VIRGINIA CAVALIERS: Five things to know

Pitt (4-2, 1-1 ACC) travels south to square off against the Virginia Cavaliers (2-3, 1-0 ACC) Saturday at 12:30 p.m. PantherMore.com gives you five things to know before catching the game.

OAKLAND--

Making his mark

The flock of Bronco Mendenhall and six of his assistant coaches from BYU to Charlottesville, Va., last December is a coaching move widely regarded by the national media to be more baffling than Jamie Dixon’s departure to TCU in basketball.

When Mendenhall touched down at UVA, the 50-year-old disciplinarian relayed a literal message – “Earned Not Given” – to his players.

During the offseason, players had to individually earn the right to:  wear Virginia’s orange and blue colors (they began workouts wearing nothing but black attire), wear the Virginia Cavaliers logo (the black attire did not feature any logos, letters or numbers), use the locker rooms (they changed and showered elsewhere), play the next period interval during practice (if they didn’t conquer the previous timed period, they would repeat until the next one was earned) and, finally, earn roster numbers and wear numbers on their gear.

It wasn’t until Aug. 27 that 60 players were granted roster numbers. Every couple of days since then, one or more players has earned his number, but, to this day, 27 players are listed on the roster without numbers.

Not your average Mendenhall defense

When Virginia hired Mendenhall, it had hired a coach regarded as one of the tough-nosed defensive enforcers in college football. BYU finished in the nation’s top 20 in scoring defense in eight of the last 10 seasons when Mendenhall was at the helm.

The defense at UVA, which converted from former coach Mike London’s 4-3 scheme to Mendenhall’s stubborn 3-4, is not entirely where he wants it yet. Mendenhall’s defense is allowing 30 points per game, partly spurring from 162 rushing yards allowed per game.

"Bronco is a defensive guy," Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said this week. "They run a lot of 3-4 and a lot of different blitzes and coverages. So our offense will have to be on top of their game mentally to pick up everything they do."

But through the air…

The Cavs’ defensive backfields has made some noise this season, collecting seven interceptions through five games.

In Virginia’s last game out against Duke, its defense snagged five interceptions.

Free safety Juan Thornhill has three picks on the season, while Bryce Hall, a cornerback from Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, has two.

Added Narduzzi:  "Nathan [Peterman] will have to be sharp as far as deciphering all the different coverages that they use to try to confuse you, and they do a good job of that."

Chasing down return men

The Cavs have one of the worst kick return defenses in the country that hasn’t yielded a kickoff return for a touchdown. They’re allowing 23.4 yards per return, while Pitt’s Quadree Henderson is averaging 33.1 yards per return. As a whole, Pitt is seventh nationally in kickoff returns (28.29 yards per return).

Pitt to face another near- kicker-less squad

For the third consecutive week, the Panthers’ opponent features a lightly-used kicker. Virginia uses a walk-on kicker in Alex Furbank, who has only attempted two field goals this season (no other Cavs player has attempted a field goal). One of the kicks was a 20-yard attempt that sailed wide of the uprights as time expired three weeks ago against UConn. If the kick had been good, the two teams would have gone into overtime, but UVA would lose after marching the length of the field the game's remaining minute and a half.

The Cavs are converting fourth downs at a 50 percent clip.


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