PITTSBURGH (AP) — Virginia looks ready to live up to the preseason hype.
Bryce Perkins threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns and the Cavaliers took advantage of a series of Pittsburgh miscues in a 30-14 victory on Saturday night. Perkins found Chris Sharp for a 2-yard score in the first quarter after Virginia blocked a punt and connected with Hasise Dubois on a 13-yard touchdown in the third quarter following an interception by Matt Gahm to give the Cavaliers just their second win over the Panthers since Pitt joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013.
Perkins also ran for 44 yards and Virginia’s defense knocked around Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who had an uneven night operating new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s more pass-heavy attack for the first time.
Pickett attempted a career-high 41 passes, completing 21 of them for 185 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. The junior also spent large portions of the night on the run as Pitt’s offensive line — featuring four first-year starters —struggled to keep the Cavaliers at bay.
The Panthers are coming off a surprising Coastal Division title last fall, when they emerged from a rocky start to become the sixth different team in as many seasons to win one of the most unpredictable divisions in major college football. The Cavaliers — coming off an 8-5 mark in head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s third season — were tabbed as the favorites heading into 2019 thanks in large part to Perkins and a defense coming off an impressive shutout of South Carolina in the Belk Bowl.
Virginia took an early 10-point lead but the Panthers recovered as Pickett briefly found a rhythm. He hit 9 of 10 during one stretch in the second quarter, and his 3-yard flip to Tre Tipton with 38 seconds left in the first half gave Pitt a 14-13 lead and momentum at the break.
It didn’t last. Brian Delaney finished off Virginia’s opening drive of the third quarter by hitting a 45-yard field goal. Pickett then tried to force a sideline throw on Pitt’s next possession that Gahm stepped in front of to give the Cavaliers the ball at the Pitt 29. Five plays later Perkins hit Dubois going over the middle and the senior extended every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame to stretch the ball over the goal line and put Virginia up by nine.
Pitt never came close to getting back in it, not with Pickett under heavy duress on nearly every snap.
Virginia: The defense — and not Perkins — might be the biggest reason for optimism in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers mixed up coverages and blitz schemes brilliantly and the front three spent most of the night operating on Pitt’s side of the line of scrimmage. Pitt’s four running backs — A.J. Davis, Todd Sibley, V’Lique Carter and Vincent Davis — averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
Pitt: The Panthers hired Whipple to reinvigorate a passing game that was one of the least effective in the FBS last season. The early returns were equal parts promising and problematic. There were times when receivers broke free down field, but either Pickett overthrew them or they dropped it. A bigger issue going forward? Finding a way to make sure Pickett doesn’t endure the kind of punishment he took against Virginia.
Virginia: Welcomes former Cavaliers coach Mike London and William & Mary to Scott Stadium on Friday. London went 27-46 at Virginia from 2010-15.
Pitt: Hosts Mid-American Conference preseason favorite Ohio (1-0) next Saturday. The Panthers lead the all-time series with the Bobcats 7-1.