Pittsburgh at Virginia

Defense wakes after half, leading Pitt past Virginia, 45-31

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) It was only one play in a game unfolding as a track meet, and it changed the game entirely.

Jordan Whitehead, deep in coverage as Virginia was trying to push the issue and sneak in more points before halftime, stepped in front of Kurt Benkert's pass at the Panthers' 41 and never stopped running until Pittsburgh took a 35-28 lead over Virginia into halftime.

''It was gigantic. It was gigantic,'' Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said after the Panthers won 45-31 Saturday. ''We've been waiting for one of those picks in that coverage and we finally got one. ... Tremendous football play by him and then he finds a way to get it in the end zone.''

The play capped a wild half that saw the teams combine for three touchdowns in one span of 63 seconds on a 44-yard scoring run by Virginia's Taquan Mizzell, a 93-yard kickoff return by Quadree Henderson and Benkert's 74-yard strike to Olamide Zaccheaus.

But it left Cavaliers offensive coordinator Robert Anae accepting the blame for getting greedy in the final 33 seconds of the half.

The drive began with 12-yard run by Mizzell to move the ball to the Cavaliers' 44. After a spike to stop the clock, Virginia had a receiver wide open on the next play, but Benkert was scrambling, so Anae called the exact same play, hoping the same opportunity would develop.

''It completely backfired on us,'' Anae said. ''That was my fault all the way. I blew the call and put our quarterback in a bad situation.''

James Conner ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns and Pittsburgh shut Virginia down in the second half.

The Panthers (5-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) held the Cavaliers without a completion in a scoreless third quarter, outgaining them 80-15, and limited them to 108 yards and a 36-yard field goal by Sam Hayward with 2:04 remaining. It was Hayward's first career 3-pointer.

Virginia (2-4, 1-1) had its two-game winning streak end.

Nathan Peterman threw two touchdown passes for Panthers, the last on a shovel pass to George Aston making it 42-28 with 9:47 left.


Pittsburgh: The Panthers have scored at least 36 points in six consecutive games, a program record, so offense isn't a problem. Their run defense is statistically solid, but might be artificially so because its pass defense is spotty. Kurt Benkert thrived in the first half, when Pitt had no sacks, but the Cavaliers quarterback seemed rattled after the Panthers sacked him three times in four plays early after halftime.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have the capacity to play well for long stretches, but adversity still presents them with challenges that coach Bronco Mendenhall attributes to a history of more failure than success. The adversity against Pitt came in two stages - Whitehead's interception return touchdown, and when the Panthers came out firing on defense and applied pressure Benkert hadn't seen before halftime.


Whitehead isn't Pittsburgh's only two-way player anymore.

The safety, who also carried the ball three times for 28 yards, was joined in that versatility by Conner, who took a few snaps at defensive end.

''We've been kind of working that in and as you guys know, he was recruited as a defensive lineman,'' Narduzzi said. ''... James is a super football player. I was happy he got a hurry on the quarterback and we'll have a little bit more of that.''


Pittsburgh: The Panthers have a bye next weekend, and will then play Virginia Tech at Heinz Field on Thursday night, Oct. 27.

Virginia: The Cavaliers continue their three-game homestand by taking on longtime rival North Carolina.


Online: The AP's college football page: http://collegefootball.ap.org


Follow Hank on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC is strictly prohibited.

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May 24, 2017
ACC Strength of Schedule Rankings (1:07)
Pittsburgh  (5-2) «142101045
Virginia  (2-4)2170331
Scoring Summary
UVAAlbert Reid 5 yd run (Sam Hayward kick)
PITTJester Weah 38 yd pass from Nathan Peterman (Chris Blewitt kick)
UVATaquan Mizzell 44 yd run (Sam Hayward kick)
PITTQuadree Henderson 93 yd kick return (Chris Blewitt kick)
UVAOlamide Zaccheaus 74 yd pass from Kurt Benkert (Sam Hayward kick)
PITTJames Conner 1 yd run (Chris Blewitt kick)
UVAAlbert Reid 1 yd run (Sam Hayward kick)
PITTJames Conner 1 yd run (Chris Blewitt kick)
PITTJordan Whitehead 59 yd interception return (Chris Blewitt kick)
PITTGeorge Aston 5 yd pass from Nathan Peterman (Chris Blewitt kick)
PITTChris Blewitt 25 yd FG
UVASam Hayward 36 yd FG
Team Stats
First Downs1919
Third Down Efficiency8-176-17
Fourth Down Efficiency1-12-2
Plays-Net Yards70-34671-364
Passing Yds137278
Kick Return Yds21094
Punt Return Yds4619
Time of Poss.36:1423:46
Individual Stats
PITT: James Conner 20-90, Jordan Whitehead 3-28, Chawntez Moss 7-26, Nathan Peterman 5-26, Rafael Araujo-Lopes 2-16, Tre Tipton 3-10, Maurice Ffrench 3-7, Quadree Henderson 1-6, George Aston 1-6, Qadree Ollison 1-0, Team 3--6
UVA: Taquan Mizzell 12-95, Albert Reid 9-28, Jordan Ellis 1-1, Kurt Benkert 4--38
PITT: Nathan Peterman 11-21-137-0
UVA: Kurt Benkert 20-44-278-1, Team 0-1-0-0
PITT: Scott Orndoff 3-25, Jester Weah 2-54, James Conner 2-28, Tre Tipton 2-20, George Aston 2-10
UVA: Keeon Johnson 5-41, Olamide Zaccheaus 3-83, Warren Craft 3-50, Doni Dowling 3-32, Taquan Mizzell 3-15, Joe Reed 1-25, David Eldridge 1-16, Albert Reid 1-16
Pittsburgh2nd Atlantic Coast Coastal5-38-5
Virginia6th Atlantic Coast Coastal1-72-10

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