Virginia's passing attack likely to pose more problems for Pitt's porous secondary
October 15, 2016 1:06 AM
Pitt's Terrish Webb and the Panthers defense face another talented passing attack Saturday in Virginia.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It’s no secret Pitt has struggled against talented passing teams this season with a No. 127-ranked pass defense.
Virginia (2-3, 1-0 ACC) will be another challenge today for Pitt (4-2, 1-1). Quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown for 300-plus yards in each of the Cavaliers past two games. He also completed passes of 82 and 84 yards in those games.
“That’s obviously something that we’ve worked real hard on this week,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “They do a great job not only in their deep balls. They throw a ton of them on third down-and-long, third-and-6 or -7-plus. They’ve connected on a lot of them. Some of them obviously have been some coverage problems.”
Benkert, who transferred from East Carolina, has improved steadily since the start of the season, something Narduzzi said is apparent on film. Virginia is coming off a bye week.
“[The] quarterback will throw it up and let his guys go make plays. You just see receivers that will go make a play,” Narduzzi said. “You see a quarterback that’s not afraid to put it up there and give them an opportunity.”
He can be a scrambler and exudes patience when he gets free of the pocket and hasn’t found a receiver, which will challenge the secondary to stay in coverage.
“It’s always a focus when a guy likes to scramble,” Narduzzi said.
Pitt will have its own adjustments to make on offense, going against a base 3-4 defense for essentially the first time this season.
“I think they’re the most-talented defensive line, defensive front seven we’ve played,” right tackle Brian O’Neill said. “We know that, we’re not shying away from the challenge. We’re looking forward to the opportunity because it is a big opportunity. It’s going to be a big test for our offensive line.”
O’Neill insisted earlier this week that the Cavaliers defense is not much different than a more traditional 4-3, and comes down to communication.
Quarterback Nate Peterman said preparing for Virginia has taken a lot of film study
“They’ll give you a lot of different looks, especially in the back end,” Peterman said. “Really got to be on top of what they’re doing. They’re very talented and up front, too. …They do things that aren’t typical, you don’t see week in and week out.”
The Cavaliers boast a talented nose guard in Donte Wilkins, who has been a force trying to control the line of scrimmage.
“Yeah, he’s essential, and really Donte’s play has been consistent from the beginning,” Virginia first-year coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “The moving parts around him have become more coordinated and more effective, but when you’re a 3-4 team, the nose is where everything starts, and without the ability to control that position and the gaps that he’s responsible for, you really can’t have consistency.
“And because he has been [consistent], we’ve been able to focus on the parts around him and getting those more shored up in terms of assignment and execution, and that’s allowed the entire front seven to be playing more effectively than what we were.”
Jenn Mennedez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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