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Previewing UVA football’s offense versus Pitt’s defense

Taking a look at how UVA’s offense matches up with Pitt’s defense.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers suffered another loss last week, falling at home to UNC for the first time since 2010. However, there were positive signs. The defense held a very good UNC offense to just 10 first half points. The offense put up over 400 yards and 28 points. The 28 points is a season high for the ‘Hoos against an FBS team.

It is possible that the Pittsburgh Panthers have been a bigger disappointment than the Wahoos have been. Number 16 in the nation heading into the season, the Panthers are 5-4 (2-3), with a bad home loss to Georgia Tech. Their only road win is over 3-6 Western Michigan.

Today we’re taking a look at how UVA’s offense matches up with Pitt’s defense this Saturday and what the ‘Hoos need to do to put points on the board like they did agains UNC.

Virginia on Offense

Virginia put up a season high 28 points (not including FCS Richmond) without their top three WRs and top RB last week. Granted, UNC’s defense is bad. But, it really shows just how far the offense has come since the beginning of the season.

It was far from perfect. Brennan Armstrong completed under 50% of his passes, and you just aren’t going to win doing that. Armstrong’s 6.6 yards per attempt is in line with his season numbers, but he averaged 13.6 yards per completion, which is well above his season numbers. Again, that was without Dontayvion Wicks, Lavel Davis or Keytaon Thompson and without Perris Jones.

With the top WRs out, Virginia got strong performances from walk-on tight end Sackett Wood and freshman WR Sean Wilson. Wood more than doubled his career totals in yards and catches, and very nearly had his first career TD.

Virginia hasn’t had much production from its tight ends this year. That may be an under-recognized reason for Brennan Armstrong’s struggles. The past two years, Armstrong has had a TE he could go to. It was Jalani Woods and it was Tony Poljan. Those two averaged 41 catches, 500 yards and 7 TDs. Virginia TEs are on pace for 37 catches, 290 yards and 0 TDs. There was also a fairly memorable drop from the TEs.

Pitt is susceptible to tight ends, though in this case the tight end is split out wide. Virginia’s tight ends are not really that type of players. But lining Wood up in a half-back position is similar, and may get Wood matched up with an ILB in coverage. If Armstrong can get that matchup, he should look that way. It could be a big play.

At the end of September, Virginia had the 94th ranked passing offense. Right now, that is up to 76th. However, during that same time span, the rushing unit has dropped from 58th to 82nd. Some of this is due to better defenses faced during ACC play. As mentioned last week, Illinois has the #1 defense in the nation right now, but Richmond and ODU helped prop up the rushing stats.

Over the past three weeks, the “traditional” running game has not been working. But Armstrong has had success running the ball out of pass sets. Armstrong is actually the team’s leader in rushing right now, though that’s largely due to the time share among the RBs.

This may be the best run of Hollins’ career. We know he has it in him, we just don’t see it consistently enough. He gets a good hole off the left, and hits it hard. Then he’s tough to bring down in the open field. Hollins has the best combination of speed and power among the UVA backs, and if he can get going it’ll be a big boost to the offense. Xavier Brown also scored his first career TD on a second quarter run. There is plenty of talent in that RB room.

Like Virginia, Pitt really gets after the QB. They are 10th nationally in sacks. Middle linebacker SirVocea Dennis leads the team in sacks, along with tackles and tackles for loss.

Dennis looks like he was shot out of a cannon. This was a huge play in this game, with WVU looking to tie the game late. They got another sack on third down to pretty much end the game.

The Panthers run a pretty basic 4-3 defense, but they are a veteran unit and they run that defense very well. Ten of the eleven starters are in at least their fourth year of college. That kind of experience is invaluable and is a big part of why they have been so good.

They are 26th nationally in total defense and 17th in rush defense (some of that is the sacks). They are just 56th in pass defense, but 36th in pass efficiency defense. They are, however, 66th in scoring defense. That is, in large part, due to very poor red zone defense.

UNC was five of six in the red zone against Pitt, with five TDs. That is a big part of why the Tar Heels scored 42 points. Virginia Tech scored 29 points in a loss, in part by going 3-4 on red zone chances.

Conversely, Virginia has been terrible in red zone (104th nationally). In 30 red zone chances, Virginia has just 15 TDs, along with eight FGs. But, the Wahoos were 4-4 on red zone chances last week, with four TDs against UNC’s porous defense.

Armstrong gets a couple of good blocks, including a nice lead block from Jay Woolfolk who was lined up in the backfield with Armstrong. Interesting use of your backup QB. Pitt is a different challenge from UNC, but this play is very well run and would be difficult for any defense to stop. Getting the ball down inside the five against this Pitt defense may not be easy. But when they do, the Wahoos really need to cash in with six points if they are going to pull off the upset.


While there has clearly been growth over the past few weeks, especially on offense last week, this team still hasn’t executed well enough consistently enough to beat good teams. With that in mind, it’s hard to see the offense doing enough to pull this one out.

Stay tuned to the blog as our UVA defense vs Pitt offense preview will be going up tomorrow morning.