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Armstrong returns, but UVA still falls to #18 Pitt

The Cavaliers (6-5, 4-3) appeared ready to steal one, but Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison would respond in the Panthers 48-38 win.
Credit: AP
Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong (5) gets a pass away as Pittsburgh defensive lineman John Morgan III (6) pressures him during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH — Kenny Pickett knew a year ago. Something in the Pittsburgh quarterback’s gut told him coming back for one more season offered the opportunity to do something special.

Something that looked and felt an awful lot like Pitt’s 48-38 victory over Virginia on Saturday, when Pickett, rising star wide receiver Jordan Addison and the 20th-ranked Panthers put to bed the idea that this is the “Same Old Pitt” for now, and maybe for good.

There will be no chaos in the ACC’s Coastal Division this year. Not with Pickett re-writing the Pitt record book and Addison making a compelling case that the conversation on who the best receiver in the country is starts with the skinny sophomore with video game moves and understated swagger.

Pickett and Addison connected for four touchdowns, the last a 62-yard catch-and-run with 2:10 remaining that sealed a second Coastal Division title in four years for the Panthers (9-2, 6-1 ACC), a play symbolic of the inherent trust between the two that’s made them one of the most dynamic combinations in the country.

Facing third-and-5 from the Pitt 38, Pickett scrambled to his right and threw a jump ball downfield to the 6-foot tall Addison, who outmuscled a defender and then raced to the end zone to put away the Cavaliers and spark a celebration at Heinz Field.

“(Addison) played out of his mind today,” Pickett said. “He made every play.”

The Panthers needed every one of them.

Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong matched Pickett throw for throw, passing for 487 yards with three touchdowns and an interception after returning from an injury that forced him to sit out last week’s loss to Notre Dame.

Yet every time the Cavaliers (6-5, 4-3) appeared ready to steal one, Pickett and Addison would respond. All four of their scoring connections came in got-to-have-it situations. Twice Pickett found Addison in the end zone on fourth down. The other two scores came on third downs with the Cavaliers threatening to get a stop and reclaim momentum.

“He’s a really good player,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Addison. “They used him really well. And wow, right at the end I thought we had an interception and somehow he comes up with the ball. It’s tough to defend.”

Addison finished with 14 receptions for 202 yards. His four scores tied Pitt’s single-game school record and his 15 touchdowns on the season are tops in the FBS.

“It really just shows me how much trust they have in me to go out there and make those plays,” Addison said. “That gives me a lot of confidence.”

A vibe that’s not limited to Addison. Pitt made a somewhat unlikely run to the ACC title game in 2018, Pickett’s first full year as a starter, and was promptly blown out by eventual national champion Clemson.

The fight should be considerably fairer this time around, whether the Panthers face Wake Forest, N.C. State or get a rematch with the Tigers, whom Pitt beat soundly at home last month.

“I think our kids were happy last time just going there,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “But now we get an opportunity to go back to Charlotte, and it’s going to be a different story.”