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Notebook: Special teams miscues cost Cavaliers in loss

Notebook: Special teams miscues cost Cavaliers in loss

Virginia Pittsburgh Football

Pittsburgh’s Jordan Addison returns a punt during the first half of Saturday’s game against Virginia in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH — Virginia entered Saturday’s matchup at Pittsburgh with the nation’s fourth-best kick coverage team.

The Cavaliers were giving up only 14 yards per kickoff return prior to Saturday, so Hoos coach Bronco Mendenhall was a bit stunned to see Panthers return man Israel Abanikanda weaving around UVa’s trying tacklers and dashing into the end zone for a 98-yard touchdown return and a 21-14 lead in their eventual 48-38 win.

“Kickoff coverage, I thought, has been one of our best special teams this year,” Mendenhall said, “and when I looked up, I saw they had a blocker for each of us. And really good teams, you beat blocks and make tackles.”

It was Pitt’s first kickoff return touchdown this season, and UVa’s first special-teams problem of the evening.

Panthers wide receiver Jordan Addison had a 38-yard punt return to set up a field goal on top of his 202 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. And in the fourth quarter, when UVa’s defense forced Pitt to settle for a field goal, the Cavaliers jumped offsides on the field-goal attempt to give the Panthers a fresh set of downs.

“A kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return that changes field position,” Mendenhall said, “and then we have our defense out to block a field goal and we jump offsides, so that alone could’ve been the difference. Those three certainly impacted the game.”

Another strong showing

UVa wide receivers Keytaon Thompson and Dontayvion Wicks each went over 100 receiving yards on Saturday, marking another strong effort from the duo.

Thompson’s 14 catches led the team, and his 126 yards put him over 100 receiving yards for the second straight week. His touchdown catch was his first receiving score of the year and he added an eight-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter to knot the game at 31.

Wicks’ 13 receptions were a career high and his 144 receiving yards gave him his sixth 100-yard performance of the campaign.

“Brennan [Armstrong] is exceptional,” Mendenhall said, “but he also throws it to really good targets. And it’s been consistent all year. We have a really good receiving core.”

Back beyond Armstrong

Aside from quarterback Armstrong, who threw for 487 yards and three scores in his return from a rib injury suffered during UVa’s Oct. 30 loss at BYU, the Cavaliers also saw running back Wayne Taulapapa and wide receiver Billy Kemp return to the field.

Taulapapa was dealing with a concussion, and like Armstrong missed last week’s loss to Notre Dame, but he was in the lineup on Saturday and rushed twice for 11 yards.

Kemp limped off the field during the second half against the Irish and didn’t return to the field in that game, but he played against Pitt and tallied three catches for 24 yards.

Kickoff time announced

UVa’s home contest on Nov. 27 against Virginia Tech has been set for 3:45 p.m. and will be televised on the ACC Network, the ACC announced on Saturday evening.

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