Pitt bounced back nicely from its season-opening loss Saturday with a 49-27 victory over New Mexico. Here's a link to my quick game story from Heinz Field, and here are a few quick thoughts to take away from the game...
- Pitt, quite simply, did what it was supposed to do. No, they won't build any statues of Paul Chryst for beating New Mexico, but the Panthers, especially on offense, completely dominated an inferior opponent, as they should. I think this was a picture of what Chryst would ideally like the Pitt offense to look like, with both Isaac Bennett and James Conner going over 100 yards, and mixing in Tom Savage with a lot of playaction. The offensive line got push up front on the run, and kept Savage clean.
The defense, on the other side, did a good job (especially early) of sticking with their assignments and not letting New Mexico's offense get rolling. Things looked kind of hairy for Pitt after that first interception by Savage, but the defense did a good job holding New Mexico to a field goal. They did it again on the next drive after a long return by the Lobos.
- But there are still some concerns. Namely, special teams, turnovers, defensive depth. The Panthers had problems with their kickoff coverage and it led to one big return that could've given the Lobos a spark.
Pitt also lost the turnover battle 4-1, with two picks from Savage, a fumble by Conner and a botched punt return off of Lafayette Pitts. The Panthers got away with it because they were so much more talented than the Lobos, but they can't make those kind of mistakes against good teams. Savage said after the game that he's going to keep taking risks and throwing the ball downfield because that's the kind of quarterback he is, but he needs to be smarter about it than he was today. Even on the throw at the end of the half, he got sort of bailed out by Tyler Boyd making a crazy catch. He took too much time and cost the Panthers a field goal attempt if that pass was incomplete.
Finally, the Lobos got rolling in the second half against mostly Pitt's backup defense. This isn't a huge concern, because Aaron Donald and company were dominating, but you'd probably like to see a slightly better performance from your second string.
- Hello, freshmen. Boyd takes center stage, but Conner, Scott Orndoff and Terrish Webb also made plays (not to mention Chris Blewitt making all seven extra points). This recruiting class showed that it's not only the future of the program, but ready to make an impact right now.
The most interesting development, to me, was the staff's decision to use Dorian Johnson today. Johnson came on for a couple of plays as a tight end in Pitt's jumbo set, and then saw some garbage time at the end. It'll be interesting to see how he's used the rest of the way. I can't imagine the staff burned his redshirt just for a few package plays, but, barring injury, I don't see them shuffling up the offensive line.