Virginia Tech Takeaways | Abanikanda can’t keep winning games by himself


Hannah Wilson | Senior Staff Photographer

A Virginia Tech player is tackled during Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech at Acrisure Stadium.

By Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

After the debacle against Georgia Tech, the Panthers’ matchup this weekend against Virginia Tech suddenly became a must-win game. 

Pitt responded to the monumental defeat with a 45-29 win over the Hokies on the back of junior running back Israel Abanikanda’s record-setting day.

Here are my takeaways.

Abanikanda needs help.

In a monumental effort, Abanikanda broke former Pitt running back Tony Dorsett’s long-standing rushing record on Saturday.

Dorsett’s 303 rushing yards against Notre Dame in 1975 stood as the school’s record for 47 years. Abanikanda finally topped that mark, rushing for 320 yards against the Hokies. He also added six touchdowns, which tied the school record for touchdowns in a game — a record dating back to 1910

Abanikanda said breaking Dorsett’s record was an honor, but he knew he was capable of it.  

“This ain’t nothing new to me,” Abanikanda said. “Since I was four years old, I knew I was going to be great.”

Abanikanda is indeed great — he leads the country in both rushing and total touchdowns with 12 and 13 respectively, and leads the ACC in rushing yards by a remarkable 284 yards. When you have a running back as dominant as Abanikanda, you should get them as many touches as possible. But if Pitt wants to reach their goals this season, he’s going to need some help. 

Teams will commit to stopping the Panthers rushing attack, just like the Hokies did. Against better opposition, Pitt is going to need some of their other playmakers to step up. Solely relying on one player just isn’t sustainable in the long run.

Too many costly penalties.

The Panthers racked up 12 penalties last week against Georgia Tech, playing a leading role in the upset loss.

Pitt fell into the same habits again on Saturday, commiting four penalties just in the first quarter alone. Virginia Tech drove 75 yards late in the quarter for their first points of the game — 25 of those yards were due to penalties. 

Pitt ended the game with nine penalties for a total of 76 yards. As Pitt gets deeper into its conference schedule, they can’t afford to give their opponents free yards.  

Pitt Head Coach Pat Naduzzi knows that, and he addressed it sarcastically postgame. 

“The officials are doing a great job,” Narduzzi said.

While Narduzzi disagreed with some of the calls made, they need to clean up the penalties. It isn’t like Saturday was an outlier, either — it’s becoming a real issue.

Last week, Narduzzi talked about finding the right guys to put on the field personnel-wise. Pitt needs to quickly find the rotation of guys who they trust and cut the snaps of the players who are playing undisciplined football, or it could cost them another game down the stretch. 

Lack of trust in the passing game.

Pitt began its first scoring drive from its own 5-yard line. Senior wide receiver Jared Wayne kept the drive alive with two third-down conversions after it looked like Pitt was about to go three-and-out again. Wayne also drew a holding penalty on third down later in the drive which set up Abanikanda’s 37-yard touchdown run. 

When Pitt needed to make a play, they looked toward Wayne. The problem with this is that it seems like senior quarterback Kedon Slovis doesn’t trust any of his receivers outside of Wayne, especially with sophomore wide receiver Konata Mumpfield sidelined for the game. 

Slovis doesn’t trust himself to throw his receivers open and often holds on to the ball too long. Wide receivers outside of Wayne struggled to create separation, so Slovis often looked them off. The majority of targets that went to Pitt sophomore receivers Bub Means and Jaden Bradley were screen passes. 

Due to his lack of confidence, Slovis didn’t take many shots down the field, which would have been the key to breaking down a Hokies defense that loaded up to stop the run. Defenses will keep daring Slovis to throw the ball downfield until Pitt forces them to make a change schematically. This spells trouble for Pitt’s offense as they go into the second half of the season.

At some point, the passing game needs to get going. They don’t have to put up fireworks every week, they just need to be efficient. 

Defense was underwhelming overall.

Virginia Tech failed to reach 300 yards of total offense in each of their past two games. Despite their offensive struggles, the Hokies still eclipsed 400 yards of total offense against Pitt. 

The Hokies entered the day ranked No. 98 in total passing offense but had success throwing the ball against the Panthers secondary. Pitt’s run defense looked suspect for much of the first half as well, allowing 79 yards on the ground before finally slowing down the Hokies rushing attack in the second half. 

Although Pitt’s defense struggled, they still showed flashes of timely brilliance. Senior defensive end John Morgan forced a game-changing fumble early in the fourth quarter with the Panthers up by just two points. Pitt senior safety Erick Hallett also recorded his third interception of the season, but it was on a Hail Mary.

Hallett’s interception was Pitt’s first turnover since his last interception against Western Michigan. That’s a two-game stretch without forcing any turnovers. 

If Pitt is going to allow chunk plays to happen — and they will in Narduzzi’s scheme — they need to create turnovers.

The Panthers’ overall defensive performance was underwhelming. That’s been the theme of their season. They have the talent and they have shown flashes of their potential, but they haven’t been able to string together consistent performances. 

If they want to win the Coastal Division again, that needs to change.