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Know Your Foe, Week 2: Pitt Panthers

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Penn State takes on the unranked Pitt Panthers for the 98th time in the Keystone Classic!

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

University of Pittsburgh

Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Enrollment: 28,664 students
Home Stadium: Heinz Field (Capacity 68,400)
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (3rd year, 17-10 overall; . 630 overall)
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Coastal Division

Series History

First Game: November 6, 1893 (Penn State won 32-0)
Last Game: September 10, 2016 (Pitt won 42-39)
Overall: In 97 total meetings, Penn State leads 50-43-4
Current Streak: Pittsburgh, 2 (2000-2016)

Last Season (8-5 overall, 5-3 conference)

In 2016, Pitt opened with two wins against No. 23 Villanova and … well, you know… against Penn State. Pitt lost their next two matchups, away games, against unranked Oklahoma State and North Carolina, rallied to win the next three games against unranked Marshall, Georgia and Virginia, then lost against No. 25 Virginia Tech and Miami. By mid-November, Pitt rallied again, defeating No. 3 Clemson in a close matchup 43-42, in an attempt to spoil Clemson’s conference championship title and national title hopes.

Pitt went on to defeat Duke and Syracuse in the regular season, ending the year with a rank of #22 and earning a spot at the Pinstripe Bowl against unranked Northwestern. Pitt lost their bowl game 31-24.

Offseason and Recruiting

Pitt lost stand-out running back James Conner and quarterback Nathan Peterman to the NFL, along with several other key players, and returns just 10 starters this year. The Panthers also lost offensive coordinator Matt Canada to LSU, and are now on their third offensive coordinator in the past three years with the addition of Shawn Watson.

Over the summer, Pitt was plagued with suspensions, including a three game suspension of standout safety Jordan Whitehead, one of Pitt’s best overall players, for a violation of team policy. Pat Narduzzi also dismissed defensive end Rori Blair, and suspended two potential starters: senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis for the first three games, and redshirt junior offensive lineman Alex Bookser (DUI arrest and reckless driving) for the season opener.

How’s Pitt’s recruiting been? Pretty solid, with a Pitt 2017 class ranked as the nation’s 37th recruiting class (7th in the ACC) as compared to PSU’s 2017 class ranked at 15th in the nation and 3rd in the Big10.

Last Week

Pitt took on Youngstown State in a very close matchup, just edging out a win over the Youngstown State Penguins 28-21 in overtime. Jester Weah landed an 11 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Max Browne in overtime, and Bricen Garner nailed the win with an interception.

Offense

Pitt ranked 10th in the nation in offense with 40.9 points per game in 2016, with the duo of quarterback Nathan Peterman and running back James Conner, who have since departed to the NFL. Filling those big shoes are quarterback graduate transfer Max Browne and a some talented backs and receivers.

Browne, who joined the Panthers in December 2016, is a former five-star prospect and was Rivals.com’s No. 1 quarterback recruit in the class of 2013. He transferred after not seeing much playing time behind USC’s Sam Darnold. In his last season with the Trojans, Browne had 58 completions of 93 attempts for 507 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Last week against Youngstown State, Browne was 17 of 24 for 140 yards with one touchdown at just 8.2 yards per completion and 5.8 per attempt, and getting sacked three times.

It’s a rebuilding year for Pitt’s offensive line but with some transfers and some strong returners, they should improve their quarterback protection over the next year.

Pitt may have some of the best-sounding football names in the country right now with a Quadree, a Jester and a Qadree – names you need to know this week.

Wide receiver and Walter Camp nominee Quadree Henderson is a threat at wide receiver and kick returns. Last year, Henderson led the country in kickoff return touchdowns (3) and combined kick return yards (1,166) and led Pitt in all purpose yards with 160.2 per game. In 2016, Henderson was Pitt’s second leading rusher, netting 631 yards on 60 carries for an average of 10.5 yards per attempt, and also had 26 catches for 286 yards. Last week against Youngstown State, Henderson ran for 77 yards against Youngstown State and had 71 yards as a kick returner.

Leading wide receiver Jester Weah returns this year after a strong 2016 where he caught 36 passes for 870 yards, 10 touchdowns and an average of 24.2 yards per catch. Last week was a slow one for Weah, only catching one pass for 11 yards, but keep an eye on him this week.

Pitt’s running back unit was ranked no. 28 in the nation last year, rushing for 225.1 yards per game. Qadree Ollison returns this year, after rushing for 1,121 yards and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015, but losing play time behind James Conner in 2016. After last week’s performance, running for 91 yarsd and two touchdowns, and finishing with 5 receptions (a team high) for 35 yards, look for more from Ollison this weekend.

Defense

Pitt has struggled on defense, and returning just four starters won’t help them enough. Last year Pitt gave up 35.2 points per game, ranking 106th in the nation on defense, with a pass defense that was one of the worst in football at 127th overall, giving up 333.2 yards per game in the air.

Pitt also lost linebacker Ejuan Price, the team’s sack leader, to the NFL. Filling his shoes are three starters at linebacker, Seun Idowu, Saleem Brightwell and Elijah Zeise, who last week combined had 18 tackles, with Zeise leading the group with 6 of the 18 tackles.

With the suspension of safety Jordan Whitehead, who has 174 tackles in his career, Pitt last week looked to Dane Jackson who had two pass break ups, Bricen Garner who nailed an interception, and strong safety Dennis Briggs who led the team with seven tackles against Youngtown State.

Blog

If you really want to, you can read more about the Pitt Panthers at Cardiac Hill, the Pitt SB Nation blog.