THE MATCHUP: PITT (4-4) AT #23 VIRGINIA (6-2)
WHEN: 7:30 P.M. EST
WHERE: SCOTT STADIUM, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN2
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
Three one-loss teams control their own destinies atop the ACC’s Coastal division: Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Come Friday night, that will no longer be the case. At least one of these teams will suffer its second conference loss this weekend when Pitt travels to face the University of Virginia Cavaliers for a weeknight showdown on ESPN2.
In his third season as head coach of the Cavaliers, Bronco Mendenhall has transformed UVA from a two-win team in 2016 to a current member of the AP Top 25. Sitting at 6-2, the Cavaliers’ losses came on the road against Indiana and North Carolina State. Their matchup versus Pitt will be in Charlottesville, though, where they are undefeated and own victories over the likes of Louisville, Miami and North Carolina. The program certainly seems to be trending upwards, and a win over Pitt – against whom Mendenhall is 0-2 – will further this perception.
Like Pitt, UVA’s offense this year is predicated on the run. Running the ball 58% of the time, the Cavaliers rank 49th in rushing (186.0 yards-per-game) and 12th in average time-of-possession. They are tied for 80th in total yards-per-game (390.8) and tied for 74th in scoring offense (28.3 points-per-game), so the offense is far from elite. However, the same could have been said for a Duke offense which totaled 619 total yards and 45 points against Pitt last week.
At quarterback is Bryce Perkins, a transfer from Arizona Western Community College who began his career at Arizona State. Perkins brings a running element to the position that Kurt Benkert, last year’s starter, did not. With 575 yards and 6 touchdowns on 133 carries, he is the team’s second-leading rusher. However, he is not as efficient of a passer as Benkert, completing 137 of 217 for 1,623 yards, 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
Perkin’s top receiver is also UVA’s top offensive playmaker, senior H-back Olamide Zaccheaus. At 5-feet-8-inches and 190 pounds, Zaccheus is undersized but explosive, and the 2017 second-team All-ACC honoree is the nation’s only active player with over 2,000 receiving yards and 450 rushing yards in a career. He isn’t running the ball as much in 2018 (only 10 rushing attempts), but Zaccheus is the Cav’s top receiver by a longshot with 56 receptions for 690 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The only other player with over 15 receptions is junior Hasise Dubois. The 6-foot-3-inch receiver brings size to compliment the smaller, quicker Zaccheus. Dubois has 32 receptions for 360 yards and 3 touchdowns.
For the second straight year, the Cavalier’s top running back is Jordan Ellis. Also, like last year, he is the only running back making significant contributions on the ground; no other running back has over 20 carries. Potential injuries aside, it is unlikely that anyone will receive many carries outside of Ellis and Perkins.
Rounding out the offense is a line that features two new starters this season. In pass protection, the unit is allowing 2.75 sacks-per-game, which ties them for 104th in the FBS.
Operating out of a base 3-4 defense, UVA needed to replace a pair of ultra-productive, 2017 first-team All-ACC performers this season in linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding. Many teams might take a step back, but the Hoos rank 20th in the nation in total defense (327.4 total yards-per-game) and 18th in scoring defense (18.8 points-per-game). Their 20th-ranked run defense, allowing 113.0 yards-per-game on the ground, will be worth watching against a Pitt offense averaging 227.9 rushing yards-per-game (22nd in FBS).
The Cavaliers are young along the defensive line. Multiple freshmen will contribute, including true-freshman nose tackle, Jordan Redmond. Redmond, at 6-feet and 320 pounds, was recently named a mid-season Freshman All-American by ESPN.com. He replaces last year’s starting nose tackle, junior Eli Hanback, who now starts at defensive end.
At linebacker, the player charged with replacing Micah Kiser at Mike linebacker has been sophomore Zane Zandier, a graduate of Pittsburgh’s Thomas Jefferson High School. Junior inside linebacker Jordan Mack, who registered 114 tackles in 2017, was injured against Louisville and missed three games before returning to the field last week. Should Mack resemble his 2017 form, the Cavaliers could have a formidable duo in the middle.
The elder amongst the backers is senior Will linebacker Chris Peace, who is once again UVA’s top pass-rusher after being named honorable mention All-ACC last year. With 6 sacks, 10 tackles-for-loss and 2 forced fumbles, Peace is on pace to surpass “honorable mention” status in 2018.
And in the secondary, senior Sabre safety Juan Thornhill, a 2017 third-team All-ACC honoree, is the guy to watch; he leads the team in both tackles (52) and interceptions (4). With 2 interceptions and 16 pass breakups, Boundary cornerback Bryce Hall is also putting forth a solid effort in his junior season.
|Points Per Game||28.0||32.63||28.2||18.8|
|Yards Gained Rushing||2012||1693||1711||1059|
|Yards Lost Rushing||189||209||223||155|
|Average Yards Per Rush||5.7||4.7||4.7||3.8|
|Average Yards Per Game||227.9||185.5||186.0||113.0|
|Average Yards Per Game||146.4||250.5||204.8||214.4|
|Average Yards Per Play||5.9||6.1||5.8||5.3|
|Average Yards Per Game||374.3||436.0||390.8||327.4|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||17-452||14-272||18-385||16-324|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||12-103||14-109||25-188||10-28|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||7-123||5-67||10-163||8-134|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||26.6||19.4||21.4||20.2|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||8.6||7.8||7.5||2.8|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||17.6||13.4||16.3||16.8|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||10-6||16-6||9-4||7-4|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||55-534||41-326||34-311||46-406|
|Average Per Game||66.8||40.8||38.9||50.8|
|PUNTS – YARDS||37-1435||30-1265||32-1327||40-1616|
|NET YARDS PER PUNT||35.3||37.4||37.5||35.7|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||31:45||28:15||33:26||26:33|
|4th Down Percentage||33%||50%||67%||33%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||16-117||15-121||16-106||21-131|
Pitt leads the all-time series 7-3, but enters this meeting as 7.5-point underdogs. The game will kick off at 7:30 Friday night at Scott Stadium. It will be aired on ESPN2, and can be heard on 93.7 the Fan. As always, Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.