On Saturday, the general public got its first look at the newest edition of Pitt Panthers football. I was in attendance for Pitt’s annual spring game on an absolutely gorgeous, sun-drenched Pittsburgh afternoon. While taking in the action, I had a few quick observations:
Stout defense ruled the day
Some of the offensive ineptitude can be chalked up to jitters and it being the first live game-action of the season, but the defense was smothering. For much of the first half, the scoreboard looked more like that of a baseball game than a football one. With just four minutes remaining in the first half, the score was 3-2. There was precious little running room afforded to Pitt’s tailbacks all day. Avonte Maddox and Jordan Whitehead, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, were solid in the back end. Cornerback Dane Jackson snagged an interception in the first half.
Converted wide receiver Elijah Zeise looked pretty good in his debut at the linebacker position. He certainly didn’t shy away from contact, sticking his nose in down near the line of scrimmage on several tackles. Zeise made one particularly impressive stick. On a third-and-two play, he ranged to the flat and wiped out a receiver with a solid hit, holding him to a one-yard gain, short of the first down marker.
New-look offense still getting a feel for things
More on the actual wide receivers, Dontez Ford looked good, making a number of grabs in the game. He showed excellent technique, working back to secure the ball when necessary. Qadree Henderson could be a game breaker for the Panthers this season. He ripped off big chunks on the ground. On only four carries, Henderson topped 100 rushing yards. In the first half, he made a house call, taking a reverse 65 yards along the right side for a touchdown. Henderson’s got blazing speed — dude can flat out fly.
In my defensive notes I mentioned a lack of running lanes. Despite the tough sledding, I thought Pitt’s running backs all ran hard. Qadree Ollison, in particular, looked strong and scored a rushing touchdown in the second half.
New offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme had a familiar look. It featured mainly pro style formations utilizing one or multiple tight ends and occasionally a fullback. In addition to the usual stuff, the offense sprinkled in a handful of designed quarterback rollouts and bootlegs. I think that’s a smart move and a conscious decision to play to the strength of quarterback Nate Peterman’s underrated athleticism.
Wide Receiver Jester Weah and defensive linemen Shakir Soto were named most improved offensive and defensive players, respectively, over spring practice by the Pitt coaching staff.
Final Score: 19-17 Blue Team prevailed over the Gold Team.