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September 26, 2013

It’s been a while since there was one of these. Kris Wright of TheSabre.com and I did and exchange of Q&A to prepare for Saturday’s game. You can find my answers to his questions over at their site.

If you looked at the Virginia schedule, you would notice a surprising 8 home games this year. The reason according to Kris is that while UVa was supposed to give a return game to Penn State this year, they bumped them (or possibly bought the game out) in favor of doing starting a home-and-home with Oregon. And any school that blows off Penn State can’t be all bad.

1. Like Pitt you have faced a patsy (blown them out), a top-10 team (blown out) and a somewhere-in-the-middle of the 1-A level major conference team (get by with a 3-point win). What do you know? What do you think you know? What don’t you know about this Virginia team, at this point?

Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: Not much in any of those categories really. Well at least not for the offense. Against BYU in the opener, the game was delayed for 2 hours due to a lightning storm and then it resumed in a steady rain so both offenses struggled quite a bit. Against Oregon, the Ducks ran all over Virginia. Against VMI, it was a slow start but then a stretch of 25-30 minutes of pure dominance. Basically, the offense has been fairly simple and straight forward as new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild gets the team better acclimated to his plans. Add in a first-time starter at quarterback in David Watford and it’s been conservative city so far.

One thing we do know, however, is that the defense is versatile with multiple sub packages and concepts being used under new coordinator Jon Tenuta. It’s night and day from the conservative offensive approach because Tenuta is aggressive from beginning to end. That’s put some good speed to use and the defense looks like a potentially game-changing unit.

All in all, the Cavaliers enters this week in about as good a shape record wise as anyone could have predicted through three weeks. The four-game run beginning at Pitt is viewed as the critical stretch on the schedule for any hopes of postseason play this year.

2. The Cavs are among top-5 in time of possession. The passing offense is near the bottom of 1-A. Is it fair to consider this Virginia team a run-first offense or is there more to this offense than has been shown?

Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: Virginia is definitely a run-first offense right now as it breaks in a new starter in David Watford at QB. If UVa can do a better job of establishing that running game like it did against VMI, that should take pressure off of Watford – and he performed much better last week with a complementary running game than in the first two weeks. Of course, it was VMI and that defense hasn’t stopped anyone from Division II on up from running the ball this year. Nonetheless, that’s the desired identity for the offense: power running with play action. It’s similar to Pitt in that regard I suppose.

There is another wrinkle going on in that time of possession stat, though. The Cavaliers played BYU and Oregon, two teams in the hurry-up mode all the time on offense. Those two teams want to run plays every 14-16 seconds. In other words, they don’t want to have the ball for long so it was easy for the Hoos to own the TOP in those two games. UVa used more hurry up offense itself last week against VMI so TOP could go down if that continues.

3. Notwithstanding the Oregon game, the defense has appeared to be the strength of Virginia. Is there one player or one portion that keys the defense? What does he or this group do exceptionally well?

Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: Ask any Virginia fan that question and you’ll probably get two different answers, but it really goes hand in hand. The defensive line has been masterful in two dominant performances and actually played fairly well against Oregon too. The starting front four has two rock solid defensive tackles in Brent Urban (remember that name as he’ll be on NFL Draft boards with your own Aaron Donald) and David Dean, a speed rusher in Eli Harold, and a steady/always delivers guy in Jake Snyder. That quartet has done an excellent job of moving the line of scrimmage and firing into the backfield to disrupt things. Add in the pressure packages that Tenuta likes to bring and this group can really cause headaches for some teams.

The other answer you may get, however, is the secondary. All four starters are back from last season as well as the top two reserves so there is a ton of experience back there. Corner Demetrious Nicholson tied for the ACC lead last season with 15 pass break-ups, while safety Anthony Harris is the leading returning tackler from 2012 and leading the team in that category right now too. Virginia is ranked No. 6 nationally in pass defense by allowing just 140.0 yards per game and the defense is ranked No. 2 nationally in completion percentage against right now at 37.0%. In other words, that looks like a strength-on-strength battle with Pitt and that strong passing attack.

4. Coming into this season, there was a lot of rumbling on the national level that Mike London was heading for the hot-seat with another down season. Is that an accurate feeling among the Hoos?

Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: No. I believe 2014 is viewed as the “make or break” year for London by most fans. He inherited a mess in a lot of ways that took some time to cleanup and then this offseason he shuffled his coaching staff and coordinators. That puts next season in the limelight in terms of hot seat talk because most of his first two recruiting classes will be juniors or seniors and the coaches will have been in place for more than a year.

5. As newbies to the ACC we Pitt fans are still getting a feel for things. One thing that I seem to get a sense from other blogs and writings is that there’s a lot of dissatisfaction/frustration by ACC fans of their own programs. That they should be better than they are based on history, recruiting potential, expectations, etc. NC State, UNC, Miami, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia Tech, VT. Heck even Wake Forest. Is this an accurate view? If so, is it typical or just something recent?

Kris Wright/TheSabre.com: I think that’s pretty accurate. I think it is typical of the expansion era. The ACC started the musical chairs game in a lot of ways by taking Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech a few years back. Obviously, the latter two are viewed as football schools and it was clearly a football-motivated decision to expand the conference. With that move, expectations grew across the board among ACC fans and it hasn’t really let up since. Add in several mediocre years in postseason play by the ACC teams and it is easy for fans to get restless and expect more.

I will say that Virginia fans expect more. How could they not? Under George Welsh, the program won 7 games per year and earned bowl invitations regularly. Over the past decade plus, that has deteriorated into losing seasons. In fact, UVa hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 2004 and 2005. Of course, Hoo fans expect better than that!





Chas – thank you so much. This is exactly the kind of insight I look for before a big game.
Really appreciate….

Comment by Dan 72 09.26.13 @ 3:56 pm

Didn’t know they were that solid on the defensive line. Wonder about the special teams.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.26.13 @ 4:41 pm

Yes, thanks Chas!

Comment by CompLit 09.26.13 @ 4:50 pm

Comment by steve1 09.26.13 @ 5:44 pm

Sounds like they haven’t played a passing team like us yet. I know BYU doesn’t throw it much and well VMI is a D2 team. Oregon is also more option read run oriented.

So that means that they’re defensive national ranking stats are overinflated.

They have not faced a passing attack with someone like Savage who can throw accurately 40+ yards downfield and they haven’t faced a Boyd/Street combination yet.

The key,imo will be if we can protect Savage long enough for him to connect with our lethal receivers.

Then we can light them up on the ground, after their defense is stretched.

Their offense sounds worse than Duke’s so that should give our woebegone Defense a chance, I suspect.

48-28 PITT !!!

Comment by EMel 09.26.13 @ 5:49 pm

Nice piece btw Chas, enjoyed TheSabre’s input.

First hockey game I saw, were the Sabres(the French Connection) vs the Penguins. ikr :-)

Comment by EMel 09.26.13 @ 5:51 pm

So that means that they’re defensive national ranking stats are overinflated.

**Meant to add, as far as defensive *passing* national ranking stats.

Comment by EMel 09.26.13 @ 5:57 pm

Read your comments on TheSabre, no comments after the article, not even any space for comments.

Since when did UVA go Red China on us ?

Although their readers liked your spy report on the Panthers. 4.8 of a 5 rating. lol

Comment by EMel 09.26.13 @ 6:20 pm

So a few a few basketball notes dribble out of the PG. While football is in full gear can’t can’t help but look forward to men’s BB in the ACC. Senior’s Patterson and Zanna better step-up big time this season, it’s their team! Hope the pub Newkirk is getting about quickness and creativity is true, we need somebody to stay in front of quick guards defensively. Do not know what to make of Dixon hyping Artis. We shall see! Finally don’t like the sound of going 11 deep after last year’s introduction to playing 10 guys! Hail to Pitt! Beat the Wahooooooooos! UPone

Comment by UPone 09.26.13 @ 8:39 pm

“You go out for a drink with your team’s Head Coach. What does he order?”

“Whiskey. Neat.”

Comment by Four One Two 09.26.13 @ 10:46 pm

Key will be protection against their blitz packages. Hope we are up to the task!

Comment by Atlanta Panther 09.27.13 @ 6:35 am

CHAS — My computer keeps trying to download a “js script file” from a.sitemeter.com every time I navigate to a new page here. I keep cancelling out the download dialogue box. This happening to anyone else? Seems irregular to me.

Comment by JCE 09.27.13 @ 7:31 am

There will be more keys to a Pitt victory than just protection of Savage against the blitz. Pitt’s front four defense has to step it up. There is going to be a lot of read option run plays that Virginia is going to try. Without the disruption in timing that penetration from our defensive line needs to apply, it could be another poor performance by our D overall against their run first offense.

Regarding Atlanta Panthers’s comment above, I think that Virginia will lay off any blitzing if Savage continues to look as comfortable in the pocket as he did last week. Bringing up LBs and the secondary in blitz packages leaves the soft under belly of midrange crossing patterns by our TEs easily accessable. Burn the Cavs a few times with the likes of Garner/Orndoff/Holtz across the middle and all of a sudden you have the Virginia LBs looking over their shoulders on pass protection.

I think the real test for Pitt’s offense will be if in fact we can extend the field vertically against, what appears to be on paper, a pretty damn good secondary. If Virginia is successful in taking away that explosive play potential from Pitt, then this game could come down to who wants it more in the fourth quarter.

Now as was suggested earlier in the week as an immediate method of improving our horrible special teams play, a very practical “no brainer” solution is at hand. Blewitt to kick it deep on kickoffs for touchbacks and Yoklic making sure that he angles his punts out of bounds to eliminate runbacks. Just do those two things and it takes the previous $hitty Pitt special teams coverage off the table all together, works for me!

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.27.13 @ 7:39 am

for those who watched the VT vs GT game last night, you saw the way to blow up the triple option ….. DL PENETRATION. Donald may be up to the task, but not sure about the DEs.

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 7:58 am

Very well put Dr. Tom. I suppose I should have taken all three phases of the game into account.

I agree that our front four needs to step up and be disruptive if we are going to have a chance to win this game. One sack and one tackle for loss aren’t going to cut it. The linebackers also need to step up and be solid in their tackling and disciplined in their assignments if we’re going to succeed against this run-first offense.

Virginia will definitely test us early with the blitz. It is, after all, their bread and butter, and FSU was able to get some pretty good pressure on Savage by bringing heat from the corner.

If Savage and our offensive line can withstand this early test, I agree that we will be able to burn them a couple of times and Virginia will abandon the blitz and and play a little softer in coverage. But if Savage fails to identify the blitzes and check into those midrange crossing patterns… or if the O-line fails to protect, then we could be in for a long afternoon.

Love the idea of having Yoklic punt out of bounds. Lets see if our special-teams-coach-by-committee agrees with this approach. I hope they do.

I also hope that Blewitt hes eaten his Wheaties for those out-of-the-endzone kickoffs.

Looking forward to seeing how well our coaching staff has prepared these young men. Should be a great game.

Hail to Pitt!

Comment by Atlanta Panther 09.27.13 @ 8:54 am

Atlanta – agree that they will blitz. No way they want to give Savage time to let the longer routes develop. Plus, given time and comfortable pocket, Savage is accurate. So they may try and hurry him. They seem to be aggressive on D which can be exploited with screens and over the middle passes.

On Defensive Pitt will need to stop the run – both the QB and RB. I think we’ll see their QB run more than he has in the first three games. I don’t care if we run a 4-3, 3-4, 5-2 or whatever, just put the kids in defensive that where they understand their assignments…

Comment by Rockymtnhigh 09.27.13 @ 8:58 am

Mike London and I were hall mates and had a few classes together at Richmond. Nice guy. Did a nice job with Dave Clawson’s recruits as Richmond’s HC.

Having said that, I’m surprised he’s running the Wahoo program. While he has diluted Frank Beamers effectiveness in regional recruiting, we really haven’t seen it on the field yet.

BTW – if you don’t like our AD, be glad we don’t have UVa’s Craig Littlepage. If London goes, Littlepage may be. Close behind.

I just hope that Pitt puts Duke and UNM behind and approaches this game in a focused, mistake-free manner. Do so, and I think we win.

Comment by Joe Lawrence 09.27.13 @ 9:11 am

Another “good” comparision between the two teams this season. The Cavaliers have been slow starters this year, but surprise!!! The Panthers have come out smoking on offense right from the start in all three of their games this year. Even when this backfired on Pitt in the NM game with an interception on the very first play, the Pitt D gave it right back to them with a three and out and Savage put them right back into the endzone on the next Pitt possession.

I hope that we can burn Virginia early like that tomorrow too, especially if they do try to force the issue early with blitzes. That will back them off after seeing Street or Boyd grab a long bomb down field in single man to man coverage, don’t you think?

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.27.13 @ 9:17 am

Any confirmation that Boyd will play?

Comment by Joe Lawrence 09.27.13 @ 9:24 am

@Emel, I had to laugh when you said Virginia’s defensive stats were over inflated. Ours are too, by our opponents.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 9:46 am

I digress a moment. Post Gazette has a nice article about the 1963 Pitt team. I attended the Syracuse and PSU games in 1963 as a poor student. Teams were allowed only 3 substitutions then. That’s when football was a game of survival and men were men.

Comment by Frank MD 09.27.13 @ 9:52 am

I meant 3 per quarter.

Comment by Frank MD 09.27.13 @ 9:53 am

cont’ @ Emel, In fact if our stats in points and yards allowed inflate anymore they will be more blown up than the Duck.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 9:54 am

The old saying is if you have two staring QBs you don’t have a starting QB. Same applies to special teams coaches. PC needs to assign responsibility to one and only one coach and most importantly hold that coach responsible for how his charges play.
Watched the VT-GT game and VT blew up GT’s running game with tremendous pressure from DL and LBs and aggressive defense (i.e., run blitzes). “Out House” has not shown any courage or conviction to play that way and until he does, Pitt will be exposed by good running QBs.
Dr. Tom, from your fingertips to PC / Savage’s ears. He needs to look for his excellent TEs more often and not just when he’s within 10 yards of the endzone to slow down the Cavs aggressive D.
Lets go Pitt, love to see them 3-1 going into VT.

Comment by Taxing Matters 09.27.13 @ 10:14 am

Reply to Chas’s “Notwithstanding the Oregon game, the defense has appeared to be the strength of Virginia…”.

Maybe so, but I’m not worried about Pitt’s offense.

Make no mistake, UVA has a much better offense than either New Mexico (certainly) and Duke playing a 3rd string QB (arguably).

But it’s time for Matt House to demonstrate that he can game plan for a legit D1 offense. So far (and yes it’s still early, but…), he just might be the #1 most incompetent DC for any BCS-AQ team in America.

I’m flying in from six states away for the game, and I hope I can cheer for the defense at game’s end.

Comment by Imma Man! Im 40! 09.27.13 @ 10:18 am

Frank MD, sadly, the star of that ’63 team will be unable to attend due to his advanced dementia. During his Pitt and Steeler years, apparently he took one too many hits in the head .. and to think that he became a prominent attorney who at one time was thought to be a prime candidate for NFL commissioner.

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 10:18 am

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 10:22 am

Frank Md, I had an interesting conversation at the bar last night on that very subject. I played in the 60’s, what I call the pre Gator Aide era. They do not allow pro football players to hit each other anymore. Donny Shell couldn’t make the team today because he would be constantly suspended. Retired running backs play their entire career without even a broken nose. A successful dive play is unusual and line men block with their hands. Pass it around like a frisbee then they replay the ballet from seven different angles and cut to a commercial while they consult with attorneys to interpret the rules. Boy have they f’d up a good game.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 10:25 am

@ Joe Lawrence, if Chryst is in compliance with the “voluntary” ACC 2 day before injury report, then Tyler Boyd will be available for service on Saturday, since he was not even mentioned in the injury report summarized by HCPC on Thursday to the media.

Comment by Dr. Tom 09.27.13 @ 10:44 am

@Imma Man, If they play like last week feel free to take them with you upon your return flight.HTP

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 11:49 am

@ sos22

Concur with that thought, football has become a shell of a game, of what it use to be.

It will only to continue to get worse, with college now reviewing EVERY play, which totally breaks up the momentum one team has established.

We all know that the human eye can not slow down plays to 1/100th speed to examine a play.

I can live with that fact, just let them play.
It’s become a game of semantics for lawyers to interpret. And become as someone said ‘pussified’.

If I didn’t have money riding on some of these games I wouldn’t even bother to watch them anymore.

Comment by EMel 09.27.13 @ 12:14 pm

I turned on the NFL game last night with about 2 minutes left before halftime … there were plenty of stoppages (injuries, replays, challenges, etc)

The announcer even said that the last 2 minutes felt like it lasted 15 … probably because it did

Comment by wbb 09.27.13 @ 12:43 pm

It may be that House has concluded that it’s the players… at least one of them.

Trib Review reporting that Gordon is unlikely to start.

********
Chryst said middle linebacker Shane Gordon, who has an unspecified injury, is all but out for the game. “We’ll see,” Chryst said. Matt Galambos would start in Gordon’s place, giving Pitt three freshmen in the starting lineup.

********
Galambos is a little undersized at this point, but if he performs up to expectations based upon what he’s shown… Gordon may find himself permanently out of a starting job… or motivated to up his game.

Ever since he’s been starting, Gordon has been consistently inconsistent. Good one game… bad the next. Good one play… bad the next.

Comment by PittofDreams 09.27.13 @ 12:55 pm

PittofDreams, Just our luck he is taking off his good game.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 09.27.13 @ 1:00 pm

lol sos22

I thought Caprara was supposed to be the heir apparent at MLB, being a redshirt freshman as opposed to the true freshman Galambos.

Gordon while usually out of position did have an interception last week. Perhaps we can make him a Safety. haha….ABV….ABV…..ABV

Comment by Emel 09.27.13 @ 6:11 pm

Although in House’s grand new scheme. I think I remember seeing Gordon trying to cover one of Duke’s slot WR’s.

The play went for a long TD I think.

Gotta love the Dr. in the House.

Comment by Emel 09.27.13 @ 6:13 pm

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