Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Five thoughts on Pitt 24, Georgia Tech 19
Pitt made it too close for comfort, but a win is a win.
The Panthers ended a two-year streak of losing the next two games after a game against Penn State, and started ACC play by beating Georgia Tech to claim first place in the Coastal Division.
Pitt did so despite a scare when Kenny Pickett went down late in the second quarter, clutching his left knee. The sophomore quarterback returned for the second half, wearing a knee brace.
Pitt did so despite another second-half letdown, one where they allowed Georgia Tech to score a touchdown in the final minute to make it a one-touchdown difference.
1. First on board: The importance of Qadree Ollison’s 31-yard touchdown run, which saw him break several tackle attempts, shouldn’t be underscored.
It was two-fold, as the Panthers got an early lead against a team that relies heavily upon its rushing attack and they also got a clean hold by Jake Scarton for Alex Kessman’s point-after kick for a 7-0 lead at 8:38 of the first quarter.
That set the tone on offense and special teams, where Pitt had a series of gaffes in its 51-6 loss to Penn State last week. The key was to force the Yellow Jackets to throw the ball, taking them out of their comfort zone and exploiting a weakness.
2. Not falling for the fake: Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi called Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson an “offensive genius” this week, crediting his foresight in play calling in the triple-option offense.
No one said Johnson was a special-teams genius.
Georgia Tech made a questionable call with a fake punt from its own 28 on fourth-and-7 in the first quarter, even more debatable when the Yellow Jackets gave it to up-back Antwan Owens. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end was stopped for a 2-yard loss by Pitt tight end Jimmy Medure at the 26.
Three plays later, Darrin Hall ran 5 yards for a 14-0 lead.
3. Low conversion rate: It was evident that Georgia Tech’s option was missing bruising B back KirVonte Benson, who rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns against Pitt last season but suffered a season-ending knee injury last week against USF.
But Pitt’s defense deserves credit for how it defended the run.
Georgia Tech averaged 4.8 yards per carry in the first half but converted only 1 of 7 third downs.
In the first quarter, Pitt held Jordan Mason to a 3-yard gain on third-and-4 at the 19, got a submarine tackle by safety Damar Hamlin for a 5-yard loss on third-and-2 at the 33 and inside linebacker Quintin Wirginis hurdled a blocker to stop TaQuon Marshall for no gain on a third-and-11 at the 24.
It wasn’t until its fifth offensive series that Georgia Tech finally converted on third down, and that possession ended with Patrick Jones II stopping Marshall for no gain on third-and-5 at the 23.
4. Turning to trickery: Give Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson credit for boosting the passing game with a trick play that worked wonders.
Kenny Pickett handed it to Hall, who turned and flipped it back to the sophomore quarterback for a flea flicker.
Meantime, Taysir Mack was streaking down the right sideline, behind Georgia Tech defenders. Pickett hit him for a 60-yard gain to the 17, just before absorbing a hit by defensive end Anree Saint-Amour.
Three plays later, Ollison scored on an 8-yard run for a 21-0 lead with 2:59 remaining in the first half.
Georgia Tech responded, of course, by coming up empty on third down, as Wirginis sacked Marshall for an 8-yard loss on third-and-9 at the 32.
5. Going the distance: Pitt punter Kirk Christodoulou, one of the goats of the Penn State game, came up big by pinning Georgia Tech at its own 1 with 4:08 remaining and Pitt leading, 24-12.
The Yellow Jackets answered by driving 99 yards on 14 plays, capped by Clinton Lynch’s 3-yard touchdown run to cut it to 24-19 with 37 seconds remaining.
That had the Panthers holding their breath.
Georgia Tech’s onside kick attempt bounced out, drawing a flag and giving Pitt possession, but allowing the Yellow Jackets to rally from a 21-point deficit showed how far the Panthers have to go to prove they can put opponents away.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.