SirVocea Dennis set Pitt’s offense up with solid field position following his 67-yard interception return in the first quarter against Miami, so he had to work quick.
As Pitt’s offense capitalized with a short Israel Abanikanda touchdown on the field, Dennis threw down a dunk on Pitt’s turnover hoop on the sideline. It was the 15th time Javon McIntyre watched one of his teammates throw down this season.
Of course, the tradition for Pitt’s defense upon forcing a turnover is to dunk on the turnover hoop. It’s a rite of passage.
And McIntyre certainly waited his turn, watching players like Dennis, M.J. Devonshire and Marquis Williams thrown down. So, he was ready to be next.
He was ready when Miami quarterback Jacurri Brown launched an errant pass into Pitt’s secondary, reading Brown the entire way and finding himself in the perfect position to haul in the pass for his first career interception.
2 series, 2 INTs for the Panthers!
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) November 27, 2022
Pitt’s offense took to the field. Pitt’s defense lined the runway around the hoop as McIntyre prepared for his dunk.
He knew he couldn’t just throw it down, a basic flush wouldn’t be enough. He’d seen too many dunks over the year to come in and ruin his first. The first thought that popped up? A windmill.
So, McIntyre ran down the line, jumped as high as he could and threw down a windmill as the defense exploded around him.
“I was excited when I finally got a chance to dunk the hoop,” McIntyre said following Saturday’s win. “I saw everybody throughout the year do it so many times, I just wanted to do it one time. I was so happy to do it, and it motivates me to see everybody make a play.”
After watching Dennis pick off Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke on Miami’s first offensive possession, despite being unable to cap off his interception with a touchdown, it was exciting. And McIntyre’s increased role Saturday only helped his excitement grow.
McIntyre played a season-high 29 snaps against Miami, 23 in coverage spread across box, free, slot and cornerback, and it was his strongest performance of the season.
It also helped lead to his interception, as he filled the slot role in Pitt’s third down Delta package, finding himself in the right place at the right time to pick off Brown. And he knew he had to make a play when he saw the throw.
“I just saw him throw the ball up, and I said, ‘Go get it.’ That’s what I tried to do, go get it,” McIntyre said. “I didn’t mean to fall though, if I stayed up it would’ve been a pick-six, but it is what it is.”
McIntyre recorded two tackles (two solo), a tackle for loss, an interception and two pass breakups against Miami. And according to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just two receptions for seven yards on four targets. It’s the sort of relentless effort he’s strived to achieve this season.
“I feel like my role is just a young guy trying to learn,” McIntyre said. “Just learn the system, even more, learn how to practice every day like a college player, learn how to take little details and them right.
“I just try to learn from (Hill), (Hallett), (Williams), everybody on the team, all the DBs, all the hounds. I just try to embrace it every day. When my number gets called, I just try to go out there and make plays and do the little things right.”
It’s an especially spirited effort after McIntyre spent some time in the hospital recently, battling illness. Which is something Pat Narduzzi said not many people know about — if any.
“Lost about 15 pounds and didn’t play so good a week ago, and he came back,” Narduzzi said following the win. “He’s a good football player. He’s gonna be one of the future guys that are making plays.”
McIntyre didn’t miss the Virginia or Duke outings, playing sparingly in both contests, but he fought back from illness to make an impact in both games — whether it was as a reserve defender or special teamer. It’s the sort of growth that leads to starting opportunities down the line, but that’s not an area he’s thinking about.
“Everyone’s situation is different,” McIntyre said. “(Hill), how he got his starting spot might be a little different from how I get my starting spot. I still try to hone in on all the little things and I do prepare like BHill right now as a bench player. So, I prepare like a stater like him and take advantage of it every day.”
McIntyre has recorded 10 tackles (seven solo), a tackle for loss, an interception and two pass breakups this season, but most of that came as he grew into his role against Miami. It’s come in a depth role, but he’s just happy to make an impact.
“I just want to make a play with them,” McIntyre said. “To be out there with the guys, 11 as 1, and make a play, and just celebrate with my teammates.”
Pitt picked up a big win against Miami, and while players like Dennis made a major impact, it’s players like McIntyre, Dayon Hayes and the young defenders on the roster who have the future in mind.
Narduzzi just said that he’s happy that players like McIntyre and Hayes — who recorded four tackles for loss and three sacks against Miami — are growing into their roles.
With the uncertainty surrounding Erick Hallett’s return next season, even if Brandon Hill returns, McIntyre’s impact could be felt as early as next season — and certainly in the years to come.