Takeaways | Pitt’s defense is on fire, offense should trust deep passing game


AP Photo/Mike Kropf

Pittsburgh’s Israel Abanikanda (2) is taken down by Virginia during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Nov.. 12, 2022.

By Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt dominated Virginia 37-7 on Saturday, propelling the team to bowl eligibility for the fourth consecutive season.

The Panthers’ defense had its way with the Cavaliers from start to finish. Virginia senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong threw two pick-sixes on the Cavaliers’ first two plays from scrimmage. Pitt also held Virginia to negative eight rushing yards and finished the game with eight sacks.

Here are my takeaways.

  1. Capitalizing on turnover opportunities

Pitt struggled with capitalizing on turnovers throughout the course of this season — but not against Virginia.

Junior cornerback M.J. Devonshire put the Panthers up 7-0 just five seconds into the contest with a 29-yard interception return for a score. Just 11 seconds later, Pitt scored again thanks to a 39-yard interception return by senior cornerback Marquis Williams.

You didn’t read that wrong. Pitt scored 14 points in just 16 seconds of action. Coming into the game, Pitt ranked No. 100 in the nation in turnovers gained. The Panthers needed to create more turnovers to turn the season around, and Saturday was a good start.  

The Panthers will need to continue to create turnovers next week against Duke — who ranked No. 3 in the nation in turnover margin coming into the weekend. 

  1. Downfield passing game has opened up

While the Panthers shied away from throwing deep in the first half of the season, the game plan changed over the past few weeks. 

Pitt’s deep passing game out of play action is now quickly becoming a staple of the Panthers’ offense. The Panthers utilized the deep ball early and often on Saturday, using it to score their first offensive points. Senior quarterback Kedon Slovis connected on a 37-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Bub Means deep in Cavalier territory, allowing junior running back Israel Abankanda to punch it in for the score two plays later.  

Slovis found Means again on the following Panther drive, this time for a 31-yard touchdown — his first touchdown pass since Oct. 1 against Georgia Tech. Slovis finished the first half 9-13 for 131 yards and no turnovers. 

In his time at USC, Slovis excelled at taking deep shots down the field. He didn’t connect on all his throws Saturday, underthrowing a few deep balls. Pitt needs to stick with a downfield approach, because its receivers are getting open. 

Slovis is showing improvement as the season goes on and looks a bit more like the guy that the Panthers were so high on while he was in the transfer portal. 

  1. Wide receivers outside of Wayne stepped up

Senior wide receiver Jared Wayne led the Panthers in receiving yards in half of their games played this season. He’s transformed himself into a very steady player these past few seasons, but the Panthers needed another receiver to step up this season.

That changed Saturday with Means emerging as a deep threat.

When Means transferred to Pitt from Louisiana Tech, we heard about his big play ability. He averaged 19.6 yards per catch last season albeit a small sample size. But the ability to make plays downfield was clearly there.

But Means struggled this season — until Saturday. 

Means hauled in three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown, showing why the Panthers valued him so much coming into the season. Means has an opportunity to build on his performance with two regular season games remaining.

Pitt sophomore wide receiver Konata Mumpfield led the Panthers in both targets and receptions with eight and seven, respectively. His totals tied his season-high set against Georgia Tech. Mumpfield hasn’t reached his lofty potential, but he was a security blanket for Slovis on Saturday.

Mumpfield picked up two first downs for the Panthers and consistently beat the Cavalier secondary throughout the game. This comes after a similar performance against Syracuse — where Mumpfield hauled in six catches for 59 yards. Slovis and Mumpfield are seemingly building more chemistry. 

They aren’t eye-popping numbers. But when you are able to find ways to consistently get open for your quarterback in the way Mumpfield has, it absolutely means something. 

The Panthers return to Acrisure Stadium for the final time this season, taking on Duke at noon on Saturday.