What stood out in Pitt’s 47-14 win over Virginia Tech at Heinz Field on Saturday? Here are some of the big storylines.
The biggest storyline from this game was a question that was asked all week: Who would actually be playing for Pitt against Virginia Tech? The answer was that the Panthers were missing 16 players due to COVID protocols – more than they had absent all season. That list included three starting offensive linemen and the team’s leaders in receptions and tackles. With that many key players absent, the outlook was bleak, but instead of bowing to the circumstances of the situation, the team rose up.
The offense was in rhythm, the defense stepped up to make big plays in key moments and Alex Kessman made four field goals, including a pair from more than 50 yards out. In the most challenging situation of the season, Pitt put in arguably its best overall performance.
The 47-14 win follows Pitt’s 41-17 victory at Florida State two weeks ago, giving the Panthers their first back-to-back games with at least 40 points scored since the 2016 season, when they scored 43 at Clemson and 56 against Duke in consecutive games.
Pitt also finished with 556 yards of offense, the second time this season the Panthers have topped 500 yards (they had 503 against N.C. State). This comes after Pitt didn’t gain 500 yards in a single game last season. And what’s most remarkable is that the Panthers generated a significant percentage of their yards on the ground. Sure, Kenny Pickett threw for 404 yards, but A.J. Davis ran 12 times for 80 yards and one touchdown, Vincent Davis ran nine times for 53 yards and a score and the Pitt offense put up more than 150 rushing yards for just the second time all season.
Pitt was especially effective at running the ball late in the game. On the Panthers’ final two possessions, they ran the ball 18 times for 98 yards, took more than 15 minutes off the game clock and scored a pair of touchdowns – quite a way to close a game.
The offensive line
A lot of the credit for Pitt’s win on Saturday has to go to the offensive line. With three starters out from a line that has struggled all season, it wasn’t hard to imagine the Panthers’ offense getting stuck in the mud against Virginia Tech. Instead, the line kept Kenny Pickett upright and helped open some holes for the run game. Redshirt seniors Jimmy Morrissey and Bryce Hargrove both played, but they were joined by redshirt junior Carson Van Lynn (right tackle), redshirt sophomore Blake Zubovic (right guard) and redshirt freshman Matt Goncalves (left tackle), and those three performed admirably in their call-up roles.
Also stepping up
The offensive linemen had the biggest job to do in replacing lost starters, but that wasn’t the only spot where key players were missing on Saturday. Pitt also went into the game against Virginia Tech without leading receiver Jordan Addison and top reserve wide out Jared Wayne. The result: D.J. Turner nearly tied a Pitt record with 15 receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown, freshman Jaylon Barden caught five passes for 65 yards and a score and five other players recorded at least one catch.
And on the other side of the ball, Erick Hallett stepped in for Brandon Hill and recorded seven tackles, Cam Bright picked up the slack left by SirVocea Dennis by making seven tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.
Missing 16 players hurt Pitt’s lineup, to be sure, but the efforts of Turner, Barden, Hallett, Bright, Goncalves, Zubovic and Van Lynn offset those absences and were crucial to getting the win.