Keeping Score: Pitt of despair

Published: 9/3/2021 5:39:03 PM

Good morning!
The UMass football team plays Pitt this afternoon at Heinz Field near the confluence of the Ohio and Allegheny rivers. It will mark the 101st game the Minutemen have played since joining the FBS.

Seems like yesterday that athletic director John McCutcheon was gushing about alumni packing into Gillette Stadium singing Fight Massachusetts. That didn’t quite work out, nor did coach Charlie Molnar who marched his Minutemen to UConn on August 30, 2012, and lost 37-0. It was the beginning of a 1-11 season en route to an aggregate FBS record of 19-81.

McCutcheon and Molnar are long gone, but the struggles continue.

Third year coach Walt Bell’s 1-15 record in Amherst is due partly to being without a good quarterback. Previous coach Mark Whipple had a knack for bringing them in — Blake Frohnapfel and Jeff Krohn come to mind — and in January Bell landed Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound slinger with two years of eligibility left.

Lytle’s services were sought by over two dozen colleges out of Servite High School, a private all-boys Catholic prep school in Anaheim, including BC, Pitt and Baylor according to 247sports.

The Buffs are notorious coach killers, and they burned through three during Lytle’s four years in Boulder. He appeared in only five games and took a total of 20 snaps, his last on a 23-degree day in Boulder against Utah. Trailing by six in the fourth quarter, starter Sam Noyer was injured. Lytle came in and passed for a first down and ran 15 yards for another. Noyer returned, the drive stalled, and Colorado lost, 38-21.

Before sundown Lytle announced he was entering the transfer portal. Noyer had also had enough of the Rocky Mountain low and followed offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren to Oregon State.

During Colorado’s training camp when both were competing for the starting job, Lytle told a Colorado reporter he was “trying to be a leader by example… trying to be more vocal… trying to get guys going.”

He’s a typical Millennial with Instagram and Twitter and a Spotify playlist titled “Hippie S***.”

His Pitt counterpart Kenny Pickett is a New Jersey kid, born in Oakhurst between New York and Philadelphia. He’s the only Panther to pass for over 400 yards twice in the same season. He did it last year against Virginia Tech and NC State, part of a 2,408-yard campaign that included 13 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a team-high eight rushing touchdowns.

This will be the 23-year-old Pickett’s 40th game under center (37th start), and he’s on several preseason watch lists including the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s top senior quarterback.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi makes $3.2 million a year (compared to Bell’s reported $625K) and is 76-42 in seven seasons. Last year’s 6-5 team started 3-0 and made it into the AP Top 25 before consecutive losses to NC State, BC, Miami and Notre Dame.   

The Panthers play in the softer Coastal Division of the ACC, but have a crossover game on Oct. 23 against Clemson. Their other non-conference games are against Western Michigan in two weeks and UNH on Sept. 25.

They return 21 seniors including eight starters on offense and five on defense.

Whipple, who was named Pitt’s offensive coordinator after he left UMass, has more weapons than the Taliban. Sophomore Jordan Addison caught 60 passes averaging over 11 yards and Shocky Jacques-Louis, Taysir Mack and Jared Wayne combined for 70 grabs, 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

When Pickett isn’t carrying the ball he’ll give it to either junior Vincent Davis (632 yds, 6 TDs) or Israel Abanikanda who’s expected to have a breakout season his sophomore year.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Pickett has sponsorship deals with Pittsburgh area clothing, trucking and automotive companies and during training camp gave out T-shirts with his own logo. 

To protect the brand, Jerry DiPaola of triblive.com reported he plans to take his offensive linemen out to dinner each week.

The worry in Amherst is that Pickett might also be handing the Minutemen their lunch. UMass has lost 11 straight games by an average of 39 points and are 38-point ‘dogs this afternoon.

The spread will likely be determined by when Narduzzi decides to turn off the hose, but UMass fans are taking the long view hoping the second hundred games aren’t as bad as the first hundred.

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On Friday a statue of Jack Leaman will be unveiled outside the Mullins Center, together with Julius Erving, Marcus Camby and John Calipari. Earlier this summer we mentioned that Leaman was a man of the people who umpired softball games and went to Hinsdale Greyhound Park. The item prompted a reply from retired Montague police chief Ray Zukowski.

“I met Jack Leaman at the Shelburne Falls annual softball tournament,” said Zukowski. “I was catching and Jack was the home plate ump. We talked between pitches and he told me he loved going to Hinsdale. 

“About a month later I was on Route 63 and stopped a car for speeding. It was Jack. He apologized and said he was a UMass coach on his way to a meeting. I said, ‘Who are you kidding you’re on your way to Hinsdale!” He looked up and recognized me, and we both burst out laughing.”

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Leave it to UMass to turn something as simple as football parking into a complicated mess. Fans have seven options, from buying a season ticket and getting complimentary parking next to the stadium, to parking on the north side of the Mullins Center and walking three miles round trip for free.

Fans whose loyalty once allowed them to park gratis on the stadium loop will now need to pay $40 for the UConn, Toledo and URI games, and $30 for the Maine and Eastern Michigan games. Parking can be had for $10 in advance if reserved online.

It’s a ripoff, and it’s the way they do business.

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MLB NOTES: Asked why the national media hasn’t embraced Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said, “It’s not like they market themselves, they just go out there and play. Bogie posts nothing other than the Netherlands soccer team, and Raffie’s all about his daughters, it’s not about him flipping the bat.” … Covid has restricted many teams’ radio announcers from going on the road, something Rickie Ricardo the Yankees’ Spanish broadcaster has long been accustomed to. “I’ve never gone on the road,” he told WFAN’s Richard Neer. “I’m the king of doing games off the monitor.”… Nick Pivetta is becoming Boston’s biggest head case since Clay Buchholz. … It’s shaping up as a Chris Sale versus Gerritt Cole Wild Card game on Oct. 5, and how fun would that be? … Chris Sale on his immaculate inning against the Twins, fanning three batters on nine pitches: “I had my f— you fastball going, mixed with a little bit of hate.” … The player Texas got from New York for Joey Gallo made his MLB debut against Houston on August 27. Glenn Otto pitched five scoreless innings, allowed two hits, fanned seven and walked no one. …  Michael Kay said during a YES broadcast that Gallo struck out 50 times in his first 101 at-bats in pinstripes. “It’s not a slump, that’s his game,” said the Yankees TV voice. “He’s got a ton of home runs, but in half his at bats nothing happens.” … At this writing Miggy Cabrera needed 37 hits in 28 games to reach 3,000 …  August Recap: Tampa 21-6; Yankees 21-8; Toronto 16-14; Boston 12-16; Baltimore 4-24. … NESN’s Dennis Eckersley remembered giving up a grand slam to Dwight Evans. “Ole Dewey-boy got me. I’ll never forget that one. I came in with the bases drunk. I got behind him 2-0 and he just got me.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com


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