Pitt tight end Scott Orndoff runs into the end zone for a touchdown against New Mexico in the first quarter Saturday at Heinz Field.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Pitt's Isaac Bennett carries as he's defended by New Mexico's Javarie Johnson and Brandon Branch in the second quarter Saturday at Heinz Field.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd dives into the end zone for a touchdown against New Mexico in the first quarter Saturday at Heinz Field.
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Pitt fans cheer for their team against New Mexico in the first quarter Saturday at Heinz Field.
By Sam Werner Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When they signed their letters of intent in February, the recruits of Pitt's 2013 class were hailed as the future of the program.
It looks like the future might have come early.
In Pitt's 49-27 win Saturday against New Mexico at Heinz Field, the freshman class was responsible for the Panthers' first 35 points and showed that Pitt fans won't have to wait for them to make an impact.
"It's hard to say you're surprised when you're around these guys as much as we are," coach Paul Chryst said. "You definitely appreciate it and you're happy for them to have some success."
After showing some flashes in his five offensive touches in the opener against Florida State, freshman receiver Tyler Boyd lit it up against the Lobos.
A Clairton graduate, Boyd caught a team-high six passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, and rushed twice for another 39 yards and a score.
"It's real fun because once our offense is rolling, I can do a bunch of multiple things," Boyd said. "I can get jet [sweeps], deep passes, bubble screens. It just opens up way more."
Boyd scored the first of what should be many touchdowns in a Pitt uniform with 5:00 left in the first quarter when he took an end-around sweep 33 yards and dived into the end zone for a touchdown.
He got his second at the end of the first half. Quarterback Tom Savage got flushed out of the pocket and, as time expired in the half, tossed a pass toward Boyd in the back of the end zone. Jumping over a defender in front of him, Boyd came down with it with one foot inbounds for the catch that put Pitt ahead, 35-6, at the break.
"He's a freak, as you guys saw," Savage said. "It's fun to play with him."
Savage, meanwhile, bounced back from an interception on his first pass attempt to finish 13 of 17 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. He threw another interception on a tipped ball later in the half, but generally looked sharp finding open receivers.
After the first interception, he responded by capping a 71-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Scott Orndoff.
"I'm going to take shots downfield and I'm going to try and put balls in there," Savage said. "Obviously, I've got to learn from that mistake and never do it again."
Savage was buoyed offensively by a dominant running game that did not exist against Florida State. Junior Isaac Bennett and freshman James Conner each rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns, and Pitt totaled 244 yards on the ground.
Conner scored his first touchdown on a 1-yard run late in the first quarter and added another on a 38-yard run that put Pitt ahead, 28-6, in the second.
"It was so fun," Conner said. "When we're down, some people have long faces. But when you're winning, it's awesome."
Pitt's defense, meanwhile, shut down New Mexico's option offense, especially throughout the first half. The Lobos finished with 213 yards rushing but had just 5 in the first half as the Panthers built their lead.
New Mexico running back Kasey Carrier, who entered the game as the leading rusher in Division I-A, finished with 22 yards on seven carries.
"When you're defending an offense like that, everyone's got to do their assignments," Chryst said. "The way it turned out, guys were right a lot early. That's team defense."
Linebacker Todd Thomas, who started for the first time Saturday after quitting the team for a week early in training camp, tied for the team lead with 10 tackles. He also had a stop on a fake punt early in the fourth quarter that effectively ended any hope of a miracle comeback for the Lobos.
Senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald was crucial in the first half disrupting the Lobos' rhythm. He finished with four tackles for losses, including two sacks, and penetrated into New Mexico's backfield regularly.
"When we did a good job stopping the run, we were getting a lot of disruption from the tackles," Chryst said. "Like I've said a number of times, if we're going to be good on defense, we need [Donald] to be good. I like putting that on him."
The defense also forced a fumble that led to Bennett's first touchdown early in the third quarter. New Mexico quarterback Cole Gautsche mishandled a pitch and the ball was recovered by a freshman -- safety Terrish Webb, another Clairton graduate.
"It's awesome, those [freshmen] are guys I'm going to be with for the rest of my time here," Conner said. "We're starting to form into a whole over the next couple of years. The future's bright."