Virginia vs. Pittsburgh — A breakdown

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Senior Evan Butts has recently been a factor on Virginia’s offense as he has grabbed a touchdown in each of the past two games. 

Dorothy Wang | Cavalier Daily

Virginia has won three-consecutive games and is undefeated at Scott Stadium. Now ranked, bowl-eligible and leading the ACC Coastal, the Cavaliers gear up to face Pittsburgh, another challenger for the Coastal title. The Cavalier Daily sports staff takes a look at some key players and keys to the game that could help the Cavaliers (6-2, 4-1 ACC) defeat the Panthers (4-4, 3-1 ACC) at Scott Stadium Friday night.

Players to watch:

Virginia linebacker Chris Peace

Senior captain and leader of Virginia’s linebacker core, Peace has stepped up in big moments for the Cavaliers. The outside linebacker’s versatility has been crucial for the Cavaliers’ standout defense — Peace has shown ability to get to the quarterback, interrupt the passing game and shut down the run. The linebacker is tied for third in the ACC with six sacks on the year. Against North Carolina, Peace’s talent was on full display. He came up with a critical strip sack in the third quarter Saturday, which led to a Virginia touchdown to put the game out of reach, 31-14. Peace has seen the lows of Virginia football and knows the significance of the winning culture that he has helped to create. Against Pitt, Peace will have the challenge of organizing the defense against a dynamic offense that put up a whopping 54 points against Duke this past Saturday. He is well-equipped to do it.

Virginia tight end Evan Butts 

Senior Evan Butts has recently been a factor on Virginia’s offense as he has grabbed a touchdown in each of the past two games. Both were 16-yard touchdown passes and solidified Virginia’s lead in their respective games. Prior to the Duke and North Carolina games, Butts hadn’t gotten a touchdown yet this season and struggled against Virginia’s tougher opponents — Indiana, N.C. State and Miami — only amassing nine receiving yards in the three games combined. "Normally [Butts] is just a chain mover,” Mendenhall said. But, Mendenhall noted that he’s he’s been “downfield making significant plays, [and] that’s new and different.” At 6-foot-4 Butts gives junior transfer quarterback Bryce Perkins a big target in the end-zone and if he can keep bringing in some passes, it helps diversify Virginia’s offense and give Perkins more options. 

Keys to the game:

Stop Pitt’s running game

Pitt ran all over Duke on Saturday. The Panthers accumulated a whopping 484 yards on the ground, averaging 9.3 yards per carry. Despite a poor defensive effort, the rushing game kept Pitt in the game against Duke and their high amount of time in possession (33:58 to Duke’s 26:02) gradually wore the Blue Devils’ defense down to the point where Pitt was able to explode for a 37-point second half comeback. Senior running back Qadree Ollison leads the charge for the Panthers’ run game. Ollison finished with 149 yards on 18 carries against Duke and has 795 yards rushing this season, third-best in the ACC. Pitt’s ground game on Saturday, however, came from everywhere, with five players rushing for over fifty yards. Virginia needs to clamp down on the run game first and foremost and pack the box. Although the Cavaliers have been inconsistent against the run this year, they stepped up against North Carolina, allowing just 66 rushing yards. They will need the same commitment Friday night to win against Pitt.

Establish a strong passing game

Pitt has struggled to stop their opponents’ passing game, with their most recent opponent Duke collecting 396 passing yards against the Panthers. Additionally, in three of the four losses Pitt has suffered this season, the winning team has had over 250 passing yards, with Notre Dame recording 264 yards, UCF recording 328 yards and UNC recording 313 passing yards. If Perkins can connect with some of his receivers, then the Cavaliers have a good chance at doing some damage against the Panthers’ defense. Senior wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, with 690 receiving yards this season and junior wide receiver Hasise Dubois, with 360 receiving yards this season, have been solid options for Perkins, and junior wide receiver Joe Reed and Butts have also emerged as options. So, the offense should have the weapons it needs to pile on some yards against Pitt. 

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