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Pitt survived some bad specials team games and questionable decisions, but the Panthers had it in theirs Huddle Saturday made a difference at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett and some late defensive heroism proved the difference in Pitt’s 41:34 win over Tennessee (1-1).
Pickett completed 24 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdown passes and ran for another to lead Pitt (2-0). The win was Pitt’s first regular season win against a non-conference-related Power 5 opponent since the Panthers defeated Notre Dame in four overtimes in 2008.
Without the support of an ongoing game, Pickett shouldered a large part of the offensive load. Running back Izzy Abanikanda carried 12 times for 43 yards and Vincent Davis 19 for 33. Wide receiver Taysir Mack caught four passes for 100 yards and Jordan Addison caught six for 64 and a touchdown.
Pitt recovered from a sloppy start and took a 27:20 lead at halftime, struggled a bit in the second half, but scored two crucial touchdowns – a 1-yard pickett sneaker on the fourth down in the third Quarter and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Addison with 12 minutes, 22 seconds in play.
Tennessee kept hitting back, trailing 41-34 when it switched to Pitt 3 at 6:59 in the game. On the fourth down, Pitt Outside linebacker John Petrishen stopped Jaylen Wright’s running back with a 1 yard loss.
But Pitt failed to move the sticks, and after a 31-yard punt just to the Panthers 34, strong safety Brandon Hill intercepted a pass from backup quarterback Hendon Hooker to drive another Tennessee drive to stop.
Early in the third quarter, Pitt survived a major mistake in coach Pat Narduzzi ‘s assessment, who called on Ben Saul’s substitute kicker to attempt a 56-yard field goal. The boot was short and Theo Jackson returned nearly 110 yards. However, the touchdown was undone by equalizing both teams’ block-in-the-back penalties.
Given a second chance, Narduzzi decided to poke. Pitt gained an advantage in the field position, however, when Kirk Christodoulou dropped the shoe within the 5-yard line that Tre Tipton found at 3.
After a punt in Tennessee, Pitt had possession on his 40-yard line and was heading for a touchdown that built a 34-20 lead at 4:49 in the third quarter.
By the end of that drive, Pitt was another fourth residue that would have required a field goal attempt of more than 50 yards. This time Narduzzi decided to do it.
Pickett took 2 yards, dropped back to the pass and climbed to 5. He finished the drive with a 1 yard sneak over the goal line.
There was an early disaster against Pitt and it was far worse than three rows of three in the offense to start the game.
When Pitt was forced to push from his 14th, Christian Charles evaded a weak attempt to block and blocked the push just inches from Christodoulou’s foot and recovered on Aug.
With quarterback Joe Milton repeatedly testing Pitt secondary with low passes – falling four in the first quarter – Tennessee still managed a 37-yard field goal from Chase McGrath.
Pitt fell 10-0 early and responded with an 11-game, 92-yard drive that ended with Pickett’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Melquise Stovall in the first game of the second quarter.
After suffering from accuracy issues, Milton decided to tuck the ball under his arm, caught Pitt in lightning, and ran 54 yards to Pitt 8.
At that point, Tennessee became its own worst enemy. After 40 yards of penalties – false starts, unnecessary roughness, and offensive passing disruptions in back-to-back games – Tennessee was forced to settle for McGrath’s 48-yard field goal.
After Pickett made 10 of his first 11 passes for 107 yards, Pitt took his first lead in a trick game after another unnecessary roughness penalty against Tennessee.
Pickett threw a pass to the sideline, where wide receiver and former high school quarterback Jared Wayne caught it and hit Lucas Krull with a 16-yard touchdown and a 14-13 lead.
In the Tennessee series that followed, Pitt missed a big chance when the defensive tackle Keyshon fired Camp Milton and ripped it out of his hands for sales in the Vols 19.
But the Pitt offensive stalled and Sam Scarton kicked a 38-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, Pitt advanced to the Vols 5-yard line but only managed one more scarton field goal, this time from 27 yards.
Milton was injured on release from Camp and was replaced by Hooke, a transfer from Virginia Tech, on Tennessee’s next streak.
After Pitt took his 20:13 lead, Hendon threw a side pass to Jimmy Calloway, Pitt’s defensive back Brandon Hill and A.J. Woods and ran 44 yards for the binding touchdown.
But Pickett, who completed 18 of 23 passes for 200 yards in the first half, ignited his two-minute offense and led Pitt to a 75-yard nine-game touchdown drive. Davis went the final 2 yards with 19 seconds remaining to give Pitt a 27-20 halftime lead.
Jerry DiPaola is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or on Twitter.
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