PITTSBURGH (AP) - Kenny Pickett threw a touchdown pass and ran for another as Pittsburgh scored on each of its first six offensive possessions and raced to a 55-0 victory over Austin Peay at Heinz Field on Saturday.
With Pittsburgh up 42-0 halftime, the teams agreed to play 10-minute quarters in the second half. Seven Panthers players were held out of the game due to COVID-19 protocol.
Pickett and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple spread the love around as Pickett threw to seven receivers and six players scored touchdowns during the Panthers’ offensive explosion.
A Paris Ford interception set up Pitt’s first score, a 1-yard Daniel Carter plunge. Pickett connected with Shocky Jaques-Louis on a 68-yard strike before scrambling into the end zone from six yards out to score on Pitt’s second drive. He then connected with wide-open Maryland transfer DJ Turner for a 51-yard score.
Pickett finished 14 of 20 for 277 yards through the air. Freshman Jordan Addison was his most frequent target, hauling in seven catches for 35 yards.
“I think we’ve got more speed,” Pickett said. “Guys (were) running by people, getting some separation. Obviously, I think that’ll be a huge asset to our game.”
After that, Whipple turned over the offense to the running game, with Vincent Davis scoring on a one-yard rush, Israel Abanikanda scampering to pay dirt on a 10-yard draw, and Todd Sibley, Jr. plunging in from one yard out on Pitt’s three second-quarter possessions.
“I thought it was as clean as we have looked,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I wanted to make a statement and I thought our run game looked solid.”
The Pitt defense pitched its first shutout since 2014, holding the Governors to 146 yards of total offense and 10 yards rushing.
Sibley blocked a punt and returned it for an 11-yard touchdown. Davis scored again on a short rush after a second botched Austin Peay punt in the fourth quarter.
Pitt has generally played things close to the vest on offense in openers against FCS teams under Pat Narduzzi, which has resulted in some closer-than-expected final scores. But the Panthers’ offense was anything but conservative in the first half, with Pickett repeatedly connecting on deep passes. The result was Pitt’s highest first-half offensive output since 2014, the year before Narduzzi took the reins.
“When we play up to our level, that’s what an opener should look like,” Narduzzi said. “Probably one of our biggest margins of victory since I’ve been here. … I wanted to prove that this 2020 team was a different team and they really are.”
Austin Peay is now 1-25 against FBS teams since 1980. The Governors’ last win against a higher-level team came against Kansas State in 1987. Despite that, Austin Peay coach Marquase Lovings said it’s important for his team to play these games.
“It’s really important from a competition standpoint of letting guys know that there’s better people out there,” he said. We’ve got to go to work. … That’s just in our DNA. It really is. We have a compete drill every single day in practice. The competition is real in our program.”
Starting defensive linemen Keyshon Camp and Rashad Weaver were two of the seven who were not in attendance due to COVID-19 protocols. Starting tight end Lucas Krull and wide receiver Taysir Mack were on the sideline but did not dress.
Narduzzi said he expects to have the seven players in COVID-19 protocol back for next Saturday’s game and that Krull could have played, but was less than 100%. Defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado left the game with an undisclosed injury late in the fist quarter and did not return.
Pitt (1-0) will host Syracuse (0-1) to begin Atlantic Coast Conference play on Sept. 19. The ACC teams are playing just one non-conference game as part of an 11-game schedule this season.
Austin Peay (0-2) visits No. 20 Cincinnati, in the Bearcats’ season opener. That game will be the finale of a three-game fall non-conference schedule for the Governors. The Ohio Valley Conference has postponed its conference games until the spring.
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