PITTSBURGH – With talented freshmen such as Tyler Boyd leading the way, the time is now for the Pitt football team.
Boyd led the Panthers with 195 total yards and two touchdowns in a 49-27 victory against New Mexico in a non-conference game Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
“He was good,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said when asked about Boyd. “He was fun to watch. I thought he did some really good things. I’ve learned not to be surprised by Tyler. I think he can still be better. I certainly appreciate the way he approaches the game and competes and plays. He’s fun to be around.”
Pitt (1-1, 0-1 ACC), which returns to ACC play Saturday at Duke, actually got five touchdowns from its talented freshman class and a dominant performance from its defense in the first half. The Panthers held New Mexico (1-2) to just 59 total yards at halftime, including five yards rushing. Senior tailback Kasey Carrier, who entered the game with an NCAA-best 345 yards rushing, had just 22 yards on seven carries against the Panthers.
Fifth-year senior strong safety Jason Hendricks and redshirt junior weak-side linebacker Todd Thomas led Pitt’s defense with 10 tackles and two stops behind the line each, but the back seven keyed off of senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s powerful performance up front. Donald had five solo tackles, two sacks (21.5 in his career) and four total stops behind the line. But it seemed like he was in the backfield a lot more than that.
“Aaron Donald, he’s a horse,” Thomas said. “Ty Ezell, Dave Durham, Ejuan Price, Bryan Murphy, Darryl Render, those guys right there really played well today. If everybody does what they’re supposed to do, the sky’s the limit for this defense.
Pitt ran and threw the ball with equal success against New Mexico. Junior Isaac Bennett had 14 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman James Conner added 119 yards and two scores on 12 carries with a 38-yard burst around right end for the touchdown. Boyd had two carries for 39 yards with a 33-yard touchdown run and also had six catches for 134 yards with a 51-yarder early in the game and a spectacular 34-yard scoring catch as time ran out in the first half.
Boyd also ran a reverse for a 33-yard touchdown run, his first collegiate touchdown.
“Once our offense gets rolling, I can do multiple things ... it opens up way more,” Boyd said.
The other freshman who scored a touchdown for Pitt was tight end Scott Orndoff. He came off the line and was open in the end zone for a four-yard scoring pass from quarterback Tom Savage. Savage was 13 of 17 for 236 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Pitt couldn’t make enough plays to stay with the Seminoles in its 41-13 loss in the ACC opener Sept. 2, but the Panthers punted just twice against New Mexico and had seven plays go for 20 or more yards. Savage overcame an early interception to find Boyd running free in the New Mexico secondary for a 51-yard reception. Three plays later, Savage hit Orndoff in the end zone to give Pitt a lead it never relinquished.
A 28-yard pass to senior Devin Street keyed Pitt’s third scoring drive and Conner capped it with a 20-yard run. Street finished with five catches for 80 yards. On the next drive, an 18-yard pass to Street set up Conner again who finished with a 38-yard touchdown run.
Savage’s two interceptions and two Pitt fumbles kept the Panthers from a premier performance, but it was enough to easily handle New Mexico.