CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — The number jumped off the stat sheet: 484 rushing yards.
That’s what Pittsburgh (4-4, 3-1 ACC) amassed in a wild 54-45 victory against Duke a week ago, and what No. 23 Virginia (6-2, 4-1, No. 25 CFP) will be trying to prevent when the Cavaliers host the Panthers on Friday night game.
The Cavaliers allow just 113 rushing yards per game and have held their last two opponents, Duke and North Carolina, under 70 yards.
“We’re just trying to keep teams under 3.5 yards per rush and I think we’ve been really dominant with the run game recently and we’re going to keep building off of it,” free safety Joey Blount said. “We cannot be satisfied at this point. We need to be hungry and I think we’re just trying to add onto what we have so far.”
The Panthers have won the last three meetings in the series, but none of those games had the stakes up for grabs this time. Virginia sits atop the ACC’s Coastal Division standings, but is tied with Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech (3-1) in the loss column with games to play against both still to come.
Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi knows running the ball will be more challenging this week.
“They’re a top 20 defense,” he said. “Our offense will have to be consistent with what they did last week, try to do it again, go back-to-back, back-to-back playing really good. Our defense has to make a step up, try to stop an explosive offense and a confident offense.”
The Panthers got a huge lift against Duke from V’Lique Carter, a freshman who started the season as a defensive back and works with the wide receivers, running backs and defensive backs. In his college debut, he carried the ball seven times for 137 yards and touchdown runs of 31 and 16 yards.
Carter may not play this week as Narduzzi considers redshirting him, but the Panthers may unveil another surprise.
“I guarantee you, they’re going to see another guy that hasn’t played this week, a little special,” he said. “You haven’t seen his jersey out there at all. You guys got to figure out who it is, like Waldo.”
Here are some other things to watch when Pittsburgh visits Virginia:
Virginia has won three games in a row and is ranked for the first time since 2011, but the Cavaliers say it won’t affect them.
“I think it’s just reinforcement,” linebacker Rod Snyder said of the spot in the Top 25. “It’s a byproduct of the other goals that we’ve set: Become bowl eligible two years in a row, beat (Virginia) Tech and play for an ACC championship. With that comes being ranked, which is pretty cool to see.”
GROUND AND POUND
Who needs to throw the ball when you’re running it as well as the Panthers? Pitt’s 484-yard performance was its best since the program ran for a school-record 530 yards against Army in 1975 thanks in large part to future Hall of Famer and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett.
BRYCE ON THE LOOSE
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins has run for over 100 yards three times this season and his ability to gain ground with his feet opens things up for the rest of the offense led by RB Jordan Ellis (683 yards, 7 TDs) and WR Olamide Zaccheaus (56 catches, 690 yards, 6 TDs).
Pitt kicker Alex Kessman already has three field goals of 50-plus yards this season, and bounced back from a shaky performance in a loss against Notre Dame to make all three field goals — including a 54-yarder — against Duke. The Panthers — who have little margin for error — can’t afford to leave points on the field.
“I think he will continue to get stronger,” Narduzzi said. “He’s got to go prove he can do it on the road. That’s the challenge this week.”
FANS IN THE STANDS
Virginia’s crowds have topped 40,000 for two games in a row, and they drew a season-high 43,128 for a 12:20 p.m. start against North Carolina. That still leaves almost 20,000 empty seats, but those that come have been very engaged, and they rushed the field after Virginia beat a ranked Miami team three games ago.
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