Ahead of the Virginia Cavaliers contest with the Pittsburgh Panthers this weekend, we’re previewing how the two squads matchup. Yesterday we analyzed UVA’s offense versus Pitt’s defense and, accordingly, today we’re taking a look at UVA’s defense versus Pitt’s offense.
Virginia on Defense
Last year’s Pitt team was led by QB Kenny Pickett and WR Jordan Addison. Pickett is with the Steelers now, and Addison is at USC. That has turned the Panthers into a run-heavy team. Last year’s team was eighth nationally in total offense and passing offense, but was 77th in rushing offense. They had 525 rush attempts against 544 pass attempts.
This year’s team is 65th in total offense, but 48th in rushing offense and 83rd in passing offense. With 359 rush attempts versus just 264 passes. It is a far different offense.
Israel Abanikanda led the Panthers in rushing last year, with 651 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and seven TDs (he largely split carries with Vincent Davis. This year, Abanikanda has quite literally run away with the RB job. He is seventh nationally with 1086 yards rushing and leads the nation (tied) with 16 rushing TDs. Davis is still around, as is Notre Dame transfer C’Bo Flemister, but they can’t get any touches because Israel has been so good.
That is Tennessee he is running away from. That’s SEC speed. Abanikanda had 154 yards against Tennessee. He had 320 yards and 6 TDs (!) against the Hokies.
One way Pitt has been getting other guys touches is by running wildcat. Putting Vincent Davis or Rodney Hammond in the backfield along with Abanikanda puts the defense in a tough position. Pitt has a ton of talent at RB, and they are making it work.
For the Pitt offensive line, with four returning starters, to transition smoothly from mostly pass blocking to mostly run blocking is quite the feat.
When Pitt QB Kedon Slovis does throw the ball, he has two main targets. One is senior Jared Wayne and the other is Akron transfer Konata Mumpfield. Wayne has stepped in Addison’s big play role, and is averaging almost 18 yards per catch, up from 14 last year. Mumpfield was Akron’s leading receiver this year, and has been a very nice possession target for Slovis.
This is Wayne deep. The ball is under-thrown and late, but Wayne is able to come back and get it. If Slovis was a little earlier with this throw, it’s a TD. No matter, Abanikanda scored on the next play.
Pickett was a Heisman Trophy finalist last year, leaving big shoes for Slovis to fill. He’s been good, but he does not provide the same threat with his legs that Pickett did. Pickett had just 240 yards rushing (after sacks), but that included a 60 yard run and he had five TDs. Slovis provides nothing on the ground.
Virginia’s defense continues to get after the QB, ranking eighth nationally in sacks. They had four last week, against a very mobile Drake Maye. Pitt is middle of the road in sacks allowed. Louisville, second nationally, had just two in their win over Pitt. But they also had seven QH hurries, and generally made life very uncomfortable for Slovis. He averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt and threw two INTs.
Look how many Louisville defenders are in his face as soon as he turns around. He rushes the throw, and badly under-throws it. Interception. That is how Virginia is going to stop Pitt. Because they have not shown the ability to stop a good RB like Abanikanda.
Undoubtedly, we have seen growth from this team over the past few weeks. They have been competitive and could very well have won either of the Miami or UNC games.
Alas, they have not won, and largely it’s been self-inflicted wounds that have cost them the games. The team just doesn’t execute well enough consistently enough to beat good teams. Pitt has struggled of late, but they are a good team. And they matchup well with the ‘Hoos.
Prediction: Panthers 24, Virginia 14