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Reviewing Pitt Football’s 2016 Season

This is my first article writing for Chris’ website and I’d like to thank him for allowing me to write some articles for him.

Now to my article…

Pitt football is back on track and times are exciting for fans of the Panthers. After a season filled with storylines, victory, heartbreak, and even an inspiring story along the way, the Panthers 8-5 finish has their attitudes trending upwards.

#ConnerStrong

On Thanksgiving day in 2015, running back James Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and began his cancer treatment almost immediately. At the time, it was unknown whether or not Connor would return to football ever again. People feared that such a promising young man had lost his career due to cancer. He had just been recovering from a torn ACL as well.

His words: “When I heard those words ‘You have cancer’, I admit I was scared,” Conner began. “But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that fear is a choice. I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it and I will win.”

He did that to the fullest extent. He inspired kids with cancer. He inspired fans all across football with his determination.

It was later announced that Conner would be ready to play against Villanova in the season opener on September 3.

When the game rolled it around, it had to be one of my cooler experiences ever. I was in attendance at Heinz Field when James Connor led his team out of the tunnel before their 28-7 victory over the Wild Cats. It was one chilling and loud and the loudest I’ve ever seen Heinz Field for a Pitt game.

Connor scored the team’s first two touchdowns to some thunderous ovations. On his first touchdown, he stiff armed a Villanova defender to the ground and took it on from three yards out. It perfectly exemplified the end of such a terrible chapter in Conner’s life and began one that he’d replicated before: bullying would be tacklers on his way to hopefully becoming an NFL running back.

“42-39”

Chris won’t be too thrilled about this one, but I think he will live. The long awaited wait to renew a rivalry between Pennsylvania’s two premier college football teams, Pitt and Penn State, had finally ended on September 10. Five days short of sixteen years to the day when Pitt last played Penn State and won 12-0, they met again at Heinz Field.

It all began with Pitt pouncing on the Nittany Lions early as they went up 28-14 at half.

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley had himself an incredible game rushing for four touchdowns and catching another out of the backfield. Quarterback Trace McSorley had a monster 332 yard game while completing 24/35 passes.

The game got intense towards the end as Penn State was rallying down the field working on a huge comeback.

With 1:41 left, McSorley threw a pass to the end zone that was picked off by Pitt cornerback Ryan Lewis and that clinched the victory for the Panthers and quieting all Penn State fans for a little while.

PSU had themselves a good season, though. If you’re a Pitt fan, there’s no reason to deny that they did. Just remind Penn State fans you’ve got bragging rights until at least next season.

Last Second Heartbreak

After losing to Oklahoma State a week prior, Pitt headed to North Carolina for a matchup with the Tar Heels against potential first overall pick, quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Pitt took a 5-0 lead after a Ejuan Price safety and Chris Blewitt field goal in the first quarter.

Two touchdown passes from Trubisky along with a field goal and scores on the ground by Conner and George Aston of Pitt gave the Panthers a 19-16 lead at halftime.

With a 36-23 lead and less than 12 minutes left in the game, North Carolina scored two touchdowns. One of these came with two second left and gave Pitt a 2-2 start.

Upset In Death Valley

In potentially the biggest upset of the college football season, Pitt went into Death Valley, rattled star quarterback Deshaun Watson and came away with the program’s biggest win in years, Pitt 43-Clemson 42.

James Conner played a good game rushing for 132 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries but rushing wasn’t the story of this game.

Quarterback Nathan Peterman had himself potentially the best game of his career against Clemson’s defense, one that will be playing in the college football playoff. He was 22/37 for 308 yards and five touchdowns. He didn’t throw a single interception against this stingy Clemson defense that didn’t have much push back against Pitt’s potent offense.

You had the feeling Watson was going to throw all over Pitt’s porous defense. No one had any idea of the volume he’d do it with.

He went 52/70 for 580 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Yes, you read that correctly. He threw 70 passes and completed 52 of them. Also, this incredibly bad defense somehow pulled off three interceptions. Mind boggling, wouldn’t you say?

Star wide receiver for Clemson Mike Williams had 15 receptions for 202 yards and a touchdown. Crazy numbers as well.

The game was put on Chris Blewitt’s foot from 48 yards out. He went through his pre-kick routine after a timeout was called. Set up, swung his leg back, BOOM. It was good. Pitt had done the unthinkable and knocked off No. 3 Clemson.

Jim Boeheim vs. Kevin Stallings…?

Pitt basketball, I mean football, knocked off Syracuse 76-61. No, you again read that correctly. The team’s engaged in the highest scoring game in NCAA history and it wasn’t ever really even a close game.

It seemed like for every Syracuse score, Pitt had two answers. Peterman tossed four touchdowns. Conner had two on the ground. Even offensive lineman Brian O’Neill attempted a pass. It was a complete barn burner.

Bowl Game Misery

A loss that wasn’t the most expected, Pitt fell to Northwestern 31-24 in a miserable offensive day.

Their lowest point output of the season for Pitt ended in an upsetting loss which was also offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s final game at Pitt as he accepted a job in the same position at LSU.

Pitt struggles early and often, especially after Conner and Peterman’s Pitt careers ended early due to separate head shots that held them out. George Aston and quarterback Ben DiNucci took over in their abscence.

DiNucci threw two critical interceptions and Pitt could not complete the comeback.

Final Summation

So as the 8-5 season wrapped up and head coach Pat Narduzzi will enter his third season at the helm with his recruiting classes really beginning to effect the program, I’m expecting even bigger things next year.

They’ll still have a great running game and either DiNucci or USC graduate transfer Max Browne will lead the offense for next season.

Depending on the shakeout of their schedule, I’ll go ahead and predict them a 10-2 season that wins them the ACC Coastal. They will play a good bowl game and have a great season. #H2P

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