Kevin Gorman: Pitt’s Taysir Mack the perfect playmaker in Nick Patti’s first start
Nick Patti had a hunch all week he could be playing quarterback for Pitt on Saturday, but it wasn’t until 45 minutes before kickoff that he learned he would make his starting debut.
With Kenny Pickett sidelined by a right shoulder injury that didn’t cooperate during warm-ups, the Panthers didn’t hesitate to turn to Patti – or ask him to throw deep.
That Patti’s first play was a 46-yard pass to Taysir Mack was a strong start. What nobody expected was Pitt, a 30-point favorite over Delaware, would need them to connect again in a fourth-quarter comeback for a 17-14 victory at Heinz Field.
Patti completed 23 of 37 passes for 271 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. The redshirt freshman from Hillsdale, N.J., connected with Mack five times for 124 yards, including the winner on a 12-yard scoring pass.
“Taysir Mack helps every quarterback that’s out on the field, for sure. He’s a playmaker,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I think (Patti) played solid for his first start. Remember this: It’s a lot different starting a football game as opposed to jumping in there. There’s the pre-game nerves, and I don’t know if he knew he was going to start or not. I didn’t know.
”He did an admirable job. … I think Nick Patti made enough plays to win.”
That’s more than you could say for Pitt. The Panthers made enough mistakes to lose, the kind that had Narduzzi practically apologizing for how they followed the stirring upset of Central Florida by almost falling flat on their face against an FCS foe.
“Obviously, it was not the Pitt football team that I like to see,” Narduzzi said. “Blame me for that because we’ve got to come out revved up and ready to go every week.”
Instead, the Panthers flooded the engine. They weren’t just penalized 13 times for 115 yards but had a pair of turnovers inside their own territory. The timing of the mishaps killed Pitt’s momentum or, even worse, created some for Delaware.
Defensive tackle Amir Watts jumped offsides on a fourth-and-3. Right tackle Nolan Ulizio was called for a false start on fourth-and-4, forcing Pitt to punt. A handful of plays later, linebacker Cam Bright drew a personal foul on for hitting Blue Hens quarterback Nolan Henderson so far out of bounds that Narduzzi cracked maybe they should brighten up the sideline. Defensive end Kaymar Mimes drew a holding penalty on a punt that pushed Pitt back to its own 10 while trailing by four.
That set the stage for Patti and Mack.
On a third-and-17 at Pitt’s 37, Patti threw a wobbly pass deep along the home sideline. Mack outmaneuvered defensive back Riah Burton for a 48-yard gain to the Delaware 15.
“Honestly, it’s an honor that they believe in me that much to sit here and say, ‘Tay, we’re coming to you right away,’” Mack said. “They feel like I have big-play capabilities, and I feel like I just want to live up to everything.”
It was the second 100-yard game of the season and third of his Pitt career for Mack, a redshirt junior who transferred from Indiana last year.
“He’s a guy that takes the top off the defense and is a great playmaker, but we have more guys like that,” said Patti, who also threw a 30-yard scoring pass to V’Lique Carter. “It was just Taysir getting his number called and going out and executing.”
Patti called Mack’s number again on a third-and-7 at the 12. Patti used a play-action fake, looked off the safety as Mack broke toward the middle of the end zone and tossed a touchdown. It was the first for Mack at Heinz Field.
That it came from Patti and not Pickett was something of a surprise, not that Mack ever doubted Pitt’s backup quarterback.
“We believed Kenny was going to play. There really was no doubt. We played things by ear,” Mack said. “It was just a next-man-up situation and we believe in whoever’s going to be out there.”
Mostly, Mack believes in himself to be the playmaker Pitt needs. He shared a tale Pitt honorary captain Ejuan Price told the team before the game: You don’t have to tell a pit bull that he’s a dog. If he’s a dog, he’s going to act like a dog every day.
“That’s the mentality I want to keep,” Mack said. “I feel like I’m a dog so I’m going to try to go out there and show it every day.”
So, you could say — apologies in advance — the Blue Hens got Nick/Mack Patti-whacked as Pitt gave the dog a bone.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .