Pitt football: The good, the bad through 3 games |

Pitt football: The good, the bad through 3 games

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt’s Shane Roy takes down Georgia Tech’s Jordan Mason in the third quarter Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt’s Taysir Mack grabs a pass over Georgia Tech’s Tre Swilling in the third quarter Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett looks to throw against Georgia Tech in the fourth quarter Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018 at Heinz Field.

Football season goes by fast.

Or so it seems now that Pitt has played half of its six-game home schedule and a quarter of its schedule.

Yet, there is much more to learn about the Panthers. Is Pitt as bad as a 51-6 loss to Penn State, or as good as running back Qadree Ollison producing at an 1,132-yard pace?

Pitt (2-1, 1-0 ACC) has won at least two of its first three games 14 times this century. The good news: Pitt finished with a winning record in 10 of those years. The bad news: The Panthers ended up with at least nine victories in only three of those years. (Nine should be the low bar because Pat Narduzzi has won eight twice.)

But — as Narduzzi pointed out Saturday during his postgame news conference — the past is not necessarily an indicator of the future. Until beating Georgia Tech, Pitt was 0-2 in games immediately following Penn State since 2016.

“We just did that for your stats,” Narduzzi said, referencing the reporter who brought up the question two days earlier.

Speaking of stats, here are three that might lead to more victories and three that need to be addressed.

The good

Other than a late 99-yard drive, Pitt controlled Georgia Tech’s offense, giving Narduzzi a 3-1 record against the Ramblin’ Wreck.

Forcing negative plays by the opposition has been Pitt’s hallmark under coordinator Randy Bates.

Pitt has 20 tackles for loss , compared to only 15 at this time last year . The Panthers are on pace for 80 after getting 56 last season. The return of Quintin Wirginis at middle linebacker has made a difference. He has 4½ TFLs and two sacks (both team highs). The development of sophomore defensive end Rashad Weaver (3½ TFLs, three fumble recoveries) also has been important.

More important than numbers , though, is how the team followed coaches’ directives and adhered to their fundamentals in defending the option.

“There was some great discipline going on,” Narduzzi said.

Quarterack Kenny Pickett has found go-to pass catchers in Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Taysir Mack.

Araujo-Lopes leads the team with nine receptions, and Mack has 148 receiving yards (18.5 per catch).

Pitt might lean on its running game, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

There is inexperience on both ends of the passing game. The seniors are in the backfield and on the offensive line.

Ollison is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and Darrin Hall has yet to find a rhythm, but he’s still getting 4.4.

The bad

Pitt is last in the ACC in penalty yardage (209), with Louisville (208) and Florida State (195) not far behind.

Pitt only had four penalties for 38 yards Saturday — after committing 14 and losing 116 yards against Penn State — but three were especially ill-timed. A face mask by defensive end Patrick Jones wiped out Weaver’s fumble recovery and led to a Georgia Tech touchdown. Holding against offensive tackle Alex Bookser took away Ollison’s run for a first down and led to a punt. Safety Paris Ford was caught holding on a third-down incompletion, and Georgia Tech scored two plays later.

“Little things like that we can’t continue to do,” Narduzzi said.

Pickett’s on-the-job training has not gone well, other than a nice completion percentage (41 of 63, 65 percent).

After a largely clean training camp, Pickett has thrown an interception in every game, with only two touchdown passes (against Albany).

Perhaps the preseason praise heaped upon Pickett went over the top, but he has plenty of talent and a wealth of confidence. His future is bright, but Pitt needs the future to arrive.

Pickett is a sophomore, so those with expectations should take that into account. Tyler Palko set a career high in yardage (3,067) and career low in interceptions (seven) while throwing 24 touchdown passes as a redshirt sophomore in 2004. But that was Palko’s third year in the program.

Six of Pitt’s final nine games are on the road and include four against No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 10 Virginia Tech (at Heinz Field), No. 18 Central Florida and No. 20 Miami.

Narduzzi will play them one at a time , thank you, starting with North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Don’t sleep on the Tar Heels (0-2). They were off Saturday because of hurricane-related concerns, but gave California (3-0) all it could handle in a 24-17 loss in Berkeley. Cal went on to win at Brigham Young, which beat Wisconsin.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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