PITTSBURGH — Without a doubt the winner of the spring game and Pitt’s whole spring was Pitt safety Paris Ford.
Ford, who entered the spring in position battle with senior Jazzee Stocker at boundary safety, put together a solid performance for Blue in his team’s 14-7 victory in the spring game.
He recorded seven tackles and had a big interception to halt the Gold’s drive midway through the third quarter. His seven tackles and six solo tackles were the most recorded by either team.
His play has led head coach Pat Narduzzi to announcing some surprising news after the game on Saturday.
“Right now, Paris Ford is a starter,” Pat Narduzzi said after the game on Saturday.
His accomplishments did not end there as he was also named one of the Ed Conway Award winners for most improved player.
“One of the main reasons he got that award is that he’s always been fast, he’s always been physical, and he’s always been a playmaker,” Narduzzi said. “That interception is just what you see all the time. He’s had a tremendous spring and obviously one of the most improved defensive players along with Phil Campbell.”
Ford was a highly touted recruit out of Steel Valley High School and he seems to finally be living up to the hype that he was receiving coming out go high school. Ford admitted that things have changed since last season that have allowed him to see this improvement.
“I would say my mindset because I have been in the film room a lot more, I have been in the weight room a lot more, I’m just trying to soak up the game as much as possible,” Ford said.
CONFIDENCE IS A GOOD THING
The big winner on the offensive side of the ball for Blue was Tre Tipton, who showed that he should not be forgotten amongst the other wide receivers.
Tipton, a redshirt senior from Apollo-Ridge High School caught two big touchdowns from quarterback Kenny Pickett, which were the difference in Blue’s 14-7 victory.
For the game, Tipton recorded three receptions for 43 yards and two touchdowns. Pickett believes that Tipton has developed his confidence again, which is allowing him to succeed under the new offensive coaching staff.
“He’s a guy that is stepping up. I wanted to make sure I was on his team along with Taysir (Mack),” Pickett said. “Those two guys have been playing really good football, but Tre especially, I don’t think he got enough touches prior to a new coach coming here and his confidence wasn’t there, but all the sudden you see what happens when you get a couple catches. You’re playing like a different guy and he has that confidence right now and so does the whole receiving group, its exciting.”
“Me and Kenny (Pickett), we love playing together,” Tipton said. “The receiving core we have, with the quarterbacks that we have, as you could see that was not the only player throwing the rock today. Every single one of those quarterbacks are incredible. Kenny did his thing today so every time we looked at each other, we just looked at each other and we were like I know you see it, because I see it, so do it. It was cool, really smooth today.”
PICKETT, DEEP BALL COMING TOGETHER
After only going 2 for 4 for 15 yards in the first half of the spring game, Pickett had a strong second half, leading Blue to victory.
In the second half, Pickett led the Blue offense to two long scoring drives, which were full of passing plays. Two of the passes were caught for touchdowns by fellow Blue receiver Tre Tipton.
For the game Pickett was 10 for 14 for 125 yards and two touchdown passes. His 8.9 yards per attempt from the spring game is significantly higher than his 6.4 yards per attempt that he had last season, thanks in part to Mark Whipple’s emphasis on a downfield passing game.
“It was definitely an emphasis this spring that coach Whipple brought in,” Pickett said. “I think you saw today, we were stretching the field a little bit more, with some more explosive gains in the passing game. I think overall as an offense we took a step forward this spring not in just that dimension, but in running the football, throwing the football, special teams, defense has been playing good competitive football in practice so as a group we really took a step forward this spring.”
It was not just Pickett who was having success in this downfield passing game during the game. Freshman Davis Beville had a fantastic day for Gold as he went 13 for 17 for 157 yards and one touchdown.
“To have an intermediate passing game, you have to take the top off,” Whipple said. “Our guys are getting better. That’ll be something we’re going to want to do and that I’ve always done. Anyone that knows me, back to New Haven to Miami, wherever, across the way here, those things I learned in the NFL. That helps your intermediate pass game and everything. Now, protection is always going to be an issue.”
PROBLEMS WITH PROTECTION
Going into the 2019 season, Pitt’s offensive line will be replacing four starters. The struggles of the talented but inexperienced group trying to take over were evident in the spring game.
Playing without starting center Jimmy Morrissey, Pitt allowed eight sacks and negative-32 rushing yards combined between the two teams.
“I would say it was a C+, maybe a flat C, but being all split up you don’t get to see Kenny Pickett behind the number one offensive line so that goes with it,” Narduzzi said. “That doesn’t surprise me at all.”
Not only did the line split between two teams but not all the players that will play this fall were on the field on Saturday.
“You need your five guys on the line to communicate,” Whipple said. “We mixed them up. … Plus, Jimmy (Morrissey) didn’t play and we think Nolan Ulizio, the transfer from Michigan, is going to be in the mix.”
After being used primarily for jet seeps during the 2018 season, V’Lique Carter was moved to running back this off-season.
His speed and quickness is a part of his game that make him so special. In the spring game, Whipple was using him in many different formations on the field, as they want to use all of his attributes.
However, Carter was also used on defense during the spring game, showing how much of a versatile player and athlete he is.
“He’s good enough to play on defense,” Narduzzi said. “He was recruited as a defensive back and then he became electrifying on offense. I guess “The Freak” can play both. In the past, whether it’s Jordan Whitehead, we are going to play guys on both sides of the ball. We still want to use him as an offensive weapon, he’s special when the ball is in his hands, so we will continue to evaluate that.”
Rashad Wheeler is also another player who played both sides of the ball in the spring game. He recorded one sack at defensive tackle, and started the game at offensive guard.