Two hours before kickoff, the Pitt athletic department announced that 16 members of the football team would not be suiting up for the team’s Senior Day against Virginia Tech on Saturday because of COVID-19 protocols.
That news was magnified when it was learned that eight of the 16 players were starters including three starting offensive lineman, the Panthers top playmaker in freshman wide receiver Jordan Addison, their top-tackling linebacker SirVocea Dennis and Paris Ford’s replacement at safety, Brandon Hill.
With the struggles the starting offensive line has endured this season, Pitt’s inability to generate a running attack all season and taking the teams top offensive player out of the lineup, even the most hardcore Pitt fan would have a hard time coming up with a scenario in which Pitt would put up enough points on the scoreboard to win this game.
As the saying goes, that’s why they play the games, and better yet, welcome to the life of a Pitt football fan.
Just when you think you have this team figured out and are putting you last shovel of dirt on their grave, they come up with an effort like Saturday where they outplayed Virginia Tech from the opening kickoff until the clock hit 0:00.
Shocking is the best way to describe some of the things that took place on Heinz Field, such as:
*Addison and Jared Wayne were sidelined so DJ Turner came up with one of the best performances in Pitt history with 15 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown.
*Starting offensive lineman Jake Kradel, Carter Warren and Gabe Houy were inactive and were replaced by Matt Goncalves, Blake Zubovic and Carson Van Lynn, all making their first starts on the line and two of which have barley taken a snap in college. Of course, that unit provided Pickett with the best pass protection he’s had all season and the Pitt running game accounted for more than 150 yards for just the second time all season. With the big lead, Pitt finally finished off the game by grinding it out on the ground. On their last two drives which resulted in touchdowns, Pitt ran the ball 18 times for nearly 100 yards (98 yards) with Vincent and A.J. Davis.
*Pitt’s passing game had quite possibly their best performance under Mark Whipple as Kenny Pickett threw for over 400 yards and completed the ball to seven different receivers. If this was Pickett’s last game as a Panther at Heinz Field, he left it the same way he made his starting debut against Miami: in a stunning and memorable fashion.
What took place this afternoon speaks to two important things:
Despite missing so many players, the Pitt coaches have stockpiled this roster with plenty of young talent, which is a good sign for the future. To have those young offensive lineman step up like that, for freshman Jaylon Barden to play like he did and to have young players on defense step into bigger roles and the defense not miss a beat is very encouraging.
Following their four-game losing streak, these players had every opportunity to quit on this season and more importantly on this coaching staff but they didn’t. Not only have they won back-back games but they’ve dominated both Florida State and Virginia Tech to the tune of 88-31.
This in no way excuses what took place during that four-game losing streak which killed their season, but it does provide evidence that this group of players is willing to fight and still wants to play for Pat Narduzzi.
With two games remaining, Pitt sits with a record of 5-4 and odds are that they’ll finish the season 6-5, which is still going to be disappointing. However, days like Saturday are the reason why Pitt fans continue to have faith and believe that next year is going to be that great year everyone is waiting for.
I can hear the off-season talk already with excitement due to the return of young talent like Addison, Barden, Aydin Henningham, Israel Abanikanda, Dayon Hayes, Calijah Kancey, Dennis, Wendell Davis, Jahvante Royal, Rashad Battle and a talented 2021 recruiting class. “Next year is going to be the year.”
Hey, after performances like today, why not? Oh, the life of a Pitt football fan!