Browne or DiNucci? Pitt coaches will have to decide
Six fans in Pitt’s student section had painted navy letters on their chests spelling out “B-R-O-W-N-E.”
By Pitt’s second drive of the second quarter, trailing Oklahoma State by 35 points, three letters remained – “B-E-N.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci replaced starter Max Browne, and his first pass of the game went to Quadree Henderson for 74 yards, setting up Pitt’s first touchdown of the day in the 59-21 loss. Minutes later, DiNucci led the Panthers on a 13-play, 80-yard drive culminating in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Rafael AraujoLopes.
“When you’re the backup, you’re always one play away from getting in the game. So the Pinstripe Bowl was one play, last week was one play and this week, I didn’t know I was going in but I had to stay ready to get in the game and I was ready to roll,” DiNucci said, referencing a bowl loss last year to Northwestern and a loss last week to Penn State.
DiNucci completed 13 of 25 passes for 228 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. For the second week in a row, DiNucci was the only Pitt quarterback to directly account for a score, taken off the bench to provide a “spark.”
With Pitt dropping its second consecutive game and opening ACC play at Georgia Tech next week, coach Pat Narduzzi admitted the Panthers have a decision to make at quarterback. Whether that decision comes at the beginning of practice this week or closer to kickoff, Narduzzi wouldn’tsay.
“I probably won’t tell you, but we’ll continue to evaluate,”Narduzzi said.
DiNucci’s day wasn’t perfect, as one might expect in a blowout loss. On Pitt’s 5 and under pressure, the PineRichland graduate threw the ball into traffic and Oklahoma State’s Justin Phillips returned it the few yards he needed for a touchdown to make it 56-14 in the third quarter. DiNucci threw another interception on the nextpossession.
“Ben came in and he gave us a spark that we thought he could,” Narduzzi said. “That’s why we made the decision to put him in the second quarter, whenever it was. He provided that spark. He did some nice things. And then he did some things where we’ve talked, decisionwise, he can’t do.”
Browne completed 7 of 10 passes for 60 yards before getting pulled. Narduzzi was quick to point out that lack of productivity falls on the entire offense and coaching staff, not just Browne, who has faced top-10 teams in four of his six collegiate starts, dating to his time at Southern California.
The spark DiNucci generates on offense might be valuable, but the sole receiver to catch a touchdown pass, Araujo-Lopes, said nabbing wins is more important than who’s under center.
“You try not to get caught up in the hype of this and that … We have to win the game,” Araujo-Lopes said. “So I know the coaches are going to do whatever we can to win moving forward, so all that spark stuff, that doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to put points on the board and we’ve got to win.”
Whether or not it’s his name spelled out by the student section in coming weeks, DiNucci won’t change anything about his preparation moving into ACC play.
“I’m going to take the same approach every week,” DiNucci said. “I’m going to approach this week like I’m the starter and I’m just going to control what I can control and leave the rest up to Coach Narduzzi and [offensive coordinator Shawn] Watson.”