4-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) is coming off a disappointing 52-17 loss to No. 4 Clemson in its last game on Nov. 28. Georgia Tech (3-6, 3-5 ACC) dropped a 23-13 road decision to NC State on Saturday.

Pitt leads the series 9-5, has won two straight and four of the last five contests. The Panthers won 20-10 win in Atlanta in 2019.

Georgia Tech was missing 10 players from its “above the line” depth chart against NC State and were left with just three defensive ends — two of them true freshmen — and four who could play safety or nickel. Freshman end Kyle Kennard took the opportunity to post the first sack of his career.

“The way coach (Geoff) Collins runs practice, all those guys get reps every day,” said Georgia Tech senior linebacker David Curry, who has had back-to-back games with double-digit tackles.

“I think they played pretty well. We have the ‘next-guy-up’ mentality and if you’re above the line, you’re expected to be able to play.”

It isn’t known how many of those players will be able to return for the Pitt game.

A bright spot for Georgia Tech was the emergence of wide receiver Adonicas Sanders, who caught seven passes for 105 yards — both career highs — and became the team’s first player with 100 receiving yards in a game since 2018 and the first wide receiver since Ricky Jeune in 2015.

Pitt was knocked out of the Clemson game early, as the Tigers scored 31 unanswered points in the first quarter. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett threw four interceptions, three in the first quarter, that led to touchdowns. It didn’t help that Pitt was missing three starting offensive linemen against the Tigers.

Pickett has been otherwise reliable. He has thrown for 2,212 yards and 12 touchdowns; four of his eight interceptions came in the last game. Vincent Davis is the team’s leading rusher with 385 yards and five touchdowns and Pickett has run for seven scores. The top receiver is Jordan Addison, who has 57 catches for 652 yards and four touchdowns.

The Pitt defense entered the game with the ACC’s third-best defense in yards allowed, but gave up 349 yards by halftime and surrendered 581.

“We didn’t tackle well,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We missed a lot on defense early.”

The Panthers are led by Rashad Weaver, a finalist for the Bednarik Award, who has 7 1/2 sacks, 14 1/2 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

Georgia Tech missed opportunities last week against NC State. After going 8-for-8 in red zone scoring the previous week against Duke, the Yellow Jackets were only 2-for-3 against the Wolfpack, both of them field goals after failing to punch it in from close range.

“We’ve got to finish in the red zone,” Collins said. “That will be a story we continue to work on and improve on.”

The Georgia Tech offense is led by quarterback Jeff Sims, who has thrown for 1,643 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for a team-leading 478 yards and five touchdowns. Jordan Mason has 311 yards and missed by one yard picking up his second straight 100-yard game.

–Field Level Media

Nov 28, 2020; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson offensive lineman Cade Stewart (62) helps push in Clemson running back Chez Mellusi (27) for a touchdown during the second quarter of the game against Pittsburgh at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Lawrence, No. 3 Clemson pound Pitt

Trevor Lawrence is back.

In a big way.

Clemson’s junior quarterback, who hadn’t played in a game since Oct. 24, returned to action with a flourish Saturday afternoon, passing for 403 yards and two touchdowns in the third-ranked Tigers’ 52-17 victory against visiting Pitt.

Lawrence missed two games, including the team’s 47-40 double-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Nov. 7, while in quarantine for COVID-19. The Tigers’ scheduled game at Florida State last week was postponed due to coronavirus concerns regarding the Seminoles’ program.

Playing in what was expected to be his final home game, Lawrence shined from the outset, guiding the Tigers to scores on five consecutive possessions as Clemson posted a school-record, 31-point first quarter.

The Tigers (8-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) kept their hopes alive for a sixth consecutive ACC championship as well as a sixth straight berth into the College Football Playoff.

Pitt (5-5, 4-5) had a two-game winning streak snapped.

The victory enabled Clemson’s seniors to cap their careers by going undefeated at home (27-0) over the past four seasons.

It also was Clemson’s 28th consecutive home victory, coincidentally dating back to a 43-42 loss to Pitt on Nov. 12, 2016. Clemson went on to win the national championship that year.

Lawrence, who is expected to be the No. 1 selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, completed 26 of 37 passes, and his yardage total fell 1 yard shy of his career high set earlier this season against Georgia Tech.

The Tigers intercepted Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett four times — matching his total for the season in seven games prior.

Mario Goodrich had two interceptions while Andrew Booth Jr. and Malcolm Greene each had one for the Tigers.

Pickett connected on 22 of 39 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, an 18-yarder to Jordan Addison and a 4-yarder to Vincent Davis.

Clemson’s Travis Etienne gained 58 yards on 11 carries with a pair of short touchdown runs, and backups Lyn-J Dixon and Chez Mellusi each added scoring runs.

Lawrence threw touchdown passes of 5 yards to E.J. Williams, a freshman, and 43 yards to Cornell Powell, a senior. Powell finished with six receptions for a career-high 176 yards.

–Field Level Media

Nov 21, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Marquis Williams (14) breaks up a pass intended for Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Tre Turner (11) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt crushes Va. Tech behind Pickett’s 3 TDs

Senior Kenny Pickett passed for 404 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another, leading the host Pittsburgh Panthers to a 47-14 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies in an ACC game on Saturday.

Senior wide receiver DJ Turner caught 15 passes for 184 yards and one TD, helping Pitt (5-4, 4-4 ACC) win its second straight game. Turner’s 15 receptions were one short of a school record.

Pickett completed 35-of-52 passes, with one interception. He threw 40 times in the first half alone. A.J. Davis ran 12 times for 80 yards and one score, and Alex Kessman added four field goals, including boots of 53 and 52 yards for the Panthers.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker and wide receiver Tre Turner led the Hokies (4-5, 4-4), who have lost three straight games.

Hooker completed 13-of-22 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 14 times for 53 yards. Hooker entered the game ranked first in the nation in rushing yards by a quarterback and second in TD runs by a QB, but he was kept out of the end zone by Pitt.

Tre Turner caught three passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Panthers were without 16 players, including three starting offensive linemen and star wide receiver Jordan Addison.

Virginia Tech was without 12 players, including one starter on each line and two key defensive backs.

Pitt, which never trailed, led 23-14 at halftime, and the Panthers started the game with three Kessman field goals.

Virginia Tech cut its deficit to 9-7 on Hooker’s 55-yard touchdown pass to Turner, who ran a deep post.

The teams traded long touchdown drives on the next three possessions.

Pitt got a touchdown on Vincent Davis’ one-yard run; Turner went up to catch a high, seven-yard TD throw from Hooker; and Pickett fired an 11-yarder to Jaylon Barden.

On that last play, Pickett made a brilliant spin move to avoid a sack and then threw across his body to Barden, who scored his first career TD.

The Panthers put the game away in the third quarter, getting another Kessman field goal, Pickett’s 64-yard TD pass to Turner and Pickett’s one-yard run to make it 40-17. On the TD pass, Turner beat the Hokies over the top and then dragged two defenders into the end zone.

Davis’ one-yard run with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter gave Pitt a 47-14 lead, capping the scoring.

–Field Level Media

Oct 3, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) passes against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt places confidence in Pickett vs. Georgia Tech

When Pitt faces Georgia Tech on Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, the Panthers feel confident they will have the difference-maker.

That would be senior quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Pickett missed two games because of a left ankle injury, then returned last week to lead Pitt (4-4, 3-4 ACC) to a 41-17 blowout win at Florida State, ending the team’s four-game losing streak.

Against the Seminoles, Pickett was 21 of 27 passing for 210 yards despite not being back to full health.

“When Kenny Pickett is in the game, it’s a different ballgame whether he can scramble or not,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Again, he wasn’t full go, and I think he came out of that game feeling really good, which is a positive, so he’ll be a week healthier this week as we go, and then maybe there’s some opportunities to run him a little bit more if we have to.”

Despite missing the two games, Pickett has passed for 1,599 yards and eight touchdowns, with three interceptions. He is completing 62.3 percent of his throws.

Georgia Tech (2-5, 2-4), which is coming off a 31-13 loss to Notre Dame on Halloween, has a quarterback to watch, too.

Freshman Jeff Sims has completed 55.9 percent of his throws for 1,346 yards and eight touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He understands he needs to be more consistent, something the Yellow Jackets worked on during their off week.

“We tend to hurt ourselves a lot, and we can’t do that,” Sims said.

Narduzzi recruited Sims out of Jacksonville and likes the upside for the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder.

“I think he’s going to be sharp, and he’s got a nice arm,” Narduzzi said. “He’s smooth. He knows he can read coverages. You see him look off stuff — he’ll go over here and go from one, two, three, so you see him reading the field. He’s not just throwing (run-pass options). But they will throw some RPOs for sure this weekend.”

The Panthers are 4-1 against Georgia Tech under Narduzzi. Last year’s 10-point Pitt win, 20-10, was the largest margin of those five games. In two other meetings, the Panthers had a game-winning field goal.

If Georgia Tech, a young team, can break through this time against Pitt, it could go a long way toward making the team’s rebuilding effort seem more successful, especially coming off a tough loss to a Fighting Irish team that was ranked No. 4 when they played.

“I still have high spirits for this team,” Yellow Jackets safety Juanyeh Thomas said.

It’s the second year in a row Pitt is playing this game on the road, a product of the conference’s revamped schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’ll be a tough game. It was a tough game a year ago when we went down there, and I guess we have to go to Georgia two years in a row,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t know how that plays out with the ACC scheduling in the future, but I hope they have to come to Pittsburgh two years in a row, as well.”

For the Yellow Jackets, receiver Ryan King sustained a season-ending undisclosed injury against Notre Dame, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) rushes the ball as Pittsburgh Panthers linebacker SirVocea Dennis (32) defends during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Notre Dame dominates Pittsburgh, 45-3

Ian Book passed for 312 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to wide receiver Ben Skowronek, and No. 3 Notre Dame rolled to a 45-3 win over host Pittsburgh in an Atlantic Coast Conference showdown Saturday afternoon.

Bo Bauer, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Nick McCloud had one interception apiece for Notre Dame (5-0, 4-0), and Isaiah Foskey blocked a punt and scored a touchdown on special teams. All but one of the Fighting Irish’s wins have come by double digits.

Pitt (3-4, 2-4) dropped its fourth game in a row. Quarterback Joey Yellen finished 10 of 27 for 101 yards to go along with his three picks.

Notre Dame outgained Pitt 434-162 and controlled time of possession 40:59 to 19:01.

Book moved into second place in Notre Dame history in career touchdown passes, bypassing Jimmy Clausen and Tommy Rees. The senior from California has 63 touchdown passes, which trails only Brady Quinn, who threw 95 touchdowns from 2003-06.

Notre Dame built a 28-3 lead at the half.

The Fighting Irish opened the scoring in the first five minutes as Skowronek hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Book. That marked the wide receiver’s first touchdown since transferring from Northwestern.

The Panthers cut the deficit to 7-3 on a 45-yard field goal by Alex Kessman with 7:38 left in the first quarter.

Notre Dame pulled away with three touchdowns in the second quarter to build a 25-point advantage. Skowronek scored again, this time from 73 yards, before Kyren Williams added a 2-yard touchdown run and Foskey scored on the blocked punt.

Foskey sprinted around the right edge of the Pitt offensive line to stuff the punt. The ball bounced backward into the end zone, and he chased it down for the special-teams touchdown.

On their first possession of the second half, Notre Dame added a 21-yard field goal by Jonathan Doerer to make it 31-3.

The advantage ballooned to 38-3 when Book connected with tight end Michael Mayer for a 14-yard touchdown with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter. It was the second touchdown of the season for Mayer, a highly touted freshman out of Kentucky.

Notre Dame made it 45-3 on C’Bo Flemister’s 2-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2020; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA; Boston College Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec (5) runs the ball during the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Alumni Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Boston College survives in overtime when Pitt misses extra point

Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to start overtime, and Pittsburgh kicker Alex Kessman missed the game-tying extra point to end the game in the Eagles’ 31-30 win over the Panthers on Saturday in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Jurkovec, a Pittsburgh native who was 19-for-35 for 358 yards and three scores, tossed the game-winner to Zay Flowers (six catches, 162 yards, three TDs).

After Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Taysir Mack, Kessman pushed the PAT wide right for the win for the Eagles (3-1, 2-1 ACC).

Playing injured, Pickett was 25-for-48 for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Like Jurkovec, Pickett also rushed for a score.

The Eagles had an impressive 12-play, 86-yard drive on its first series of the game. Soon after a fumble by running back David Bailey at the Pittsburgh 11 was overturned, kicker Aaron Boumerhi booted a 25-yard field goal at 9:30.

But Pickett converted a fourth-and-3 on the next series and called his own number on a sneak on the 14th play of the 75-yard drive at 3:15 to give Pitt (3-2, 2-2) its first lead at 7-3.

Flowers used a slick double-move on the home side’s third possession and easily beat the Panthers’ secondary on a 44-yard touchdown from Jurkovec for a 10-7 advantage at the 13-minute mark of the second quarter.

The back-and-forth affair continued when running back Israel Abanikanda recorded his first career scoring reception on a 15-yard swing pass from Pickett at 10:35 for a 14-10 lead.

Jurkovec twisted and squirmed his way in on a fourth-down sneak at 4:50 as the lead changed for the fourth time in the first half, with the Eagles leading 17-14.

Flowers torched the secondary again on the second half’s second play, hauling in a 77-yard long pass from Jurkovec for a 24-14 edge. Pickett left the game after rolling his ankle on a scramble at 2:47 of the third quarter, but Vincent Davis’ 4-yard rushing touchdown made it 24-21 at 2:18.

Pickett returned on the next series after having his ankle taped, and Josh DeBerry intercepted him at the Pittsburgh 15 in the fourth quarter, but Rashad Weaver stripped Jurkovec to keep the Panthers’ deficit at three.

After a Pittsburgh turnover on downs with 6:29 left, Pickett was sacked with just over a minute to play, resulting in a fourth-and-20. But Kessman launched a school-record 58-yard field goal to tie it.

Boumerhi pulled a 52-yarder on the last play of regulation to force overtime.

–Field Level Media