GAMEDAY College Football

Tennessee 34, Pittsburgh 27

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH - Tennessee coach Josh Heupel isn't sure his team would have found a way a year ago to win a game where it fumbled twice and allowed a blocked punt. All in the second half. On the road. Against a program coming off a Power Five conference title.

It's not last season. The 24th-ranked Volunteers may be maturing in front of their coach's eyes. The latest proof came in a draining 34-27 overtime victory over No. 17 Pitt, a four-hour physical and emotional marathon that ended with Tennessee spilling onto the field in a mixture of joy and relief.

"There's a certain level of maturity that we certainly didn't have last year at times," said Heupel, who is in his second season of trying to restore the Volunteers to relevancy in the SEC. "Our kids are willing to continue to compete. They handled the flows, the ups and downs of the game the right way."

There were plenty of each to go around. The Volunteers (2-0) allowed a game-tying touchdown pass from Pitt backup quarterback Nick Patti with 2:23 to go but regrouped to win it on a 28-yard lob from Hendon Hooker to Cedric Tillman on Tennessee's first possession of the extra period.

The Volunteers' defense, which had been relentless over the final three-plus quarters following a slow start, did the rest. It used a third-down sack and the one last of a seemingly unending streak of quarterback pressures to force Patti to throw incomplete on fourth down to end it.

"The second, third and fourth quarter, that's as good a performance as I've been around in a long time," Heupel said of a defense that struggled against quality competition in 2021. "They got put in a lot of bad positions. ... I thought the overall effort from them was special."

The defense needed to be on a night when the offense, which has become the program's calling card, spent much of the second half running in place.

While Hooker finished with 325 yards passing and two touchdowns and Tillman caught nine passes for 162 yards, Tennessee couldn't put the Panthers away even with Pitt severely limited.

The Panthers (1-1) lost starting quarterback Kedon Slovis to an undisclosed injury at the end of the first half and Patti spent the final quarter-plus effectively on one leg after twisting his knee while getting sacked.

The Volunteers allowed a blocked punt, saw a fumble cut short a drive and gave Pitt life late when Tre Flowers muffed a punt with 7:28 to go. The Panthers slowly moved the ball deep into Tennessee territory before a backpedaling Patti found Jared Wayne for a 4-yard score on fourth-and-goal to tie it at 27 with 2:23 to play.

Pitt finally ran out of chances in overtime. Patti - who finished 9 of 20 for 79 yards - drove the Panthers inside the 10 but Tennessee's fourth sack forced Patti into a "heave and pray" and when his final pass fell to the turf, the Volunteers had found a way to win the type of game they'd grown accustomed to losing in recent years.

"(The defense) played amazing, you know, especially in the second half," Tillman said. "You know, we're not in his game if they don't make the plays that they did."

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

The Panthers missed a pair of field goals and saw a red-zone possession in the first quarter end with an interception instead.

"I told our guys, it's a game of inches, and there were inches all over the place that we needed to get," Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said.

Narduzzi declined to give specifics on the nature of Slovis' injury, saying only that he was hurt while getting sacked late in the first half that turned into a fumble - allowing Tennessee to take a 24-17 lead into the break.

Slovis, who finished 14 of 24 for 195 yards with a touchdown and a pick, felt "good" after the game according to Narduzzi.

Israel Abanikanda ran for 154 yards and a touchdown for Pitt.

THE TAKEAWAY

Tennessee: The Volunteers are eyeing a big step forward this fall. Whether they take it will rely heavily on a defense that struggled against quality opponents in 2021. So far, so good.

Pitt: The offense entered the season with plenty of question marks following Kenny Pickett's graduation. The offensive line was not supposed to be one of them. There were times Saturday when there were multiple white jerseys in the Panther backfield almost immediately after the snap.


Scoring Summary
First Quarter TennPitt
Pitt FG 10:27 Ben Sauls 30 yd FG 0 3
Pitt TD 9:00 Israel Abanikanda 76 yd run (Ben Sauls kick) 0 10
Tenn TD 1:02 Jabari Small 1 yd run (Chase McGrath kick) 7 10
Second Quarter TennPitt
Pitt TD 13:25 Gavin Bartholomew 57 yd pass from Kedon Slovis (Ben Sauls kick) 7 17
Tenn TD 10:04 Bru McCoy 32 yd pass from Hendon Hooker (Chase McGrath kick) 14 17
Tenn TD 4:56 Jabari Small 1 yd run (Chase McGrath kick) 21 17
Tenn FG 0:00 Chase McGrath 37 yd FG 24 17
Fourth Quarter TennPitt
Pitt FG 14:07 Ben Sauls 35 yd FG 24 20
Tenn FG 8:57 Chase McGrath 51 yd FG 27 20
Pitt TD 2:23 Jared Wayne 4 yd pass from Nick Patti (Ben Sauls kick) 27 27
OT TennPitt
Tenn TD   Cedric Tillman 28 yd pass from Hendon Hooker (Chase McGrath kick) 34 27
Team Stats
  Tennessee Pittsburgh
First downs 20 21
  Rushing 5 7
  Passing 14 12
  Penalty 1 2
3rd Down Efficiency 6-16, 38% 4-18, 22%
4th down efficiency 1-2, 50% 3-5, 60%
Rushes-Yards 35-91 39-141
Passing Yards 325 274
Return Yards 32 60
Completions-Attempts-Int 27-42-0 23-44-1
Sacks-Yards Lost 3--15 4--34
Punts 6 3
Punts-Average 35.5 37
Fumbles Lost 2-2 2-1
Penalties - Yards 7-70 5-28
Time of Possession 25:05 34:55
Tennessee Passing
Player Cmp Att Yds TDs Int
H. Hooker 27 42 325 2 0
Pittsburgh Passing
Player Cmp Att Yds TDs Int
K. Slovis 14 24 195 1 1
N. Patti 9 20 79 1 0
Tennessee Rushing
Player Carries Yds Avg TDs
J. Wright 9 47 5.2 0
H. Hooker 15 27 1.8 0
J. Small 10 17 1.7 2
J. Hyatt 1 0 0.0 0
Pittsburgh Rushing
Player Carries Yds Avg TDs
I. Abanikanda 25 154 6.2 1
V. Davis 5 14 2.8 0
N. Patti 4 -13 -3.3 0
K. Slovis 4 -13 -3.3 0
Tennessee Receiving
Player Rec Yds Avg TDs
C. Tillman 9 162 18.0 1
J. Hyatt 11 73 6.6 0
B. McCoy 4 58 14.5 1
J. Warren 1 24 24.0 0
P. Fant 1 8 8.0 0
J. Small 1 0 0.0
0
Pittsburgh Receiving
Player Rec Yds Avg TDs
G. Bartholomew 5 84 16.8 1
J. Wayne 7 82 11.7 1
K. Mumpfield 4 34 8.5 0
B. Means 3 26 8.7 0
I. Abanikanda 1 21 21.0 0
J. Barden 2 14 7.0 0
V. Davis 1 13 13.0 0
Tennessee Interceptions
Player Int Yards
T. Flowers 1 0
Pittsburgh Interceptions
Player Int Yards
Tennessee Punting
Player Punts Yards Avg
P. Brooks 5 213 42.6
Pittsburgh Punting
Player Punts Yards Avg
S. Vander Haar 3 111 37.0
Tennessee Punt Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
T. Flowers 2 3 1.5
Pittsburgh Punt Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
P. O'Brien 1 30 30.0
Tennessee Kick Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
J. Holiday 1 29 29.0
Pittsburgh Kick Returns
Player Ret Yards Average
I. Abanikanda 1 16 16.0
V. Davis 1 14 14.0
Tennessee Missed FG
Player Length
Pittsburgh Missed FG
Player Length
B. Sauls 46
B. Sauls 36




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