PITTSBURGH — His team reeling from a bout with the novel coronavirus that threatened to derail the rest of the season, Pittsburgh senior quarterback Kenny Pickett stood up in front of his teammates and provided a very blunt reminder about the bond they shared.
“He said ‘I don’t care who is on the field, I will play with any of my brothers here,’ ” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said.
It wasn’t just empty rhetoric. Pickett threw for 404 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in his final start at Heinz Field, and the Panthers blew out Virginia Tech 47-14 on Saturday despite missing 16 players because of coronavirus protocols, including three starters on the offensive line and leading receiver Jordan Addison.
Pickett completed 35 of 52 passes. Fifteen went to graduate transfer DJ Turner, including a 64-yard catch-and-run for a score in third quarter that gave the Panthers (5-4, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) a 19-point lead they didn’t come close to squandering.
“I had faith in every single guy that was out there,” Pickett said. “The biggest thing in football is trust, you’ve got to trust the 10 guys out there and I think we did that tonight.”
A week after having their game against Georgia Tech rescheduled because of coronavirus issues, the Panthers had little trouble doing whatever they wanted against the Hokies. The Hokies, missing 12 players because of the same protocols, simply could not keep pace.
Hendon Hooker threw for 260 yards and two scores, but the Hokies turned it over twice and were stopped on fourth down twice, including on a quarterback draw by Hooker on fourth-and-goal at the Pitt 1 in the third quarter with the Hokies trailing by 12. Hooker was stuffed for no gain, and four plays later Turner dashed into the end zone.
“I know we’re down a lot of guys and all that kind of stuff, but that don’t mean we can’t get first downs on fourth-and-1 or score on fourth-and-goal from the 1 or play better,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.
The defense couldn’t pick up the slack, allowing Pitt to roll up 556 yards of total offense. The Panthers led just 16-14 late in the first half but scored the game’s final 27 points.
Virginia Tech has dropped three of four following a promising 3-1 start.
Pitt senior kicker Alex Kessman drilled four field goals, including two longer than 50 yards. Kessman is 12-for-18 on attempts of 50 yards or more during his career, the best conversion rate (67%) by any player in FBS history among kickers who have taken at least 15 attempts from that range. ... Turner’s 15 grabs were one short of Pitt’s single-game record.
The early season momentum the Hokies generated has largely vanished. A week following an emotional one-point loss to Miami, they came out flat and never recovered.
“I mean, guys, we’re playing in the middle of a pandemic, and like the most extreme circumstances we’ve ever seen,” Fuente said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and how they’ve hung in there through the entire thing.
“Do we expect to play and win? Yes, absolutely. But the notion that it’s something terrible, wrong or whatever is just ridiculous.”
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have a week off before welcoming Clemson on Dec. 5. They’ve lost five straight to the Tigers.
Pitt: 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.