The Pittsburgh Panthers held off a comeback charge from the Youngstown State Penguins to win 28-21 in overtime in their season opener on Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field. The Panthers blew a 21-0 halftime lead before Jester Weah hauled in an amazing grab for an 11 yard touchdown in overtime and Bricen Garner picked off Hunter Wells in the end zone to seal the win for Pitt.
Takeaways and observations from Saturday:
USC transfer Max Browne went 17 for 24 for 140 yards and the winning touchdown to Weah, but he also lost a fumble on a sack by Justis Reed that led to the tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. I believe that Browne played a decent game, but given the level of competition he should have better stats. It may be on offensive coordinator Shawn Watson for the vanilla game plan not giving away too much for their game at Penn State next weekend, or the team got too conservative and comfortable with the play calling with a three score lead on a FCS school. The offensive line must improve their play no matter what the game plan is or this offense will struggle moving forward against FBS competition.
Offensive Player of the game: Qadree Ollison
Ollison had 22 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns and also led the Pittsburgh Panthers with five receptions and matched Matt Flannigan with 35 receiving yards on the afternoon and was the biggest reason for Pitt’s big early lead.
The Penguins outgained Pitt by over 200 yards in the second half and racked up 418 yards of total offense including 311 yards by Wells. The defense struggled to cover tight end Kevin Radar (6 catches for 100 yards) and running back Christian Turner out of the backfield (5 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns). The defense suffered amid the suspensions of safety Jordan Whitehead, linebacker Quintin Wirginis and Rori Blair being dismissed from the team. The Panthers will need to find a way to play like they did in the first thirty minutes on Saturday or they will struggle next week in Happy Valley.
Defensive Player of the game: Garner
Garner had the game wining interception as well as four solo tackles and a pass breakup.
Biggest cause for concern: Alex Kessman
Kessman missed a pair of 28 yard field goals in the fourth quarter. The first would have given Pitt a three score lead early in the fourth quarter and the second would have won the game in regulation. Coaches and players are sticking by Kessman, but they have to be concerned on how they will trust him moving forward.
Pittsburgh Panthers will travel to State College to take on their in state rivals, the Penn State Nittany Lions, next Saturday in their rematch of the 42-39 thrilling victory last season.