PITTSBURGH (AP) – Redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison ran for 207 yards while filling in for injured star James Conner and Pittsburgh survived Youngstown State 45-37 on Saturday to give Pat Narduzzi a victory in his head coaching debut.
Conner scored on runs of 13 and 4 yards in the first quarter before tweaking his right knee. The reigning ACC Player of the Year watched the rest of the game from the sideline as Pitt avoided being upset by the Penguins for the second time in four years.
Avonte Maddox added an 89-yard kickoff return for a score for the Panthers, who had to fight off a game effort from Youngstown State and coach Bo Pelini.
The Penguins, who stunned Pitt in the 2012 opener to spoil Paul Chryst’s first game in charge with the Panthers, nearly duplicated the feat against Chryst’s replacement. The Panthers hired Narduzzi last December hopeful the longtime Michigan State defensive coordinator could provide the meandering program with some traction.
With star wide receiver Tyler Boyd sitting out a one-game suspension and Conner hurting, Pitt held on but not without some anxious moments.
Hunter Wells passed for 274 yards and a touchdown for the Penguins. Jody Webb ran for 127 yards and two scores, including a 75-yard sprint with 4:24 to go that brought Youngstown State within eight. The Penguins got the ball back with a chance to tie with under 3 minutes to go but managed just two yards in four plays, with Wells throwing incomplete to Andrew Williams on fourth down.
Pitt ran out all but the final 26 seconds thanks in part to more than a little luck. Maddox’s long kickoff return late in the first half came after he collided with teammate Lafayette Pitts. The ball hit the ground but Maddox scooped it up on the bounce. The exchange seemed to disrupt the timing of Youngstown State’s kickoff coverage and Maddox raced down the right sideline to give the Panthers a 24-13 halftime lead.
Youngstown State had sliced the deficit to 31-23 early in the fourth quarter when Pitt again benefited from an odd sequence. Elijah Zeise and Scott Orndoff were running free in the Penguins’ secondary when Chad Voytik lofted a pass that somehow managed to hit both of them. Orndoff touched it last to complete a 55-yard touchdown and restore a cushion the Panthers ended up needing every bit of.
The throw was the lone highlight for Voytik, who completed just 9 of 14 passes for 72 yards with a touchdown and an interception Youngtown State’s LeRoy Alexander returned for a score.
Pitt’s defense gave up a series of big plays but also a handful of sacks, including one by Zack Poker on the game’s penultimate snap.
Pelini, brought back to his hometown after seven eventful seasons at Nebraska, avoided the kind of sideline explosions that eventually wore thin with the Cornhuskers. Serving equal parts cheerleader and coach, he remained upbeat throughout even as the last of several Youngstown State rallies fell short.
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)