ATLANTA – The Pitt Panthers might play the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets every year, but by no means is Pitt accustomed to defending the triple option.
Few teams in college football run the throwback flexbone-style attack, and even fewer are better at executing its playbook than Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets, who entered Saturday afternoon’s game at Bobby Dodd Stadium as the No. 1 rushing team in the FBS.
Led by KirVonte Benson and TaQuon Marshall, the Yellow Jackets spoiled Ben DiNucci’s first collegiate start and handed Pitt its third consecutive loss, winning 35-17 on a hot and sunny day in the Peach State.
Tech rushed for 436 yards while Benson and Marshall combined for four scores in the ACC opener for both teams. Pitt mustered less than 250 yards of total offense.
DiNucci, a redshirt sophomore who got the start at Tech over senior captain Max Browne, took care of the ball, but led the Panthers on scoring drives just twice. DiNucci finished with 110 yards passing, completing 12-of-19 attempts.
The 6-foot-2 Wexford native started strong, leading the Panthers (1-3; 0-1) on a five-play, 78-yard drive that ended with him tossing a ball to Qadree Ollison for a 28-yard score. That was the opening drive of the day, and would give Pitt its only lead. After taking a 21-17 lead into the second half, Tech scored 14 unanswered points.
Browne relieved DiNucci for Pitt’s final two drives, but couldn’t lead the Panthers to a score. The senior threw for 88 yards on 15 attempts.
Pitt’s defense – bolstered by the return of Jordan Whitehead – took four fumbles from Tech (2-1; 1-0), but the Panthers’ offense failed to capitalize on the defense’s gifts.
Whitehead left the game in the third quarter, but returned later. He finished with seven tackles, a fumble recovery, and 35 yards rushing on offense after having been suspended for the first three games. The 5-foot-11 junior was often paired with sophomore Damar Hamlin at safety. Hamlin, one of Pitt’s top 2016 recruits, tallied seven tackles.
One of the few highlight worthy plays of the day for Pitt came in the second quarter when Quadree Henderson danced and sprinted by a pair of defenders on a punt return, and ran the boot back 80 yards for a score. It was the first time Tech had allowed a non-blocked punt return for a touchdown since Oct. 28, 2000.
Pitt has a week to prepare before it takes on the Rice Owls (1-2) at Heinz Field on Saturday, Sept. 30.
Article by Mitchell Northam; filling in for Alan Saunders in Atlanta