PITTSBURGH — No. 24 Pitt took on FCS opponent Rhode Island and came away with a 45-24 win at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday afternoon. While the victory didn’t look super flattering, the offense stuck to the game plan, took what the defense gave them and ran all over URI.
Abanikanda Stars Again
Junior running back Israel Abanikanda continues to show how valuable he is to the Panthers offense. Against the Rams, he ran 19 times for 177 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Those 177 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns are the most in a game in his time at Pitt.
Israel Abanikanda is running ALL OVER Rhode Island 😤
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) September 24, 2022
It also is the most rushing touchdowns by a Panther since Darrin Hall’s four rushing touchdown performance against North Carolina in 2017.
The performance highlights how impressive of a player Abanikanda really is. While sophomore running back Rodney Hammond Jr. starred for Pitt in their win over rival WVU in Week 1, Abanikanda bounced back and is now the main running back after Hammond’s absence in the past three games due to injury.
After rushing eight times for only 15 yards against West Virginia, Abanikanda ran 25 times for 154 yards against Tennessee in Week 2 and then 31 times for 133 yards against Western Michigan in Week 3.
These performances not only see him at the top of Pitt running backs, but the entire ACC as well, as he came into the game tied in first with 302 yards after three games. Now he sits at 479 yards and will likely be at the top following the rest of the games Saturday night.
His three straight games with more than 100 yards of rushing are the most for a Pitt player since Darrin Hall did it in 2017.
He is currently averaging around 120 yards a game and if he keeps this performance up, with the return of Hammond later in the season, Pitt will be an incredibly difficult team to stop on the ground.
Slovis Return is Promising Going into ACC Play
Senior quarterback Kedon Slovis returned to his starting role against the Rams on Saturday. After suffering an injury against Tennessee, he did not play in the second half. He also missed the previous game against Western Michigan, despite doctors clearing him to play, head coach Pat Narduzzi thought it better to rest him.
Narduzzi easily could’ve made the same decision against an FCS school in URI, but he chose to start him.
Slovis didn’t necessarily stun anyone with his performance, but played a clean game, free of any major mistake or injury. He made sure to keep his team focused on the goal and helped his team to the victory.
In his return, he completed 20 of his 27 pass attempts on 179 yards passing. Most of his passes were short, usually on check-downs or curls for decent gains. The longest pass he threw on the day happened late in the fourth quarter when he almost completed a 37-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Konata Mumpfield. He did complete a pass to junior redshirt tight end Karter Johnson for 41 yards, but Johnson did most of the work after a 10-yard pass from Slovis.
While some may say that Slovis didn’t play an impressive game, he stayed consistent throughout and prepared himself for the next eight games of ACC Play.
If Slovis stays healthy for the rest of the season, he can keep improving his and the receivers performances going forward.
Narduzzi’s Plan of Offensive Simplicity Works Again
While some fans would’ve loved to see Pitt defeat an FCS school like they did in their 77-7 dominating victory over New Hampshire last season, Narduzzi chose to not do that this time around against his alma mater.
The Panthers’ offense ran 41 times for 275 yards and five touchdowns. While Abanikanda starred for the Panthers, other players got quality touches with both senior Vincent Davis and redshirt junior Daniel Carter rushing seven times each and redshirt senior C’Bo Flemister rushing four times as well.
This strategy from Narduzzi is not new, as he employed this many times before facing Penn State from 2016-19. The plan is to not show much of your offense and instead just focus on using easy plays that defeat teams less talented.
Although, it is odd to try this in Week 4, he did employ a similar plan last week in the win away at Western Michigan. Both that game and this one are wins for his team and he has the time to prepare the Panthers for ACC play with Georgia Tech at home next Saturday.
We will see going forward how this Pitt team operates offensively, but it shouldn’t be long before Narduzzi plans for this team to be more dynamic on offense.
FCS Opponent Allows Pitt to Rotate Players
After tough matchups to start the season against West Virginia and Tennessee, Pitt needed its best players in for the majority of the game, not allowing for much rotation outside of exhaustion or injury.
These past two games against Western Michigan and Rhode Island gave Pitt some breathing room and allowed more players to see playing time.
On offense, six players made at least one rush and seven players caught a pass as well, while 23 players made some defensive stat of some kind against the Rams.
Narduzzi said after the game that certain players will earn playing time and also lose it depending on their performance today.
The rotation of many players surely helps him, and the coaching staff see who is ready to play as ACC play starts next week.
Bartholomew Injury Hurts Pitt’s Passing Game Dearly
Sophomore tight end Gavin Bartholomew left the game after suffering an injury in the second quarter against URI on Saturday.
Bartholomew only caught one pass for three yards in the game. He spent the second half on the sideline, not in uniform, with his arm in a sling.
If he is out for significant time, Pitt is losing one of their best offensive weapons going forward. Bartholomew currently has eight passes on the season for 133 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown he scored against Tennessee was a 57-yard catch that came after he jumped one of Tennessee’s players. For his efforts, he earned Mackey Award honors for the Tight End of the Week.
Bartholomew provides the Panthers with a varied offensive attack that forces defense to account for him not only as a blocker, but as one of their better receivers as well.
In his place, redshirt juniors in Kyi Wright and Karter Johnson will share time at the tight end position. It is a big task for both of them to make up for Bartholomew’s potential absence, but Pitt fans will hope the injury is not too serious, especially in lieu of Pitt’s injury troubles so far this season.