Instead of prepping for Pitt (4-4, 3-1), most of the week has focused on the finishing touches before hoops season, other football content, and the always inconvenient day job. As a result, it's going to be an abridged preview of the necessary areas of focus to beat the Panthers. Rest assured, however, that those that play in and coach in the actual game devoted their full attention to the challenge at hand.
The Hoos (6-2, 4-1) are back in the all navy uniform that debuted against Miami. I didn't want to like this set as I'm not a big fan of the monochrome look. But the team looked tough, and played even tougher, under the lights in them. Dare I say that they even looked menacing? I'm a convert, especially for night games.
Here's a Halloween treat!— Virginia Football (@UVAFootball) November 1, 2018
Uniform combo for Friday Night Lights. pic.twitter.com/eeMcXG7ZVI
Also, am I the only one that feels like these deserve some kind of intimidating nickname?
Dominate Time Of Possession
Last week, Pitt defeated Duke 54 to 45 in an absolute shootout. Naturally, UVA football fan is rightly concerned about Pitt's ability to score heading into Friday's game. The last time the Hoos squared off against a similarly potent offense was two weeks ago against Duke.
The Blue Devils were limited to just 14 points that afternoon.
Besides excellent defense, one way that UVA limited Duke's offense was by dominating the time of possession. UVA kept the ball for 36:38 versus 23:22 for Duke. That's nearly an entire quarter longer than the Blue Devils.
Pitt's defense has a reputation for generosity, so the Hoos will have to work much harder to control the ball. But it rightly should be a focus of the offensive gameplan.
Maintain Assignments - Set The Edge
When people think of Pitt football under Pat Narduzzi, they envision ground and pound style Big Ten football. Think a big back and lots of pounding runs between the tackles. And Pitt certainly has that in their arsenal with leading rusher Qadree Ollison (126 carries, 795 yards, 6.3 YPG, 7 TD). Ollison fits the big pack profile going 6-2 and 225 pounds.
But Pitt's rushing attack is much more than just that.
Bronco addressed that during his Monday press conference.
"So I think they're a physical and a tough football team. So you have to be really sound in your fundamentals. Offensively, creativity, and miss direction and the type of run. So you have a physical nature that you have to certainly be prepared for in fundamentals and mindset, but then your eye control has to be very good because of the nature of the run game. There is lots and lots of miss direction."
Those fundamentals and eye control described by Bronco speak to knowing and executing your assignments in the defense. Breakdowns there lead to big gains and points on the scoreboard.
The misdirection described by Bronco encompasses a lot of runs to the outside. Pitt freshman V'Lique Carter's highlight reel in his debut against Duke shows exactly what coach was describing.
Oddly enough, Pitt and Coach Narduzzi are playing coy with Carter's status against the Hoos. Be it an injury issue or a game management issue because of the new redshirting rule, the Hoos may not see Carter on the field Friday night.
The most effective defense against those outside runs by Pitt will be setting the edge first and foremost by the likes of Chris Peace and Charles Snowden. Set the edge, force the run back inside, and wait for the calvary to arrive. Peace and Snowden should be up to the task.
No Points Allowed In The Return Game
Previewing Pitt last year, I said that UVA could not surrender points in the return game and expect to win.
In the 2016 45 to 31 Pitt win, the Panthers scored on a 93 yard kick return from Quadree Henderson. They also added a 59 yard interception return for a TD from Jordan Whitehead.
In Pitt's 31 to 14 win in 2017, Quadree Henderson struck again with a 75 yard punt return TD.
Henderson, thankfully, is a member of the New York Giants now.
The 2018 Panthers have three kick return touchdowns on the season. Wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes has one punt return touchdown. Wide receiver Maurice Ffrench has two kick return touchdowns.
Kick return coverage must be a focus of the gameplan this Friday night.
Pitt's scheme on offense will put pressure on the Hoos. But UVA's offense is going to put a ton of pressure on Pitt's defense as well. Head to head, UVA's defense is much better than Pitt's. Ultimately, that's going to be the difference maker Friday night.
UVA wins 31 to 24.