And here we are. The eve of kickoff, twenty-nineteen. Eight long months we have waited in the desert, and our proverbial throats are parched. Tomorrow our thirst for football will be quenched.
Virginia brings an experienced team to Heinz, returning six starters on offense and eight starters (count ’em!) on defense.
Lets take a look at some of the key matchups that could help decide the game.
- Bryce Perkins vs Pitt’s front seven. UVA quarterback Perkins passed for 2700 yards last season and ran for 900 more. He also accounted for 34 touchdowns. He’s a legitimate Hiesman trophy contender, but Pitt held him to 205 yards through the air (1 TD) and -7 on the ground (0) last season. That’s pretty good. If you ask anyone on the Virginia side they will tell you that Perkins had an injured pinkey finger on his throwing hand and that the team was all kinds of out-of-sorts that day because of the wet field and some questionable officiating. If you ask anyone on the Pitt side they will tell you that Pitt’s D-line did a pretty good job containing a mobile quarterback and putting pressure on him (5 sacks), and well, that will put anyone out of sorts, wet field or not. We’ll find out on Saturday if Pitt can do it again.
- Kenny Pickett vs Virginia’s secondary. Truthfully, Pickett is the proxy for the entire Pitt passing game. Virginia’s secondary is predicted to be very good, and Virginia cornerback Bryce Hall is a legit All-American talent. Still, he’s just one guy and football is a team game. If anyone can scheme Hall into a corner it’s Pitt’s wily (we hope) OC Mark Whipple. Assuming coach Whip can decoy Hall into something-less-than-a-gamechanger, then Pickett will have a chance to pick on newly-minted starting corner Nick Grant. Grant, a junior, played special teams last year and was thrust into the starting role when projected starter Darius Bratton went down with a knee injury this fall. Grant will likely be solid, but with no game experience it’s probably that either Maurice Ffrench or Taysir Mack should be able to get some separation. Whether or not Pickett is able to exploit that remains to be seen.
- Jimmy Morrissey vs UVA’s nosetackle. UVA runs an odd-man front (a 3-4 in other words) and that means there will be very large man playing straight up on Morrissey. Typically that provides some degree of challenge. The good news is that Morrissey is now a redshirt junior, and even though he started out as a walk-on, he’s developed into an all-ACC caliber player. On the other side of the ball, the guy everyone is talking about is 6’2″ true freshman Jowon Briggs. Not only was Briggs rated the #3 defensive tackle in the country by Rivals.com last year, but he also appears extremely well-rounded.“He’s strong academically. There’s a number of [musical] instruments that he plays. There’s the thespian-ism that he has, if that’s a word. He has other interests but, man, is he passionate about football,” said Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall. No matter how talented and well-rounded Briggs is, it’s unlikely that he’s stronger, quicker or technically more sound than Pitt third-year defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, whom Morrissey has been practicing against since last spring. I give the edge to Morrissey here, assuming his knee is okay.
- The rest of Pitt’s offensive line against UVA’s pass rush. What else can we say, Pitt is replacing four starters. Dead horse beaten. Supposedly our new starting four are athletic, talented and fundamentally sound. I will tell you that they better be, especially the tackles. UVA is likely to bring pressure off the edge with their lanky (and fast) outside linebackers. The stats say that UVA’s pass rush was pretty pedestrian last season (24 sacks, tied for third worst in the ACC), and that they lost their best pass rusher. (Linebacker Chris Peace 6.5 sacks). History on the other hand will tell you that head coach Bronco Mendenhall is pretty good at developing talent, and that all his pass rushers are returning. You do the math.
- UVA starting Center, Olusegun Oluwatimi vs Pitt’s defensive line. Oluwatimi is a redshirt sophomore who transferred from the Air Force Academy. He has zero starts and zero game experience. Now given that Pitt’s starting center is one of college football’s best rags-to-riches success stories (Jimmy Morrissey, a former walk on, started as redshirt freshman, now All-ACC candidate), its would be highly hypocritical of me to say that Oluwatimi doesn’t have any talent. Still, guys like Morrissey are the exception rather than the rule, and at the very least Pitt should be able to confuse Oluwatimi for a quarter or two with blitzes, stunts and the like. They should also be able to out physical him with the combination of two senior DT’s (Watts and Camp) and Jaylen Twyman. The best case scenario of course is that Oluwatimi is completely overmatched for four quarters and Pitt dominates the line of scrimmage, but even that doesn’t happen, (DC) Randy Bates and (DL Coach) Charlie Partridge should be able to find a way to exploit their advantage here.
- Pitt’s running game vs Virginia’s defensive line. Does Pitt have a running game? I sure hope so. The running back room is chock-full of four star talent, to the point where guys are transferring out two days before the opening game. Virginia’s one weakness last year was stopping the run, and Pitt took advantage of that. Of course Pitt had a world-class fullback, a line that was a throwback to the Jock Sutherland era and two stud seniors toting the rock. Pitt has none of that this year, and UVA’s line is a year older, stronger and wiser. You’d also have to think that the Hoos have been practicing against Pitt’s zone blocking scheme for most of the summer. The jury is out on whether Pitt will be able to run the ball. If they can’t then it’s going to be a very long day.
- Comcast vs the ACC. You can’t watch this game on TV. The ACC is playing the long game here and they will likely win in the end, but the folks who lose in the interim are the fans. The bottom line is that this game is NOT going to be on comcast on Saturday, so if you live outside of driving distance to Pittsburgh, then you need to find another option right now. AND if you live within driving distance of Pittsburgh, are physically able, and you have $50 of disposable income you need to clear your schedule on Saturday night, get in the car, drive to the North Shore, procure a ticket and go to the game. You’ll find plenty of friends at the Pitt POV tailgate.
- Wildcards: UVA’s running backs and Pitt’s Tight Ends. UVA graduated a 1000 yard rusher last season. The talent behind him is questionable at best. Still, UVA likes to develop their guys so this could be a sneaky sleeper. Pat Narduzzi practically pounded his fist on the table during his most recent interview when he talked about stopping the run. Stopping it Saturday would be a good start. On the flipside, Pitt’s tight ends were nonexistent last season (in the passing game…) The ‘Duzz recently dropped a line about starter Will Gragg being able to fly. Was it Southside hyperbole or will Pitt fans be shocked and surprised?
Prediction: The line on this one is Virginia -2.5. There are other indicators predicting that Pitt has a 53% chance to win. Both teams will play disciplined and physical ball. Both teams will probably also make some mistakes. Given that Virginia has more continuity, my head says they will win, but since I’m a Pitt Man, my heart won’t let me write it down. Warm up those Victory Lights Heather. Pitt 28 – Hoos 21.