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Pitt notebook: Jordan Whitehead sparks offense in loss

| Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, 6:22 p.m.
Pitt's Jordan Whitehead trots into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter against Syracuse on October 7, 2017 in Syracuse, N.Y.
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Pitt's Jordan Whitehead trots into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter against Syracuse on October 7, 2017 in Syracuse, N.Y.
Syracuse receiver Steve Ishmael makes a touchdown reception in front of Pitt defensive back Avonte Maddox during the first quarter October 7, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. It was called back due to penalty.
Getty Images
Syracuse receiver Steve Ishmael makes a touchdown reception in front of Pitt defensive back Avonte Maddox during the first quarter October 7, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. It was called back due to penalty.

Jordan Whitehead more than doubled his season total of carries. It sounds like he better get used to it.

With Pitt struggling to generate offense Saturday, the Panthers put the ball into Whitehead's hands seven times. He responded with 73 yards and a 35-yard touchdown run, constantly finding holes where his teammates haven't.

Prior to Saturday, Whitehead carried the ball just three times for 59 yards, focusing primarily on defense, where he seems to be needed just as badly.

Still, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said the offensive issues likely will force him to use Whitehead more on the offensive side of the ball.

“Yeah,” Narduzzi said when asked if he felt that would be needed. “I went and asked (offensive coordinator Shawn) Watson: ‘Are they only blocking for Jordan Whitehead, and they don't block for anyone else? Or is he that good and we're not good?' ”

Said Whitehead: “That's up to Coach Narduzzi. Whenever they need me on offense. I'll be ready just like today I was ready. I'll always be ready for them.”

The problem, of course, is that Whitehead is needed just as badly on defense, where his presence helped hold dangerous Syracuse slot receiver Erv Philips to eight receptions and 55 yards.

“We're going to have to get him an IV after the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter,” Narduzzi said. “He has the motor to do it. He's a special kid. He's a good football player.”

Maddox's matchup

Pitt cornerback Avonte Maddox drew the country's leader in receptions and held Syracuse's Steve Ishmael under 100 yards for the first time this season.

It wasn't because of the Orange's lack of effort, either.

Syracuse went to Ishmael against Pitt's top cornerback five times on the first possession of the game.

Ishmael won the first two battles, helping the Orange march into field goal position with a 34-yard reception. But Maddox won the rest of the afternoon, forcing an offensive pass interference penalty and an eventual field goal with a third-down pass breakup.

This and that

Pitt kicker Alex Kessman shook off a slow start to the season and tied a school-record with a 56-yard field goal. Kessman's record kick bounced off the crossbar and through the goal posts. He tied Chris Blewitt, who set the record in 2015. … Narduzzi said after the game that backup running back Chawntez Moss is suspended indefinitely. Narduzzi said he will be “out until further notice.”

Chris Carlson is a freelance writer.

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