PITTSBURGH – Yes, it was just four quarters. And yes, it was against a team that has struggled against Power Five conference teams this season.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi doesn’t care. Neither does his team. Considering how bumpy things looked during a three-game losing streak, Narduzzi is confident Pitt’s 42-10 victory over Rice Saturday is a step in the right direction and not just a case of talent winning out over execution.
“It was a convincing win,” Narduzzi said Monday. “It wasn’t a 28-0 halftime and then we stopped playing in the second half.”
Not this time. The Panthers (2-3, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) posted season highs in points, yards (479) and passing yards (410) behind four touchdown passes from senior quarterback Max Browne. For now, the seesaw at quarterback between Browne and sophomore Ben DiNucci appears to have stopped heading into next weekend’s game at Syracuse (2-3, 0-1 ACC), though Narduzzi isn’t suggesting Browne can get comfortable.
“(Someone) asked the crazy question: ‘You think you found your quarterback?”’ Narduzzi said. “For a week we did. And Max has got to continue to play well or Ben will jump back in there, and I trust Max will do that. I love what I saw.”
For the first time all year, there was plenty to like. Pitt entered the game ranking in the bottom third of the country in every major statistical category and hadn’t put together a pass play to a wide receiver over 23 yards. That changed in the first quarter when Browne hit Jester Weah down the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown.
In nearly the same breath Narduzzi called it unwise to count out DiNucci, he downplayed the idea Browne will get a quick hook if the struggles that surfaced during losses to Penn State, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech return.
“I mean, we don’t put leashes on any of our guys,” Narduzzi said. “We want him to go out and play, play football the way it’s supposed to be played, and we’ve got a faith and trust in him that he can go out and do that.”
The Panthers will likely need Browne to keep it going if they want to keep pace with Syracuse. Pitt held on for a scoreboard-melting 76-61 win over the Orange last fall, the highest-scoring regulation game in Football Bowl Subdivision history. Narduzzi thinks he’s revisited that tape at least 15 times over the last nine months, the former defensive coordinator doing his best not to break out in hives. Narduzzi expects more of the same up-tempo stuff from the Orange on Saturday.
“They are going to line up on empty and ding, ding, ding and just throw it around,” Narduzzi said. “And just remember, they did that all last year with their backup quarterback.”
Not this time. Eric Dungey is back under center for Syracuse, though Narduzzi believes the defense he will take with him to the Carrier Dome is better than the one that got torched a year ago. The Panthers have forced 11 turnovers through five games, including three interceptions against the Owls.
“They want to take shots – our guys are making plays on the ball,” Narduzzi said. “You look at Dane Jackson … do they have confidence to throw it at number 11? Because they keep throwing at number 11 the last couple weeks and he’s made plays out there.”