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Virginia Cavaliers fall short against Pitt, 26-19

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers couldn't find the end zone in a late comeback bid, as the team fell to the Pittsburgh Panthers 26-19 at Heinz Field. The Hoos lost their third consecutive game, falling to 1-4 (0-1 ACC), while the surging Panthers moved to 4-1 (1-0 ACC).

Trailing 26-13, the Hoos scored their first offensive touchdown of the game on a Matt Johns strike to Canaan Severin with just under six minutes to play. The defense followed it by forcing a crucial three-and-out, giving the team the ball back at their 28 with 3:44 to play. It looked like UVA may pull off the comeback when Matt Johns followed consecutive penalties by finding TJ Thorpe to convert on 4th and 23. But the Wahoo drive ran out of steam on the Pitt 42 with four consecutive incompletions.

After struggling early, the UVA defense did their job in the second half, allowing just one touchdown on a very short field. After allowing 217 yards in the first quarter, the unit gave up just 146 in the last three, as Will Ojanen noted. They also forced their first two takeaways of the season. Early in the second quarter, Mike Moore sacked Nathan Peterman; Kwontie Moore grabbed the loose ball and scampered into the end zone. Takeaways are apparently very useful. Micah Kaiser also forced what looked like a key fumble inside the UVA 1 yard line. However, Matt Johns was sacked in the end zone for a safety (after using a timeout to prevent a delay of game penalty...which would have cost the Hoos under one yard).

Despite the defense's second-half improvement, the hole was too big for a sputtering offense to dig out of.  Virginia's first drive summarized the frustrations of the team's season. Trailing 7-0, Albert Reid broke a 71-yard run, the team's longest of the year, to move UVA inside the 10-yard line. On second-and-goal from the six, Matt Johns missed a wide-open Reid on a well-designed play - the ball landed at his feet, when any throw in the air near Reid would have resulted in a touchdown. Then, third-and-six became third-and-sixteen after terribly-timed delay of game and false start penalties, and the team was forced to settle for a momentum-killing field goal.

UVA isn't going to win many road games without converting big plays when they have the opportunities to do so. And Matt Johns and TJ Thorpe consistently struggled to connect, despite Thorpe's success getting open downfield. Down 17-3, the pair had two opportunities on the same drive. On the first, Johns overthrew him badly; the second time, Johns threw a perfect ball, which Thorpe dropped.  In the third quarter, trailing 17-10, Johns again missed an open Thorpe on another play that should have been an easy touchdown; on the next pass, Johns threw an interception. Rather than tie the game up, the Hoos fell behind 24-10 when the Panthers scored shortly after.

Johns finished the game passing 17-33 for 209 yards with a TD and an interception. With Severin and Thorpe to throw to, he has to do a better job of throwing more catchable balls, even if they are more "risky" throws. While the passing game struggled, the rushing game was able to supply the big plays.  The Hoos entered the game ranked last in the ACC in rushing offense, while Pitt ranked 4th in the entire FBS in rushing defense. But UVA was able to gain 131 on the ground, mostly on a few nice runs (led by Reid's 71-yarder).

UVA heads home next week to take on Syracuse at Homecomings at Scott Stadium.