Tim Benz: While Pitt beat Clemson on Saturday the top team just took care of the business, now they have to keep doing it
Saturday’s game against Clemson wasn’t the kind of showdown Pitt’s football team had to live up to.
It was a day when the Panthers just needed to mind their own business.
Pitt arrived as a three-point favorite. With the highest ranking. A better place in the ACC ranking. More momentum. A superior quarterback driving a better offense.
Frankly, everything indicated that Pitt simply had the best team for their clash against the defending ACC champions Tigers.
Maybe not the rawest talent or the five-star rookies. But on October 23, 2021, definitely the best team.
After a week of hype, coach Pat Narduzzi’s players had only to prove it.
Something Pitt’s teams have failed to do in highly anticipated games on numerous occasions.
Yes. It would have been a very Pitt thing to do. But not this edition of Panthers. Not that day, as they won 27-17 in front of an announced crowd of 60,594 at Heinz Field.
“There is more leadership at all levels,” junior linebacker SirVocea Dennis said of this year’s squad. “We all agree. We are all passionate about the game. We all want to take it to the next level.
The Panthers managed to avoid what could have been one of their typical missteps last Saturday by hitting Virginia Tech on Highway 28-7. Some Pitt teams from previous years could have undermined this week’s momentum with a ‘in the future’ loss to the Hokies – such as Thursday night’s 2015 home loss to North Carolina a week before hosting Our. Lady.
Perhaps Pitt’s teams from previous years would have been transported to a large home crowd like that same 2015 team did next week against the Fighting Irish No.8 (42-30 in a game that didn’t was not even that tight).
Or the 2017 version which was contested 59-21 by No.9 Oklahoma State. Or the group of 2018 that fell to Penn State’s No.13, 51-6.
But that list of Pitt players wasn’t looking to be upset or make a statement like these teams were. He was just looking to accomplish a task that most of those who had watched the ACC this season realized was entirely possible: to beat a Clemson club that is nowhere near as good as a product as the school normally produces.
“We came in thinking we were going to be the better team and thought we were going to win,” said senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. “But they’re still Clemson. They are a great team with excellent defense. We had to enter energetically. The motto is: “Win at all costs. Do whatever we have to do to win. ”
Running back Rodney Hammond Jr. was more succinct in his response.
“We are Pitt. We are not afraid of anyone. We are dogs, ”said Hammond Jr.
A loss on Saturday would have been touted as yet another example of the Panthers’ “PITT-ing”, as critics and jaded members of the fanbase like to say.
Now the Panthers must avoid another take on that phrase. The one where the Panthers erase all the good vibes they’ve racked up with an upset loss to Miami next week. Or duke. Or in North Carolina.
Maybe this collection of Panthers is immune to those kinds of faults, even if their predecessors weren’t.
Perhaps the most difficult obstacle en route to a crown of the ACC Coastal Division has been passed. And just like what they did against Clemson on Saturday, the Panthers just need to get the job done against a regular season schedule remaining devoid of any other conference team currently ranked in the top 25.
While Pickett and his company are only chasing the second 10-game winning season for the school since 1981, decades of history indicate they won’t.
Recent results this year suggest otherwise.
Narduzzi and company have five more games to go. All against teams they would be preferred to beat from now on. It starts with a home game against the Miami Hurricanes 2-4 on October 30.
“We’re going to take them down. Everything will be fine, ”Narduzzi said when asked to prevent players from flying too high emotionally after the win. “They know how important the next one is. Each game gets a little bigger. … We will move on to the next one.
In their last five games, if the Panthers behave the same as on Saturday, they will meet in Charlotte for the CCA Championship game on December 4.
For once, that kind of optimism about Pitt football isn’t forced or fabricated. It doesn’t sound like something they could do anymore. It’s like something they should be doing.
If they keep going about business.