The Pittsburgh Panthers have been in a number of thrilling games this season. Four out of the team’s six games thus far have been decided by seven points or fewer, including last week’s 37-34 victory over Georgia Tech.
This week, the Panthers will face the Virginia Cavaliers, who have recently turned things around. After beginning the season 0-3, the Cavaliers have won their last two games over Central Michigan and ACC Coastal foe Duke. Now the Cavaliers will look to extend that streak to three in a row as they will host the Panthers on Saturday.
Pittsburgh leads the all-time series 5-3. Last season, Virginia had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, but an incompletion on fourth down sealed the Panthers’ 26-19 victory. Each team has won on their home field since Pittsburgh joined the ACC in 2013.
Pittsburgh at Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network/ESPN3
Spread: Pittsburgh -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Pitt running attack
Pittsburgh will enter this game against Virginia as one of the best rushing teams in the country. The Panthers are ranked 19th in the FBS as they averaging 244.2 rushing yards per game.
Former ACC Player of the Year James Conner has certainly done his part in his return after missing all of last season while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. He leads the team in rushing with 441 yards and five touchdowns in five games.
All-purpose threat Quadree Henderson also has been an asset, as the sophomore has 343 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the season. Currently, Virginia is ranked 71st in rushing defense (162 yards per game), so that will have to improve if the Cavaliers have any hopes of limiting Pitt’s ground–oriented offense.
2. Kurt Benkert
In last week’s win over Duke, Benkert finished 23-of-41 passing for 336 yards and three touchdowns. The East Carolina transfer has been a productive quarterback for first-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall and coordinator Robert Anae’s offense. In five games this season, Benkert has thrown for 1,455 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s sixth in the ACC in total offense at 281.8 yards per game.
Pittsburgh has struggled mightily against the pass this season, ranking 124th out of 128 teams at 302.3 yards per game allowed. Expect Virginia to counter the Panthers’ ground game by throwing the ball early and often.
3. Ejuan Price
Price had a breakthrough 2015 campaign, finishing his junior season with 48 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He has followed that up with a start to his senior year that his him firmly in the conversation for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Price leads the nation in both sacks (8.5) and tackles for a loss (12.5). He has registered at least one sack in all five games Pittsburgh has played. Price also has forced three fumbles and will no doubt be priority No. 1 for Virginia’s offensive line.
After losing to North Carolina earlier this season, Pittsburgh can’t afford a second divisional loss if the Panthers have aspirations of winning the ACC Coastal. Virginia isn’t the cakewalk the Cavaliers looked like the first three games, as the team is slowly improving under first-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall. However, Pittsburgh’s apparent advantage running the football combined with Ejuan Price’s defensive presence should be the difference in close contest in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 37, Virginia 30
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.