Senior quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for 404 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in his final start at Heinz Field as shorthanded Pittsburgh rolled past Virginia Tech 47-14 on Saturday night.
The Panthers (5-4, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) were missing 16 players due to COVID-19 protocols, a group that included leading receiver Jordan Addison and three starting offensive linemen. It hardly mattered. Relying heavily on short passes designed to take some of the pressure off the patchwork line in front of him, Pickett completed 35 of 52 passes as Pitt won its second straight following a four-game losing streak.
Graduate transfer DJ Turner caught 15 passes — one shy of the school’s single-game record — for 184 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown in the third quarter just four plays after the Panthers stuffed Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker at the goal line. Turner’s long catch-and-run pushed Pitt’s lead to 33-14 and sent the reeling Hokies (4-5, 4-4) to their fourth loss in five games.
A week after having their game against Georgia Tech rescheduled due to COVID-19 protocols and despite missing a significant number of their regulars, the Panthers had little trouble doing whatever they wanted against the Hokies. Virginia Tech, itself missing 12 players because of the same COVID-19 protocols, simply could not keep pace.
Hooker threw for 260 yards and two scores but the Hokies turned it over twice and were stopped on fourth down twice. The defense couldn’t pick up the slack, allowing Pitt to roll up 556 yards of total offense. The Panthers led just 16-14 at the half but broke it open in the third quarter.
Pickett flipped a floater to freshman Jaylon Barden for an 11-yard touchdown to make it 23-14. Alex Kessman’s fourth field goal — and second from at least 50 yards — pushed it to 26-14. Hooker drove Virginia Tech to the Pitt 1, but his fourth-down plunge up the middle went nowhere. Pickett needed just four plays to cover 99 yards, including his heave to Turner that broke it open.
The Panthers honored 10 members of their senior class — including Pickett — with videotaped messages from their family members. The rest of the class is weighing whether to return next fall after the NCAA granted players an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.
Pickett is likely headed for the NFL. And a career that began with a stunning upset over then second-ranked Miami in the 2017 home finale as a true freshman is heading toward a solid finish.
Virginia Tech: The early season momentum the Hokies generated has largely vanished. A week following an emotional one-point loss to Miami, Virginia Tech came out flat and never recovered.
Pitt: The Panthers’ October woes — when they went 0-4 following a 3-0 start — are behind them. Pitt has topped 40 points in consecutive games and while a trip to the ACC Championship game is off the table, the team’s play over its last two games offered proof head coach Pat Narduzzi hasn’t lost his team.
Virginia Tech: Have a week off before welcoming Clemson on Dec. 5. The Hokies have lost five straight to the Tigers.
Pitt: Won’t have to wait until December to face Clemson. The Panthers travel to Death Valley to take on ACC-power Clemson next Saturday. The last time Pitt visited Clemson, it pulled off a 43-42 upset against the eventual national champions.