For the second week in a row, the Pitt Panthers (1-1) will play a top ten opponent as they face off against the #9 Oklahoma State Cowboys (2-0) at home on Saturday.
Last year, Oklahoma State Quarterback Mason Rudolph torched Pitt’s embattled secondary for 540 passing yards and 2 TDs on their way to a 45-38 win. RB Rennie Childs ran in a TD in the last 2 minutes of the game to put Oklahoma State ahead before former Pitt QB Nate Peterman (now Tyrod Taylor’s backup with the Buffalo Bills) threw a pick with 15 seconds remaining to end any last-ditch chance of coming back.
Oklahoma State returns both Rudolph and star wideout James Washington, who seemed uncoverable in last year’s matchup. The Cowboys should be able to rack up a bunch of passing yards again, as Pitt’s secondary does not appear to have improved. Pitt is definitely feeling the effects of star Safety Jordan Whitehead’s suspension.
As is evident from Pitt’s disappointingly close win against Youngstown State and our expected, though still disappointing loss to Penn State (2-0), Max Browne is a liability for an offense that has a lot of potential. RB Qadree Ollison ran for over 1,000 yards in his freshman year before sitting out most of last year while James Conner (now on the Steelers) shined. WR Quadree Henderson is probably Pitt’s most dynamic player (at least with Whitehead out on suspension), and has embarrassed more than a few defensive players with nasty jukes and spin moves. The offensive line is still one of the best in the ACC.
Of course, football now centers around the quarterback position. Teams that lack a good QB almost certainly will not have a winning record, and will never compete with the better teams in the NCAA. In the last 2 games, Max Browne has thrown for only 278 yards and one TD, while managing to throw 2 INTs in only 56 passes despite playing in a system that is specifically designed to prevent turnovers. Browne cannot look off a safety and refuses to look to his second target, often throwing into traffic after staring his man down for unreasonable lengths of time. He threw to pass catchers behind the line of scrimmage while multiple defenders were nearby on several occasions throughout his abysmal performance against Penn State on Saturday.
Browne has led an offense that averaged 40+ points per game last year to an average of 21 points per game in their first 2 games of 2017. If Pitt wants a chance at beating OKST on Saturday, Head Coach Pat Narduzzi should put Redshirt Sophomore QB Ben DiNucci under center before things get too ugly. For now, however, Coach Narduzzi has unfortunately decided to stick with Browne as the starter.
On the bright side, Pitt’s defense played much better than last week’s score would indicate. Three of Penn State’s 5 scoring drives began in Pitt territory, including their first possession, which was a 1 play, 8 yard TD pass. PSU also received 2 free points from the defense in the form of a safety. They also limited possible Heisman candidate, Saquon Barkley, to 88 yards rushing, and QB Trace McSorley to 164 passing yards.
If Pitt’s offense can pull itself together, mainly if Browne can pull himself together, they have a chance of pulling off the upset. Pitt, especially under Narduzzi’s leadership, has a habit of playing up to good teams. Remember that last year, Pitt beat both Penn State and eventual National Champion, Clemson. They also managed to keep games against OKST and the UNC Tar Heels, on the road against both, to one score games
Pitt will certainly be the toughest team Oklahoma State has faced so far this year, especially coming off the emotional loss to Penn State. If Oklahoma State comes in less prepared than they should be, or Pitt plays up like they often do, this could turn into a huge upset. Either way, I would take the under in the point differential here. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Ben DiNucci leaves this game with ownership of the starting QB spot.
Predicted Score: 32-24 Oklahoma State University
Pitt player to watch:
WR Quadree Henderson had trouble getting things going last week. Expect him to come ready to fulfill the high expectations everyone had of him coming into the season.
Oklahoma State player to watch:
WR James Washington was a major problem for Pitt in last year’s matchup, and things shouldn’t be any different this year. Washington has already racked up 243 yards and 3 TDs on only 8 receptions this year.
Photo Credit: Samuel Bleifer