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Pitt football notebook: Players ready to welcome Whitehead back to action next week

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, 8:36 p.m.
Oklahoma State's Dillon Stoner beats Pitt's Dennis Briggs for a second-quarter touchdown Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla
Oklahoma State's Dillon Stoner beats Pitt's Dennis Briggs for a second-quarter touchdown Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Ruben Flowers III can't hang onto a pass in the end zone against  Oklahoma State Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla
Pitt's Ruben Flowers III can't hang onto a pass in the end zone against Oklahoma State Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017 at Heinz Field.

Updated 21 hours ago

For Pitt junior safety Jordan Whitehead, the game next Saturday at Georgia Tech is the start of his season — three weeks late.

Whitehead, a second-team All-ACC safety last year and conference rookie of the year in 2015, will return next week from his three-game suspension for violating team rules during the offseason, coach Pat Narduzzi said. And after the 59-21 loss to Oklahoma State, his athleticism and veteran presence in the secondary will be welcome by teammates and coaches.

“We'll have an added safety coming into the pack,” Narduzzi said, “which will help us, which really hurt us for three weeks. He's paid the price, and he'll be back.”

It will be Whitehead's first appearance since Nov. 12 when he broke his arm against Clemson and missed the final three games of the 2016 season.

The plan this season was to move Whitehead from strong to free safety where there are more pass coverage responsibilities. He has been replaced by redshirt freshman Bricen Garner and sophomore Jazzee Stocker. Junior safety Dennis Briggs, who has started at strong safety the first three weeks, said the team is looking forward to Whitehead's return.

“Jordan brings energy,” Briggs said. “His accolades are well deserved. He's a special talent. We can't wait to get him back.

“Guys are certainly excited about Jordan Whitehead coming back.”

Senior middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis, who also was suspended for three games, also would have been eligible to return, but he is lost for the season with a non-football-related injury.

In Whitehead's absence, Pitt has allowed 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air in three games.

Special note

Pitt scored a touchdown on special teams when a snap went over punter Zach Sinor's head and landed in the end zone where it was recovered by freshman cornerback Jason Pinnock.

Briggs pushed Sinor to the ground while Sinor was trying to kick the football out of the end zone. That allowed Pinnock to recover it.

Sinor, who jokingly is pushing himself for the Heisman Trophy, punted once for 45 yards.

Pitt punter Ryan Winslow set a career high with a 63-yarder in the first quarter. Three of his six punts landed inside the 20-yard line.

Pitt kicker Alex Kessman missed as a 49-yard field goal attempt, his third miss in five tries this season.

Notable

The crowd of 38,952 was the fifth in a row at Heinz Field that failed to reach 41,000. ... Nine Pitt players recorded receptions, led by Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who had six for 89 yards and a touchdown. Jester Weah did not have a catch.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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