Pittsburgh routs UMass 51-7 in season-opener

Lytle rushes for lone Minutemen touchdown

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Chris Tucci/ UMass Athletics

By Joey Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

Tyler Lytle’s debut with the Massachusetts football team was plagued with constant pressure, leading to a lack of productivity and a 51-7 loss at Pittsburgh.

No points were scored for the Minutemen (0-1) until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Panthers (1-0) were already starting to substitute some of their starters.

Throwaways were almost just as common as completions. Five sacks and seven tackles for losses led to six three-and-outs, as Lytle threw 14-of-31 for 167 yards. Lytle did have a couple opportunities for big plays, the biggest coming on an overthrown pass to OC Johnson, which would have most likely resulted in a touchdown if completed.

OC Johnson was able to showcase his speed and agility when he had the ball in his hands. The 170-pound sophomore was one positive in a mostly negative offense as he hauled in three receptions for 52 yards, leading the way for UMass.

The rushing game had less success than the passing. Kay’Ron Adams and Ellis Merriweather combined for 35 yards on the ground. The most successful run was Lytle’s quarterback draw for a touchdown at the goal line.

Pitt was on the opposite spectrum of offensive production. 5th year senior Kenny Pickett threw for 272 yards with two touchdowns while nine Panther ball-carriers combined for 222 rushing yards.

UMass transitioned to a primarily nickel defensive formation this season, meaning five defensive backs are on the field in comparison to the typical four. This led to the Minutemen often rushing three players, while the remaining eight sat back in coverage. Regardless of the commitment to stopping the pass, Pickett was able to carve through defensive coordinator Tommy Restivo’s game plan with ease.

Freshman Gerrell Johnson was able to make his mark early with a forced fumble, one of two fumble recoveries for Restivo’s defense. The second coming on a bad snap when Pickett was already sitting for the remainder of the game. North Carolina transfer Bryson Richardson went down with a knee injury in the third quarter and the severity of the injury is still unknown.

Pitt was unrelenting even when the game was no longer in question, scoring four touchdowns on its last five possessions to drive the dagger deeper into the heart of UMass. The Panthers ended the contest with 597 total yards on offense, in comparison to the Minutemen’s 209.

“They’re going to do that to a lot of people,” Bell said of Pitt’s defense. “… Everywhere [Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has] been he’s done that to people.”

The defense may not have looked like it was performing well on paper, but for a majority of the first half it was only a one or two possession game. The Panthers scored a touchdown with 36 seconds in the first half to make the score 23-0. Before that, the score was 16-0, which shows the Minutemen defense might be taking small steps forward from previous seasons.

“When our defense really needed us to step up on offense, we did not do what we needed to do to protect our defense,” Bell said of his team’s lack of success with getting points on the board.

Adams looks to have taken over the starting running back role for UMass. The redshirt sophomore carried the ball 12 times and caught four additional passes. Merriweather 𑁋 who was Bell’s primary back last season 𑁋 totaled three rushes and one reception. Adams transferred from Rutgers and also showed versatility in the kick return game, lining up as the Minutemen’s primary kick returner.

It does not get much easier for UMass as it will take the field against another ACC foe in Boston College. That game will be played at 3:30 on Saturday, September 11 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JosephAliberti1