While it’s uncertain how vital Pittsburgh’s celebrated depth will prove to be, it should be showcased against a Massachusetts program that hasn’t won a game in nearly two years.
The Panthers open the season looking to hand the visiting Minutemen a 12th straight defeat on Saturday.
After going 6-5 last season, Pitt boasts 21 seniors, including 13 “super seniors,” those whose eligibility did not run out in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Panthers return roughly 11 starters from 2020.
“The culture here, I think, is great, and that’s why we’ve got guys that stick it out and play, and guys that come back and play a fifth year or sixth year or seventh year,” said coach Pat Narduzzi, who is 42-34 entering his seventh season at Pittsburgh.
Pitt averaged 29.0 points last season under quarterback Kenny Pickett, who enters his fourth year as a starter. He has completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 7,984 yards during his four seasons at Pitt, and matched a personal high with 13 touchdowns in 2020.
He threw eight of those touchdowns over five home games.
Defensively, the Panthers hope to show some improvement from a unit that allowed 30 or more points five times last season. Linebacker SirVocea Dennis was second on the team with 57 tackles last season, including 14 tackles for loss and four sacks.
According to the school, Pitt’s 97 recorded sacks during the 2019-20 seasons were the most in the nation over that span.
None of that likely bodes well for UMass, which posted one touchdown while being outscored 161-12 in the four games it played — against Georgia Southern, Marshall, Florida Atlantic and Liberty — last fall. The Minutemen return more than 10 starters from that group, but face a daunting task as an independent program with the likes of Boston College, Coastal Carolina, Florida State and Army also on the schedule.
UMass is 1-17 since Nov. 10, 2018, and has dropped 11 in a row since a 37-29 home win over Akron on Sept. 28, 2019.
“We’ve got to do a nice job putting our players in position to make plays,” head coach Walt Bell said. “Utilize our personnel groups where we have strength.”
Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle is slated to start at quarterback for the Minuteman. The senior attempted just 13 passes in six games during his three seasons with the Buffaloes.
This will be the first meeting between the schools.
–Field Level Media