Excitement is building along the North Shore, with college football ready to get underway this weekend as the University of Pittsburgh Panthers host the University of Delaware Blue Hens.
It is the inaugural meeting between the two programs on the gridiron, and they will not meet again until August of 2019.
Pitt, which is part of the NCAA D-1 Football Bowl Subdivision, is 79-43-2 all-time in season openers while Delaware, a member of the NCAA D-1 Football Championship Subdivision, is 78-65-4 all-time versus upper division NCAA opponents. The last time the Blue Hens defeated an upper division opponent was 2007 when they beat Navy 59-52.
When: Saturday, Aug. 30
Kickoff: 12 noon
Site: Heinz Field
Playing Surface: Natural Grass
Radio Coverage: 93.7 FM – The Fan and the Pitt IMG Sports Network
Announcers: Bill Hillgrove and Pat Bostick with Larry Richert reporting from the sidelines
Sirius XM Satellite Radio: Sirius Channel 132, XM Channel 193
Internet Audio – Panthers All-Access: www.PittsburghPanthers.com
Live Stream: ESPN3
Announcers: Dave Weekley and Mickey Matthews
The Panthers are celebrating their 125th season of intercollegiate football competition. Pitt is coming off a 7-6 campaign from last season, which included a 30-27 win over MAC champion Bowling Green in the Little Caesar’s Bowl.
While the team went into training camp with 81 underclassmen, 51 freshmen and 28 sophomores, they do return eight starters on offense including four on the offensive line. They will be replacing six starters on the defensive unit.
To paraphase a line from “My Cousin Vinnie”, three “yout’s” will lead the way on offense for the Panthers. Sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik led the team to victory in last year’s Little Caesar’s Bowl when starter Tom Savage went down. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound signal caller gets the nod to be under center in Week 1.
The youth brigade is led in part by sophomore Tyler Boyd, who will be looking to encore a stellar performance, as the 6-foot-2 wide receiver caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
The other is sophomore running back James Conner, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season on 146 carries, and got into the end zone eight times. He will get help from senior running back Isaac Bennett, who rushed for 797 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Some of the talent back on defense includes redshirt senior linebackers Anthony Gonzalez, who had 79 tackles and Todd Thomas, who had 72 tackles. Meanwhile, senior safety Ray Vinopal put up 83 tackles and three interceptions in the secondary.
During coach Paul Chryst’s tenure, Pitt has held eight opponents under 100 yards rushing and they are 7-1 when they keep an opponent under 100 yards on the ground.
The Blue Hens’ Dave Brock is in his second season at the helm of Delaware, and is the fifth head coach since the 1940 season. They went 7-5 last season and 4-4 in Colonial Athletic Association play.
Delaware’s roster also skews a bit young. Of the 98 players on the Hens’ roster, 57 have never played in a college game. However there are 17 seniors who will get playing time on Saturday.
Senior quarterback Trent Hurley is one of the Blue Hens to watch as he threw for 2,207 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound signal caller played his high school football for Greensburg Central Catholic and led them to a victory over Aliquippa in the 2009 WPIAL Class AA championship at Heinz Field.
One of Hurley’s favorite targets is senior wide receiver Michael Johnson. The 6-foot-2 wideout caught 60 passes for 1,035 yards and nine touchdowns. The other is 6-foot-6 senior tight end Nick Boyle, who hauled in seven touchdowns last season and has caught a pass in 11 consecutive games.
The ground game is in the hands of sophomore Jalen Randolph. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season and contributed five touchdowns.
When the Blue Hens defense takes the field, they will be led by senior defensive lineman Derrick Saulsberry, who had seven sacks in 2013 and senior linebacker Partrick Callaway, who led Delaware in tackles with 120 last season.
Senior cornerback Mario Rowson, who started nine of the last 10 games last season, was the second leading tackler with 79 and one interception.
College football is back all across the Keystone State. Let’s all get our tailgate grills set up.