No. 24 Pitt concludes its nonconference schedule on Saturday afternoon when it hosts coach Pat Narduzzi’s alma mater in FCS member Rhode Island.
FCS foes traditionally have provided little resistance for the Panthers (2-1), who are 19-1 in such matchups.
Israel Abanikanda finds himself in a tie atop the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing (302 yards) after rolling up 133 in Pitt’s 34-13 romp at Western Michigan last Saturday.
The Panthers revealed their hand early by rushing on 14 of their first 15 offensive plays. The reason to do so likely stemmed from both Abanikanda’s success and Pitt’s decision to start redshirt freshman quarterback Nate Yarnell, who received ACC Rookie of the Week honors following his performance against the Broncos.
“I told (Yarnell) before the game, ‘I got you. No matter what, I got you. You’ve got no reason to be scared,'” Abanikanda told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He showed that he’s tough. I’m proud of him.”
Yarnell completed 9 of 12 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown while playing in place of starter Kedon Slovis (undisclosed) and backup Nick Patti (ankle).
Narduzzi elected to play it safe with Slovis on Saturday despite the latter participating in practice all week prior to the game against Western Michigan.
Slovis, a transfer from USC, hasn’t played since the second half of the Panthers’ 34-27 overtime loss to Tennessee on Sept. 10.
While Narduzzi didn’t reveal his plan for the game against Rhode Island, he did gush about Yarnell during Monday’s press conference.
“Every day we’ll find out,” Narduzzi said. “I know we know a lot more and have a lot more faith from what Nate did on game day. You could see him in practice and you could see him on the scout field, but when you see how a guy operates the game, it definitely gives you an idea that we have another piece to the puzzle — one we may have to use at another point in the season.”
As for Narduzzi himself, Saturday’s game may hold a bit of extra importance. He was a three-year starter at linebacker with Rhode Island from 1987-89, and he graduated from the school in 1990.
The Rams (2-1) followed up road victories over Stony Brook and Bryant by allowing Delaware to score the game’s first 28 points last Saturday. Rhode Island attempted to rally before dropping a 42-21 decision.
“It was a very disappointing outcome to a game that was so highly anticipated,” Rams coach Jim Fleming said, per the Providence Journal. “The work you put in to be able to achieve some respect — all of a sudden it unfolds this way. It’s the worst possible scenario.”
Pennsylvania native Kahtero Summers reeled in a pair of touchdown receptions to boost his total to three over the last two games.
Ed Lee, who scored a touchdown in each of the first two games of the season, leads the team in catches (15) and receiving yards (265).
Kasim Hill has thrown at least two touchdown passes in seven straight games dating back to last season.