Pat Narduzzi and Pitt will be looking to rebound this Saturday but it won’t be easy as they host Ohio U, the preseason favorite in the MAC Conference.
The Bobcats opened the 2019 season with a 41-20 win over Rhode Island. Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke led the way with 3 TD’s (2 passing and 1 running) while De’Montre Tuggle rushed for 2 TD’s.
— Ohio Football 🏈 (@OhioFootball) September 1, 2019
Ohio, which is coming off a 9 win season in 2018, has established themselves as one of the most consistent programs in the MAC Conference.
The odds makers believe this will be a close game as Pitt is only a 5.5 point favorite.
To get some more insight into this crucial game for the Panthers, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Russ Eisenstein, the Voice of the Bobcats for the last 12 years.
Pittsburgh Sports Now: Pitt is coming off of a disappointing opening game performance and are still trying to adapt to Mark Whipple’s offense. Is Ohio Getting Pitt at a perfect time?
Russ Eisenstein: “I don’t believe Ohio is looking at it in those terms. I think Ohio sees it as an ACC opportunity and a team that Ohio believes they can come in and play very well against and they feel they can win the game. If Pitt had won over Virginia or if they’d gotten blown out against Virginia, I don’t think Ohio’s viewpoint on Pitt or where the game sits on the schedule really impacts anything on how they feel about the game. The team knows the high expectations inside the program for the Bobcats. Ohio has high respect for Pitt and clearly Ohio remembers playing Virginia last year. This is a team that’s focused on this game, no matter where it sits on either of the two teams schedules.”
PSN: Frank Solich has gotten the Ohio program on very solid ground. How has he been able to do it?
RE: “Consistency. Coach Solich is a winner. Obviously, Coach Narduzzi pointed out what some people in the coaching profession, folks in broadcasting and people that follow college football think about the parting of ways between Coach Solich and Nebraska. But really, none of that has impacted the way Frank has gone about his way at Ohio. Frank is a football guy and a legendary head coach. He’s had a great deal of influence on Ohio’s program but most certainly college football as a whole. What’s he’s done at Ohio is he’ll elevate expectations. It’s interesting that Pitt is in Ohio’s schedule now based on where Ohio is now because Pitt was his first win as Ohio’s head coach back in 2005. From where the program was back then to where it is now it’s largely in part because of what Frank Solich has done and his staff and the players of past and present. What he’s done is take Ohio from a recognized program in a good league, the only thing that hasn’t happened yet is a conference championship.”
PSN: What are the biggest strengths on Ohio’s 2019 team?
RE: “Quarterback Nathan Rourke is the type of leader and performer that you want on your program. He’s close to establishing the school record for touchdowns in a career. He’s a guy that really steady, he’s incredibly mature, he’s very intelligent, he’s one of the most unassuming star players that you’d ever find and particularly at a profile position like quarterback. So, Nathan Rourke is certainly the steady hand at the wheel but he’s a heck of an athlete and a great performer. His work ethic is tremendous and he sets the standard for what his fellow teammates should live by both on and off the field.
— Ohio Football 🏈 (@OhioFootball) August 31, 2019
”On the other side of the ball, Javon Hagan is a star from the safety position. He can make plays. He is a student of the game and he wants to get better. You hear all these cliche phrases in college football but Javon is certainly someone that lives up to those.
”This is also a team that has a really good supporting cast too. One thing that Ohio has been able to do is recruit. 41 wins over the last five years and when you look at that and consistency, you look at teaching and you look at performance and you look at depth, that’s where Ohio’s program is right now and those two guys, Rourke and Hagan are a testament to that.”
PSN: Where can Pitt give Ohio problems?
RE: “I think the general thought of a Pitt program is toughness. You’ve got to meet that level and you’ve got to beat that level. I think that’s a good stereotype of Pitt’s program. It’s a general phrase, ‘they’re a tough team’ but they are. You take a look at games that were even losses, that Sun Bowl last year a 14-13 slugfest. It was strength on strength and Stanford is traditionally a very strong team too. The stronger team, the tougher team on Saturday is going to win and it might not be an offensive fireworks show. If it is, I think Ohio has a pretty good shot of winning that type of game too. If Ohio can establish an offensive pace, I think they’re a more consistent offensive right now.”
PSN: Aside from QB play, what’s an area that Ohio can give Pitt problems?
RE: “Unfortunately, Pitt is going through some injuries on the defensive side. I think Pitt’s depth is going to be challenged. Obviously, the depth is challenged based on graduation of some really good linebackers and now you add on some unfortunate injuries, you just hate to see that for anybody.
If you look at what Ohio’s ground game is capable of doing, with a variety of backs, I think it’ll be very interesting to see what kind of push Ohio’s offense line can have. They have three 5th year seniors up there and you have a variety of running backs. Ohio almost certainly will try and test the edges and will try and go deep and will run with the quarterback but still, one thing that Frank Solich will want to establish is that sturdy run game. Can Ohio get that push against a unit that’s still trying to find its footing through graduation and injuries.”
We'll meet the Pitt Panthers on Saturday at Heinz Field in our first road game of 2019!
— Ohio Football 🏈 (@OhioFootball) September 4, 2019