Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has led the Panthers to wins in his first two career starts. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO
Here’s the look at the Pittsburgh depth chart ahead of Saturday night’s game against Penn State at Heinz Field.
8 Kenny Pickett (6-2, 220, So.)
12 Ricky Town (6-3, 215, Jr.) OR 4 Nick Patti (6-1, 185, Fr)
Pickett doesn’t have the reputation or the pedigree of a great quarterback, but he has been great in his two starts for Pitt. As a true freshman in 2017, he started the season finale and led the 24-14 upset of then-No. 2 Miami by rushing for two scores and throwing for another. He became the first Panthers true freshman to start a game at quarterback since 2007, and he followed that performance up in the opener against Albany this season by putting together an efficient 16 for 22, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance throwing the ball, while also picking up 42 yards and a score on the ground.
“He is bigger than you think. He is much more athletic and mobile than you think. You’ve seen that time and time again,” Penn State coach James Franklin said of Pickett. “Obviously he’s been able to step up and play big in big games. So I think he’s earned a lot of respect from us.”
At least in terms of his style of play, Pickett is somewhat reminiscent of Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley.
The running backs
30 Qadree Ollison (6-2, 225, Sr.)
22 Darrin Hall (5-11, 225, Sr.)
21 A.J. Davis (6-0, 215, So)
35 George Aston (6-0, 240, Sr.)
81 Jim Medure (6-2, 235, Jr.)
Ollison and Hall have been quietly, and perhaps too quietly, one of the more productive running back duos in the nation over the last few seasons. Ollison, a senior from Niagara Falls, had five 100-yard rushing performances during the 2015 season with James Conner out, then had his best game of the 2016 season after Conner took over against Penn State. Last season, he split time with Hall, who had a 254-yard effort against Duke and two other ACC opponents. When Pittsburgh has had a 100-yard rusher under coach Pat Narduzzi, it has an 11-5 record; when they rush for 200 yards or more as a team during Narduzzi’s tenure, the Panthers are 13-3.
88 Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (6-0, 210, Fr.)
18 Shocky Jacques-Louis (6-0, 180, Fr.)
6 Aaron Mathews (6-4, 215, Jr.)
82 Rafael Araujo-Lopes (5-9, 190, Sr.)
2 Maurice Ffrench (5-11, 190, Jr.)
17 Darian Street (6-1, 185, Fr.)
11 Taysir Mack (6-2, 195, So.)
5 Tre Tipton (6-0, 190, Jr.)
9 Michael Smith (6-1, 215, Fr.)
86 Tyler Sear (6-4, 250, So.)
10 Will Gragg (6-4, 250, Jr.)
84 Grant Carrigan (6-7, 280, Fr.)
All in all, this is a young group of Pitt receivers, but Araujo-Lopes has been around the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. As a junior, he had four catches for 42 yards at Beaver Stadium last season, and he went on to catch 43 passes for 531 yards and two touchdowns in 2017. He already matched the touchdown total last week in the win over Albany State, and he’s also a player the Nittany Lions will have to monitor on sweeps, too.
The offensive line
70 Stefano Millin (6-5, 300, Sr.)
59 Carson Van Lynn (6-5, 290, Fr.)
76 Connor Dintino (6-3, 315, Sr.)
56 Brandon Ford (6-5, 305, So.)
67 Jimmy Morrissey (6-3, 300, So.)
60 Owen Drexel (6-3, 290, Fr.)
66 Mike Herndon (6-4, 310, Sr.)
71 Bryce Hargrove (6-4, 310, So.)
78 Alex Bookser (6-6, 315, Sr.)
57 Gabe Houy (6-6, 310, Fr.)
74 Jerry Drake Jr. (6-5, 305, Fr.)
The Panthers will likely start four seniors against the Nittany Lions — Bookser missed the opener but is expected back this week — but Morrissey is one of the more experienced members of this front despite his sophomore eligibility. A one-time walk-on who earned a scholarship after winning the starting center spot before last season, the Pitt line pivots around him. He has started 13 career games, half as many as the veteran Bookser, who started at guard in the 2016 battle against Penn State before switching to tackle last season.
This group, even with Houy replacing Bookser last week, didn’t allow a sack against Albany.
The defensive line
8 Dewayne Hendrix (6-4, 265, Sr.)
36 Chase Pine (6-2, 250, So.)
5 Deslin Alexandre (6-4, 270, Fr.)
93 Shane Roy (6-4, 280, Sr.)
90 Rashad Wheeler (6-3, 285, So.)
10 Keyshon Camp (6-4, 285, So.) OR 34 Amir Watts (6-3, 290, Jr.)
55 Jaylen Twyman (6-2, 300, Fr.)
17 Rashad Weaver (6-5, 260, So.)
91 Patrick Jones II (6-5, 265, So.)
40 James Folston Jr. (6-4, 250, Sr.)
Hendrix is the big name up front, and Camp and Roy are a handful in the middle. But the most dynamic player in this group is arguably Weaver, a one-time Penn State recruit who chose Pitt and has made a big impact even when he hasn’t started. He started just five games last year but piled up six tackles for loss and three sacks. He’s also built like a small forward, and he has proven adept at batting down passes at the line of scrimmage.
He took over in his first full season as a starter against Albany, registering three tackles, two quarterback hurries and a sack.
Penn State had some issues on the right side of the line last week, and the tackle tandem of Will Fries and Chasz Wright will have their hands full this week.
25 Elijah Zeise (6-2, 240, Sr.) OR 9 Saleem Brightwell (6-0, 225, Jr.)
58 Quintin Wirginis (6-2, 250, Sr.)
36 Chase Pine (6-2, 250, So.) OR 44 Elias Reynolds (6-2, 235, So.)
23 Oluwaseun Idowu (6-0, 230, Sr.)
28 Anthony McKee Jr. (6-2, 220, Jr.)
38 Cam Bright (6-0, 220, Fr.)
Idowu has been a stalwart of the Pittsburgh defense since taking over as a starter during the 2016 season, and he had a huge impact in the last win over Penn State at Heinz Field, recording six tackles and a fumble. Entering his senior season, his best games have seemed to come in Pitt’s biggest moments. The Penn State game in 2016. He had 10 tackles in the upset of Clemson that same season. Eight tackles, three for loss, and another forced fumble last season against the Nittany Lions. A team-best eight tackles against Miami. The media voted him to the All-ACC second team last year, when he led the Panthers in tackles.
32 Phillipie Motley (5-10, 180, Sr.) OR 11 Dane Jackson (6-0, 185, Jr.)
14 Marquis Williams (5-8, 160, Fr.)
20 Dennis Briggs (5-10, 195, Sr.)
24 Phil Campbell III (6-1, 200, So.)
3 Damar Hamlin (6-1, 195, Jr.)
7 Jazzee Stocker (6-2, 190, Jr.) OR 27 Bricen Garner (6-1, 190, So.)
16 Damarri Mathis (5-11, 190, So.)
12 Paris Ford (6-0, 195, Fr.) OR 15 Jason Pinnock (6-0, 195, So.)
Jackson didn’t play against Albany, and the Great Danes did make some chunk plays through the air with him on the sideline against what without him is a rather inexperienced secondary. If he plays this week, Jackson gives the Panthers an experienced, proven corner to match against Juwan Johnson. Plus, Jackson played well against Penn State alst season, recording a season-high five tackles, and he intercepted a Trace McSorley pass at the goal line to close out the first half.
98 Kirk Christodoulou (6-1, 210, Fr.)
97 Ethan Van Buskirk (5-10, 220, Fr.)
97 Alex Kessman (6-3, 195, So.)
92 Jake Scarton (6-3, 195, Fr.)
92 Jake Scarton
48 Kellen McAlone (6-2, 210, Sr.)
94 Cal Adomitis (6-1, 225, So.)
51 Grey Brancifort (6-1, 225, Fr.)
2 Maurice Ffrench
12 Paris Ford
82 Rafael Araujo-Lopes
12 Paris Ford
It’s no surprise, given his speed, how dangerous Ffrench can be on kickoff returns. But he showed it off immediately in the opener, bringing the kickoff back 91 yards for a touchdown to start the game against Albany. Given the problems Penn State had on special teams against Appalachian State in their own opener, Ffrench is worth following.
Kessman, meanwhile, is a weapon on kickoffs who wasn’t the most accurate field goal kicker last season. He didn’t do much to change that perception against Albany, missing an extra point. That said, he also has a 55-yard field goal to his credit, the second-longest in Pitt’s program history. He’s prone to the occasional strikeout, but he is also a home-run hitter.