Pitt’s run game disappears in loss to Virginia
Damar Hamlin promised to go home, crank up his iPad and start figuring out what went wrong.
Pitt’s senior free safety said he planned to do so early Sunday morning before he went to bed. Sleep probably came fitfully, anyway, for many of the Pitt players after their unfortunate performance in a 30-14 loss to Virginia on Saturday.
“We take pride in trying to be the best defense in the ACC,” said Hamlin, ignoring the difficult positions the defense faced after Virginia blocked a punt and recorded two interceptions. “Whatever situation we are put in, we try to come up out of it on top, but it’s hard sometimes.”
Wide receiver Tre Tipton, who scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the first half, blamed himself.
“Ultimately, it was my leadership,” Tipton said. “I have to be more vocal. I have to be better in everything I do in order for my team to be better, as well.”
But the loss went beyond a lack of leadership or execution or the inability to step up in tough times. Perhaps, it’s a little bit of all three, but something even more distressing emerged in the defeat.
The Panthers were unable get traction in the run game – not that they tried.
Pat Narduzzi, who prides himself on being a ground-and-pound coach, said the game plan was designed to pass and counteract Virginia loading up the box with run defenders. As a result, running backs A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley, who were highly touted recruits, recorded only 15 total attempts while averaging 3.2 yards. Take away Davis’ 16-yard run in the first quarter, it falls to 2.4.
Perhaps Narduzzi will insert freshman running back Vincent Davis in the run game Saturday against Ohio. Davis, 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, received plenty of praise this summer, but Narduzzi was reluctant to use him in pass protection against Virginia. He had no meaningful carries.
Quarterback Kenny Pickett dropped back to pass on each of Pitt’s first six plays, which might have been a surprise for Virginia. But he completed only one of them. In the end, he set a career high with 41 attempts, which was the product of the game plan and falling behind in the second half.
Like most quarterbacks, Pickett needs a running game behind him to slow down the rush and open passing lanes. But he also missed open receivers, and his receivers didn’t help with two drops.
Dating to the end of last season, he’s been sacked 14 times in the past four games – all losses. In that time, he’s completed just 46.3 percent of his passes and he has thrown three interceptions and one touchdown.
Pitt hasn’t won a game since Nov. 17, 2018, when Pickett completed 23 of 30 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns in the ACC Coastal-clinching victory at Wake Forest. He hasn’t been close to those numbers before or since that game.
“We’re going to go back to the film and see what made us click so well (in the first half),” Tipton said. “And it’s going to allow us to push forward. We’re looking forward to pushing forward.”
Said Hamlin, with conviction: “I can’t wait until next week.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .