Takeaways from Backyard Brawl loss vs. Pitt – The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast
PITTSBURGH — 70,622 fans packed Acrisure Stadium to catch the 105th playing of the Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and No. 17 Pitt. They got a show for all 60 minutes of play, but some fourth quarter magic from the Panthers (1-0) gave the hosts a 38-31 victory over the Mountaineers (0-1).
The Pitt student section filled up right at the 4:30 gate open to see a primarily defensive battle in the first half 90 minutes later, albeit with quality play from both debuting quarterbacks. JT Daniels opened the contest with three straight completions, including a 22-yard strike to Bryce Ford-Wheaton to put WVU in Pitt territory on the opening drive.
Kedon Slovis completed his first four attempts and helped set up the first score of the game, a 42-yard field goal by Ben Sauls in the final minute of the first quarter.
WVU answered three minutes later after CJ Donaldson took his first carry 42 yards into the red zone. Daniels finished the drive off with a 10-yard connection to Ford-Wheaton in the corner of the end zone.
Both teams traded possession in the ensuing minutes of the second quarter, each forcing a turnover at the WVU 35 yard line in the span of two plays. Pitt capitalized on their takeaway, though, when Rodney Hammond Jr. punched in the Panthers’ first touchdown of the season from four yards out.
The Panthers didn’t hold the lead for long. Daniels led WVU on a 13-play, 74-yard drive into the red zone, aided by some big plays from his wide receivers. Casey Legg punctuated the half with a 24-yard chip shot to tie the ballgame.
Both passers had strong a strong first pair of quarters in their debuts, combining for 190 yards, a touchdown and a completion percentage of 69 yards.
Donaldson continued to make his mark on the game in the second half. WVU held the Panthers to a three-and-out, capped off by a sack from Jared Bartlett and Dante Stills. The freshman tailback then blocked the punt before punching in the 5-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Slovis hit his first big completion later in the period when he found Jared Wayne for their third connection of the game for 64 yards. That put Pitt in the red zone, setting up a 1-yard punch by Daniel Carter to knot the game back up at 17.
The Panthers took the lead back on their next drive, another quick series of just three plays and 62 yards. Hammond added the touchdown, getting pushed in by offensive lineman Ryan Jacoby through a WVU defender from 11 yards out.
West Virginia finally answered on the first play of the fourth quarter when Daniels found Ford-Wheaton for their second touchdown connection of the game, this time from 16 yards out. Again, Donaldson was instrumental in the scoring drive, adding the 20-yard rush that set up the subsequent touchdown.
Donaldson’s big night continued on the next drive when he added a 39-yard rush to get over 100 yards on the ground for the first time in his college career. Five plays later, Daniels pushed in for a 1-yard touchdown on a QB sneak.
The momentum shifted once again in the middle of the fourth quarter. After a consequential drive for WVU stalled on its own 47 yard line, a decisive targeting call against Mountaineer cornerback Wesley McCormick gave the Panthers a massive push to their own 31. Slovis ended the drive on a 24-yard pass to Israel Abanikanda to tie the game.
It didn’t take long for Pitt to jump in front. JT Daniels threw his first interception at West Virginia after a ball went through Ford-Wheaton’s hands and into those of MJ Devonshire for a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Mountaineers surged in their final drive of the game, but the stout Pitt defensive line made the big plays to help seal the win. Pitt sacked Daniels twice in its own territory to greatly jeopardize WVU’s chances at a comeback.
The game came down to one last 28-yard throw by Daniels on the goal line to Reese Smith. Officials initially called the close play a catch, but it was overturned after a review showed the ball grazed the grass.
Pitt kneeled down on the final two plays of the game to seal the win solidifying a 14-point swing in the final quarter.
Slovis led the game with 308 yards through the air and added a touchdown. Hammond ran for 74 yards, while Wayne topped Pitt with 89 yards receiving.
Donaldson broke out in his first appearance as a Mountaineer, running for a game-high 125 yards. Ford-Wheaton led the game with 97 receiving yards and two scores, while Daniels tossed for 214 yards.
Pitt moves to 1-0 on the season as it braces to host Tennessee on Sept. 10. West Virginia drops its second straight season opener as it prepares for its Big 12 competition to begin on the same date against Kansas.