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September 29, 2013Pitt's 14-3 win over Virginia on Saturday wasn't quite the perfect opposite of the Panthers' 58-55 defeat of Duke a week earlier, but it was close.
In beating the Blue Devils, Pitt's offense put up nearly 600 yards of offense and 58 points, and the Panthers needed every bit of that, since the defense couldn't stop Duke. Against Virginia, the defense held the Cavaliers to just three points, which was good since the offense had trouble moving the ball all day and finished with 200 yards of total offense.
"That was a great win for us in the sense of where we're at," head coach Paul Chryst said after the game, "and to be honest with you, I loved how the script was flipped. This week, the defense, I thought they played very, very well and brought a lot of energy."
The script wasn't perfectly flipped. Against Duke, Pitt's defense managed to force a few punts and intercepted four passes. But Pitt's offense couldn't do anything against Virginia, and the Panthers' two touchdowns both came on short fields after turnovers.
Still, it was a welcome change for a defensive unit that was embarrassed by its performance against Duke.
"It's a team sport," redshirt senior defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell said. "We try to pick each other up and keep each other in the game. The offense, they pretty much held us in the game last week vs. Duke; today, we held the offense. But I feel like the offense did their job putting that 14 up; we went out there and didn't let them score. If they don't score, they don't win."
Devin Street and the offensive players had no misconceptions as they discussed Saturday's game and what it took for the Panthers to earn their second ACC win.
"That's how games are sometimes; our defense stepped up, and credit to them. It's a total team game," Street said. "That's part of the team, and that's what we were preaching all week. We knew that it could happen and we prepared for it, and it did happen. And our defense stepped up.
"I'm just so proud, because it's really showing how much of a team we are. And we still have a lot of work to do, but it's good to see that we play as a team."
The concept of one side feeding off the other was never more apparent than it was on Pitt's two touchdown drives. The first score came four plays after Pitt's coverage unit alertly jumped on a punt that touched Virginia returner Dominique Terrell. And the second score came two plays after Bam Bradley fell on a fumble by Virginia quarterback David Watford.
Pitt's touchdown drives covered a combined total of 37 yards, but those two scores were as much cushion as the defense needed. Virginia only drove the ball across midfield three times in the game (the Cavaliers had two other possessions in Pitt territory after turnovers) and went three-of-18 on third down.
The Panthers' lone bright spots on offense were Street (four catches, 58 yards and a touchdown) and freshman receiver Tyler Boyd (seven catches, 111 yards). But even though Boyd produced his third 100-yard receiving game, he still acknowledged the crucial role the defense played on Saturday.
"There are always going to be games like that where offense is going to be the contributor or defense is going to be the contributor," Boyd said. "This week, it was the defense, and I give all the credit to the defense in this game. They did everything they had to do and helped us a lot."
Unsurprisingly, senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald had another exceptional game, with three tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries. After the game, he said that the 2013 Panthers have a lot of potential if they keep feeding off each other.
"I'm confident in this team, like I've been saying since Day One: I think we're going to do big things this year."