After suffering a disappointing loss to the Boston College Eagles last week, the Virginia Cavaliers will look to get back on the winning track as they travel to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers.
In Virginia’s (5-2, 2-1 ACC) 41-10 loss to Boston College, the Cavaliers committed three turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown by Eagles linebacker John Lamot. Meanwhile, the Panthers will be looking to extend their winning streak to a modest two games. Pittsburgh (3-5, 1-3) defeated Duke 24-17 behind 336 yards on the ground. Overall, the Panthers outgained the Blue Devils 485 to 359.
This will be the fifth straight season that these two teams have met. The Panthers hold a 6-3 edge in the series.
Virginia at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Pittsburgh -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Cavaliers' rushing attack
In last week’s loss to the Eagles, Cavaliers running back Jordan Ellis ran for nine yards on the first play from scrimmage. After that, Virginia essentially abandoned the run for the rest of the game. In the first quarter, Ellis averaged 4.5 yards per carry, but he ran the ball only eight times after that. Ellis is fifth in the ACC in rushing yards, so expect the Cavaliers to attempt to establish the run against a Panthers defense that’s been average at stopping opponents' ground games — until last week. Pittsburgh is giving up 163.6 rushing yards per game, but against the Blue Devils, the Panthers only allowed 76 yards on 26 carries.
2. Darrin Hall
The Pittsburgh running back (above, right) had his best game of the season against the Blue Devils last week as he rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns, including a 92-yard touchdown run. It was the best individual rushing game for the Panthers since James Conner ran for 263 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Duke in 2014. Before Hall's explosive day, Pitt hadn’t rushed for more than 208 yards in a game as a team all season.
Virginia ranks 60th in the country in rushing defense, giving up an average of 156.4 yards per game on the ground. However, the Cavaliers gave up a total of 237 rushing yards in their blowout loss to Boston College. Hall and the Pittsburgh offense will look to exploit the Cavs run defense.
3. Virginia defense
The Cavaliers were victimized by big plays against Boston College last week. First, it was a 76-yard touchdown yard run by Thadd Smith. Then it was a 76-yard screen pass to Kobay White for another touchdown. The Eagles also scored off a flea-flicker.
Those three touchdowns set the tone for the day, as the Cavaliers give up 512 total yards. It’s difficult for any team to win when it surrenders 500 yards, especially when the offense commits three turnovers.
While Pittsburgh is favored by three points in this game, Virginia is a solid team. The Cavs defense is better than it showed against Boston College last week, and they have weapons offensively. The difference in this game could come down to the play of the quarterbacks.
Kurt Benkert had a rough outing against Boston College last week, but he has had a successful season in Charlottesville, throwing for 1,806 yards and 15 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
Pittsburgh quarterback Max Browne has eight touchdowns and five interceptions on the year and also has shared the quarterback duties with Ben DiNucci and Kenny Pickett. Whoever is at quarterback for the Panthers, expect the Cavaliers to try to make him beat them with his arm, which will be needed if Pitt is going to win on Saturday.
Prediction: Virginia 27, Pittsburgh 20
— 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.