Kenny Pickett threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a score to lead Pittsburgh to a 41-34 victory over Tennessee Saturday.
The Panther defense collected five sacks, recovered two fumbles, had an interception and a crucial fourth-quarter goal-line stand to seal their second victory of the season.
The Volunteers (1-1) lost the game and a starting quarterback. Joe Milton went down with a lower leg injury after being sacked and losing a fumble early in the second quarter.
Hendon Hooker came on to throw for 189 yards, but the mistakes hurt the effort.
“(Pickett) is a football player now,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said of his quarterback. “I trust in KP. He knows what he’s doing on the football field. The guys rally around him.”
After three straight three-and-out drives, Pitt came up with five straight scores. The Panthers scored touchdowns on all five trips inside the Tennessee 20-yard line.
“That’s something we focused on in spring and (preseason) camp, to put touchdowns on the board,” Pickett said.
Tennessee, known for its uptempo offense, managed 66 plays, compared to 82 for Pitt. The Panthers’ biggest play of all came on defense with a fourth-quarter goal-line stand from the Pitt 3 that could have tied the game. Jaylen Wright was stopped cold by John Petrishen.
“Talk about the biggest play of the game,” said Narduzzi. “Our defense played solid.”
“We talk about finishing in the fourth quarter and emphasize it,” said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. “How our practice unfolds, we have a fourth-quarter period and make an emphasis of playing the right way and there were a lot of good things in the fourth quarter, but not enough in those crucial moments on the offensive side of the football.”
Just when Tennessee’s offense was showing signs of life in the fourth quarter, the Panthers came up with an answer.
The Vols’ defense ran into tackling issues on a 75-yard drive that resulted in a 5-yard pass from Pickett to Jordan Addison and a 41-27 Pitt lead.
Pitt’s second double-digit lead didn’t last long. Hooker ran for 23 yards, then hit Jacob Warren over the middle for 34 to the Panthers 2. Jaylen Wright scored on his third try.
Wright had an opportunity to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-1 from the Pitt 3, Petrishen shot the gap and hit Wright for a loss, giving Pitt the ball.
Three plays and a bad punt later, the Vols had the ball back 34 yards away from tying the game. Pitt’s Brandon Hill ended that threat with an interception.
Pitt handled a rough start fueled by a blocked punt and a 2-yard touchdown run by Jabari Small. The difference got to be 10-0 before the Panthers put 27 points up in the second quarter. They scored on five straight possessions.
“I said before the game one of the keys was to weather an early storm,” Narduzzi said. “The crowd (82,203) was loud and there was excitement. Our guys got it done.”
Along with the three turnovers, Tennessee was responsible for 13 penalties for 134 yards.
“(The penalties) did surprise me,” Heupel said. “That is not who we have been, from taking our helmet off in celebration early in the game and changing field position. … There are things that happen across the country that we talk about a little bit in our Monday meeting.”