Pittsburgh had a tough time pulling away from Youngstown State, winning 45-37 on Saturday, surviving the final two and a half quarters without running back James Conner. The reigning ACC Player of the Year tweaked his right knee in the second quarter and didn't return.
What the win means for Pittsburgh: First and foremost, the Panthers avoided another embarrassing loss to the Penguins, making up for a defeat in 2012. Mostly, though, this team has plenty of work left to do to show it can consistently play well. We saw that in spurts from both the offense and defense. But the offense sorely missed Tyler Boyd, who was suspended for the game. Quarterback Chad Voytik ended up going 9-of-14 for 72 yards -- 55 of them came on one pass. Meanwhile, the defense had several bust plays that helped the Penguins stay in the game. Pittsburgh gave up a 77-yard touchdown pass and 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and that will be enough to give new head coach Pat Narduzzi nightmares.
What the loss means for Youngstown State: Bo Pelini had a great game plan in his first game for Youngstown State and was able to hit on some big pass plays. Receiver Andre Stubbs ended up with more than 100 yards and averaged more than 20 yards a reception. The defense, though, struggled against both Conner and Qadree Ollison, who helped the Panthers put the game away.
Player of the game: With Conner out, Ollison made one huge gain after another, finishing with 16 carries for 207 yards and a 71-yard touchdown. His average: 12.9 yards a carry. It was Ollison's first game for the Panthers. And all his yards came in the second half. He is perhaps the biggest reason Pittsburgh was able to pull out the game. Still, Pittsburgh needs a healthy Conner for the remainder of the season. Narduzzi said afterward that Conner was "fine" and held out of the game for cautionary reasons.
Uh, what? Twice, Pitt teammates got in each other's way, and twice the result was a touchdown. On the first, Avonte Maddox overcame a near tackle from a teammate to score on an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Then in the fourth quarter, Scott Orndoff and Elijah Zeise ran into each other. Orndoff took the ball out of Zeise's hands and scored a 55-yard touchdown.