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Virginia defense to present stiff challenge for Pitt O-line

November 23, 2018

No one on Pitt’s team has more respect for Virginia -- the institution of higher learning and the football team -- than offensive line coach Dave Borbely. He worked there twice, under coach Al Groh from 2006-09 and in ’15 on Mike London’s staff.

He knows all about Virginia’s run defense, which has climbed to 20th in the nation, allowing an average of 113 yards per game.

He’s looking forward to the challenge of his guys blocking a stout front seven, opening lanes for Pitt’s run game and, possibly, paving the way to first place in the ACC Coastal. No. 23 Virginia (6-2, 4-1) leads the Coastal by a half-game over Pitt (4-4, 3-1).

“Miami got stuffed down there. Louisville got stuffed down there,” Borbely said of two Virginia victims who totaled 215 yards on the ground earlier this season. “Short yardage, (almost) nobody’s gotten a first down (against Virginia). North Carolina did. They had to spread them out to do it.”

Borbely hasn’t gotten a lot of sleep this week while spending the better part of his waking hours studying the Cavaliers run defense.

“The thing that jumps out for me, they jump off the ball,” he said. “They attack the line of scrimmage as well as anybody we’ve played. It will be a challenge for us.”

A challenge, yes, but Borbely knows only one way to confront a difficult situation.

“We’re going to do what we do,” he said. “Every week, we have to make people match us. I never want to go into a game and have to match their speed and their tempo. We want to try and set the tone and the tempo and the physicality each week.”

Pitt might be facing Virginia at the right time. Borbely believes his offensive linemen are playing better now than earlier in the season.

“Tremendously improved,” he said. “The really cool thing is last Tuesday (before the Duke game), we had zero mental errors in practice. In the Duke game, we had one mental error.

“That’s really how practice has been for the most part. They have a great handle on the offense now. As compared to Penn State (Sept. 8), we probably had 15 mental errors. We had 214 yards before halftime and only blocked about half of it right.”

After rushing for 484 yards against Duke, Pitt’s run game moved to 22nd in the nation and third in the ACC (an average of 227.9). That number is significant because it’s 2 yards more than Pitt averaged in 2016 when the run game was at its previous best under coach Pat Narduzzi.

Offensive tackle Alex Bookser said his group had something to prove last week against Duke after the 19-14 loss to Notre Dame. Twice, Pitt had the ball with a chance to drive for the winning touchdown but advanced only 20 yards the first time before losing 19 to end the game.

But the two-minute drill against Duke produced a tiebreaking touchdown pass from Kenny Pickett to Maurice Ffrench.

“We all felt as an offense, we let the defense down (against Notre Dame),” Bookser said. ”(The touchdown) was a big confidence (builder) for everybody.”

Notes: Narduzzi said freshman defensive tackle Devin Danielson (Thomas Jefferson) could play for the first time this season as a depth replacement for Keyshon Camp, who is lost for the season with an upper-body injury. “Devin is a tough dude,” the coach said. “He’s ready to go this week if we need him.” ... During his radio show on 93.7 FM on Tuesday, Narduzzi hinted an injury might keep freshman V’Lique Carter out of the game. He did not provide any details.

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