PITTSBURGH – The 2019 season did not get off to a good start for Pitt, which fell 30-14 to Virginia on Saturday night at Heinz Field as dynamic dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins led the way for the Cavaliers.
It was a disappointing debut for Mark Whipple’s offense.
“We didn’t make enough plays,” coach Pat Narduzzi said following the game. “We missed throws, we dropped balls, we don’t protect the quarterback, we don’t tackle as well as we need to.
“It starts with me. I got to do a better job of getting them ready.”
Quarterback Kenny Pickett completed just 50 percent of his passes, throwing one touchdown and two interceptions. Pickett faced constant pressure from the Virginia defense, particularly in the second half.
“We had guys open in the passing game. We had what we wanted, (but) you got to connect,” Narduzzi said.
Pitt’s defense did all it could to contain Perkins early, keeping the score close as the offense struggled to find a rhythm. The quarterback was held to minus-4 yards rushing in the first half but finished with 44 rushing yards. Perkins also completed 20 of 34 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
The Panthers trailed 10-0 following three-and-outs on their first two offensive drives, but a big play swung the momentum their way. On the first play of the second quarter, Pickett connected with running back A.J. Davis on a 59-yard reception. Davis found the end zone four plays later. Virginia answered with a field goal, before the Panthers went to the no-huddle offense.
Pickett completed six of seven passes for 42 yards on the drive, and added another 23 yards rushing. Running back Todd Sibley Jr. also rushed for 20 yards on the drive that resulted in a Tre Tipton touchdown catch with 38 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Pitt led 14-13 at the half.
The lead didn’t last long, as the Cavaliers kicked a field goal on the opening drive of the second half and their defense shut Pitt out the rest of the way.
Both Narduzzi and Pickett said it wasn’t so much what Virginia did in the second as what Pitt didn’t do that led to the loss.
“I don’t think they changed much,” Narduzzi said. “I think it’s more about what we did than what they did.”
“They changed up some looks, but at the end of the day, there were plays there that we just didn’t make,” Pickett said. “We were not consistent enough at all.”
Virginia never allowed Pitt’s offense to settle into a rhythm in the second half. The Cavaliers got pressure on Pickett as the offense struggled to pick up blitzes. Pickett was sacked four times, and hurried seven times. Pickett threw two second half interceptions; the first one led to a Virginia touchdown and put the Cavaliers up 23-14 midway through the third quarter.
“Obviously, a good (defensive) scheme,” Narduzzi said. “That’s what happens when you’re throwing it a little more; they’re going to come after you a little more. That goes with the territory. We got to learn to pick that stuff up.
“Kenny took some hits today. We can’t let our quarterback take hits like that.”
All of Virginia’s touchdowns were aided by short fields; the first was scored following a blocked punt which resulted in the Cavaliers getting the ball at Pitt’s 19 and the second coming after a third quarter Pickett interception, which gave them the ball at the Panthers’ 29. The Cavaliers took over on downs deep in enemy territory after Pitt went for it on fourth down when trailing by two scores late and punched it in for a garbage-time touchdown that put an exclamation point their victory.
“It’s hard to win a football game when you have a blocked punt and two interceptions,” Narduzzi said. “That’s 14 points right there.”