Pitt Versus Virginia Defense

Pitt's offense rolled up nearly 400 total yards in a blowout win against Virginia last year, and there's no reason to believe that the Panthers can't do that again when the two teams meet Saturday at 7 p.m. at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.

However, several things will need to happen for Pittsburgh (2-2) to beat the Cavaliers (3-1), who return 18 starters from that team. Pitt can't commit turnovers at the alarming rate from recent weeks, and they can't sabotage drives with silly penalties, especially pre-snap miscues on offense.

In an attempt to improve efficiency, freshman quarterback Pat Bostick and fifth-year senior center Chris Vangas worked extremely hard this past week on snap counts and the center-quarterback exchange.

"We have gone out early and worked on the regular snap count,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We've worked on a silent count, anticipating noise, we've had noise in practice ... and have had officials all week. So, we're doing all the things that we need to do to give ourselves a chance to make some improvement. And we were clean in practice. No penalties.''

Now, it just needs to happen in a game for Pitt. And they'll need to do it in a hostile environment, a place where Virginia is 31-9 in six-plus seasons under Cavs head coach Al Groh and against a defense that provides extensive pressure through a variety of blitzes. The most active member of the Cavaliers' defense is NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long's son, Chris.

A defensive end in Virginia's three-four defensive scheme, Chris Long leads UVA and ranks first nationally with six sacks, four pass breakups and six quarterback hits. He is second with 28 total tackles and 11 solo stops.

"He's the best defensive lineman that I've seen on tape,'' Wannstedt said. "He's a playmaker. He does it all. He plays the run well. He has 6-7 sacks. He knocks balls down, and he plays all over the place. He'll be outside as an end, and then he'll move inside as a tackle.

"He likes to target a guy he wants to pick on, and that's where he lines up. So, I told our offensive line that we'll find out Saturday what he thinks about them. He's quick, and he's strong. And he plays so hard. He's got it all, and in my opinion he'll be a first-round (NFL Draft) pick.''

Inside linebacker Jon Copper and the other defensive end, Jeffrey Fitzgerald, are extremely active as well. Copper is the leading tackler with 29 total stops, including 13 solo, with a sack and an interception. Fitzgerald also has 13 solo tackles and 27 total stops with two sacks, five total tackles behind the line, two picks, one pass breakup, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble.

Virginia's defense has 13 quarterback sacks and 23 total stops behind the line with 16 pass breakups, 10 quarterback hits, four interceptions and three forced fumbles. Eight different players have at least part of a sack.

"They're probably as physical a team as we'll face,'' Wannstedt said. "Their front seven on defense is probably as strong and as physical as we have faced all year, and they are a very aggressive team on defense.

"It's clearly an Al Groh team. I've known Al for a long time, Our relationship really goes back to when I was with the Cowboys and he was with the Giants. We go back that far, so we know each other very well.''

Groh's UVA teams are 1-1 against Pitt, but he is 0-1 against Pitt under Wannstedt. But this will be quite a test for the Panthers, but sophomore tight end Nate Byham believed the offense has made great strides this week.

"We can get frustrated, at times, because we don't always get the ball when we're open,'' Byham said. "but I think we've been pretty patient with our quarterbacks. ... And we know we're trying to win games, and as long as we win I don't care if we run the ball 95 percent of the time.

"But I think we're definitely starting to click on offense. I feel that we're looking a lot better, and I personally think it's execution. The last two games, I think we've given a lot more effort and had a lot more passion than we had the first two games. But the penalties and turnovers have killed us.

"It definitely gave us confidence in the fourth quarter on that touchdown drive,'' Byham added. "They still played their first-string guys, so it might have been late, but ... that fourth-quarter drive gave us some confidence and was a good sign. Hopefully, we can repeat that this week. I think it gave Pat some confidence, too, so we have to build on that.''

And if the Panthers can diminish their turnovers and penalties, who knows what their offense will accomplish.

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