Slowing The Pass Rush, Scrambling Effectively Keys For Virginia’s Offense Against Pitt
At first glance, one would think the Virginia offense should have success against Pittsburgh. After all, the Panthers have allowed 27 or more points in all five games against FBS-level opponents. Pitt has also surrendered over 300 yards passing per game and over 14 yards per completion.
Coach Pat Narduzzi’s defense will present some problems, though. The Panthers are tied for no. 11 among FBS schools in team sacks and rank no. 10 against the run, giving up an average of 98.3 yards per game. These numbers speak to a talented defensive front that includes one of the nation’s top defensive ends, Ejuan Price.
“They have some talented athletes across the front,” UVA starting left tackle Jack English said. “They have really good athletes on the edge. We have seen some rush ends get up the field, but in terms of size I haven’t seen a group with as much size as this. It’ll take a group effort to keep our quarterback clean back there.”
After surrendering nine sacks against Richmond and Oregon, the Cavalier offensive line has given up only four sacks in total the past three games. Two of those three opponents — Connecticut and Central Michigan — are among the nation’s worst at sacking the quarterback. However, the Cavalier offensive line has improved and will look to continue its quality play on Saturday.
Slowing down Price and company is doable. Stopping them completely, though, is unrealistic. In those instances it will be important for Cavalier starting quarterback Kurt Benkert to do what he has done so well the past few games –- scramble, extend plays, and connect on big plays. If he can do this, big plays can be had against a vulnerable Panthers secondary.
“From watching him all the way back in the summer, he has made a lot of big plays happen,” English said of Benkert’s scrambling ability. “He has the arm strength to get the ball downfield and put it in spots. He can get out on the edge and make plays on the roll out.”
When Benkert scrambles, English and the rest of the Cavalier offensive line have a simple task.
“Sticking on guys and finding new blocks,” English said, discussing his role when Benkert scrambles. “If a block has broken down, find another block.”
Injury Report: Brown Apparently A Go
The Virginia defensive front needs all hands on deck against a tough, rugged Pitt ground attack led by a terrific offensive line and running back James Conner. It certainly was welcome news, then, to see junior defensive end Andrew Brown’s name not included on the injury report released today.
Brown, who is in the midst of a breakout season with 19 tackles and two sacks, went down with an apparent shoulder injury in the first half against Duke. He missed the entire second half against the Blue Devils, prompting speculation as to what his status would be against Pitt. It appears he is good to go.
Meanwhile, the cornerback position took another hit as redshirt freshman Myles Robinson is now listed as “out for the season.” Two more Virginia corners — senior Tim Harris and sophomore Darious Latimore — are also out for the year, meaning the Cavaliers will once again turn to sophomore Juan Thornhill, true freshman Bryce Hall, and redshirt freshman Kareem Gibson for the bulk of the minutes at corner. Senior Wilfred Wahee is now listed behind Hall at the boundary corner on Virginia’s depth chart.
Fitz Gets His
To the delight of his teammates, redshirt freshman walk-on linebacker Sean Fitzgerald is the latest Cavalier to earn a jersey number. The former Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.) Purple Eagle will don no. 43 and becomes the second walk-on linebacker to earn a jersey number, joining fellow redshirt freshman Reed Kellam.
— Virginia Football (@UVa_Football) October 13, 2016
Coach Bronco Mendenhall and others took to Twitter to express their excitement.
Congrats to Fitz on earning his number. Hard worker w/great attitude & a Victory Team warrior. Our players call him the “Future President.” https://t.co/POVeH1o5xH
— Bronco Mendenhall (@UVACoachBronco) October 13, 2016
— Coach Kyle Visciglia (@CoachViscig) October 13, 2016
— Henry Wynne (@HWynning) October 13, 2016
— Shane Hunter (@hotohunt09) October 13, 2016
— Pharaoh (@its_naji) October 13, 2016