Pitt notebook: Maurice Ffrench’s prediction comes true on kickoff return
Maurice Ffrench said he saw the wall of blockers set up in front of him on the game’s opening kickoff, and he couldn’t help but get excited.
“I saw my blockers, Ra-ra (Araujo-Lopes) and Chase (Pine) and George (Aston), they opened a huge hole for me,” he said.
“I just ran full speed. Yep, just how we practiced it. It felt like I was in track, the 100-meter dash.”
The result was a 91-yard kickoff return — the first for Pitt on the game’s opening kickoff since Quadree Henderson did it in the Military Bowl in 2015 — and a 7-0 Pitt lead 12 seconds into the game.
“I’ve been saying I’m going to take that first kick return back for a week,” he said.
For the record, Ffrench was a New Jersey state champion in the 100- and 200-meter at New Brunswick High School, tying a school record (10.77 seconds) held by former New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas.
Pitt has returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in Narduzzi’s four seasons.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi wasn’t talking about injuries after the game, so he didn’t mention the absences of right offensive tackle Alex Bookser and cornerback Dane Jackson, both of whom were in uniform but did not play.
Redshirt freshman Gabe Houy started in Bookser’s place.
“I’m not going to get into details,” Narduzzi said, “but I feel pretty good for next week as far as personnel goes. Hopefully, we’ll be near 95 percent.”
Quarterback Kenny Pickett and offensive left tackle Stefano Millin suffered what looked to be minor leg injuries. Pickett returned to the game.
“Yeah, I know exactly what it was,” Pickett said. “It was a cramp. I know that feeling and every athlete knows that feeling.”
Pitt is 4-0 in openers under Narduzzi. … Damar Hamlin’s 79-yard interception return was the longest since Oct. 16, 2010, when Ricky Gary brought back recorded an 80-yarder against Syracuse. … Pitt’s five sacks represented the team’s best total since getting five against Duke in 2016.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.