Pitt defense sacks Ohio in 1st win of season
Victories in football generally are awarded to teams that block and tackle, catch and throw better than the opponent.
Sometimes, however, the right words in the days leading up to the game play a role that shouldn’t be minimized.
Such was the case for Pitt and sophomore defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, who recorded three of Pitt’s six sacks Saturday in the Panthers’ 20-10 victory against Ohio at Heinz Field.
Pitt lost defensive tackle Keyshon Camp to a season-ending knee injury last week. That makes two key linemen whose seasons ended almost before they started, with Camp joining defensive end Rashad Weaver, who suffered a knee injury in training camp.
So, Camp took it upon himself to make sure those players who are expected to make up for his absence knew the seriousness of the situation.
“Once I found out, Keyshon was injured,” Twyman said, “me and him had a talk in the hallway. He was just saying, ‘You have to step up more and be more vocal.’ I took that into consideration and just went out and performed.”
Twyman, who is the first Pitt tackle with three sacks in a game since Aaron Donald in 2011, also called aside redshirt freshmen tackles Devin Danielson (Thomas Jefferson), David Green (Central Catholic) and Tyler Bentley and told them, “We just have to cover for those guys and have their back.”
“We took it as a great challenge.”
As a result, Danielson and ends Patrick Jones II and Habakkuk Baldonado recorded three of Pitt’s five quarterback hurries. That’s a total of 11 pressures on the quarterback.
Pitt’s defense, especially the linemen, was dominant most of the game, collapsing the pocket around Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke, who was weakened the night before the game by a fever and was not completely well, according to coach Frank Solich.
Pitt still hasn’t recorded a turnover this season — the streak stretches back to the last two games of 2018 — but the Panthers held the Bobcats to 212 yards, less than half of Pitt’s total of 481.
“I thought our defense played outstanding,” coach Pat Narduzzi said.
Narduzzi was so sure of his defense he made a strange decision early in the third quarter while Pitt was holding a 17-3 lead.
With Pitt handed a third-and-5 at its 47 after the Bobcats jumped offsides, Narduzzi declined the penalty and took the result of the play that gave him fourth-and-1 at the Ohio 49. Running back Vincent Davis was dropped for a 3-yard loss and Ohio had the ball in good field position at the Pitt 48.
Rourke was sacked by linebackers Wendell Davis and Kylan Johnson and Ohio was forced to punt, one of its 10 in the game.
“We don’t get (the first down) and (the defense) bowed up,” Narduzzi said.
Ohio (1-1) finally scored on a 7-yard run by De’Montre Tuggle after a 75-yard drive. But Ohio’s 10 points were the fewest scored by an FBS team against Pitt since a 42-10 victory over Rice in 2017.
“I thought the defense played really good against a very good football team,” Narduzzi said. “They’re going to win the MAC, OK. Mark my words.”
Narduzzi was less complimentary of his offense, even after quarterback Kenny Pickett recorded personal bests in completions (26) and passing yards (321) on 37 attempts. That makes 78 throws in two weeks. He didn’t reach that number last year until the fourth game.
“Obviously, it’s a good win,” Narduzzi said. “There’s no such thing as a bad win. But there are still a lot of things we’ve got to clean up.”
That includes finishing drives with touchdowns. Pitt only had Alex Kessman’s 41-yard field goal – his second of the game – to show for its second-half efforts.
Also, Pitt committed three false starts among 10 penalties for a loss of 75 yards.
“We may have had two (false starts) the entire month of August,” Narduzzi said. “We just don’t do that. So, I don’t get that at all.
“But the offense bounced back. Didn’t score as many points as we’d like to score.”
Pitt recorded its fewest points in a victory since beating Virginia Tech, 17-13, in 2015.
“That’s the other disappointing thing,” Narduzzi said. “We have to finish drives. But we were hit with some crazy penalties that we just can’t have.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .