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September 28, 2013

Pitt gets by Virginia at home

It wasn't pretty, but it didn't have to be, as Pitt fought through a dismal offensive performance to pull out a 14-3 win over Virginia at Heinz Field Saturday afternoon.

A week after putting up 58 points and nearly 600 yards against Duke, Pitt's offense found Virginia's defense to be a bit tougher. The Cavaliers entered the game with one of the best defenses in the ACC, and they looked every bit the part, holding Pitt to less than 100 yards of total offense in the first half and 198 by the end of the game.

With little success coming against Virginia's defense, Pitt relied instead on turnovers, as the Panthers' first two touchdowns came from the Cavaliers' mistakes. After Pitt punted on its second drive, the Virginia returner inconceivably stayed near the rolling ball, and when it bounced off his leg, Trenton Coles recovered it for the Panthers.

Four plays later, James Conner hit the hole and pushed his way into the end zone from six yards out to give Pitt a 7-0 lead.

On Virginia's next possession, Cavaliers quarter David Watford fumbled a third-down snap, and this time it was linebacker Bam Bradley who made the recovery for the home team. Two plays later, Tom Savage floated a pass to Devin Street for a 15-yard touchdown pass.

Beyond the two gift possessions, though, Pitt's offense couldn't generate much production. On the Panthers' four possessions in the second quarter, they punted twice, turned the ball over once on an interception and watched as freshman Chris Blewitt missed a 36-yard field goal.

The futility carried into the third quarter, as Pitt's four third-quarter possessions ended with a fumble, an interception and two punts, and the Panthers entered the fourth quarter facing a second-and-31 from their own 4. They converted that play with a 17-yard screen pass to Rachid Ibrahim and a spectacular diving catch by Street to gain 32 yards. But Savage took his sixth sack of the game a few plays later, and Matt Yoklic came on to kick his seventh punt of the game.

Fortunately for Pitt, Virginia's offense was just as bad, if not worse on Saturday afternoon. The Cavaliers were unable to move the ball through the air and had minimal success on the ground as Pitt's defense, which was gouged for 55 points and more than 500 yards last week, put in its best performance of the season.

Virginia gained a total of 179 yards in the game, converted just 3-of-18 third downs and moved the ball across the 50 just twice in the first three quarters (other than when the Cavaliers defense recovered turnovers in Pitt territory).

Virginia quarterback David Watford only completed 14 of his 36 pass attempts for 114 yards and no touchdowns.

Despite the general offensive incompetence, freshman Tyler Boyd had another exceptional afternoon, finishing with 111 yards on seven receptions to become just the second Pitt freshman to ever record three consecutive 100-yard receiving games.

But the Panthers' run game never got going, as Conner rushed for 27 yards on 15 carries and junior Isaac Bennett rushed five times for five yards. And Savage struggled, getting sacked seven times as he completed 13-of-30 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Savage took one particularly hard hit to the head as he was sliding on the final play of the third quarter and played eight more snaps in the fourth quarter - two of which were sacks - before redshirt freshman Chad Voytik came on for Pitt's final offensive drive.

Pitt improves to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the ACC. The Panthers are off this week.

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