Prior to being hired as Pittsburgh’s head football coach, Pat Narduzzi built a track record for developing outstanding defenses. On Saturday, that defensive expertise was on display as he picked up his first ACC win in a 17-13 victory over Virginia Tech.
For the Panthers, the win snapped a 14-game losing streak in road games following a bye week. It was the first time Pitt had won such a game since 2001.
More importantly, though, Narduzzi’s team is off to a 1-0 start in conference play after beating a team that was picked in July to finish second in the Coastal Division this season. It’s almost symbolic that the win came over legendary Hokie coach Frank Beamer, whose teams have often thrived on the defensive side of the ball throughout his career.
— Pitt Football (@GoPittFootball) October 3, 2015
The Panthers only allowed 100 yards of offense during the rainy game in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech quarterback Brenden Motley, who threw for five touchdowns with only one interception in his three starts going into Saturday’s contest, was limited to 9-of-20 passing for 91 yards and one score with three picks.
Pitt’s pass rush had a lot to do with the Hokies’ lack of success moving the ball. While Josh Conklin’s defense held Virginia Tech to only nine rushing yards, much of that was due to the seven sacks it had on the day.
There were also some bright spots for Narduzzi’s squad offensively. While the Panthers are thin at running back — true freshman Darrin Hall was out with a leg injury while juniors James Conner and Rachid Ibrahim are out for the season — Qadree Ollison managed to rush for 122 yards and a touchdown.
The fact that Pittsburgh had success running the ball leaves reason for optimism for the team moving forward, but the defense shined most on Saturday. After finishing No. 58 nationally in scoring defense last season (26.3 points per game), the team has shown tremendous improvement in that phase of the game so far this fall, giving up just 21 points per contest.
Another positive sign for the Panthers looking ahead is that they’ll have the opportunity to exploit other teams on the ground in the coming weeks. Virginia and North Carolina have both been among the nation’s worst teams at defending the run, and Pitt will host the Cavaliers next weekend, while the Tar Heels will travel to Heinz Field for a Thursday night matchup on Oct. 29.
Pittsburgh is only one game into the conference slate, but given Saturday’s performance, there’s no reason the team should be counted out as a contender within its division. The Panthers’ greatest flaw to this point in the season has been inconsistency at quarterback, but the coaching staff was effective in the way it managed Nate Peterman and Chad Voytik against the Hokies.
The biggest reason why Pitt has a shot at representing the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 5 is its defense. The Panthers have been solid on that side of the ball ever since bouncing back from the opener in which big plays allowed Youngstown State to score 37 points against Conklin’s defense.
With no undefeated teams remaining in the Coastal, it’s safe to say the division is wide open. If Pitt’s defense continues to play at a high level, there’s no reason why the Panthers can’t rise to the top.