Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, Sept. 8 newspaper on Page B1.
PITTSBURGH — Nathan Rourke was ill, but it was Frank Solich who felt sick to his stomach afterward.
The Panthers handcuffed the Ohio offense like no one else has over the last three years, and methodically worked over the Bobcats for a 20-10 win at Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon.
Ohio (1-1) was held to just 10 points and 212 total yards. Both were the lowest totals for the Bobcats since Rourke — the senior quarterback — joined the program.
Rourke was sacked six times, held to negative-43 rushing yards — a career-low — and played despite illness. Rourke said the sickness was “a non-issue.”
But Pitt’s defense? That was another story. The Panthers (1-1) never gave Ohio a chance to breathe and did just enough to get revenge for the Bobcats’ 2005 upset.
“It didn’t feel too good,” said Rourke, who completed 15 of 27 teams for 177 yards.
“You got to make plays. We didn’t make enough plays on offense.”
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett threw for 321 yards, including a momentum-swinging 74-yard touchdown to Maurice French in the first half. After that, the Panthers simply focused on not losing the game.
Powered by a defense that forced Ohio into 10 punts and bad field field position throughout, the Panthers made an early 17-0 lead stand up.
“Really we didn’t block well enough, we didn’t tackle well enough,” said Ohio head coach Frank Solich. “The basics of football we just did not do well enough.”
Pitt defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman had 3.0 sacks — the most for a Panther DT since Aaron Donald in 2011 — and the Panthers racked up 10 total tackles for loss. The six sacks allowed were the most for Ohio since 2007.
There was more bad news for the ‘Cats. Ohio’s 10 points were the fewest for the Bobcats since a 9-3 win over Akron in 2016. The 212 yards were the lowest for OU since 2014 (187 in a loss at Central Michigan). The 10 punts were the most in a game for Ohio since 2007.
Still, Ohio was in the game going into the fourth quarter.
Rourke stuck a 27-yard completion to Isiah Cox, then found running back O’Shaan Allison for a 34-yard gain down the right sideline. On the next snap, RB De’Montre Tuggle plowed into the end zone from the seven and the Bobcats trailed 20-10 with 4:04 left in the third quarter.
But it was as close as OU would get. Ohio’s next three possessions started on their own 15, 8 and 6-yard lines. The Bobcats got just two first downs on the three possessions, combined, and didn’t move the ball past their own 36.
With the game within reach, OU couldn’t muster a final charge to make the Panthers sweat it out.
“I’ll be interested in getting to the film right away to see exactly what all was the problem,” Solich said. “I can’t really answer that until I do see what the problems were.
“And I don’t think we coached very well. We are going to have to do better than that to be able to put our team in this type of game and come out ahead.”
Ohio was facing an uphill climb from the start. Rourke was ill going into it, with Solich noting afterward that the QB didn’t have his fever break until Friday.
“He was not 100 percent, but he’s one of those kinds of guys that will play through things and you’ve got to love what he’s all about,” Solich said.
“But I don’t think he was quite as sharp as what he’s been. But we didn’t give him a chance to be very sharp either a lot of the time.”
The Bobcats limped into half staring at a 17-3 deficit.
The Panthers hit the scoreboard first with Alex Kessman’s 27-yard field goal in the first quarter. The kick came after a dropped interception near the goal line from MLB Jared Dorsa.
A busted coverage led to Pickett finding Ffrench open on a third-down play on the first play of the second quarter. Ffrench was unattended, and after the catch turned upfield to complete the 74-yard scoring play.
The Panthers made it 17-0 after Vincent Davis plowed in from the three-yard line midway through the second.
Ohio got on the board late in the half. Louie Zervos connected on a 23-yard field goal, but even that was tinged with missed opportunity. The kick came three plays after Buckner dropped what would have been a touchdown catch on the right side of the end zone.
“We had some big plays at times,” Rourke said. “The problem was we didn’t have enough of those.”
Pickett threw for 225 yards in the first half, and the Panthers defense stymied Rourke’s ability to create on the ground. Ohio rushed for just 34 yards in the first two quarters, just 2.3 per carry, and Rourke was held to negative-13 yards on just two attempts.
Rourke was sacked five times in the second half and Ohio gained just one net rushing yard after the break.
Ohio, one of the best rushing teams in the country in each of the last two seasons, didn’t have a single run that covered more than eight yards. The last time the Bobcats didn’t have a single carry for 10 or more yards in a game came in a loss at Tennessee in 2016.
Solich shook his head in disgust when he thought about it.
“I find that stat tough to take,” he said.
There were positives. Rourke, despite being under siege and a trio of drops, completed more than 50 percent of his throws and didn’t put the ball up for grabs. The defense, despite being on the wrong side of time of possession, play count and field position, held up fairly well until the Panthers’ final drive. Pitt ran off the final 7:05 with a ground-based drive.
The 20 points allowed were the fewest given up in a loss for Ohio since a 20-3 loss at Kentucky in 2014.
“We’ll get better,” said senior safety Javon Hagan. “We let it slip through our hands. Time to go back in the lab and get back to work.”
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi remained convinced of Ohio’s worth afterward.
“I’m just telling you, those guys are a good team,” Narduzzi said. “They’re going to win the MAC, okay, mark my words.
“I told you Clemson is going to win the National Championship (in 2016). That’s a good football team with a good offense, really good offense.”
Ohio continues its non-league schedule next Saturday with a 6:30 p.m. start at Marshall (1-1).
Pitt 20, Ohio 10
Ohio 0 3 7 0 — 10
Pitt 3 14 3 0 — 20
Pitt — Alex Kessman, 27-yard field goal, 7:49, 1Q
Pitt — Maurice Ffrench, 74-yard pass from Kenny Pickett (Kessman kick), 14:47, 2Q
Pitt — Vincent Davis, 3-yard run (Kessman kick), 9:28, 2Q
Ohio — Louie Zervos, 23-yard field goal, 6:55, 2Q
Pitt — Alex Kessman, 41-yard field goal, 6:23, 3Q
Ohio — De’Montre Tuggle, 7-yard run (Zervos kick), 4:04, 3Q
First downs 12 22
Total Plays 56 74
Rushing (plys-yds) 29-35 37-160
Passing yards 177 321
Total yards 212 481
(cmp-att-int) 15-27-0 26-37-0
Fumbles (no-lost) 1-0 1-0
Penalties (no-yds) 5-34 10-75
Punts (no-avg) 10-43.5 5-41.2
Ohio — O’Shaan Allison 14-47, De’Montre Tuggle 4-20 TD, Julian Ross 2-11, Nathan Rourke 9-(-43); Pitt — A.J. Davis 13-89, Vincent Davis 12-50 TD, V’Lique Carter 6-22, Todd Sibley Jr. 3-3, Kenny Pickett 2-(-1), Maurice Ffrench 1-(-3).
Ohio — Nathan Rourke 15-27-0 177; Pitt — Kenny Pickett 26-37-0 321 1 TD.
Ohio — Jerome Buckner 4-60, Isiah Cox 2-32, O’Shaan Allison 2-32, Shane Hooks 2-11, Cam Odom 1-22, D.L. Knock 1-19, Ty Walton 1-4, De’Montre Tuggle 1-0, Julian Ross 1-(-3); Pitt— Maurice Ffrench 10-138 TD, Will Gragg 4-38, Taysir Mack 3-57, N. Griffin-Stewart 3-22, Aaron Mathews 2-30, Tre Tipton 2-27, A.J. Davis 1-7, Todd Sibley Jr. 1-2.