With Albany Away, Pitt Turns Focus to PSU

Pickett somewhat reckless as Panthers dominate early

Josh Rowntree
September 01, 2018 - 9:38 pm
Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) is attended to by team trainers and head coach Pat Narduzzi (L) after suffering an apparent leg injury against the Albany Great Danes

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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For a while Saturday, it appeared that some of the luster might fade off of next week’s rivalry game between Pitt and Penn State at Heinz Field. 

The Nittany Lions were pushed to the brink by Appalachian State, but ultimately prevailed, 45-38, in overtime. 

Pitt players, having just completed a 33-7 victory over Albany, certainly took notice. 

“They have the scores from all games up on the [scoreboard] during the game,” defensive lineman Rashad Weaver said.

“Obviously, when you go on social media, it’s going to be there whether you’re looking forward to it or not. But we’re just enjoying this win tonight.”

Several Pitt players were informed postgame that Penn State was in overtime, including wide receiver Maurice Ffrench, who returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. 

Ffrench responded, “Really?” The request for confirmation was followed by a slight laugh. 

The Panthers primarily took a respectful path when dealing with Penn State questions, likely a smart decision with a Heisman Trophy caliber quarterback in Trace McSorley coming in Saturday.

“Trace is a great player, everyone knows that,” defensive back Paris Ford said. “But I feel like if we can just slow him down a little bit, somehow, someway, we should be victorious."

Ford is one of several local players who will see former high school opponents when the prime time game arrives.

“I look forward to that game a lot,” said safety Damar Hamlin, a Pittsburgh Central Catholic graduate. “Just the way the city and the fans react to it, it just makes it seem like you’re a part of something that’s way bigger than you, came way before you.

Seeing all the old guys come back and tell you how much that game mean, it just makes you feel good to be a part of it.”

Scary Moment for Pickett

During the third quarter, Pitt starting quarterback Kenny Pickett scrambled and slid to the ground. 

Pickett immediately grabbed his right calf, in pain. 

“It’s a cramp,” he said postgame. “I knew that feeling, every athlete knows that feeling. I just popped up, my calf locked up and I couldn’t really move my ankle to walk off.”

Pickett admitted that it was, he believes, the first time he’s ever slid and given himself up on a run.

The sophomore plays with a brash style. It’s something that helped Pitt score an upset over No. 2 Miami in the season finale last season. But, ion the second quarter of a 33-7 game, Pickett tried on another play to dive through tacklers for a first time. 

He was hit hard, the ball popped free and Albany recovered. 

“The first thing I said to Kenny at the beginning of the second quarter, on the sideline as he was warming up, was you do not take a hit, you go down,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He must’ve misunderstood ‘down’ and up.’

“But he’s a competitor. He was like, ‘coach, I was trying to get the first down.’ He was probably five yards short. We have to be smarter there.”

Secondary Issues Again?

While Pitt allowed just 60 rushing yards in the game, its defense was burned four times by deep ball passes. One, covered by Ford, was dropped by the Albany receiver. Three others, covered by Hamlin, Dennis Briggs and Bricen Garner, were allowed to go for long gains. 

“We were maybe a little bit shorthanded back there, but yeah, they bother me,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think we were clean defensively like we want to be. But we stopped the run, which is the number one thing.”

“I feel like we played well,” Hamlin contested. “First game, so you get a little bit of nicks and rust out. It’s always going to be like that in the first game. We’re definitely going to make some adjustments and come out better next week.”

Hear all of what Pat Narduzzi had to say below.