Interesting contest featuring a pair of programs that fell short of expectations this season. Will…
Continental Tire Bowl : Pittsburgh - Virginia
For Groh, the climb wasn't quite as far. Virginia has long been one of the top teams in the ACC. And the Cavaliers were again this season, going 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference. Harris, meanwhile, took over a Pitt program a few years ago that had hit rock bottom and led it to an 8-4 finish this season, including a 5-2 mark in the Big East. This will be Pitt's fourth consecutive bowl appearance after going eight straight years without one. Led by the precision passing of quarterback Matt Schaub, who completed just over 70 percent of his passes this season for 2,708 yards, 17 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, the Cavaliers boast a very potent offense this season. His main target was tight end Heath Miller, who had 65 catches for 751 yards and five touchdowns.
The Cavaliers defense, however, is another matter. Virginia was fifth in the ACC in pass defense, seventh in rushing defense, and allowed more than 27 points four times this season. The Cavaliers will be tested in the secondary by Pitt's potent passing game.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is the heart and soul of the Panthers. The Heisman Trophy runner-up has 87 receptions this season for 1,595 yards and 22 touchdowns. He will try extend his own NCAA record by catching a touchdown pass against the Cavaliers, which would be his 19th consecutive game with a scoring catch.
Virginia will try to match Fitzgerald one-on-one with talented cornerback Almondo Curry, an undersized cornerback who led the ACC this season with six interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. It will be tough for the Cavaliers to double Fitzgerald with a safety, too. Jermaine Hardy recently revealed he's played most of this season with a torn ACL and is only "80 to 85 percent," while the team's other starting safety coming out of camp, Willie Davis, has not played since Virginia's second game of the season because of injury.
"I couldn't let you all know during the season," Hardy told reporters recently. "Because teams would have been coming for me."
Now that Pitt knows, Hardy can bet he'll be tested.
In addition to Fitzgerald, who was named to the first-team All-America team, the Panthers also boast a third-team All-America tight end in Kris Wilson, who grabbed 42 passes for 589 yards and nine touchdowns.
They give quarterback Rod Rutherford two very good targets with which to work.
Running back Brandon Miree should also be back at full strength after missing half the season with a stress fracture in his leg. Despite all of his missed time, Miree still led the Panthers with 463 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
The Cavaliers will try to slow the Panthers offense the way other opponents did this season by running the ball down Pitt's throat. While Virginia didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher this season, the tandem of Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman did plenty of damage. Lundy rushed for 839 yards and nine scores, averaging 4.0 yards per carry, while Pearman had 537 and four scores with a 4.2 yards per carry average.
They will test a Pitt defense that ranked just 80th in the nation this season.
"We know the kind of talent that Virginia has and we know it will be a physical football game," Harris said. "They have a lot of finesse because of the quarterback being good. They have a professional coach coaching the defense (in Groh). They are based on playing physical."
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