Virginia vs. Pitt: a breakdown
Cavaliers seek third consecutive win
Here's a breakdown of Virginia's matchup against the Pittsburgh Panthers:
Keys to Game
Air it out
The Panthers have struggled to stop the passing game this season, almost as much as Virginia has. Pittsburgh ranks No. 124 in the nation, with a 302.3 yards allowed average, while the Cavaliers have surrendered 309.6, enough for No. 126. Whichever quarterback is sharper in his reads and execution Saturday will put up more points.
It’s nearly impossible to bring down the 6-foot-2, 235-pound back with an arm tackle. Wrapping him up by the legs and giving nearby teammates a chance to swarm him is what it takes to contain James Conner. Virginia must limit his second and third level runs, as Conner will secure close to 17 carries Saturday.
Tack on to six
If Benkert and his Virginia offense return to Scott Stadium with the poise they’ve exhibited in recent weeks, Saturday’s game could come down to the wire. Every extra point will count. Getting too cute — as Virginia did in the first quarter at Duke, failing on a trick two-point conversation — could prove costly.
Virginia Players to Watch
Responding the way Benkert did at Duke, a week after his high of setting the school record for passing yards in a single game, was remarkable given his lack of game experience. Benkert tallied 336 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with 11 different Cavalier receivers. Right now, he’s as confident as any collegiate passer.
After hearing rumors in August about his deep-threat potential and chemistry with Benkert, fans eagerly awaited Eldridge’s breakout performance. Prior to the Duke game, the Bealeton, Va. native had just two receptions for 21 yards. Against the Blue Devils, Eldridge made the most of his two catches, finishing with 112 yards and a touchdown.
Recognized by coach Bronco Mendenhall early on in the season as one of Virginia’s top athletes in coverage, Thornhill put together arguably the best performance of his Cavalier career in the win over Duke. For his four tackles, two huge interceptions and pass break up, Thornhill garnered ACC Defensive Back of the Week honors.
Pittsburgh Players to Watch
Having overcome both an MCL injury and Hodgkin lymphoma since the fall of 2015, Conner is back on the gridiron, where he belongs. Widely considered one of the top college running backs before his diagnoses, Conner remains a force between the tackles in 2016, with 474 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
From the same Panther line as NFL All-Pro and Los Angeles Ram Aaron Donald, senior defensive end Ejuan Price has developed into one of college football’s top defensive players. Through six games, Price leads the nation with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss, while his three forced fumbles rank inside the top 10.
Sophomore wide receiver Quadree Henderson boasts dynamic athleticism. Not only is he Pittsburgh’s second leading receiver, with 17 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown, and rusher, with 353 rushes for three scores, but Henderson also averages the fifth highest kickoff return average in the country at 33.1. He took a kick 96 yards to the house earlier this season.
Kurt Benkert (QB) -- 60 percent completion; 1,455 yards; 13 TDs; 6 INTs
Albert Reid (RB) -- 59 carries; 318 yards; 5.4 YPC; 4 TDs
Taquan Mizzell (RB) -- 52 carries; 271 yards; 5.0 YPC; 2 TDs
Olamide Zaccheaus (WR) -- 26 receptions; 340 yards; 13.1 YPC; 4 TDs
Keeon Johnson (WR) -- 26 receptions; 264 yards; 10.2 YPC; 3 TDs
Micah Kiser (LB) -- 58 tackles; 5 TFL; 2 FF; 3.5 sacks
Quin Blanding (FS) -- 46 tackles; 0 TFL; 0 FF; 0 sacks
Nathan Peterman (QB) -- 65 percent completion; 1,115 yards; 9 TDs; 2 INTs
James Conner (RB) -- 104 carries; 441 yards; 4.2 YPC; 5 TDs
Quadree Henderson (WR) -- 31 carries; 343 yards; 11.1 YPC; 5 TDs
Jester Weah (WR) -- 17 receptions; 348 yards; 20.5 YPC; 3 TDs
Quadree Henderson (WR) -- 17 receptions; 174 yards; 10.2 YPC; 1 TD
Ryan Lewis (CB) -- 39 tackles; 0.5 TFL; 0 FF; 0 sacks
Jordan Whitehead (SS) -- 37 tackles; 1.5 TFL; 1 FF; 0 sack