PITTSBURGH — Pitt’s 42-10 win over Rice on Saturday wasn’t particularly unexpected. The Panthers came into the game favored by almost three touchdowns and Rice showed why the Owls are considered one of the weakest teams in FBS football.
But there were some unexpected developments in the game, chiefly, the performance of quarterback Max Browne. Browne got the start over Ben DiNucci and immediately looked like the quarterback the Panthers thought they were getting when he transferred from Southern Cal this January.
Browne showed touch on his 48-yard wheel-route lob to Chawntez Moss for a touchdown. He showed his arm strength on a 55-yard deep ball to Jester Weah for another score.
Early on, Browne picked the Owls’ defense apart down the field. Later in the game, he used short passes to not only extend lengthy drives, but to get into the end zone. That’s not something that Browne has been able to do a lot of at Pitt. For the first time as a Pitt player, he had the offense rolling and fully under control, and it showed.
“He’s got the ability to do that every game,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He’s got the tools out there. I told Max to just be himself and have some fun. Go relax. He did it and I am excited for him.”
Here’s more from Browne on his big afternoon.
Alex Bookser started and played almost the entire game at right tackle, with Mike Herndon and Brandon Hodges alternating at right guard and Jimmy Morrissey and Conor Dintino alternating at center. Jaryd Jones-Smith, who had been the starter at right tackle, didn’t play until late in the second half.
The reconfigured offensive line seems to work better from a pass protection standpoint, as Brown had time to make many rows deep down the field, something the offense hasn’t been able to do The first four games.
Here’s Bookser on keeping Browne’s shirt clean and the offense making a statement against Rice.
NOWHERE TO RUN
The new alignment upfront didn’t seem to help the Panthers run the ball any better. Pitts came into the game ranked 111th in the country with a 3.1 yards-per-carry average. Against the Owls, they averaged just 2.1 yards per carry. Even more troubling, that figure was inflated by a 24-yard Jordan Whitehead rush. Qadree Ollison and Moss combined for 39 yards on 20 carries – a 1.95 yard-per-carry average.
So as productive as the offense was all day, it’s understandable that Moss and company feel the offense can do even more.
PICK YOUR POISON
Though he’s often been maligned by the Pitt fan base during his tenure as Panthers starting cornerback, Avante Maddox has quietly put together a stellar senior season for the Panthers. Opponents are recognizing that, as well. Frequently, opposing quarterbacks have been picking on redshirt sophomore Dane Jackson on the other side of the field and staying away from Maddox.
But Jackson’s play has risen as well, and he made one of three Pitt interceptions that stifled the Rice offense.
“It is a definite confidence booster,” Jackson said. “We always talk about being the money team. So it is very big.”
HAMLIN IN THE MIX
Damar Hamlin played the majority of the snaps at the field safety position, out-drawing Bricen Garner. It’s been a steady progression back from surgery for Hamlin, who missed the entire spring and fall while recovering. He also made a position move during that time, moving from corner, where he played as a true freshman last season, to safety.
It’s made for a slow and sometimes frustrating process for Hamlin to get to the level that many expected him to as a four-star recruit out of Pittsburgh Central Catholic. Here’s what Hamlin had to say about his long-awaited return to form.