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Dynamic Boyd fuels ‘smash-mouth’ Panthers

| Friday, November 6, 2015

When junior running back James Conner tore his MCL in Pittsburgh’s season-opening victory over Youngstown State, the Panthers didn’t just lose an All-American and reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year in the backfield: They also had to figure out how to retool their offense.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh (6-2, 4-1 ACC), receiver Tyler Boyd wasn’t a bad option to become its de facto offensive catalyst.

The junior’s stat line through his first two seasons meant he wouldn’t have been excluded from the attack anyways. Boyd was named an All-American by two outlets as a sophomore and became the first receiver in ACC history to accumulate 1,000 receiving yards in his first two seasons, with 1,174 as a freshman and 1,261 the following year.

He’s resumed that productivity this season, when the Panthers most need him in Conner’s absence. Boyd has 578 receiving yards through the seven games he has played and has been a popular target for redshirt junior quarterback Nate Peterman, averaging nine catches per game, the fourth-best mark in the nation.

“Obviously guys like Boyd and Peterman are the guys on offense that we have to concern ourselves with,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “Boyd can do so many different things.”

Boyd needs 49 more yards to become Pitt’s all-time leading receiver, currently sitting at 3,013. The junior is already the program leader in career receptions with 226, putting him above former Panther standouts and NFL players like Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant.

The Panthers might just need Boyd to surpass that yardage mark this weekend in order to establish the passing game against the Irish secondary.

Pittsburgh is coming off a 26-19 loss to North Carolina, leaving the team out of the top 25 in the College Football Playoff rankings and the most recent AP poll. The Panthers’ offense as a whole struggled against the Tar Heels, with Boyd in particular held to just 89 receiving yards and no scores.

“At times it looked like [North Carolina] was running our route for us,” Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi said Wednesday. “So we have to get guys who can get open and get off the press. That’s our receivers’ job, and then look back for the ball when they are open. So there’s a little bit of everything. We knew they had a great pass defense, and if you have to throw, you have to throw it. We knew they’d be all over you and make it hard for you to get open.”

Boyd has also been a special-teams standout for the Panthers during his career as an explosive returner. He was named second-team all-ACC as a return specialist in 2014 and led the conference with a 27.6-yard average per kick return.

This season, he’s averaging 23.4 yards in that category on 11 total kick returns.

“We’ve been presented with similar situations this year with dynamic return men,” Kelly said. “We have everything in the plan for a guy like him. He is dynamic. He can run the ball as well on offense. They’re using him at the running back position, wide receiver. He’s a game-wrecker. We’re aware of him in special teams as well as an offensive player.”

The multifaceted game Boyd brings to the field is emblematic of the Panthers’ game as a whole, according to Irish graduate student captain and linebacker Joe Schmidt.

“Tough, hard-nosed, physical, competitive, aggressive,” Schmidt said. “These are always games where it’s a 15-round heavyweight match. And Pitt, they’re always going to play you tough. Doesn’t matter what game they’re playing, they’re going to come to play. That’s just how that team has always played us. Just watching the tape now, it’s the same kind of thing. They’re a smash-mouth team.”

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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