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2019-09-09 17:32:061 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
-by Bo Marchionte, Contributing Writer; Image: Pittsburgh wide out Maurice Ffrench races past defender. (Image Source: Mark Alberti/College2Pro)
Pittsburgh, PA—Fall temperatures accompanied the 11am kickoff at Heinz Field. The Pitt Panthers aimed to get their first win of the young 2019 season after a home loss last week to Virginia, 30-14. The game was a quiet non-offensive battle prior to Kenny Pickett finding Maurice Ffrench for a 74-yard touchdown connection early in the second quarter.
The quick strike got the Panthers rolling to a 20-10 win over the Ohio Bobcats.
The Bobcats played the Panthers tough before Pitt exploded for two early second quarter touchdowns. Ffrench had a career half grabbing seven catches (career high) for 118 yards (another career high), as the speedy playmaker put his imprint on the game.
The combination of Pickett and Ffrench may be the calling card for success for Pittsburgh this season.
Pickett has already thrown more passes in the opening two games of 2019 than in any previous two games in his Pitt career. With 39 attempts in the opening two games compared to last year when he averaged 22.1 attempts per game, it appears the Pitt offense is going to let it fly.
“It’s however Coach Whip (Mark Whipple) calls it,” said Pickett after the team’s first win. “He’s got a great mind for the game.”
Tyler Boyd was the last prolific target in the Pitt offensive arsenal. Since his departure to the National Football League, most of the offensive centerpieces played in the backfield. James Conner, Qadree Ollison, and Darrin Hall were the playmakers the past three seasons.
Ffrench used sophomore season to establish himself as a future centerpiece in the Panthers offense. He was used in all phases of the game. He ran it. He caught it. He returned it. He proved early on that he could handle plenty of different duties. His game would expand and now in his senior season, he is blossoming.
In high school, the triple threat had 1,325 rushing yards on 106 carries (12.9 avg.) and added 727 receiving yards on 28 catches (25.9 avg.). Ffrench would score 24 total touchdowns (15 rushing, five receiving, two on kickoff returns, two by punt returns).
The New Brunswick, New Jersey native has led the Panthers in receptions (16) over their first two, including 10 catches for 138 yards and one touchdown on Saturday. It marked career highs in both receptions and receiving yards.
“I’m not looking for him,” said Pickett. “He’s just getting open.
In the fourth quarter Ffrench had the student section roaring as he headed towards the north end zone after a 45-yard Bobcats punt. His plus 25-yard return was nullified by a penalty, but it was Ffrench once again showing his multi-dimensions as a playmaker.
“It doesn’t get easier from here,” said a subdued Ffrench. “A little bit of confidence and boost.”
While Pickett played it off that Ffrench was just getting open and he was able to find him, later in the interview he did say that the offense was focused on getting him in space.
“Getting Maurice more touches in space was an emphasis in our game plan,” Pickett would admit postgame. “Letting him go do this thing. Obviously, it was a positive.”
In comparison to production from last season to today, Ffrench has compiled 16 catches in two games, a mark it took him six games to reach last year. So, he is poised to be the big-play threat for Pittsburgh this year.
“We like to call those extended runs,” said Pickett when describing the short intermediate routes his receivers take. “Just flick the ball out there and let them go out in space and do what they do best.”
That was exactly what happened on the opening touchdown of the game that with the connection between Pickett and Ffrench.
“I had a corner route,” said Ffrench. “My instinct was to make a play.”
Ffrench took the ball after the catch and blazed his way towards the student section end zone. He became the first player since Boyd to have ten plus catches in 2015. The 74-yard touchdown was the longest thus far of Ffrench’s career at Pitt.
Already on the Maxwell Award Watch List (given to the best all-around player in college football), Ffrench helped secure his place on the Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List against Ohio. With both the Philadelphia Eagles and Senior Bowl scouts on hand, his performance surely enhanced his draft prowess early in the year.
It is hard to erase his talents on a day like today.
To read more from Bo Marchionte at College2Pro.com, click here.
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