With Key Second-Half Stops, Blount Made Most Of His Time Against Panthers

By Scott Ratcliffe

UVA safety Joey Blount smiles in the locker room after his rock-breaking performance against Pitt Saturday (Photo by Matt Riley, UVA Media Relations).

In a crucial late-game sequence at Heinz Field Saturday night, UVA free safety Joey Blount was in on back-to-back key defensive plays to help seal the important season-opening win at Pitt.

With the Cavaliers on top 23-14 and the Panthers on the move, Blount followed a 5-yard Bryce Hall sack on first down with one of his own for 8 yards on second down, forcing third down and a long 23 for Pitt QB Kenny Pickett.

With just under 8 minutes to go, Pickett rolled out and was looking for a man downfield and let one rip. The only problem for Pickett was that Blount was reading him perfectly as he stepped in for his third career interception, sending many of the home fans to the exits.

When asked to describe his heroics during the intense stretch, Blount said it was “tiring.”

“The sequence of events, though, is just super surreal almost, just kind of meant to happen for me, and I just couldn’t thank anyone else but God,” he said.

Earlier, on a Pitt third and nine from the UVA 28-yard line with time winding down in the third quarter, Blount recorded his first sack of the night, forcing the Panthers to try a 50-yard field goal. Alex Kessman missed wide right, and Virginia maintained its nine-point lead.

On the evening, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior from Atlanta made seven tackles (five solo) to go with the pair of sacks and the pick. Not too shabby for a guy who didn’t play as much as usual.

“When I got on the field, I just tried to make the most of my time,” said Blount, who pointed out that he wasn’t in on as many snaps as usual due to Pitt’s unbalanced personnel causing the Wahoos to stick with their base defense.

When Blount was out there in the nickel package, he was highly effective, as he’s already halfway to his personal goal of two interceptions this season. He’s also on pace to exceed 80 tackles, another mark he’s trying to surpass.

Blount admitted that he hadn’t been in the backfield that much in a game since his high-school days, but enjoyed the chance to get some shots on Pickett. The Wahoo defense as a whole was relentless, notching four sacks, seven tackles for loss and seven quarterback hits while breaking up five passes.

“We sent a lot of pressure to the quarterback,” said Blount. “We saw in the preparation that he really got out of the pocket a lot. He got frazzled with rushers in his face and would try to force the ball downfield, so we thought that was really good for us to try to pressure him, and Coach Howell just put it in my hands to go out there and get a sack.”

The two sacks were the first of Blount’s college career, and for his efforts, he was chosen to ‘Break the Rock’ (Virginia’s player of the game) in the locker room after the big win, leaving him speechless, as he put it. 

“It’s kind of emotional because there’s a lot of players that could have been deemed worthy for breaking the rock,” Blount said. “Brian Delaney hitting key field goals in that game, there was a stand where Charles Snowden was making tackle after tackle, [linebacker Matt Gahm] with the interception — I think it was an all-around great thing for the defense, and I wanted to share that with the defense, not just me personally. I was excited, I was honored, at the end of the day speechless, though.”

Blount picked up a few national accolades as well, as he was named to both the ACC and National defensive team of the week by Pro Football Focus.

As Blount sees it, finally getting over the hump against Pitt is an example of resilience, being that the Panthers stole the lead and, seemingly, the momentum heading into halftime.

“It just shows the character of the team,” said Blount. “Three years, we have not beaten this opponent and it says a lot to the leadership on our team that going into half we were down a point and we were just sticking together, knowing that this is in our hands, and that at the end of the day it’s our game to play.

“We came here, we were prepared, we’re recognizing, we’re anticipating plays, and I think the game just fell in our hands the way we wanted it to. We played to the best of our abilities, we played to our strengths, and we just emphasized the weaknesses.”

As Blount touched on, the goal of the UVA defense is to limit the opposition to 3.5 yards (or less) per carry, which the ‘Hoos accomplished in the road opener. Pitt finished with a net total of just 78 yards on 30 attempts, good for 2.6 a tote. With what he calls the best secondary in the nation backing that kind of effort up on a weekly basis, it could be a long season for opposing offenses.

“I think what we did today is we went out there and beat a team that we haven’t beaten in three years and we showed them on their home that we are a team to reckon with in the ACC,” Blount said after knocking off the defending Coastal Division champs.

Now, the ‘Hoos will be back at Scott Stadium for three straight home games, and Blount can’t wait to play in front of the UVA faithful. Saturday’s win provided the perfect springboard for the three-game stand against William & Mary, Florida State and Old Dominion.

“Yeah, this is the best lead-in to this home stretch, so I’m excited to be back at Scott,” he said.


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