Week after week, we’re getting more hyped about the Virginia Cavaliers football team. It took some time, as the early season schedule didn’t really give the team a chance to exceed expectations. But this team is getting better with experience, and they’re playing some outstanding football right now. On top of that, they’re fun to watch. The offense is fun, with run-pass-options and enough deep passes to keep the defense honest. The defense is fun with talented CBs playing a lot of man coverage and talented OLBs gunning for the QB.
Virginia is ranked for the first time since 2011, and has a real shot at winning the ACC Coastal Division. Sure, that doesn’t mean much considering how poor the division is. Even so, getting a chance to play in the ACC Championship Game would be a major accomplishment for a team that was picked dead last in the conference by the media in the pre-season.
This week, No. 23 Virginia takes on the Pitt Panthers in a Friday primetime game. Virginia played two Friday night games last season as they went to Boise State and hosted Virginia Tech. The weather prediction is for rain at kickoff, though that may taper off as the game continues.
The game takes place at Scott Stadium, kickoff time is 7:30 Eastern on Friday night. It will be televised by ESPN2. Let’s get on to the matchups.
Virginia on Offense
As I discussed last week, Virginia’s offense had fallen in the national ranks over the past few weeks, but it wasn’t really because the offense was bad, it was because they were facing better defenses. UNC’s defense isn’t great, and Virginia gashed them for 425 yards.
That was just the third most yards the Hoos have had this season, but it was the first time that Virginia has had over 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in a game since 2014. It was also the most yards Virginia has had against an ACC foe since facing Duke in 2015.
After last week, UNC’s defense ranks 82nd in the S&P ratings. Pitt’s ranks 98th. The Panthers are coming off a 54-45 win over Duke. Duke had 619 total yards in a game that was at Pitt. At home the previous week against Virginia, that same Duke offense had just 320 yards. Yeah, the Pitt defense isn’t very good. They’ve played in a few shootouts, which doesn’t help, but they’ve also been blown out a couple of times.
They rank 93rd nationally in pass defense and in pass efficiency defense, which is bad. They also rank 97th in rush defense, which is worse. The Panthers run a standard 4-3 defense. They call the weak-side LB “Money” and the strong-side LB “Star”. This is not a young or inexperienced defense. They ranked 75th in defensive S&P last year, so you’d expect them to improve after that, but they have gone the other way.
They aren’t bad at generating QB pressure, tied (with Virginia, among others) for 67th nationally in sacks. They aren’t bad at generating turnovers either, tied for 50th (Virginia is just one TO ahead of them). Where they really struggle is getting off the field. They rank 117th in 3rd down defense, giving up 47% conversions. That’s a scary proposition against Virginia, who rank 12th nationally in 3rd down conversions, also at 47%. If Virginia converts 47% of their 3rd downs, there’s a good chance that they end up on top.
It doesn’t help that Pitt has lost their starting MLB, Quintin Wirginis, for the season. Then again, it’s not like they were crushing it before he was injured. He was the leading tackler, and despite missing two games, is still second. The leading tackler now is FS Damar Hamlin. Wirginis is also second in sacks and