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Virginia picks up win in season opener with 30-14 grinder against Pitt

Hoos start the season 1-0 in the Coastal thanks to strong defense, timely scoring, and strong special teams.

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NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 Virginia Football season started off on the right foot as the Cavaliers traveled to Pittsburgh and got a leg up in the Coastal Division with a 30-14 win over the Panthers. It was a back and forth game early on with the Hoos jumping out to a 10-0 lead before heading into the locker room down 14-13 at the break. Virginia put 10 more points on the board in the third quarter — while holding Pitt scoreless — and used well-timed defensive stops to hold on for the win.

In a welcome development, the Virginia kicking game and special teams were outstanding. Brian Delaney went 3-for-4 on the day, making field goals from 36, 39, and 45 yards, and missing one from 40 that had a bad hold. Nash Griffin, the punter who stepped up in the hole left by Lester Coleman, boomed four punts for an average of 45.5 yards per punt and put three inside the 20-yard line. Noah Taylor also got a hand on a Pitt punt, giving Virginia great field position that they turned into a touchdown in the first quarter.

Defensively, the Hoos were stellar. Pitt only scored in the second quarter, notching two touchdowns that put the Panthers in front. From that point on, the defense went into full lockdown mode. Joey Blount had seven tackles, two sacks, and one interception, while Zane Zandier led the Hoos with nine total tackles. Linebacker Matt Gahm made an immediate impact with an interception and three tackles.

Blount’s performance earned him the honor of “Breaking the Rock”:

As a group, the defense had four sacks, seven tackles for a loss, seven QB hurries, five pass break ups, and two interceptions. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett went 21-for-41 with one touchdown and two interceptions for 185 yards in the air. The Panthers ran significantly less than they did last season in Charlottesville, instead attempting 41 passes to just 30 rush attempts (78 yards total on the ground).

On the offense, Virginia elected to go pass-heavy on the play selection as Bryce Perkins tossed two touchdowns and went 20-for-34 for 181 yards. Hasise Dubois and Chris Sharp hauled in the touchdown passes, and Joe Reed led the team with seven receptions in the game. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall didn’t seem fully trusting of his running backs just yet, rushing just 33 times (with most of those coming late in the game as the Hoos burned clock).

When Virginia did rush, however, it was successful. Second year Wayne Taulapapa rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries and added the exclamation point touchdown to put the game away with just over 30 seconds left. Perkins used his feet well, finishing with 44 yards on the ground.

The offensive line showed some weaknesses, but shored up as the game progressed. A healthy Bryce Perkins will be crucial going forward, and he took a lot of hits. Unsurprisingly, the more time he got, the better the outcome of the play. If the running game can improve and increase carry totals, that should also help reduce hits taken by Perkins.

Virginia played a clean game, getting flagged three times for a total of 35 yards (two of which were 15-yard personal fouls against Zane Zandier). The Hoos took care of the ball with a 2-0 lead in turnovers, turning the two interceptions into seven points.

With the win, Virginia starts the season 1-0 overall and picks up a huge 1-0 record in the Coastal Division. It’s the first win for Mendenhall against Pitt, and sets the tone for a season that comes with high expectations.

Check out the highlights below:

Next up, Virginia hosts William & Mary, Friday, September 6. The game is set for an 8pm kickoff on the ACC Network.