Thursday, October 2, 2014
game preview: Pittsburgh
TV: ESPN3, RSN
Record against the Panthers: 2-4
Last meeting: Pitt 14, UVA 3; 9/28/13, Pittsburgh
Last weekend: UVA 45, KSU 13; Akron 21, Pitt 10
Line: UVA by 5
OUT: C Jackson Matteo, OT Jay Whitmire
QUESTIONABLE: QB Greyson Lambert, CB Demetrious Nicholson
PROBABLE: OT Sadiq Olanrewaju
OUT: DL Duke McLean, OL Aaron Reese, DL Ejuan Price, LB Devon Porchia, OL Artie Rowell
Last year's game against the Panthers was, unbeknownst to us at the time, a full-blown cariacature of the season. The UVA defense was astoundingly good, piling up three turnovers and seven sacks and limiting Pitt to exactly eight rushing yards. The offense and special teams were even more astoundingly inept; turnovers in our own red zone led to the two Pitt scores. It also happened to be the first of nine losses in a row, ten if you count overlapping seasons.
This year the meaning of the game is known beforehand. It's a big one. UVA has a bye week on the way, which means a chance to sit awfully pretty at 2-0 in the conference and get two weeks of practice for a high-powered Duke offense. There are two other 1-0 teams in the Coastal, and since one of them is Pitt, a win here would help make the top a little lonelier place. It's a night game, the team is wearing special helmetzz, and temporary control of the Coastal Conference is on the line.
-- UVA run offense vs. Pitt run defense
Kevin Parks: 75 carries, 258 yards, 3.4 ypc, 2 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 39 carries, 164 yards, 4.2 ypc, 2 TDs
167.4 yards/game, 4.02 yards/attempt
79th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)
106.8 yards/game, 3.16 yards/attempt
30th of 128 (national), 4th of 14 (ACC)
As usual, the UVA run game continues to be minimally adequate, which is probably its identity for the rest of the year. Kevin Parks will continue to do occasional feats of badassery, like scoring a touchdown while his head is twisted the wrong way thanks to a vicious facemasking, but he doesn't get the blocking he needs.
Pitt's run defense has been schizophrenic. They did a very nice job limiting Boston College's powerful run game, mostly suppressing the Eagles except for one 51-yard burst. Last week, though, featured a piteous effort against the Akron Zips; no rushing powerhouse, they, yet Akron's running back Conor Hundley piled up 148 yards on 19 carries for a 7.8 average.
The Panthers don't have a defensive star this year; very fortunate for the Hoos' offense given the way Aaron Donald dominated everything within sight last year. They've replaced stardom with pretty good. As in, Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas are pretty good linebackers, Darryl Render is a pretty good DT, and so forth. Nobody you'll have nightmares about, but UVA's inability to find a permanent solution on the O-line is still not a good enough situation to consistently take advantage.
So, expect the Hoos to spin their wheels a little, which is sort of the usual deal. I'm more inclined to think the Akron game was an aberration than the standard. If the UVA coaches find something on film the Zips were doing, great, but it's hard to assume that game defines the Pitt defense when they've also flexed some muscle against Boston College. I don't expect anything spectacular to happen here for either offense or defense, and this matchup is unlikely to determine anything at all.
-- UVA pass offense vs. Pitt pass defense
Greyson Lambert: 63/97, 64.9%; 564 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs; 5.81 yards/attempt
Matt Johns: 51/86, 59.3%; 594 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs; 6.91 yards/attempt
Canaan Severin: 20 rec., 225 yards, 2 TDs
Taquan Mizzell: 19 rec., 86 yards, 0 TDs
Miles Gooch: 14 rec., 178 yards, 1 TD
240.6 yards/game, 6.40 yards/attempt
89th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)
158.4 yards/game, 6.0 yards/attempt
24th of 128 (national), 5th of 14 (ACC)
Once again we're left in the lurch in the quarterback situation. Chances are Mike London already knows what's going to happen, and the "questionable" label for Greyson Lambert is just so he can have plausible deniability about it being labeled a "game-time decision." I don't know what he's thinking this week, but I'll start off by guessing there still won't be a platoon.
Pitt's safeties are the core of their pass defense, as Terrish Webb and Ray Vinopal have each intercepted two passes this year. The cornerbacks aren't real fearsome, and Pitt has managed 11 sacks this year - not bad - but as with the rest of the aspects of defense, those are spread out among a lot of players, without one real terror in the group. Pitt has solid-looking yardage stats on defense, but that's largely a function of having played mostly passing offenses that don't crack the top 90 in the country. The best offense they've played is 83rd-ranked Iowa, and they let C.J. Beathard come in off the bench and go 7-for-8 - and Beathard followed that up with a 17-for-37 performance against powerhouse Purdue.
Point is, Pitt will basically let you be who you are in the passing game. UVA doesn't light anything up, but the Hoos are improving in this area as Steve Fairchild gets a little more comfortable with his quarterbacks, and the QBs get more comfortable with the playbook and their receivers. The Hoos should be able to continue slowly climbing the rankings ladder here. As with the run game, nothing spectacular, but in this case, probably effective.
-- Pitt run offense vs. UVA run defense
James Conner: 135 carries, 791 yards, 5.9 ypc, 9 TDs
Chad Voytik: 33 carries, 185 yards, 5.6 ypc, 1 TD
269.2 yards/game, 5.56 yards/attempt
26th of 128 (national), 6th of 14 (ACC)
86.6 yards/game, 2.59 yards/attempt
7th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)
This is where the fun starts. James Conner is a sledgehammer. Win or lose, nobody's really stopped him, though Akron slowed him down considerably. No longer splitting carries, the 250-pound Conner has relegated all competitors to the sidelines and almost equaled his yardage from last year in just five games. Pitt lost starting center Artie Rowell to a torn ACL in the BC game, but it hasn't really slowed Conner down much.
So there's not a whole lot of analysis required here. Pitt's not very deceptive. They do have a few changes of pace, but mostly, the backups got their stats in the laugher against Delaware that opened up the Panthers' season. The one wrinkle is that Chad Voytik is a reasonably mobile quarterback and can hurt you with his legs a little bit, but UVA's played that game before too.
The main idea is that Pitt will just line up Conner and see what you've got. He's bigger than most linebackers, has to be gang-tackled, and falls forward all the time, and Pitt's content to let him just to do his thing. That makes this a pretty interesting matchup for UVA, because that could go one of two ways - either it neutralizes the decision-making skills of our linebackers and turns the game into a physical rather than mental matchup, or else it turns the Pitt offense into child's play for such veteran players to defend. I lean toward the latter, and think Conner's ypc average dips into the fours.
-- Pitt pass offense vs. UVA pass defense
Chad Voytik: 68/113, 60.2 %; 754 yards, 6 TDs, 4 INTs; 6.67 yards/attempt
Tyler Boyd: 27 rec., 365 yards, 4 TDs
Manasseh Garner: 12 rec., 139 yards, 1 TD
Ronald Jones: 6 rec., 59 yards, 0 TDs
154.8 yards/game, 6.62 yards/attempt
84th of 128 (national), 9th of 14 (ACC)
248.2 yards/game, 6.82 yards/attempt
58th of 128 (national), 8th of 14 (ACC)
This isn't a big part of the game, because Pitt's play-calling is slanted like crazy toward the run. That's part of the reason that UVA has five players who have more catches than Pitt's second-most productive receiver, Manasseh Garner. The other reason is that other than Tyler Boyd, Chad Voytik's options aren't that appealing. Garner's not bad, but other than that - shrug.
Voytik, for his part, is awfully similar to UVA's quarterbacks: a redshirt sophomore still getting up to speed. He hasn't been bad, but he's also thrown one interception in each of the last four games, and too often in the Pitt passing game it's Boyd or nothing. Boyd, granted, is a really tough cover, and you generally have to double-team him, permanently shade a safety, whatever you feel like doing to help out the cornerback assigned to him. Quin Blanding will probably have that responsibility. But the point is, you can do that, and you don't have to worry too badly about the rest of the gang.
The question for UVA is Demetrious Nicholson, who remains banged up and not out of the question to just shut 'er down and try again next year. I'd love to have a healthy Nicholson for defending Boyd, but we can't always get what we want. Our actual advantage will come in the pass rush, because Voytik hasn't seen one like UVA's. His mobility will mitigate that, but not completely.
UVA run offense: 4
UVA run defense: 5.5
UVA pass offense: 5.5
UVA pass defense: 6
I did say the BYU game would be low-scoring, and then it got kind of out of hand, so the anything-can-happen caveat applies, but this too looks like a defensive struggle. It obviously was last year, and the betting sharps agree, setting the over/under to one of the lowest around the country.
The game will probably hinge on whether UVA can stop James Conner, because Voytik isn't likely to win this without help from the run game unless Boyd breaks free for a huge long score or two. I think you have to like the odds of that - but without being too cocky. These are pretty evenly matched teams. I expect Pitt to be nice and pissed off after losing to Akron, and as long as UVA can respond to that - the night-game atmosphere should help - the Hoos have a small but tangible upper hand in the game.
- UVA plays only one quarterback, barring injury or blowout.
- James Conner averages between four and five yards a carry.
- The UVA passing game generates more than 6.5 yards per attempt
- The UVA defense gets no more than two non-sack TFLs, matching or setting a new low for the year.
- Whoever starts at QB for UVA completes at least 65% of his passes.
Final score: UVA 20, Pitt 14
Rest of the ACC
Byes: Duke, Boston College
Louisville @ Syracuse, 7:00 Fri - Syracuse is the only team not to have played an ACC game yet, and Louisville is the only team to have played three.
Virginia Tech @ North Carolina, 12:30 - This should be fun - VT can't move the ball on anyone and UNC can't stop anyone.
NC State @ Clemson, 3:30 - Classic hangover game for NC State, which had a chance to pull off the upset last week and couldn't finish.
Wake Forest @ Florida State, 3:30 - FSU has been hearing lately how maybe it shouldn't be the #1 team, and will take it out on poor Wake.
Miami @ Georgia Tech, 7:30 - Let's see if Georgia Tech's 4-0 start is for real.