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Third-and-short killed UVA in loss at Pitt

uva pittThe stats were even, save for one obvious one, Pitt scoring 31, Virginia just 14.

The ‘Hoos outgained the Panthers 314-310, had a 20-19 advantage in first downs, a 148-78 edge in return yards.

Pitt did get a touchdown on special teams, but UVA returned a Panthers kickoff inside the Pitt 30, and failed to score.

It wasn’t turnovers that did UVA in: each team had one.

It wasn’t field position. Virginia’s average start was the Pitt 38; Pitt’s was the UVA 24.

The difference was third down, specifically, as you’ll see later, third-and-one, but more on that in a minute.


Pitt was 5-of-12 on third-down conversion efforts; Virginia, just 6-of-17, plus 1-for-5 on fourth downs, for good measure.

The Panthers had an average distance to go of 7.1 yards on its third downs, which is to say, the success wasn’t a factor of what the offense was doing on first and second down.

Pitt was 2-of-7 on third-and-five and up; Virginia, 1-of-8, with an average to-go distance of 5.2 yards.

Convert third downs, you keep the chains moving. Come up short, and if you’re UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall, you face a choice.

Mendenhall sent the field-goal unit out once, and it failed to convert. The punt unit gave up the aforementioned return TD.

Four times, Virginia failed to convert fourth downs, twice on goal-to-go situations, a third time inside the Pitt 30, after the long kickoff return, the fourth at the Pitt 37.

How many points are left on the field there? Conservatively, 13, maybe as many as 28, in a game you lose by 17, seven of that margin coming on special teams.

Pitt, for its part, left just three points on the field, on a second-quarter field-goal miss.

The Panthers were monsters on third down, converting a third-and-11 on their opening drive, with an 18-yard pass from Ben DiNucci to Rafael Araujo-Lopez, then scoring two plays later, on a 14-yard Darrin Hall TD run.

Pitt’s second TD came on a third-and-seven pass from DiNucci to Jester Weah.

The backbreaker came on Pitt’s first drive of the second half, after a third-and-one conversion by Hall at the Virginia 25. Qadree Ollison ran untouched on the next play to put the Panthers up 28-7.

Back to the Virginia side, and you see, diving into the numbers, that what really got the ‘Hoos was third-and-short.

UVA was 5-of-9 on third-and-four and shorter, and 1-of-4 on fourth-and-four and shorter.

Offensive coordinator Robert Anae dialed up runs on five of those plays. None of them gained yardage.

On each of the six third- and fourth-and-short plays that extended drives or scored, the conversion was made via the pass.

You’re not going to win a lot of games going oh-fer on the ground on third- and fourth-and-one.

Which is how you get a final score of 31-14 in a game that could have easily been a UVA win, if the Cavs could have just executed on the game’s most important downs.

Column by Chris Graham