Virginia finds itself in uncommon territory — playing a game as a ranked program.
The No. 25 Cavaliers are part of the national rankings for the first time in nearly seven years as they host Pittsburgh on Friday in a key Atlantic Coast Conference contest at Charlottesville, Va.
Cavaliers control Coastal destiny
Virginia (6-2, 4-1) holds a half-game lead in the ACC Coastal over Pitt (4-4, 3-1) and Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1) as it rises under third-year coach Bronco Mendenhall. And this year’s edition feels there is a lot more to accomplish for a program that has won more than six games just once in the past 10 seasons.
“We go out there and play — we have a different kind of swagger, and you can feel it on the field when we play together,” junior quarterback Bryce Perkins told reporters. “We love playing for each other, and we love playing for Coach. We are not satisfied — we want the Coastal (title), and we are not going to be satisfied until we get that.”
The Cavaliers have rolled off three consecutive victories, surprising Miami by three points and following up with double-digit victories over Duke and North Carolina.
Virginia hasn’t won four straight ACC games since 2011.
“I’m just thrilled for our team,” Mendenhall said. “I’m thrilled that the new standard is being fulfilled, and part of that is that we expect to win football games. We expect to play in the postseason. It’s not something to wonder or marvel about, it’s something that is real and it does happen.”
Panthers on a running roll
The Panthers will be out to spoil the fun when they invade Scott Stadium and look to find success against a Virginia defense that is allowing just 18.8 points per game.
Pitt is coming off a 54-45 victory over Duke in which it literally ran wild.
The Panthers rolled up 484 rushing yards — their most since a 530-yard effort vs. Army in 1975 — and may have uncovered a future star in true freshman V’Lique Carter.
Carter is a listed as a defensive back/receiver whom the program plans to redshirt. However, because of the new rule that allows a player to play up to four games and still be eligible to redshirt, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had Carter make his college debut against the Blue Devils.
Carter had dazzled as a scout team running back, so the Panthers worked him into the offensive backfield game plan. He rushed for 137 yards on seven carries, including scoring runs of 31 and 16 yards and another scamper of 62 yards.
“Certainly when you watch him play, maybe he could have played since Game 1,” Narduzzi said at a press conference. “You’d like to preserve (the redshirt) if you could. I think we got other good players that can make plays happen.
“Was he lucky? Is he good? I don’t know. Maybe he just got lucky that day. I don’t know. Maybe (it) just set up perfectly for him.”
The Panthers average 27.8 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett has passed for 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns against five interceptions.
Pittsburgh’s defense allows an average of 32.6 per game as it looks to slow down the combination of Perkins (1,623 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, eight interceptions) and star receiver Olamide Zaccheaus.
Zaccheaus, a senior, has caught 56 passes for 690 yards and six touchdowns. He made 10 receptions last Saturday in a victory over North Carolina to raise his career count to 213, surpassing the school record set by Billy McMullen (210 from 1999-2002).
“It is an honor, but I’m not satisfied at all,” Zaccheaus told reporters. “The record isn’t something that I’m worried about right now, but after college is over, I will reflect on it and be proud.”
Pitt holds a 7-3 series lead.
–Field Level Media