Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pitt 28 - Villanova 7 and What Comes Next

(Photo from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

So, Year Two of the Pat Narduzzi Era at Pitt opened yesterday with a 28-7 win over Villanova.  The highlight of the day was the return to action of 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner, after a year rehabbing a serious knee injury and, even more important, overcoming a bout of Hodgkin's Lymphoma and the chemotherapy treatments that put him into remission and made him cancer free.  Conner's story is one of the of the more remarkable and inspirational ones in recent Pittsburgh sports history.

So, how did Conner and the Panthers do?

Well, a win is a win, and Pitt will take it, but, in all honesty, both Conner's performance (17 carries for 57 yards, albeit with two touchdowns) and Pitt's performance can best be called pedestrian efforts, at least on the offensive side of the ball, and both Narduzzi and Conner said as much in their post game comments.

Defensively, Pitt was outstanding in shutting out the Wildcats (their lone TD coming on a return of a recovered fumble), and the special teams play was highlighted by a 96 yard kickoff return for a TD by Quadree Henderson to open the second half.

(Photo from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Still, it was the first game, not everyone was totally in sync, and things will get better.  Right?

As for what lies ahead on Saturday, the return of the long departed - since 2000 - rivalry with Penn State.  This game has been greatly anticipated ever since the scheduling for the four year home-and-home series was announced back in the early years of this decade.  We all knew that the lead up to this game would be "heated" but wasn't it great that these two Pennsylvania schools would be playing each other again?

Well, we all know what transpired in the years since, and they are events that I am not going to get into here on this forum.  Some of the exchanges that can be seen on various message boards and fan sites for BOTH schools have been ugly beyond belief.  I can only hope that while the atmosphere may well be heated at Heinz Field next week, I also hope that the ugliness will not be present, but I have my doubts.  I am looking forward to seeing a packed Heinz Field, and I hope to see a terrific football game, but there is a part of me that also dreads being there and seeing the sideshow that might develop.

As for the game, I feel that Pitt's offense needs to improve and play a lot better to be able to defeat even a mid-level Big Ten team, which is what PSU is at this point.  I didn't see Penn State's win over Kent State yesterday, but my friend, and PSU supporter, Dave Glass was there and he was not impressed.  He is calling for a Pitt win in large part because he feels Narduzzi is a better coach than James Franklin.

I like Dave's logic.  He is looking at the players and the coaches who are at Pitt and Penn State now, in 2016.  Let's hope that everyone does that next week and not dwell on those who are no longer involved.

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