PITTSBURGH — For the second straight year, quarterback Max Browne lost the starting job after three games.
Last season, it happened at Southern Cal, where he gave way to then-freshman Sam Darnold after an 0-3 start. This season, after transferring to Pittsburgh, Browne started 1-2 and lost the job to redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci.
This time, Browne appears to have regained his starting job. Browne got the nod on Saturday and threw four touchdowns passes in the Panthers’ 42-10 rout of Rice.
DiNucci started against Georgia Tech a week ago, but couldn’t stop the slide as Pitt (2-3) lost its third game in a row. That led Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi to turn back to Browne and he responded by completing his first nine passes on the way to a 28-for-32 afternoon, with a career-high 410 yards and four touchdowns.
Pitt’s offense got rolling from the start, scoring on its first three possessions. Chawntez Moss and Jester Weah hauled in touchdown passes of 48 and 55 yards and Qadree Ollison added a 10-yard touchdown run.
Narduzzi wouldn’t say for certain that it’s Browne’s job going forward, but he quick to praise his passer.
He’s got the ability to do that every game,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got the tools out there. Overall, you’ve gotta be happy with the passing game.”
Browne felt that his experiences a year ago helped him stay on the right track when it came to getting his job back after another early setback.
“I just tried to stay even throughout the whole thing,” Browne said. “There’s a lot of season left. When they gave me the nod, it was just business as usual.”
Browne is not noted for his mobility, while DiNucci is more of a dual-threat player. In order for Browne to have a big day throwing, he also needed protection, an area the Panthers had come up short so far this season. They had allowed 13 sacks over their first four games, and gave up three more on Saturday, but right tackle Alex Bookser felt his unit did a better job of keeping Browne’s jersey clean.
“The one, (Browne) said it was a coverage sack,” Bookser said. “We’ll look at the film. But he didn’t look as beat up as he had been. I kept checking on him. I think we did a better job. That’s something we take personally every week.”
Rice quarterback Jackson Tyner hit Austin Walter for a 70-yard touchdown as the Owls (1-4) pulled it to 28-10 in the third quarter. Tyner finished 15 of 32 for 222 yards, but also threw three interceptions.
Browne connected on short touchdown passes to Darrin Hall and Chris Clark in the fourth quarter as the Panthers pulled away.
RICE: The Owls offense continued to struggle. Rice has scored more than one touchdown just once this season. With a big deficit early, Rice’s offense was unable to execute the ball-control style they prefer.
“We can’t come off and start slow,” Walter said. “It’s been an every-week thing. It’s not the coaches, it’s the players not doing what we’re coached to do.”
PITT: The Panthers offense set seasons highs in points and passing yards with Browne under center, but Pitt struggled to run the ball for the second week in a row. After recording 37 yards rushing against Georgia Tech last week, the Panthers managed just 69 yards on 33 carries.
“We’ve got to get our run game going,” Narduzzi said. “(Browne) just can’t sit back and pass every down.”
Pitt fullback George Aston, who had already missed the first three games of the season with a right ankle injury, limped off the field in the first quarter and did not return.
RICE: The Owls will complete their non-conference schedule wth a trip to Army West Point on Saturday. Rice lost at Army 31-14 last season.
PITT: The Panthers return to Atlantic Coast Conference play with a visit to Syracuse on Saturday. Pitt has won four straight and 11 of 12 against the Orange.