CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — M.J. Devonshire and Marquis Williams returned interceptions for touchdowns on the first two plays from scrimmage and Pittsburgh reached bowl eligibility with a 37-7 victory at Virginia on Saturday.
Devonshire’s interception of Brennan Armstrong and 29-yard return gave the Panthers (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) a 7-0 lead after just 5 seconds. After a touchback, Armstrong tried to throw deeper, but Williams intercepted and went 39 yard for the TD.
“We thought they’d possibly come out and do what they did on that first play and we had a great defense called for it,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said of Devonshire’s interception. “And, you know, I think it made Armstrong think a little bit, at least for the first half and maybe even the third quarter.”
The Cavaliers (3-6, 1-6), who needed a victory to remain in contention for a bowl berth, trailed 28-0 by the end of the first quarter. Many in the sparse crowd that booed them as they left the field at halftime then seemingly also left on a sunny, warm fall afternoon.
“Obviously, not results any of us want, not the start any of us wanted,” offensive coordinator Des Kitchings said. “We got a group of kids in there hurting, coaches are hurting because we’ve been making progress and today just took a step back with the start of that game.”
Israel Abanikanda added to his nation-leading touchdown total with a 1-yard run on Pitts’ first offensive possession, and Kedon Slovis hit Jared Wayne with a 31-yard scoring pass on the next, putting the Panthers ahead 28-0 with 2:33 left in the opening quarter.
Ben Sauls kicked three second-half field goals and the outcome was never in doubt as Pitt won for the sixth time in the last seven meetings with the Cavaliers. The Panthers outgained Virginia 397-144 and held the home team to minus 8 rushing yards.
Armstrong, playing without his top three receivers for the second week in a row, hit Malachi Fields from nine yards for the Cavaliers’ lone score late in the third quarter.
Pitt: The Panthers not only hurt Armstrong with the interceptions, but also kept Virginia’s leading rusher bottled up in the backfield. He was sacked eight times for minus 69 yards and had just a pair of positive runs totaling 23 yards.
“I think the first two plays bothered him a lot. But, you know, our guys did a good job. We got a pretty good D-line and the linebackers are doing their job,” Narduzzi said.
Virginia: Armstrong’s decision to return after a huge junior season was cause for celebration at Virginia. He threw for 4,449 yards last season with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This season, a more balanced offense with less opportunity for freelancing hasn’t gone as well. His TD pass was his seventh against 12 interceptions this season.
The Panthers return home to face Duke next Saturday.
The Cavaliers wrap up their four-game homestand against Coastal Carolina.