PITTSBURGH – Pitt sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik expected jitters before his first start in three years.
There were none. Maybe it’s because Voytik knew he had running back James Conner behind him and a massive offensive line in front of him. Delaware did not.
“We were all relaxed,” Voytik said. “We trusted in the game plan. Once we got the ball rolling, we were just playing a game.”
More like dominating it.
Conner rushed for 153 yards and four first-half touchdowns as the Panthers methodically crushed the overmatched Blue Hens, 62-0, Saturday. Conner scored on runs of 7, 8, 1 and 19 yards as Pitt posted its largest margin of victory in a season opener in over a century.
“Before the game, Chad kept saying ‘let’s make it easy, let’s make it easy,’” Conner said. “I wanted to make it easy for him.”
Taking full advantage of a line that outweighed the Blue Hens’ front four by 50 pounds a man, the Panthers gashed Delaware for 409 yards rushing and scored touchdowns on each of their six first-half possessions.
The only real scare came midway through the second quarter when sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd dislocated a finger on his left hand during a punt return.
Boyd, who set school freshman records for receptions and receiving yards last fall, spent the second half watching from the sideline with his hand bandaged. Coach Paul Chryst believes Boyd will be available next Friday when the Panthers open ACC play at Boston College.
Pitt will need Boyd if it wants to make noise in the wide-open Coastal Division. He caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Voytik in the first quarter, but his presence was hardly required on a day the Panthers dominated Delaware from the first snap to the last.
Chryst helped turn Wisconsin into a scoring machine while serving as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator from 2006-11 by relying on a massive line. Finally settled at Pitt, Chryst is in the process of trying to make the same transformation with the Panthers.
The early returns were promising. Pitt ran the ball 56 times and threw it just 14. That wasn’t exactly the way Chryst planned it, but after watching Conner run through gaping holes there was no need to get too deep into the playbook.
“We were able to run the football,” Chryst said. “We didn’t really get put in a lot of tough down-and-distance pass game stuff. We didn’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s take this thing the next drive, let’s pound it. But if it’s going, you stay with it.’”
Boyd ripped off a 34-yard punt return to set the Panthers up early, and Pitt’s first touchdown of the season provided a blueprint for what Chryst hopes his team looks like in 2014. The Panthers needed four plays to go 41 yards, all four plays handoffs by Voytik to either Boyd or Conner.
Pitt’s second drive looked much like the first with a couple of short passes from Voytik sprinkled in. Boyd made a diving grab in the left corner of the end zone for Voytik’s first career touchdown pass and Pitt led 14-0 before the game was 13 minutes old.
That was more than enough to end any thoughts of an upset. Chryst’s tenure with the Panthers began with a puzzling 31-17 loss to Youngstown State two years ago. Delaware, like the Penguins, are a respected Football Championship Subdivision program. Unlike Youngstown State, however, the Blue Hens ran into a team ready to play.
Delaware managed just five first downs, turned it over three times and took just two snaps in Pitt territory until the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, we really didn’t have a chance,” Blue Hens coach Dave Brock said. “We struggled to tackle those guys and got covered up by much bigger and stronger people. They were able to run the ball, but Coach Chryst certainly is a class guy. It could have been a lot worse than it was.”
Delaware hoped to could hang around long enough to beat a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for the first time since 2007 when current Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was under center.
It didn’t happen. Not even close. Pitt put together a 99-yard drive early in the second quarter that began with a nine-yard quarterback sneak from backup Trey Anderson, included a career-long 60-yard burst from Conner and ended with Conner bulling in from a yard out for the second of his four scores.
While bigger challenges await, it was certainly a promising start.
“Everybody on our team says we want to win an ACC championship, win 10 games,” Conner said. “There’s no better time than right now.”