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Max Browne shines, but Pitt humble after beating Rice

Jerry DiPaola
| Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, 12:00 p.m.

There was no excessive bragging after Pitt's 42-10 victory against Rice on Saturday. Smartly, players and coaches know they're far from that point in a season yet to be defined.

No one even allowed himself the luxury of being relieved. Offensive right tackle Alex Bookser said it best.

“When you look at it as a relief, that's when you let your guard get down,” he said.

Wouldn't that be a big mistake?

Pitt performed above the bar on many levels before a crowd of 33,051 at Heinz Field. But the opponent was a Rice team that dragged a 1-4 record back home to Houston.

Quarterback Max Browne was the clearest example as he became one of only nine quarterbacks in Pitt history to throw for more than 400 yards in a game. He completed 28 of 32 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns.

This from a quarterback who was the backup last week at Georgia Tech.

Did coach Pat Narduzzi finally find his man?

“We had him today,” he said. “He threw the ball like we thought he was capable. He looked comfortable in the pocket.”

Browne was credited with four incomplete passes, but three of those were drops.

“Ffrench dropped one,” Narduzzi said of sophomore wide receiver Maurice Ffrench. “Hit him right in the chest. You know, like boom, right there.

“You talk about accuracy. (Browne) has the ability to do that every game.”

But Narduzzi knows calling 35 pass plays, including three sacks, isn't the way for Pitt to win most games.

“We gotta get a run game going,” he said. “He can't just drop back and pass every down. We rushed for 69 yards. That ain't good.”

Safety Jordan Whitehead needed only one run of 24 yards to lead the team in rushing for the second consecutive week.

“It's hard to win football games when you can't run the ball,” Narduzzi said.

On defense, Pitt was hardly threatened.

But Narduzzi said, “They started to scare me” when Rice cut a 28-0 halftime lead to 28-10 before the end of the third quarter.

Still, Pitt was dominant throughout most of the game against a team that has scored 27 points in its four losses. Pitt intercepted three passes, recorded three sacks and allowed no sustained touchdown drives. Rice's only touchdown was a 70-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Austin Walter.

What does it all mean?

Rice already had lost to Stanford, 62-7, and Houston, 38-3 — two unranked teams. Every completed pass might have left some cynics wondering, “Would a better team have knocked it down?”

Narduzzi was asked if Pitt (2-3) needed a victory to bolster its confidence. After all, a 1-3 start to the season spawned more questions than answers about Pitt.

“I know I needed it,” he said. “You start to wonder, ‘What do you have to do to get one.' ”

It was Pitt's first victory in nearly a month, but it still left the Panthers without a Power 5 victim. So much more work remains.

Bookser and linebacker Seun Idowu think they know what it will take to duplicate Saturday's effort over the next seven weeks when Pitt plays nothing but ACC competition.

Asked about players possibly having their confidence shaken earlier this season, Bookser wouldn't go that far.

“I wouldn't say it was wavering,” he said. “It just wasn't where it needed to be. When we're doing well and everybody is feeling good, it's awesome to be around.

“It felt like we kind of didn't have that as much as we needed to. It felt like we had that (Saturday). I hope that's something we can carry on the rest of the season.

“We had not been playing Pitt football. Not just in my opinion in most people's opinions on the team.”

Idowu shared the team lead with cornerback Dane Jackson in tackles (five) while recording 1½ tackles for a loss and one of seven pass breakups. That type of variety on defense goes a long way.

“We did a better job of playing like us as a whole team,” he said.

Asked to describe what “playing like us” means, he called it “a dog mentality.”

“You have to be hungry for the ball. Playing fast, playing confident, hitting anything you see. Be comfortable with what you're doing and be confident.

“That's what we have to get to. Have the same dog mentality every game.”

Then, maybe we'll hear some justifiable barking, if not bragging.

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

Pitt's Qadree Ollison celebrates with Chawntez Moss after Moss' touchdown against Rice in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Qadree Ollison celebrates with Chawntez Moss after Moss' touchdown against Rice in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Jester Weah all alone on a touchdown against Rice in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Jester Weah all alone on a touchdown against Rice in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Chawntez Moss beats Rice's  Emmanuel Ellerbee for a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Chawntez Moss beats Rice's Emmanuel Ellerbee for a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Avonte Maddox sacks Rice quarterback Jackson Tyner causing him to fumble in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Avonte Maddox sacks Rice quarterback Jackson Tyner causing him to fumble in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt quarterback Max Browne looks to throw a touchdown pass to Jester Weah against Rice in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Max Browne looks to throw a touchdown pass to Jester Weah against Rice in the first quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Jester Weah pulls in a pass over Rice's Justin Bickham in the fourth quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Jester Weah pulls in a pass over Rice's Justin Bickham in the fourth quarter Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017 at Heinz Field.
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