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[Pittsburgh,Pa] The Pitt Panthers had new uniforms, a new offense and new optimism but those alone weren’t enough to prevent a disappointing 30-14 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers in their Home Opener of the 2019 season.
The expectation was that Quarterback Kenny Pickett would benefit from new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s offensive attack by throwing the ball more. Well, Pickett did have more opportunities to throw, but unfortunately it resulted in several missed passes to wide-open receivers and 2 costly interceptions that helped seal Pitt’s fate. Pickett finished 21-14 for 185 yards, a TD and 2 interceptions on the evening.
“We didn’t make enough plays. You gotta connect.” Said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi “We had guys open, you gotta make those plays. And it starts with me. I’m not worried about one football game. We’ve been in this situation before. You can’t expect to win games when you have a blocked punt and 2 interceptions.”
It was a game in which the Panthers could’ve won, provided they were consistent in their execution. But they did have moments when they were hitting the mark like late in the second quarter when Pickett showed flashed of excellence as he led the Panthers on 2 consecutive drives to take a 14-13 lead after falling behind 10-0.
On the first drive, Pickett found Running back AJ Davis on a slant pass that he turned into a 59-yard yard run the put Pitt deep into Virginia territory. Then 2 plays later, Davis scored the Panthers first TD on a 2-yard run. On the second drive, Pickett led his team on an impressive 14 play-80-yard drive that ended with Pickett finding Wide reciever Tre Tipton for the 3-yard TD pass, giving the Panthers the lead at halftime.
Unfortunately, the second half wasn’t too friendly for the Panthers as they struggled in execution on offense, failed to establish the run and gave up a TD when QB Bryce Perkins found WR Hasise Dubois for a 13-yard TD and regained the lead. Although they held Virginia to 4 field goal attempts, they made 3 of them, which helped extend their lead.
“We can’t have things happen out there like it did if you want to play Championship defense.” Said Narduzzi
Pitt had their chances, but unfortunately Pickett and Co. just couldn’t execute and resulted in 3- and-outs, a missed 50-yard Field Goal by Alex Kessman, and the second interception that helped seal the game for the Cavaliers. RB Wayne Taulapapa’s 10-yard TD run with 30 seconds left was the Cavaliers 3rd and final TD.
Pickett badly overthrew WR Tasir Mack, and Tre Tipton on several occasions, but Narduzzi stated that they had troubles in pass protection and it affected Pickett’s play “You could say there’s some first game jitters, but we gotta do a better job at protecting him.” Said Narduzzi.
Perkins would finish the game 20-34 with 181 yards and 2 TDs. He also ran for 44 yards on 18 carries as he made it plain to the Panthers that he was going to run the ball.
The Panthers are now 0-1 and 0-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) this marks the first time Pitt has ever opened the season against a conference foe. They won’t play another ACC opponent until October 5th when they travel to North Carolina to face the Duke Blue Devils. Pitt’s next opponent is next Saturday against Ohio in a rare 11am start at Heinz Field, followed by a trip to Happy Valley the following week to face Penn State.
Notes: Pitt is now 8-4 all-time vs. Virginia. Tonight’s honorary captain was Fullback Tom Brown who played for Pitt from 1982-86. Pitt also honored the Late Bill Fralic by recognizing his family on the field during the game.
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