KirVonte Benson ran for a career-high 196 yards with two touchdowns, TaQuon Marshall added 112 yards rushing with two scoring runs, and Georgia Tech beat Pittsburgh 35-17 on Saturday in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for each team.
With the game tied at 7 in the second quarter, Marshall used a spin move to dodge Pittsburgh safety Damar Hamlin on an 18-yard run to the 1. Marshall scored on a keeper the next play.
Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-0) ran for 436 yards with five touchdowns.
The Yellow Jackets overcame four lost fumbles, including two by Benson. Georgia Tech’s defense allowed no points on the four turnovers.
“If it weren’t for the defense, we wouldn’t have won this game,” Marshall said. “Let’s be real. … You can’t ask for much more.”
Georgia Tech controlled the clock, holding the ball 35 minutes, with its spread-option attack. The Panthers were successful on only 1 of 13 third-down plays.
“When you don’t move the ball against Georgia Tech, the way they hold the ball, you’re in deep, deep trouble,” said Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi.
Benson wore down the Pittsburgh defense with his 29 carries.
“We expect to run for at least 300 yards every game,” Benson said. “That’s our goal.”
Benson lost his second fumble inside the Pittsburgh 5 midway through the fourth quarter. He had a 47-yard scoring run about two minutes later.
Pittsburgh (1-3, 0-1) made a change at quarterback, starting Ben DiNucci over senior Max Browne. DiNucci completed 12 of 19 passes for 110 yards with one touchdown. Browne took over in the fourth quarter and completed 10 of 15 passes for 89 yards.
Narduzzi said he will take a “status quo” approach on his quarterbacks “and find out who has the best week of practice and who gives us the best chance to win a football game.”
The Panthers’ weak running game offered no balance. Seven Pittsburgh rushers netted only 37 yards on 20 carries.
Georgia Tech held the ball almost 20 minutes in the first half. The Panthers stayed close with a few big plays, including an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown by Quadree Henderson. Henderson found a wall when he changed direction and ran left toward the Pittsburgh sideline. A devastating block by Damar Hamlin on Parker Braun helped Henderson find an open field.
Henderson’s big play tied the game at 14-all. Benson’s first touchdown run, from the 5, gave Georgia Tech the lead.
Jordan Whitehead, the strong safety returning from a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules, had a 30-yard gain on an end-around run to set up DiNucci’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Quadree Ollison.
Alex Kessman made a 55-yard field goal for Pittsburgh to end the first half.
Georgia Tech’s Quaide Weimerskirch scored on a 19-yard run in the third quarter — the longest run and first touchdown for the sophomore.
Pittsburgh: DiNucci showed promise on his first drive but for the most part looked like a first-time starter. The Panthers couldn’t generate a running attack to help the sophomore. Pittsburgh’s only run for 10 or more yards was Whitehead’s 30-yard gain on the trick play. Pittsburgh’s young defense, with only two seniors, was consistently frustrated by Georgia Tech’s option runs. Most of Benson’s yards came on power runs straight at the line.
“Our defense was just on the field too long today,” Narduzzi said.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets’ top-ranked running game showed its depth and big-play ability. The Yellow Jackets already had topped their average of 372 yards rushing before the final quarter. Perhaps more encouraging for Georgia Tech’s ACC outlook was the play of its defense. The Yellow Jackets allowed no points on four lost fumbles.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers return home to play Rice on Saturday.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets will have another home ACC game against North Carolina on Saturday at noon.