The Panthers knew they were short one weapon entering Saturday's game. They only had their other star for a quarter.
Tyler Boyd's suspension and an apparent knee injury to James Conner early in the second quarter left a vacuum of production for the Panther offense. Chris James, Conner's backup, got banged up after he replaced the defending ACC Player of the Year.
Then Qadree Ollison entered the game. The redshirt freshman took his first carry in the second half, burst through the line and assorted Penguins tacklers for a 46 yards. He ran 16 times for 212 yards, all in the second half, and a touchdown.
The Panthers did enough to win Pat Narduzzi's head-coaching debut 45-37 against Youngstown State. It wasn't pretty, but he'll take it.
"A win is a win is a win," Narduzzi said.
Pitt's defense yielded 407 yards of offense to the Penguins and Chad Voytik turned the ball over twice. But the Panthers managed to start Narduzzi's tenure in the opposite fashion they did Paul Chryst's.
"There was a lot of good things out there," Narduzzi said. "There was a lot of things that as a head coach you want to pull your hair out."
He said after the game Conner was fine and later added that if Pitt was playing say, an ACC opponent, Conner would've stayed in the game. Conner ran eight times for 79 yards and two touchdowns before his injury.
Voytik finished 9 of 14 with 72 yards and a touchdown to go along with a lost fumble and interception that was returned for a touchdown. Nathan Peterman played two series, as was planned by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, and completed 2 of 4 attempts for 61 yards and a pick, notably a 42-yard completion to Dontez Ford down the sideline.
Voytik graded his season-opening performance as "not great."
"[There's] huge room for improvement," Voytik said. "I’ve got to protect the football, in general. It felt good to be back out there of course, getting those cobwebs off, just time to play football now."
Pitt's biggest play of the day came on a pass to Scott Orndoff early in the fourth quarter. He and Elijah Zeise were both wide open but Voytik's throw came as a defender arrived while his two receivers collided, but Orndoff came away with the ball and went into the end zone for a 55=yard score.
"I was throwing it to Zeise and then Scotty turned around and peeled on it," Voytik said. "Good thing he did because I don’t Zeise would’ve been able to [catch it]. The DB was in position to make the play. I think Scotty saved me there."
While the defense disappointed in Narduzzi's debut, it made plays when it needed to. Youngstown State had the ball on Pitt's 46 late in the fourth quarter after the Penguins forced a three-and-out, and trailed by eight points.
The Panthers stuffed a rush to take back possession and secure the lead.
"We're going to get better," cornerback Avonte Maddox said. "We have the option to get better."