Rested Virginia looks to keep momentum going vs. Pittsburgh
Virginia's players viewed a bye week as time to build on momentum, not to rest.
The Cavaliers (2-3, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), one of just two teams still unbeaten in league play in the Coastal Division, will look to extend their winning streak to three Saturday when they host Pittsburgh (4-2, 1-1).
''We're rolling right now,'' wide receiver David Eldridge said. ''We're looking pretty good.''
The Cavaliers ended a 17-game road losing streak in their last game, a 34-20 victory at Duke, and Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi expects first-year Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff will have used the bye week to also install some new wrinkles on both sides of the ball.
''That will be the next challenge,'' Narduzzi said. ''They have had two weeks to prepare and get a great game plan going. We are under, I guess for compared to them, we are a short week for us. So we'll be moving around pretty quick.''
Pittsburgh, with the return of 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner from a bout with cancer, is second in the conference in rushing, averaging 244 yards per game. Virginia is 11th against the run, allowing 162 yards, but has increasingly played better defense as its players have adapted to Mendenhall's 3-4 scheme.
Cavaliers safety Quin Blanding is eager to see how the defense stacks up against Conner and Co.
''To be a great safety, you've got to know how to tackle in the alley, tackle in space, one-on-one tackles, and you've also got to know how to play the ball in the air as well,'' he said. ''And so I think this game is going to really prepare me for both. They do a lot of play-action as well, but they also love to run the ball, and there's going to be a lot of times I'm one-on-one with the fly guy, so I've just got to show them my game.''
The Panthers won the last meeting, 26-19, last season at Pittsburgh.
Here are some other things to watch when Pittsburgh visits Virginia:
ROLLING OUT: Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown 13 touchdown passes, and some of his best throws have come after he's been flushed out of the pocket. With an 84-yard completion to Eldridge against Duke, he became the first quarterback in school history to have completions of 80 or more yards in consecutive games.
HELPING HANDS: Conner's return has given the Panthers an emotional boost, but Narduzzi hasn't asked him to be the workhorse he was before his illness. The Panthers will continue to use a rotation that includes Chawntez Moss and 2015 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Quadree Ollison., hoping to keep all three of them fresh.
HOME COOKING: The game marks the start of a three-game homestand for Virginia, with visits by North Carolina an Louisville to follow. ''It's going to feel good,'' nose tackle Donte Wilkins said. ''What we want to do is just go one at a time, go 1-0 every week. That's our game-plan right now for the team. Just 1-0 every week.''
BIG MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Shakir Soto's move from defensive end to defensive tackle has given Pitt's run defense a significant boost. The senior was at his best in last week's victory against Georgia Tech, recording a career-high eight tackles, including a stuff on fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter of Pitt's 37-34 victory. The Panthers are 10th nationally, and second in the ACC, against the run, giving up 98.3 yards per game. Virginia is last in rushing in the ACC, averaging less than 120 yards, but fifth in passing at 291.4 yards per game.
ROAD WORRIERS?: The road hasn't been kind to the Panthers so far this year. Pitt lost by a touchdown at Oklahoma State and on the final snap at North Carolina in consecutive weeks after blowing a fourth-quarter lead. The Panthers haven't scored a touchdown on the road in the fourth quarter this season, getting outscored 21-3.
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AP sports Writer Will Graves contributed from Pittsburgh