Pitt running back and return man Israel Abanikanda put on an impressive performance and achieved a first in his career during Pitt’s 48-38 win over Virginia on Saturday, and as a result, Abanikanda was honored on Monday as the ACC Specialist of the Week.
Abanikanda was not particularly busy on Saturday, as he accrued just five touches in the game. However, he made each one count, as he amassed 15 yards on one reception, 19 yards on three carries and 98 yards and a touchdown on his only kick return of the day to give him 132 all-purpose yards in the win.
Obviously, the 98-yard kick return was what earned Abanikanda the ACC Specialist of the Week honors, and in the process, it more than doubled his kick return yardage on the year. The 5’11”, 215-pound return man entered the game with 84 yards on four returns and finished with 182 yards on five. The touchdown was also his first as a returner and the team’s first touchdown on a return in 2021.
In addition, Abanikanda’s touchdown came at a pivotal point in the game and put Pitt up 21-14 in the second quarter of a matchup that would go down as a shootout, with Panthers signal-caller Kenny Pickett and Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong trading scoring drives all day long in the division-deciding game.
Abanikanda is best known for his role as a running back and has amassed 580 yards and five touchdowns on 109 carries this season. He also has 200 receiving yards and another score on 23 receptions. And with his 182 return yards and special-teams touchdown, Abanikanda has a total of 962 all-purpose yards and seven total touchdowns as a true sophomore.