Only one of Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi and Virginia counterpart Bronco Mendenhall could go home happy on Friday night when their two teams met in a surprising pivotal ACC clash but, if you knocked back a few adult beverages with the pair, they would probably confirm that the game was their kind of brand of football. Hard-nosed running, a few defensive plays, a salty effort at the line of scrimmage and plenty of mud and rain?
That’s all certainly up the two old school college football coaches’ alley.
Only Narduzzi left Scott Field with a smile however, as his Panthers knocked off the No. 25 Cavaliers in a low-scoring affair 23-13 that left the resurgent program somehow in control of their own fate when it comes to reaching the conference title game.
Leading the way all night long — in rather wet conditions following an early downpour — was running back Darrin Hall. The senior had the second best game in his career with the team and finished with 229 yards and three touchdowns on just 19 carries. While one of those scores came near the goal line to cap a 15 play drive that took over eight minutes off the clock, the other two were straight up home runs that came as a result of some huge holes opened up by his offensive line. He actually scored the first points in the game by scampering 41 yards in the rain and then followed that up later on with the game-sealing score in the fourth quarter on a 75 yard run that barely had a defender in his sight.
The effort took a lot of the pressure off quarterback Kenny Pickett to keep the offense rolling as the signal-caller could only muster 61 yards and seven completions on a night where it was simply hard to throw the football. Pitt went 4-of-11 overall on third down in the game but finished with three scoring dries in the second half to really pull away.
As for the Cavaliers, they can only rue the missed opportunities to really seize control of the division race heading into the final month thanks to plenty of mistakes (one turnover, 0-2 on fourth down) and penalties (10 total for 82 yards). Bryce Perkins threw for 205 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t show off much else with limited time behind his line after getting sacked five times. UVA only rushed for 44 yards total in the game itself and mustered under 250 yards of total offense.
It spoiled what had been a rather impressive run in recent weeks and came just three days after earning a spot in the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s Top 25. Though there’s still a path to Charlotte for the ACC title game for Mendenhall’s crew, they will now need plenty of help and have zero margin for error with their final two games in league play to finish out the month.
The flip side is the result moves the Panthers to 4-1 in conference play and all but gives them control of the ACC Coastal with no worse than a tie for first place by the end of the weekend. The team has already scored wins over Duke and Georgia Tech this season and will control their own fate with upcoming games against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech still to play. For a team moving above .500 for the first time since the initial week fo the season, that’s a pretty impressive turnaround engineered by Narduzzi in just the kind of game he will certainly be happy to win.