Some where surprised when sophomore John Malecki started ahead of junior Rashaad Duncan at defensive…
Pitt Versus Virginia Offense
But there's no doubt that the Pittsburgh defense has played well enough in four games for the Panthers to be undefeated. Pitt ranks ninth nationally in pass efficiency (88.70 rating), 11th in total defense (250 yards per game), 12th in pass defense (154.5), 13th in fourth-down efficiency (14.3 percent, 1-for-7), tied for 14th in sacks (3.25 per game), 18th in points allowed (16 per game) and 25th in rushing defense (95.5 yards per game).
"There's no question that we have played pretty well on defense, for the most part,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "But we'll certainly need a strong performance up front because they have a huge offensive line and are very athletic.
"The key to their running game is how well you can defeat blocks in the open field, especially against 300-pounders that run like skilled athletes. They'll cut you and get on you, and if you're going to stop their running game you're going to have to get off physical blocks to do so.''
Virginia's O-line is comprised of 6-foot-6, 310-pound junior left tackle Eugene Monroe, 6-7, 310-pound junior left guard Branden Albert, 6-3, 280-pound senior center Jordy Lipsey, 6-3, 298-pound senior right guard Ian-Yates Cunningham and 6-7, 305-pound sophomore right tackle Will Barker.
"I remember the Virginia O-linemen being big, just like the Michigan State line,'' Pitt junior nose tackle Rashaad Duncan said. " They're a very good zone team, basically trying to run the ball against us. They're a running team, and they use two quarterbacks. ... So, they're a good team, and their line is very athletic and big. But I don't fear any linemen.
"You can't when you go out there, no matter how big they are. Otherwise, you can't be on our defense. And we have a good defense. We've had some guys fill in like Tommie Duhart, he did all right last week and is a good fit for our system. He's going to be a real good player. I'm very proud of the way Tommie's playing right now, and he'll only get better.''
Sophomore quarterback Jameel Sewell has started every game for Virginia, but freshman Peter Lalich has also played. Sewell has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 420 yards and two touchdowns with two pickoffs, while Lalich has completed nearly 63 percent for 260 yards and one score with one interception. Sewell has run 29 times for 73 yards, but due to sacks -- which count against rushing yards -- he has just two total.
"They have different styles,'' Rhoads said. "The freshman is the drop-back passer and little more conservative and not as quick to tuck it. The other one is a smart runner and a hard runner, so we have to keep the inside pressure, but they'll use the guy that runs more often, I think.''
"On the offensive side the last two weeks they got their running game in order. They started real slow running the ball, but the last two weeks they started running the ball well and average about 150 yards rushing per game against two pretty good teams, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.''
Junior Cedric Peerman is the leading rusher with 479 yards and three touchdowns (a 5.7 average), but he has been on fire with 461 rushing yards during UVA's three-game winning streak. Junior wideout Andrew Pearman is next with 46 yards on 10 carries. Peerman had seven yards on seven carries last year against Pitt.
While senior Jonathan Stupar has started every game at tight end, UVA has used a double-tight formation to open all four games as well with senior Tom Santi (6-5, 242) and junior John Phillips (6-6, 255) alternating. Santi leads the Cavs with 15 catches for 162 yards and two scores, while Stupar is next with 13 for 104. The top wideout is 6-4, 218-pound junior Maurice Covington with nine catches for 65 yards in just three games.
So, with the tight ends heavily involved, run-support by Pitt's 6-2, 220-pound sophomore outside linebacker Dorin Dickerson will be crucial.
"He's still learning and progressing because of his inexperience,'' Rhoads said. "He's had a handful of practices, basically, because of spring ball injuries and going into fall camp. Just (Tuesday) on the practice field told me it was awesome because he learned something new. ... Sometimes, you've just got to have it happen on the practice field before it sinks in.
"(But) there's no question that he has a huge upside. When you look at it, some people, and that's coaches included, are often impatient and want people to arrive now. And if you want to arrive somewhere sooner, you have to leave earlier. And, fortunately for us, Dorin has left early and is on his way. And remember, he's just a sophomore.''
Notes: Pitt's game captains for UVA are junior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling on offense, redshirt junior safety Eric Thatcher on defense and redshirt junior wideout Austin Ransom on special teams. ... The Panthers will vote for season captains during the upcoming bye week.
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