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Pitt tries to build momentum in Virginia game

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NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Pitt football team ended a three-game losing streak by defeating Duke last weekend, 24-17. The Panthers will look to carry that momentum this weekend in a game against Virginia.

I look at Virginia in much the same way I looked at Duke last weekend. The Blue Devils had a pretty decent record but really had played a light schedule. The Cavaliers were 5-1 heading into last weekend but had similarly not played against much competition. They were proven to be a pretender of sorts when they were badly beaten by Boston College, losing 41-10.

Like I said about Duke, that doesn’t necessarily make them a bad team. But it’s also clear that their record is/was kind of inflated.

To date, Virginia’s best win has come against a pretty lackluster Boise State team. Their other wins? William & Mary, UConn, Duke, and North Carolina. Virginia also lost to Indiana, 34-17. There just isn’t much there that really tells you about the quality of their team. Comparing like opponents, but Pitt and Virginia bested Duke by seven (although the Panthers did it on the road while Virginia had the Blue Devils at home).

Safe to say, Virginia is better than the 2-10 team they had in 2016 or the 4-8 one they trotted out in 2015. But how much better is anybody’s guess.

That schedule ramps up considerably over the final five weeks. Pitt is the Cavaliers’ best chance at a sixth win to get to a bowl game. After the Panthers, Virginia will face Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, and Virginia Tech. Virginia should (and probably will) be playing like a desperate this team this weekend.

Leading the way for Virginia is quarterback Kurt Benkert. The senior just doesn’t make many mistakes and is a big reason the Cavaliers are having success. He has 15 touchdown passes on the year to only four interceptions. Benkert doesn’t typically ‘go off’ on opponents, but against UConn earlier this year, he completed 30-40 passes against 455 yards and three touchdowns. Pitt’s secondary will need to be on their toes to keep him in check.

The Cavs’ running game is led by junior Jordan Ellis. Ellis has just over 600 yards on the year on the ground and has a shot to get to 1,000 on the season.

Defensively, the Hoos have been up and down. They’ve held three opponents under 20 points but also gave up 34 to Indiana and 41 this weekend to Boston College.

Overall, I think it’s going to be a tough game for Pitt. The Panthers still don’t have much of a passing game with quarterback Max Browne lost for the season. I don’t think Virginia is a great team but neither is Pitt, obviously. Beating even the weaker foes on the schedule has been a challenge and even getting this one at home is no gimme by any stretch for the Panthers.

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