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From the Upper Deck: Virginia fades in second half, falls to Pitt

Virginia couldn’t duplicate a strong first half and fell at the hands of the Pitt Panthers 45-31

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that started out promising, with the Virginia Cavaliers scoring 21 points in the first quarter, the tide quickly turned when Pitt’s Jordan Whitehead picked off a Kurt Benkert pass and returned it 59 yards to give Pitt a 35-28 halftime lead. Virginia went cold in the second half, only mustering three points on a garbage time field goal before falling 45-31. The loss digs Virginia’s bowl eligibility hole even deeper. It will take a minor miracle from hereon out, but we remain optimistic. In case you missed here is what we were looking for, and here’s how it played out...From the Upper Deck.

  1. Watch out for Zaccheaus - With Pitt’s injuries in the secondary and linebacking corps, I thought Olamide Zaccheaus would be able to run wild. However, after a stellar first half, it was Virginia’s Kurt Benkert that was running. Running for his life from a Pitt pass rush. Benkert did find Zaccheaus for a 74-yard touchdown in the first quarter which gave Virginia a 21-14 lead, but the second half saw Benkert take four sacks and only target Zaccheaus once. On the day, Zaccheaus finished with three catches for 83 yards, the majority coming on that 74 yard touchdown throw.
  2. Get after Peterman - Well, it’s hard to put pressure on a quarterback who hardly throws the ball. Benkert came close to completing as many passes (20) as Nathan Peterman even attempted (21). Instead, Virginia got a heavy dose of the Panther’s power rush attack behind James Conner. Pitt essentially took the ball out of Peterman’s hands, unless of course he was throwing touchdown passes (he had two). Virginia did manage to sack him once, which is better than most of Pitt’s opponents can say. However because of the success of the Panther run game, Peterman was able to throw the ball in advantageous situations and had enough success doing so.
  3. Win on Special Teams - For all intents and purposes, the Virginia defense did enough to at least keep Virginia in the game, but two plays were the difference. First it was Whitehead’s interception return for a TD, but it was Quadree Henderson’s 93 yard kick off return touchdown that is most concerning. Coming into the game, kick coverage was a strength for the Hoos. The Hoos were giving up 23 yards per kick return, but on this day, even if you take out the 93 yard TD, Virginia still allowed Pitt almost 30 yards per return. In the punt game, Nick Conte was good, not great. His average was on par with his season, but his punts did allow for Pitt returns. Pitt was able to average 15 yards per punt return, a full ten yards more than Virginia’s season average given up to date. On the other side of the ball, Virginia could only average 18 yards per kick off return, and 6 yards per punt return. While Henderson is a talented returner, the discrepancy in return yards not only favored Pitt on field position, but on the scoreboard as well.

Virginia hosts North Carolina on Saturday Oct 22nd with a kickoff time of 3:00. North Carolina is coming off a 20-13 win at Miami. Virginia will look to keep pace in the Coastal division race and improve upon their 2-4 record.