The North Carolina State Wolfpack, behind big scoring plays from Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuel, pulled away from the Pitt Panthers for their sixth consecutive victory on Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field by the score of 35-17. Hines scored on an 83 yard touchdown run and a 92 yard punt return. Samuel scored two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter including a back breaking 40 yard run. In the game, the Panthers used both starter Ben DiNucci and true freshman Kenny Pickett in the game as a pre-planned decision. At 2-5 the Panthers must go at least 4-1 to extend their nine year streak of going to bowl games.
Here are sone takeaways and observations from Saturday’s loss on Homecoming at Heinz Field.
The Panthers had a pre-planned strategy to play Pickett in a game where DiNucci was not playing poorly and they were only down 21-14 in the third quarter. I can see why they wanted to give the true freshman a chance but coach Narduzzi’s timing could have been a little better even though the previous two possessions resulted in an interception and a three and out. Pickett went 5 of 13 for 61 yards and he and Jordan Whitehead each had 18 yards rushing to lead the team.
The problem is that one guy plays quarterback and one guy plays safety. The rushing leaders among the true running backs were Darren Hall, who scored a one yard touchdown in the second quarter to tie the game at 14, and Quadree Ellison each had 17 yards apiece for the Panthers. When you are rushing for 3.0 yards a carry with suspect quarterback play that does not seem like a successful recipe for your offense.
The defense gave up the big run by Hines, as well as a big run by Samuel late that sealed the game, but in my opinion the Panthers played their best defensive game in weeks on Saturday against the Wolfpack. They held one of the conference’s leading passers in Ryan Finley to only 198 yards and one touchdown pass. That is a solid feat and you can see that their pass defense is improving.
However, they gave up too many big plays on the ground due to not being disciplined in their assignments. One example is on Hines’ big run, Damar Hamlin took a bad route instead of staying in the middle of the field to be in better position to make a stop on the ball carrier.
At 2-5, Narduzzi should use the opportunity to take a look at both DiNucci and Pickett to see what they have for 2018. Pitt will most likely have a new offensive coordinator. The current OC, Shawn Wilson, has not produced much on offense. Whether it is a lack of talent or questionable play calling, such as the option play that they ran on 4th and 10 at the Wolfpack 42 down 28-17 in the fourth quarter, is up for debate. I understand that if Narduzzi makes a change then he will have had a different offensive coordinator in each of his four seasons, but coach should evaluate his whole offensive philosophy from the players all the way up to the staff.
The Panthers will again try to get their first conference win when they travel to Durham to take on the Duke Blue Devils next Saturday.