PITTSBURGH - Kenny Pickett spent most of last season handing the ball off to a pair of 1,000 rushers as Pittsburgh won the ACC Coastal Division, but new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple wants the Panthers to become a pass-first offense. After a less than overwhelming home debut against Virginia, Pitt will try to avoid its first 0-2 start since 2012 when it hosts Ohio on Saturday.
TV: 11 a.m. ET, ACC Network. LINE: Pittsburgh -5.5.
Pickett, a junior who averaged only 22 passes per game last season, completed 21-of-41 for 185 yards in the 30-14 defeat last week, but he was sacked four times, hit several other times and threw two interceptions - both in Pitt territory - while playing behind an offensive line that has four new starters. "Kenny is a tough dude," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi told reporters Monday. "We don't want him to get hit like he did. The big thing is protect him. Big thing is half those hits, the ball should already be gone and we shouldn't have that problem." The Panthers led 14-13 at the half against the Cavaliers and favored to win the Coastal this season but surrendered 17 unanswered points, and all three Virginia touchdowns for the game were the result of short fields due to turnovers. Ohio, the preseason favorite to capture the Mid-American Conference, returns 14 starters from last season's 9-4 campaign and opened the season with a 41-20 victory over FCS foe Rhode Island.
ABOUT OHIO (1-0)
Quarterback Nathan Rourke, a two-time All-MAC Second Team selection, piloted the Bobcats to a school-record 40.1 points per game unit last season, accounting for 38 total TDs. The senior passed for 188 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score against the Rams, while junior De'Montre Tuggle rumbled for 65 yards and two TDs on just three carries - including a 55-yard scamper in the third quarter - in his first game for the Bobcats. Junior linebacker Jared Dorsa accumulated seven tackles, including a half a sack to garner MAC East Division Defensive Player of the Week.
ABOUT PITT (0-1)
Pickett threw for 185 yards and a TD, but the offense was victimized by several dropped passes and overthrows to wide-open receivers. Pitt mustered just 78 yards on 30 rushes and totaled only 263 yards overall. - the third straight game dating to last season the offense has been held under 275 yards. The defense played well, yielding 310 yards while recording three sacks and seven tackles for loss as safety Damar Hamlin led the way with seven tackles.
1. Pitt leads the all-time series 7-1, but lost the last meeting 16-10 in overtime in 2005. The Panthers are 3-4 all-time vs. MAC foes.
2. Since a 2004 loss to Pitt in a road opener, Ohio is 8-6 in road openers, including wins over Penn State (2012) and Kansas (2016).
3. Ohio scored on all seven of its drives with Rourke under center and went a perfect 5-for-5 in red zone opportunities. Rourke has been responsible for 80 touchdowns in his Ohio career, needing three more to break the record set by Tyler Tettleton from 2009-13.
PREDICTION: Ohio 28, Pittsburgh 24
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