Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Pitt requires 4th-quarter comeback to beat Delaware
The big question with Pitt football is always about how the Panthers will respond to a signature victory.
Apparently, it’s by resting starters.
Following its thrilling victory over No. 15 UCF with a game against Delaware gave Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi a chance to keep Kenny Pickett and several others on the sidelines.
What initially looked like a sound move against an FCS opponent Pitt was favored to beat by 30 backfired when the Blue Hens took a lead into the fourth quarter.
Not only were the Panthers without their injured starting quarterback but also running backs A.J Davis and Vincent Davis, linebackers Chase Pine and Elias Reynolds and cornerback Jason Pinnock.
Pitt pinned its hopes on backup Nick Patti, a redshirt freshman making his first career start who passed for 271 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Panthers to a 17-14 victory over the Blue Hens on Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
1. Going deep: Narduzzi didn’t hesitate to give Patti a chance to prove what he could do in the pocket, and he took a shot downfield on his first offensive play.
On first down from the Pitt 7, Patti found Taysir Mack over the middle on a deep post for a 46-yard gain.
Narduzzi showed so much confidence in Patti that the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-5 at the Delaware 29. Patti rolled right but waited too long to throw to an open Maurice Ffrench in the back-left corner of the end zone, and safety Noah Plack of South Fayette broke it up.
It was the first of several interesting fourth downs.
2. Fourth-and-wrong: Delaware raised eyebrows by going for it on fourth-and-5 at the Pitt 37 but drew a flag when Pitt nose tackle Amir Watts jumped offsides.
The Panthers defense bounced back in a big way.
On first down, the Blue Hens tossed a lateral to receiver Gene Coleman, but linebacker Cam Bright dropped him for a 5-yard loss. On second down, end Patrick Jones II pressured Nolan Henderson in the pocket, and Jalen Twyman and Watts followed with a sack for a 10-yard loss.
That led to a pair of standout special-teams plays.
3. Block party: On fourth-and-25 from the Pitt 49, the Panthers appeared to draw another flag, this time for what appeared to be a roughing the kicker penalty.
It was waived off because Aaron Mathews, who blocked a punt against UCF, tipped the ball before making contact with punter Nick Pritchard. Because it went for a touchback, Mathews wasn’t credited with a blocked punt.
But Wendell Davis, who returned Mathews’ block against UCF for an 18-yard touchdown, got a hand on Delaware’s next punt to set up Pitt’s first scoring drive.
Mathews caught a 16-yard pass on third-and-6 at the 42, and Patti found V’Lique Carter wide open for a 30-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
4. Just for kicks: Pitt fans had to be having flashbacks when Alex Kessman lined up at the left hash to attempt a 19-yard field goal, the same spot where he missed a fourth-quarter kick in the 17-10 loss at Penn State.
This time, Kessman converted for a 10-7 halftime lead.
But that lead was hardly safe, especially after Delaware linebacker Drew Nickles stripped Ffrench for a turnover at the Pitt 21. The Blue Hens scored on a 5-yard pass from Henderson to Jordan Townsend for a 14-10 lead.
Narduzzi again showed his faith in Kessman, this time by going for a 57-yard field goal. It would have broken the school record set by Chris Blewitt and Kessman.
But Kessman missed, just barely. The kick had the distance but sailed just wide of the right goal post.
And Delaware took a lead into the fourth quarter.
5. Mack attack: In a game full of flags, the Panthers got a holding penalty on a punt return that pinned them at their own 10 early in the fourth quarter.
They answered with a defining drive, going 90 yards on eight plays for a touchdown.
They can thank Mack.
On third-and-17, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior receiver caught a 48-yard pass to the Delaware 15. Three plays later, Patti threw a play-action pass to Mack for a 12-yard touchdown to take a 17-14 lead with 10 minutes, 33 seconds left.
Mack’s plays took the pressure off the Panthers. And running back Todd Sibley, who registered Pitt’s first 100-yard rushing game with 106 yards on 22 carries, helped run off the clock.
But Pitt caught its biggest break on, of all things, a penalty.
The Panthers committed 13 penalties for 115 yards but were on the receiving end of a roughing-the-kicker penalty that allowed them to run out the clock and seal the victory.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .