ACC: Pitt Panthers vs Virginia Cavaliers Preview
Welcome to the ACC: Pitt Panthers vs Virginia Cavaliers Preview! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a Game Preview, Pitt’s Keys to Victory, Score Prediction, a detailed breakdown of each team, Game Information, Individual Stats, Team Stats, down to the weather at kickoff. The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!
The Panther running game, a staple of the program, had been dormant all year.
Perhaps one of the offensive coaches was reading the Pitt at Duke Preview last Friday?
As suggested, Pitt fed the ball to Darrin Hall early and often vs the Blue Devils, who responded with 254 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith was pumped about the offensive line and Hall’s performance.
“It was fun watching us be us, Pitt football,” Jones-Smith said.
Head Coach Pat Narduzzi also heaped praise upon Hall.
“I think he’s kind of in a groove a little bit,” Narduzzi said. “You saw him make cuts that he doesn’t make very often. Coach (Andre) Powell’s been preaching, preaching, preaching about making somebody miss and getting yards after contact. So, it’s good to see someone take to it.”
Now that the coaches have seemingly figured out how to jumpstart the running game, they have turned their attention to fixing the broken passing attack, which is to say… non-existent.
“Happy with some of the run-game stuff,” Narduzzi said, referring to DiNucci’s decision-making at the line of scrimmage. “Not as happy with the pass-game stuff. I think we missed some plays. Got to be a little more composed in the pocket, but that will come with time, too.”
On the other side of the ball, the Panther defense, though showing improvement, still has plenty of room to grow.
“Still not where you want it to be,” Narduzzi said. “I saw some hesitation and saw some linebackers that should be filling faster and smacking somebody. They’re still young and not as physical as you’d like them to be. There are times we’re out there and trying to do other people’s job, instead of just stick your nose in there and whack somebody.”
With only three wins on the season, the Panthers will have to win three out of the four remaining games to become eligible for a Bowl Game. If the Panthers are able to defeat Virginia, they’ll have 11 days to prepare for a Thursday Night game at home against North Carolina on November 9th. A three-game win streak would do wonders for a young team’s confidence heading into the final two game of the year at Virginia Tech and at home vs Miami.
Narduzzi wasn’t having any notion of Bowl talk.
“We haven’t mentioned it one time the entire year in this meeting room here,” he said. “We start looking ahead, particularly with a young football team, you’ll get whacked, even with an older team. We’re not worried about that.”
Though Narduzzi is saying that out loud to the media, inside he knows how important it would be for the program to go to its 10th straight Bowl game, along with the extra practices that would come with it.
First things first, and it all starts this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. vs Virginia.
Pitt Keys to Victory
- Feed your lead back again! Darrin Hall and the Pitt offensive line will be hungry for an encore. Like last week, hand him the ball 20+ times watch the yards pile up.
- It is Kenny Pickett time IF… Ben DiNucci continues to struggle. I give him one more quarter to make a difference. The offense needs a QB who can keep the opposing defense honest deep.
- Manage Game Clock! A good mix of run and pass should keep Virginia off-balance. The Cavaliers can’t score if they aren’t on the field.
- Get to the QB! Pitt’s D did well last week vs a mobile QB. Now they get one that runs like Kent Graham. Kurt Benkert will pick you apart if you give him too much time.
- Beware Olamide Zaccheaus! The Panthers will need to keep on eye on him. The shifty Zaccheaus has caught 49 passes out of the backfield.
- Limit big plays! Keep Benkurt and the Cavs in check downfield. Make them work for every yard.
If you looked just at the records, it would seem this game is a huge mismatch. A 5-2 Virginia team should have no problem handing a young 3-5 Pitt team, right?
Upon closer inspection, and a look at the spread, it looks as if these two teams will be fighting tooth and nail into the 4th quarter for a hard-fought victory this Saturday. Pitt has only beaten the likes of Youngstown State, Rice, and Duke. Virginia has had the fortune of defeating William & Mary, Connecticut, Boise St, Duke, and UNC.
Not very impressive, on either side.
Pitt enters this game with the momentum of their victory over Duke last week. Boston College embarrassed the Cavaliers 41-10.
Look for the Panthers to feed Darrin Hall early and often to establish the running game and continue last week’s success. If Pitt QB Ben DiNucci continues to tread water with the passing game, you might see the switch to freshman Kenny Pickett by the start of the 2nd quarter.
As long as Pitt can control the clock and avoid any back-breaking turnovers, they should have a better than average chance at winning their 2nd straight game. Pitt’s defense will have to be up to the task of pressuring Cavs QB Kurt Benkert and limit splash plays by the Virginia offense.
RB Olamide Zaccheaus may cause the biggest headaches with his ability to get free out of the backfield and make plays with his pass-catching skills.
Was last Saturday the turning point in the 2017 season for Pitt?
Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin offered his thoughts.
“As a defense, we are starting to move in a positive direction.”
Pitt sends their fans back home with a smile on their faces and keeps their slim Bowl hopes alive.
Pitt 27 Virginia 21
A look at the Pitt Panthers!
Overall Record: 3-5 | ACC Record: 1-3 | Rank: N/A
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (3rd Season with Pitt)
Lifetime Record: 19-15 (.558)
Last Week: Pitt 24 Duke 17
Scouting the Panthers
Quarterback – Senior graduate transfer Max Browne was the starter at the beginning of the season, but his career came to an end at Pitt after requiring surgery on his injured shoulder. Ben DiNucci is the next man up and has the ability to take off and run if none of the passing lanes are open. The future of the program belongs to Kenny Pickett. The young freshman is now one snap away from being the starter and given his abilities, the sooner that happens, the better for both him and the program.
Running Backs – Pitt plenty of guys who can tote the rock, but none are making a difference. Qadree Ollison was the starter for the first half of 2017, but the keys have been handed back to Darrin Hall for the lead back role. When Hall was finally given the ball consistently vs Duke, he responded with 254 yards on 24 carries. Chawtez Moss had worked his way into the mix with his abilities but now finds himself suspended indefinitely. AJ Davis has played sparingly but has seen his role increase the last two games. Fullback George Aston is back from injury but hasn’t been involved much in the offense since his return. Despite playing defense and missing three games, SS Jordan Whitehead is 3rd on the team in rushing with 147 yards.
Wide Receivers – Jester Weah caught 36 passes for 872 yards and 10 scores last year. He had struggled to emulate those numbers early in 2017 but has picked his game up over the past three weeks. Quadree Henderson is a dynamic playmaker but hasn’t seen anywhere near the touches needed to produce. When he has gotten the ball, he hasn’t done much. Maurice French contributes on both the ground and in the air, as he employs a style similar to Henderson. Aaron Mathews is taking advantage of his chances, and Raphael Araujo-Lopez is the team leader with 36 receptions on the year.
Tight Ends – Matt Flanagan and Chris Clark are hoping to become a dynamic duo at tight end for the Panthers. Flanagan has put up decent numbers so far in 2017, and Clark, a huge target, is starting to make his presence known in the Pitt offense.
Defense – Dewayne Hendrix and Rashaad Weaver are co-starters at defensive end, with Allen Edwards on the other side. James Folston, Jr. and Patrick Jones II will also see plenty of action. In the middle, you’ll find Shane Roy and the impressive freshman Keyson Camp. Amir Watts and Kam Cater will be in the rotation.
At linebacker, Elijah Zeise, Saleem Brightwell, and Seun Idowu are the starters. Anthony McKee, Jr. and Chris Pine will get plenty of chances to make an impression, too.
Teams scorched the secondary game after game last year, and that trend has continued into 2017. Help is on the way as star safety Jordan Whitehead is back after being suspended for the first three games. Avonte Maddox will start at corner on one side and expect to see a rotation of Dane Jackson and Damarri Mathis until one stands above the other. With Whitehead back at SS, Dennis Briggs returns to being a back-up. Bricen Garner and highly touted Damar Hamlin will rotate at FS. Top recruit Paris Ford enrolled late, but his talent will eventually rise to the top and he will see action sooner than later.
Kicker – Freshman Alex Kessman takes over the kicking duties for Pitt. The team needs more consistency, but he has nailed a 56 yarder this year. He’ll get better with age.
Kick/Punt Return – Quadree Henderson will be back deep for every kick.
A look at the Virginia Cavaliers!
Overall Record: 5-2 | ACC Record: 2-1 | Rank: N/A
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (2nd Season with Virginia)
Lifetime Record: 106-55 (.658) | 7-12 (.368) at Virginia
Last Week: Boston College 41 Virginia 10
Scouting the Cavaliers
Quarterback – Kurt Benkert is a stand in the pocket passer with a good arm and nice accuracy. Opposing teams have sacked him 14 times.
Running Backs – Jordan Ellis is the lead back with 602 yards rushing a five TD’s, but Olamide Zaccheaus is just as dangerous out of the backfield, as he has snagged 49 catches for 505 yards and four scores.
Wide Receivers – Doni Dowling is the top wide-out with 30 receptions and 393 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Andre Levrone makes every catch count as he only has 16 receptions on the year, but they are good for 386 receiving yards and four TDs. Joe Reed is Benkert’s third option.
Tight Ends – Evan Butts is 3rd on the team with 19 catches.
Defense – The Cavs are stingy against the pass. However, teams can pound them on the ground.
NCAA Week 9
Pitt Panthers (3-5, 1-3) vs Virginia Cavaliers (5-2, 2-1)
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
Game-time: Saturday, October 28th, 12:30 pm
TV: AT&T SportsNet | Announcers: Wes Durham (play-by-play) James Bates (analyst) | Rebecca Kaple (reporter)
Local Radio: Pittsburgh – 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Bill Osborne (analyst) | Larry Richert (sideline)
National Radio: Sirius XM Satellite Radio – Sirius Channel 112, XM Channel 193, Internet Channel 955
Weather at Kickoff: 51 with an 80% chance of rain.
Vegas Line: Pitt -2.5
Pitt vs Virginia History
- Series History: Began in 1953.
- Pitt is 6-3 overall against Virginia
- Pitt is 4-0 at home vs Virginia.
- Streak: Pitt won the last two meetings.
- Last Regular Season Meeting: Oct. 15, 2016 (Pitt 45 Virginia 31)
Pitt literally rushed to victory against Duke, compiling a season-high 336 yards on the ground. Junior tailback Darrin Hall was the spearhead, rambling for 254 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries (10.6 avg.). Hall’s touchdowns included runs of 79 and 92 yards. The latter broke a 100-year-old record as the longest in Pitt history.
Pitt’s passing game will face a ball-hawking Virginia secondary. The Cavaliers have nine interceptions this year to rank 20th nationally and third in the ACC.
On the year, Ben DiNucci has completed 55% of his passes (63 of 115) for 761 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. In last week’s Duke victory, he was 8 of 18 for 149 yards with zero turnovers and made some critical throws on the Panthers’ final two scoring drives.
QB – Ben DiNucci (761 yards passing | 3 TD passes | 3 interceptions | 10 sacks | 23 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD)
QB – Kenny Pickett (74 yards passing | 0 TD passes | 0 interceptions | 0 sacks | 18 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD)
RB – Darrin Hall (362 yards rushing | 4 rushing TD’s | 9 receptions | 59 receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB – Qadree Ollison (283 yards rushing | 4 rushing TD’s | 16 receptions | 134 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB – Jordan Whitehead (147 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 2 receptions | 7 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
RB – Chawntez Moss (113 yards rushing | 2 rushing TD’s | 5 receptions | 75 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB – AJ Davis (41 yards rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 1 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
FB – George Aston (0 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s | 0 receptions | 0 yards receiving | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR – Rafael Araujo-Lopes (36 receptions | 443 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
WR – Jester Weah (27 receptions | 458 receiving yards | 3 receiving TD’s
WR – Maurice French (17 receptions | 147 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR – Aaron Matthews (15 receptions | 180 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
WR – Quadree Henderson (11 receptions | 126 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s | 135 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD’s)
WR – Ruben Flowers (0 receptions | 0 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
TE – Matt Flanagan (15 receptions | 138 receiving yards | 0 receiving TD’s)
TE – Chris Clark (10 receptions | 59 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
K – Alex Kessman (Extra Point: 21-21 | FG: 8-14 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 2-4 | 30-39: 0-0 | 40-49: 4-6 | 50+: 2-4 | Long: 56
QB – Kurt Benkert (1,806 yards passing | 15 TD passes | 4 interceptions | 14 sacks | -18 yards rushing | 0 rushing TD )
RB – Jordan Ellis (602 yards rushing | 5 rushing TD’s | 9 receptions | 52 yards receiving | 1 receiving TD’s)
RB – Olamide Zaccheaus (142 rushing | 1 rushing TD’s | 49 receptions | 505 yards receiving | 4 receiving TD’s)
WR – Doni Dowling (30 receptions | 393 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
WR – Andre Levrone (16 receptions | 386 receiving yards | 4 receiving TD’s)
WR- Joe Reed (15 receptions | 155 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
TE – Evan Butts (19 receptions | 166 receiving yards | 1 receiving TD’s)
K – A.J. Mejia (Extra Point: 24-24 | FG: 5-6 | 0-19: 0-0 | 20-29: 4-4 | 30-39: 1-1 | 40-49: 0-1 | 50+: 0-0 | Long: 38
Pitt – Virginia: Offensive vs Defensive Comparison
Pitt Total Offense: Pitt averages 370.5 YPG | Virginia allows 341.3 YPG
Rushing: Pitt averages 141.5 YPG | Virginia allows 156.4 YPG
Passing: Pitt averages 229 YPG | Virginia allows 184.9 YPG
Scoring: Pitt averages 23.4 PPG | Virginia allows 23 PPG
Pitt Total Defense: Pitt allows 434 YPG | Virginia averages 385.1 YPG
Rushing: Pitt allows 163.6 YPG | Virginia averages 123.4 YPG
Passing: Pitt allows 270.4 YPG | Virginia averages 261.7 YPG
Scoring: Pitt allows 29.6 PPG | Virginia averages 26.1 PPG
Injury Report (10/27/2017)
Out: RB Chawntez Moss (Suspended)
Questionable: FB George Aston (Ankle), LB Anthony McKee, Jr. (Upper Body), WR Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (Lower Body), CB Avonte Maddox (Shoulder)
Questionable: OL Jacob Buccigrossi (ACL)
Pitt Panthers 2017 Schedule
Regular Season (Overall: 3-5 | ACC: 1-3)
Saturday, September 2 Youngstown State, W – 28-21 OT
Saturday, September 9 at #6 Penn State (ABC), L – 14-33
Saturday, September 16 #9 Oklahoma State (ESPN), L – 21-59
Saturday, September 23 at Georgia Tech* (ACC Network), L – 35-17
Saturday, September 30 Rice (ATT SportsNet), W – 42-10
Saturday, October 7 at Syracuse* (ATT SportsNet), L – 24-27
Saturday, October 14 #20 NC State* (HC) (ATT SportsNet), L – 17-35
Saturday, October 21 at Duke* (ACC Network- ABC), W – 24-17
Saturday, October 28 Virginia* (ATT SportsNet) at 12:30 p.m.
Thursday, November 9 North Carolina* (ESPN) at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, November 18 at #13 Virginia Tech* at TBA
Friday, November 24 #8 Miami* at TBA
*ACC game / (HC) Homecoming / Ranking as of that week
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