The Pitt News

Whitehead’s pick-six sparks Pitt to win in Virginia

Jordan+Whitehead+%289%29+had+a+key+interception+return+for+a+touchdown+in+Pitt%27s+45-31+win+at+Virginia.+%28Courtesy+of+Pitt+Athletics%29%0A
Jordan Whitehead (9) had a key interception return for a touchdown in Pitt's 45-31 win at Virginia. (Courtesy of Pitt Athletics)

Jordan Whitehead (9) had a key interception return for a touchdown in Pitt's 45-31 win at Virginia. (Courtesy of Pitt Athletics)

Jordan Whitehead (9) had a key interception return for a touchdown in Pitt's 45-31 win at Virginia. (Courtesy of Pitt Athletics)

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Facing third-and-10 from his own 44-yard line with 18 seconds left in the first half, Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert thought he saw a receiver come open over the middle of the field.

But he didn’t see Jordan Whitehead.

The Pitt football team had just tied the game at 28 with 40 seconds left in the first half, but with the way their defense was playing, it appeared the Panthers’ offense left Virginia too much time to counter.

Continuing an ongoing trend in the 2016 season, the Panthers were scoring at will in Virginia, but the defense couldn’t keep the opponent out of the end zone.

Then, returning from an unexplained absence that forced him to miss Pitt’s 43-27 win over Marshall, Whitehead reminded everyone why he is the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year.

Benkert had already engineered four scoring drives in the first half against Pitt’s defense, and sure enough, he began leading the Cavaliers down the field once again. He then tried sending a pass over the middle on third-and-long, but Whitehead undercut the Virginia receiver’s route and snatched the pass out of the air.

Rather than go down and head to halftime in a tie game, Pitt’s sophomore safety decided to show how deadly he can be with the ball in his hands.

Whitehead sprinted down the sideline, bypassing all the orange jerseys in his way, then darted back inside and into the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown return. With only four seconds left in the first half, the Panthers improbably had their first lead of the game, 35-28.

Whitehead said reading Benkert’s eyes helped him bait the quarterback into throwing the interception.

“When [Benkert] dropped back, he kind of keyed on me, looking at me,” he said at his postgame press conference. “When he was looking at me I kind of stayed still … and when he threw it, I was right there, and I saw open field from there.”

The play caused a shift in momentum that carried over into the second half for Pitt’s defense, tackle Tyrique Jarrett said at the press conference.

“It was a big play. We thrived off of that,” Jarrett said.

After giving up 270 yards and four touchdowns to Virginia in the first half, the Panthers held the Cavaliers to 94 yards after the break, surrendering just three points on a field goal with the game already out of reach. Pitt’s defense forced Virginia to punt on all five second-half possessions before the late field goal.

“I feel as though it was a mentality. We sat back during halftime and talked about it,” Jarrett said about Pitt’s first-half struggles. “We corrected the mistakes and just attacked it different.”

Last year’s ACC Rookie of the Year was having a relatively quiet sophomore campaign before Saturday’s game. He now has 41 total tackles in six games played after totaling a team-leading 109 tackles in 13 games last season, when he set a school record for tackles by a true freshman.

The whole defensive unit stepped up to shut down the Cavaliers, but the star sophomore deserves credit for providing the spark.

Whitehead had four total tackles to go with the interception — his first of the season — in Pitt’s 45-31 win on Saturday. He also added three carries for 28 yards on offense, continuing to make plays whenever the Panthers give him the ball.

The big game earned Whitehead recognition as the ACC Defensive Back of the Week as well as a spot on the weekly Honor Roll for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the most versatile player in college football.

The Panthers clearly missed Whitehead against the Thundering Herd, but they never needed him more than that third-down play at the end of the first half in Virginia.

“[The interception] was gigantic,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said at his postgame press conference. “That was huge before the half. Tremendous football play.”

Leave a comment.

Sponsored
×
The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper
Whitehead’s pick-six sparks Pitt to win in Virginia