Thursday, October 8, 2015

game preview: Pittsburgh

Date/Time: Saturday, October 10; 12:30

TV: ACC Network, ESPN3

Record against the Panthers: 3-4

Last meeting: UVA 24, Pitt 19; 10/4/14, Charlottesville

Last week: UVA bye; Pitt 17, VT 13

Injury report: (italics - out for season)


OUT: LB Malcolm Cook, OG Sean Karl, OT Sadiq Olanrewaju, OG Ryan Doull, OT Jake Fieler, WR Andre Levrone, LB Jahvoni Simmons, OG Eric Tetlow

DOUBTFUL: CB Divante Walker




OUT: WR Tre Tipton, WR Chris Wuestner, RB James Conner, RB Rachid Ibrahim, OL Jaryd Jones-Smith, OL Alex Paulina



PROBABLE: RB Darrin Hall, FB Colton Lively

The UVA game notes point out that this is UVA's latest conference opener since 1968.  So on the plus side of that, we got to keep a zero in one of our loss columns for quite a while.  This is the third year of ACC expansion as a result of the recent conference merry-go-round, and in each of them UVA has opened with an expansion team; 2013 and 2015 with Pitt and last year with Louisville.  Most of Mike London's teams have opened the ACC season 0-1 - last year being the only exception - and it'll be tough to start a streak in that regard as Pitt has a new growly defense run by defensive wizard Pat Narduzzi.  The Panthers held VT to 100 yards last week, the second-worst performance of the entire Frank Beamer era.

Last year, after beating Pitt, UVA was 4-2, 2-0.  The game column was about the fact that fanhood is perpetually about the good feelings that come from potential, and that team, at the time, still had a lot of potential.  They won, of course, one more game the rest of the year.  This team could conceivably - not likely, but conceivably - start 2-0 again.  If they're going to pile up wins, these next two games are their best chance.

-- UVA run offense vs. Pitt run defense

Top backs:
Taquan Mizzell: 46 carries, 157 yards, 3.4 ypc, 0 TDs
Albert Reid: 27 carries, 78 yards, 2.9 ypc, 1 TD

UVA offense:
93.75 yards/game, 2.98 yards/attempt
124th of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Pitt defense:
71.25 yards/game, 2.46 yards/attempt
8th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

That looks like a really nasty matchup.  Oh, don't get me wrong - it is, because UVA's "power run game" is like repeatedly throwing yourself at locked doors up and down the neighborhood.  You might break through one or two of them, but mostly you'll just bash yourself around and people who watch you think you should be locked in a nuthouse for trying.

Point is, Pitt's stats look really, really good, but the secret to them is that most of that success is the result of putting nuclear pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  No, that's not good either, but if you take out all the QB rushing stats from Pitt's first four games, you get about 4.25 yards a carry.  Weirdly, the quality of competition has gone up from game to game (except that Iowa would almost definitely beat VT) but the run defense has gotten stingier and stingier.  Youngstown State's Jody Webb gashed the Panthers for 127 yards on 17 carries - that's 7.5 yards each time.

Fast forward to the VT game, where Pitt gave up a total of nine yards on the ground.  Tech barely tried to run the ball.  Brenden Motley had more carries than all of Tech's backs combined, some of which he even intended to do when he broke the huddle.  Motley had a carry of 22 yards and netted -14, so... damn.

With five linemen out for this game, three of them for the season, the cavalry isn't coming.  Mike London announced that Jay Whitmire would start, which is all you get for a ray of hope.  The season trend so far suggests that Pitt's defenders are getting more comfortable with what Narduzzi is asking of them.  Linebackers Nicholas Grigsby and Matt Galambos are racking up tackles, and Pitt has a weapon in 335-pound nose tackle Tyrique Jarrett.  Between Jarrett and Galambos the middle will be closed to UVA all day long.  UVA has to hope to break a few on the edge, or not at all.

-- UVA pass offense vs. Pitt pass defense

Matt Johns: 76/121, 62.8%; 989 yards, 8 TDs, 6 INTs; 8.17 ypa, 143.4 rating

Top receivers:
Canaan Severin: 23 rec., 298 yards, 1 TD
Taquan Mizzell: 22 rec., 292 yards, 3 TDs
Evan Butts: 6 rec., 63 yards, 1 TD

UVA offense:
255.8 yards/game, 7.9 yards/attempt
36th of 128 (national), 2nd of 14 (ACC)

Pitt defense:
172.5 yards/game, 5.7 yards/attempt
21st of 128 (national), 5th of 14 (ACC)

Matt Johns had kind of a crap day against Boise State, but he's still among the ACC's stat leaders.  And even that lousy game gave him a single-game passer rating higher than Greyson Lambert's full season rating last year and David Watford's in 2013.  That connection with Canaan Severin is turning out really well.

But the laundry guys had better get the grass-stain bleach out.  Pitt has averaged more than four sacks a game, including seven against VT, and quarterbacks have had it miserable against them even when not getting dragged down with the ball in their hand.  Only Iowa's C.J. Beathard did not go backwards on the ground, and only Beathard completed more than half his passes.  Motley got picked off three times.

VT's O-line is horrible, and UVA is at least acceptable in pass protection.  Seven sacks allowed in four games - not bad.  Not wonderful, but it at least puts you in the top half of the country.  Narduzzi is expert at bringing pressure, though, so this is a big test to see if the line can at least hold their own long enough to let Johns make some plays.  As with every single game this year, it's UVA's only chance at victory.

-- Pitt run offense vs. UVA run defense

Top backs:
Qadree Ollison: 60 carries, 427 yards, 7.1 ypc, 3 TDs
Darrin Hall: 29 carries, 90 yards, 3.1 ypc, 1 TD

Pitt offense:
168.25 yards/game, 4.15 yards/attempt
78th of 128 (national), 10th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
160.0 yards/game, 4.64 yards/attempt
94th of 128 (national), 11th of 14 (ACC)

I, you, and everybody thought that when James Conner went down for the season, Pitt lost most of what made them any good.  Qadree Ollison says otherwise with his 427 yards through the first four games of the season.

True, most of them came against Youngstown State.  And outside of him and Conner's YSU output, Pitt's run offense hasn't been much.  Darrin Hall has piled up his 90 yards in completely boring fashion, no more than nine at a time.  Nathan Peterman is even less of a running QB than the usurped Chad Voytik, which is saying a lot.  Pitt's running game is 100% bread and butter.

Still, it works - because like Conner, Ollison is a massive load to take down.  Weighing in at 230 pounds, he gives linebackers a very hard time because he's as big as they are.  He's been a workhorse, save for the Iowa game when he had only four carries - and that's probably as big a reason as any why they lost because he was still more effective than Hall.

Pitt isn't real tricky, which works in UVA's favor as one of the problems so far this year has been communication breakdowns.  That's been more of a pass-defense issue, but UVA's chances improve when they can just try and win some one-on-one battles.  Ollison will be trying to plunge straight ahead, so this is a really good benchmark kind of game for UVA.  If they can stop the Pitt attack, great - they can stop something.  If not, and if Ollison is allowed to gain momentum before crashing into the second level, it'll be hard to see what the Hoos can stop if the opponent brings any kind of O-line.

-- Pitt pass offense vs. UVA pass defense

Nathan Peterman: 43/66, 65.2%; 538 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs; 8.15 ypa, 144.5 rating

Top receivers:
Tyler Boyd: 26 rec., 274 yards, 1 TD
J.P. Holtz: 7 rec., 102 yards, 2 TDs
Darrin Hall: 5 rec., 30 yards, 0 TDs

Pitt offense:
162.5 yards/game, 7.3 yards/game
T-58th of 128 (national), T-8th of 14 (ACC)

UVA defense:
285.3 yards/game, 8.0 yards/game
108th of 128 (national), 14th of 14 (ACC)

Pittsburgh started the season with a bit of a quarterback competition between incumbent Chad Voytik and Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman.  The last two games have made it abundantly clear: Peterman it is.  Voytik has been dumping it off too much and his numbers don't look horrendous, but the team doesn't move down the field.

Tyler Boyd has dominated the receiving stats for Pitt, as he's done the last two seasons.  Still one of the ACC's best.  Boyd isn't a huge big-play threat and hasn't scored yet this year, but he's open all the time and easily one of the toughest covers in the league.  Nobody else has double-digit receptions for Pitt, and the only one even close is tight end J.P. Holtz, a solid blocker with a bit of a receiving streak.  He's got seven catches, Darrin Hall has five, a few guys have four.  As with UVA's Severin, Boyd is the guy.

Peterman isn't very mobile, and UVA should be able to get to him a few times, but really they'll need to do more than they have been.  Coverage breakdowns (which have been frequent) will be deadly if they involve Boyd, because Peterman will always be looking in that direction.  This secondary is too talented to give UVA the worst pass defense in the league, and they've got to figure out their problems fast.

-- Favorability ratings

Run offense: 2.5
Pass offense: 4.5
Run defense: 3.5
Pass defense: 3

Average: 3.38

-- Outlook

On the one hand, the natural thing to ask here is: if the coaching staff is so lousy, what good is an extra week of practice?  The answer is that UVA is 4-2 after bye weeks in the London era (there were two last year.)  Pitt is not a bad opponent to start with, too.  The coaches are talking about simplifying things up and getting less scheme-y and more react-y.  That's a little annoying considering the defense is loaded with veterans who should've had plenty of time to learn the schemes, but Pitt brings kind of a Big Ten approach in stark contrast to Boise State.  That could help the defense get its footing back.

Another plus: likely low-scoring game combined with a UVA quarterback that can strike big at times.  It's the most natural thing in the world to be down on the Hoos' chances because of the last two games, because those games sucked donkey dong.  Rationally speaking, though, UVA has a shot in this one.

Rationally speaking, though, Pitt is also the better team, playing at home, and a Pat Narduzzi defense against a Steve Fairchild offense is what we're staring at here.

Final score: Pitt 20, UVA 10

-- Rest of the ACC

Byes: Louisville, North Carolina

NC State @ Virginia Tech - Fri. 8:00 - The Pack started 4-0 with four games against Fluffycakes the Kittycat and need to prove they can beat a legit team.  Problem is, that actual test might have to wait a week.

Duke @ Army - 12:00 - Good news for Army: their four losses are by a combined 16 points.  Bad news: one of them was to Fordham.

Wake Forest @ Boston College - 3:00 - The 8-point loss to FSU might've been Wake's high-water mark this season.

Georgia Tech @ Clemson - 3:30 - Once hailed as an outside playoff contender, GT is still very talented but at serious risk of not going bowling this season.

Syracuse @ South Florida - 3:30 - On the other hand, Syracuse could very well get there, which would be very weird.

Miami @ Florida State - 8:00 - Miami hasn't won this game since 2009, which is one of Al Golden's greatest sins, but FSU has been unconvincing in victory these past couple weeks.


pezhoo said...

Wow, if we finish within 10 points of Pitt, I'll be shocked.

pezhoo said...

Are you going to do write-ups of the ACC basketball schools? I loved those and they would probably be fun to write. "In summary, x is a school on the verge of making some noise in the tournament/missing the tournament/looking for a new coach, and is a school UVa should find a way to beat when they meet in x."

At least the schools that Terker didn't do write-ups for. I bet most people would forgo the weekly football write-up.....