On Pitt’s first drive of its season opener against Delaware Saturday, the Panthers didn’t make any secrets about their intentions.
They were going to run the ball. Then run it again. Then run it again.
By the time the game ended, Pitt had pounded it on the ground 56 times for 409 yards in a 62-0 pasting of the Blue Hens.
“There’s really no better feeling than being able to run the football,” center Artie Rowell said.
Even though it came against a Division I-AA opponent, the victory Saturday was one of Pitt’s most dominant performances in the Paul Chryst era. The Panthers physically dominated from start to finish and, if possible, the final score didn’t represent the disparity between the teams.
It was Pitt’s biggest winning margin since a 76-0 victory against Temple in 1977 and the Panthers’ highest point total since dropping 66 on Eastern Michigan in 1995.
Running back James Conner was the catalyst early, carrying the ball 14 times for 153 yards and four touchdowns — all in the first half.
On the Panthers’ first drive, he took three consecutive carries for 10, 12 and finally 7 yards into the end zone. He did the same two drives later when he took three of four running plays from the 26-yard line.
“I love it when I keep getting runs because, to me, that’s like coach Chryst saying, ‘Let’s give James the ball,’ ” Conner said. “So I feel like every time he does that, I’ve got to do something with it. I love when my name is called in that huddle.”
Conner’s highlight came early in the second quarter on a drive that started at Pitt’s 1. On second-and-5, he took a handoff to the right and sprinted 60 yards before he was brought down on a horse-collar penalty by Delaware cornerback Roman Tatum.
“I was hoping to break a long one this year,” Conner said. “I shouldn’t have kept looking back.”
Conner’s strong running made things easy for redshirt sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik, who made his first collegiate start Saturday.
Voytik completed 10 of 13 passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
“Don’t change what’s not broken,” Voytik said of the run-heavy gameplan. “We were running the ball well, so why pass? We were moving the chains and passed when we needed to.”
The only negative for Pitt came midway through the second quarter when star receiver Tyler Boyd left the game with a dislocated finger on his left hand. He did not return, but Chryst said he expects him to be ready to play Friday night against Boston College.
Before he left, Boyd chipped in two catches for 18 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown grab from Voytik in the first quarter. He also had punt returns of 35 and 26 yards to set up scores.
On the touchdown catch, Boyd ran a route to the corner of the end zone and made a nice diving catch on the pass from Voytik.
“I threw it actually pretty early, before he broke out,” Voytik said. “You trust in a guy like that that he’s going to be there, and he’ll make whatever play you throw at him.”
Even after the starters left the game, Pitt’s depth continued to wear down the Blue Hens. Freshman running back Chris James ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns in his college debut, and sophomore Rachid Ibrahim chipped in 91 rushing yards.
And, as dominant as the offense was, the Panthers defense did its part, too, holding Delaware to 64 total yards.
Blue Hens quarterback Trent Hurley, a Greensburg Central Catholic High School graduate, never looked comfortable and was intercepted three times by a swarming Pitt defense.
Even though the offense put up enough points to make the game more than comfortable, Pitt’s defense was determined to maintain its high level of performance.
“That was the big knock on us last year,” safety Ray Vinopal said. “We’d either play the first half or the second half, and you didn’t know who was going to show up both halves. That’s going to be a big focus for us — being the same defense all the way through the game for 60 minutes.”
Pitt will have a short week to prepare for its first ACC game Friday night at Boston College.
The Panthers said they plan to celebrate this victory, but they also know the level of competition will jump once they start playing I-A opponents.
“You always respect your opponent, Delaware, but we know that the ACC we’re going to face some higher competition,” linebacker Matt Galambos said.
“If we can play every game like this, we’ll be pretty good.”
Sam Werner: email@example.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.
First Published August 30, 2014 3:03 PM