Matchups: Virginia at Pitt

Based on the last three times these Virginia and Pitt have met, anything such as offsides kicks or two-point conversions can come into play at any time. That's just one example of how this has become an unpredictable matchup, the last few times these teams have played.

Matchup Preview | September, 28 2013; 12:30 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Virginia Cavaliers
(2-1, 0-0)
Pitt Panthers
(2-1, 1-1)
Virginia is still looking to hit its stride in the passing game. Sophomore David Watford (6-2, 200) has completed 66 percent of his passes, but he's also been picked off six times, as opposed to three touchdowns. Trying to aid in breaking in Watford are a host of receivers, led by Jake McGee (14 catches, 81 yards) and Darius Jennings (12 catches, 77 yards). Redshirt freshman Greyson Lambert has also played in two games. It will be interesting to see if Watford throws a pick or two against Pitt, if head coach Mike London goes to Lambert. If the Pitt secondary was looking for a rebound game, this would be the game t do it. Despite Jason Hendricks and K'Waun Williams recorded their first interceptions of the season, the secondary allowed 377 yards any four touchdowns to Brandon Connette last week. The secondary is still looking for its first breakout game of the season. The problem is if this Virginia passing game--slow out of the gates like the Pitt secondary--gets going, what does it do to this unit's psyche then?
Kevin Parks (5-8,205) is more of a power back that the Pitt defense is accustomed to seeing on a regular basis. What the defense might not be accustomed to is the use of the fullback, which Virginia does. Freshman Connor Wingo-Reeves (6-3, 220) isn't the starter, but he's opening some eyes. Parks, however, has been the lone spark for the Virginia offense this year, averaging over 100 yards a game. It's safe to say if Pitt can stop him, they'll be in good shape. Stopping him, however, is easier said than done.

Linebackers might not be under the gun as much as the secondary, following last week's performance, but this is a different test from previous weeks. Florida State had the conventional power backs and a mobile quarterback, New Mexico had the option attack, Duke had a mobile quarterback and a pair of running backs. While this running back--in the form of one running back--favors Pitt, giving the linebackers a chance to sort of come down to earth and focus on just making tackles, the Pitt defense as a whole hasn't done much to slow down the running game this year.
The strength, or experience, of Virginia's offensive line, appears to be on the left side. Seniors Morgan Moses (6-6, 335) and Luke Bowanko (6-6, 300) man the left tackle and left guard spots, respectively. They also anchor the offensive line. The Cavaliers have used a couple of different centers in sophomore Ross Burbank (6-4, 290) and redshirt freshman Jackson Matteo (6-5, 290). It's possible we'll see them platoon on Saturday. The right side of the line is still a work in progress, and should be good in time. For now, right guard Conner Davis (6-5, 300) and right tackle Jay Whitmire are battling through some youth and inexperience.

Pitt's defensive line is going through a little turmoil from a depth standpoint. Bryan Murphy will not play in this next game, and Devin Cook is out for the season with an ACL injury. While it opens the door for Ejuan Price to start for a second week in a row, it does create concern from a numbers standpoint. Price did a good job getting in the backfield. Aaron Donald does his usual job of being disruptive. If Price and Donald can get in to the backfield, it could do a lot in determining how this game is going to turn out. If Price is matched up with Whitmire, it's a good matchup of a pair of sophomores looking for a breakout game.
This may be the best matchup of the day. Mike London is a bit of a defensive line specialist--putting maybe more of an emphasis on this position. Even though it's early, this is a strength of the Virginia team. It starts with nose tackle Brent Urban (6-7, 295). Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber joked earlier this week that he was going to have the linemen practice against guys on stilts. In addition to Urban, senior Jake Snyder (6-4, 270) brings some strength to the line. He will line up over a tackle, most likely T.J. Clemmings (6-6, 305), which should be a fun matchup to watch. Eli Harold, at 6-4, 230, is an undersized defensive end, but may have the biggest playmaking ability up front. At least in terms of pushing the passer. Everything up front starts with Urban.
Is the offensive line a strength of the team? It may be early, but things are certainly heading that way. While Tom Savage, Devin Street , Tyler Boyd and James Conner were getting credit for the yardage, it was the offensive line setting the tone for everything. This unit has been getting more comfortable as a unit each week. This Virginia group will be their best challenge yet, and is the most talented group Pitt has faced yet. A good performance against this Virginia defensive line, and we might be talking about this group being the strength of the offense.
No matter the year, Virginia always seems to have a good secondary. This year is no exception, as this group is third in the ACC, allowing 140 passing yards a game. That includes a 59-10 loss to Oregon, led by Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota. Safety Anthony Harris (6-1, 185) leads the team with 26 tackles, and has the lone interception on the season. He's good in run support, and is a ball hawk. Demitrious Nicholson (5-11, 185) is the cop cover guy, with four pass breakups. Of the two corners--him and Maurice Canady (6-2, 185), teams throw significantly less towards Nicholson.
Pitt's passing game was nearly flawless last week. Tom Savage earned several player of the week honors, as both Devin Street and Tyler Boyd went over 100 yards in the same game for the first time this season. Kevin Weatherspoon saw the most significant action of his career, catching four passes for 58 yards, including a key 25-yard reception that clinched the game for Pitt. Can the receivers keep up at the pace they've started? Will we see more from Weatherspoon?
Let's toss aside any talk of kickers or punters this week. Because of his performance against Pitt last week, which included an 82-yard return for a touchdown, Duke's Jamison Crowder leads the ACC with an average return of 19.8 yards. Not far behind is Virginia's Dominique Terrell, who enters the game averaging 10.2 a return.Two weeks ago, Pitt allowed 24.8 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a 74-yarder. Coverage units, again, were a problem against Duke. And after scoring 58 points, one of the first things Paul Chryst pointed out was a concern from his special teams--a bad snap that led to a missed extra point on the first touchdown, a missed field goal. Pitt has allowed over 100 yards in kickoff returns in two consecutive games, and over 100 yards in punt returns last week. The good news is Todd Thomas has blocked punts in consecutive games. That's a start. They simply need more disciplined play from its coverage units.

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