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Pitt vs Virginia With Coastal Up for Grabs

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb offers a preview and prediction for Pitt vs Virginia.

Then there were two.

Although Virginia Tech and Miami can still muddy the division race and potentially create a three-team tie with a pair of victories to end the season, for all intents and purposes, Pitt and Virginia remain as the last two standing in the Coastal.

Their showdown this weekend will have a major impact on who ultimately finishes in first place.

Pitt enters the week with a one-game lead over Virginia in the division race with a chance to clinch the Coastal with a victory. But a Cavaliers victory at Heinz Field will make both teams 5-2 in ACC play. In that scenario, Virginia would be in first place via the head-to-head tiebreaker with a week left in the season.

While the ACC may not have a playoff contender, the conference is clearly not short on drama. It has great quarterback play as well, and there should be plenty of that in the Steel City with the Coastal division lead up for grabs Saturday.

Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett are among the leaders in practically all ACC quarterback statistics. Armstrong leads the conference with 395.2 passing yards per game while Pickett is second with 351.7. Pickett leads the ACC with 9.1 yards per pass and 32 passing touchdowns. Armstrong is fourth with 27 touchdowns and fifth with 8.8 yards per pass attempt.

Based on those statistics, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Virginia-Pitt turn into a shootout at Heinz Field. Both programs have decent pass defenses, but units need better than “decent” secondaries to slow down Armstrong and Pickett.

Pitt is eighth in the ACC in passing yards allowed per game, but the Panthers secondary is reeling a bit as of late. Pitt has allowed 242.9 passing yards per contest this season, but in the last three games, the Panthers have yielded 321 passing yards per week. In two of those past three games, Pitt gave up at least 9.0 yards per pass.

Virginia’s secondary comes into Saturday with a similar narrative. The Cavaliers are seventh in the ACC, allowing 239.8 passing yards per week. They’ve given up at least 300 in two of the last three games.

Of course, it’s not just the quarterbacks these two defenses have to be concerned about Saturday. Each program has an elite go-to wide receiver that the signal callers love to throw to for big plays and in key situations.

Sophomore wide receiver Jordan Addison leads Pitt with 60 catches, 1,070 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Fellow sophomore wideout Dontayvion Wicks has dominated just as much for Virginia with an ACC-leading 22.82 yards per reception average. He has 44 receptions, 1,004 receiving yards and nine scores.

Addison and Wicks are two of just three ACC receivers who already have 1,000-yard campaigns in 2021. They are also two of the only three wideouts in the conference with nine or more touchdowns. Addison is tied for the ACC lead with his 11 scores.

But double covering either Addison or Wicks means someone else possibly getting a great matchup. Both of these offenses have tight ends who have six touchdowns. For Pitt, that’s senior Lucas Krull, who is second on the team with his six touchdown receptions.

Senior tight end Jelani Woods has 31 catches, 459 yards and six scores for Virginia. The Cavaliers also feature Billy Kemp IV. A classic possession receiver, Kemp averages under 10 yards per reception, but he leads the Cavaliers with 64 catches and also has six touchdowns.

This matchup should see plenty of balls going into the air, but what might be the storyline to watch most in the first half is how much Pitt features its ground attack. The Panthers were unable to run effectively last Thursday against North Carolina, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. As a result, the Tar Heels scored 16 unanswered points in the second half to force overtime.

As successful as Pickett has been, it’s still in the blood of Pitt and Pat Narduzzi to want to establish the run. They should be able to do that against the Cavaliers, who are last in the ACC in rushing yards allowed per game.

How much Pitt runs with Israel Abanikanda and its other backs, though, will likely depend on how much Armstrong and the Cavaliers offense are scoring.

For fans who love elite quarterback play, this matchup is the must-see ACC showdown of Week 12. The fact the Coastal division is on the line too should make it all that much more entertaining.

Prediction: Pitt 41, Virginia 38