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Pitt vs. Virginia Preview: Q&A with Streaking the Lawn

Pitt has an important ACC matchup this weekend with Virginia on the schedule. Caroline Darney from SB Nation's Cavaliers blog, Streaking the Lawn, stopped by to answer some questions in advance of the game. See my questions and her answers below:

After a slow start, Virginia has begun to play well lately. What did they do differently in the wins against Duke and Central Michigan than they did in the losses to UConn and Richmond?

Man, they feel like a completely different team. From attitude to on-field play/personnel, it's like night and day from the early losses to the last couple weeks. Offensively, the line has provided more pass protection while QB Kurt Benkert has gotten more comfortable in the passing game. Defensively, injuries have been a problem (especially in the secondary), but young players like Jordan Mack, Bryce Hall, and Juan Thornhill have been fantastic the last two games. Additionally, senior leaders have been present on (Micah Kiser, Donte Wilkins) and off (Matt Johns) the field. It just seems that they have the confidence/ability to pull off the big play when needed.  Against Central Michigan, it was the offense answering with an 82 yard touchdown after the Chippewas tied the score at 28. Against Duke, Kiser got a huge 4th down stop to halt an offensive drive, and the defense stepped up again with Mack demolishing Jones in the endzone for the pivotal forced sack-touchdown combo that gave the Hoos some breathing room and a 14 point lead. Virginia's passing game is putting a lot of fear into Pitt fans as the Panthers' secondary has been torched quite a bit this year. Tell us a little about quarterback Kurt Benkert. Kurt Benkert is the best quarterback at UVA since Matt Schaub. It has been awhile since Virginia fans have had a consistent, true, system QB. In our two wins, he is 50 of 84 (60%) passing for 757 yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions. Not only is he getting more time with the ball, he's getting more comfortable with broken plays. In both the CMU and Duke games, Benkert completed an 80+ yard play...both of which came after he had to scramble. I also like that there's no real "favorite" receiver. Olamide Zaccheaus leads the team with 340 yards receiving and four touchdowns, but 11 different receivers caught a pass against Duke. Of Virginia's 13 receiving touchdowns on the season, eight different players have caught at least one with only Zaccheaus and Keeon Johnson (3) having more than one. He has options and he trusts his receivers. What's the take on new coach Bronco Mendenhall? Do fans think he's a long-term answer or are there concerns about how his coaching/recruiting will translate on the other side of the country in a completely new environment? I won't presume to speak for all Virginia fans because generally they can be a much more pessimistic bunch than myself, but I think he's a long-term answer. It's clear that the players respond to the challenges he presents to them, and I am a fan of the "nothing given" mentality. He's currently working with guys that weren't picked for his schemes, and is reacting and building with the pieces he has in front of him. After the Richmond game, it brought a lot of us back to reality that this team has A LOT of work to do, but seeing the week to week improvements has been awesome. I think recruiting wise, he has a lot more options than before with the limitations that naturally come with coaching at BYU. His staff is young, personable, and having guys like Ruffin McNeill and Hagans creates an immediate connection to some east coast recruiting spots. I think a lot of us see Coach Mendenhall as the football version of Tony Bennett. It'll take time to get the right pieces and the right scheme instilled, but once you do, you'll see sustainable success. Virginia's schedule gets extremely tough down the stretch with games against Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech all still to come. What are the realistic expectations for this team going forward? Woof. It's definitely a difficult schedule. It's good to have Pitt, UNC, Louisville, and Miami in Charlottesville to give us back a modicum of the advantage, but I'd be happy if we can figure out a way to take two of those games. Right now, realistically, making a bowl game will be very hard, but until it's mathematically impossible I still have faith (see, optimistic). Road games at Wake and Georgia Tech lessen the blow slightly (especially now that the 17-straight road loss monkey is off our backs), and if Coach Mendenhall can go into Blacksburg and deliver a win, I'm ready to crowd fund the statue we'll put up outside Scott Stadium. I think that Virginia misses a bowl game this year, but sets themselves up for one next season. I do, however, think we can get to five wins. Virginia's defense has had some issues this year in both stopping the run and the pass. What are some areas where the Panthers can take advantage when they have the ball? This one is tough to answer because Pitt has a lot of weapons both on the ground and with Nate Peterman passing. The defense has improved, but has still struggled with forcing stops. Against Duke they were pretty dang good when you consider they got two fourth down stops, a strip sack for a TD, and five interceptions, but Duke still put up 430 yards of offense (326 in the air). I would say the air attack is where Virginia is still most susceptible. The defense has been simplified from Coach Mendenhall's usual 3-4, which has helped the guys with assignments and execution, but it still has a lot of work to do. Give us a prediction for the game. Homecomings, using momentum from the last couple weeks...I say the Cavaliers win in a shootout 41-31. David Eldridge will be big on the long balls, and Benkert will have a good day passing. Exciting throughout.

Doctor Robert (Pitt-Virginia Injury Report): Avonte Maddox doubtful for Panthers

With only ACC games from here on out, Pitt will continually be forced to produce an injury report in advance of the remainder of their games. The Panthers released the report today and the biggest news is that cornerback Avonte Maddox is doubtful (upper extremity injury) for the upcoming contest against Virginia. Maddox is just the latest player to suffer an injury for the Panthers.

Maddox was injured in last week's game and, as JD wrote about earlier this week, that could mean we see true freshman Damar Hamlin in action. Hamlin is no lock to start or even play, but if Maddox can't go, that makes it more realistic we see him. Hamlin did show up on the depth chart for this week.

Also a question mark is starting linebacker Mike Caprara. He is listed as Questionable (lower body injury) and missed last week's game with an injury as well.

Lastly, receiver Zach Challingsworth continues to be listed as 'Doubtful' while Elijah Zeise and Dontez Ford are still 'Out.'

Given Pat Narduzzi's history with disclosing information on injuries, it's hard to know how to take these weekly reports. I The guys listed as Out won't play but everything else, to me, is complete guesswork. Any gamesmanship here? Perhaps. But that's the official report disclosed by the team for this weekend's game against Virginia.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt Basketball Weekend event scheduled for October 22 and 23

Pitt football has a bye week coming up on October 22nd, but there will still be something for fans to do that weekend.

The athletics department is hosting a Pitt Basketball Weekend event featuring both the men's and women's basketball teams. On Saturday the 22nd at 1:30 p.m., there will be a men's scrimmage. It won't be a traditional game (three ten-minute sessions followed by situational stuff - similar to what the football team has done in past scrimmages), but will still give fans a look at the system of new head coach Kevin Stallings.

On Sunday the 23rd at noon, the women won't scrimmage. However, they will hold a full open practice.

Concessions will be open and after both events, fans will also be able to get autographs from players and shoot free throws on the court. Doors will open a half hour prior to each event. And of course, another incentive is to see the new basketball court, which was recently re-done.

Zero to real quick. #PittScript #H2P — Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) August 19, 2016

All in all, it's a pretty cool way to give fans something to do that day with the football team on a bye week before their big game against Virginia Tech. It's a great idea to keep fans thinking about Pitt basketball even while we're in the middle of football season.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Scott Orndoff named to Mackey Award Midseason Watch List

Before the season began, there was no shortage of Pitt football players on various watch lists. Now that the season is halfway, tight end Scott Orndoff still finds himself in the hunt for the prestigious Mackey Award given to the nation's top tight end. He is listed as one of 30 players in contention.

Orndoff has seen his production limited the past few years with J.P. Holtz around, but I've always thought he was an above-average tight end that could flourish a little more statistically if he was the main guy. Same for Holtz, actually. And we're starting to see that this year.

Orndoff already has a career-high with 14 catches this season and we're only halfway there. In addition, his 203 receiving yards are just shy of his career-best last year when he had 244. He's only had one game without a catch this year and also has a pair of receiving touchdowns. That 74-yard touchdown reception he had against Georgia Tech helped bolster his stats quite a bit.

The team being without Tyler Boyd has also likely helped him. Factor in the loss of Dontez Ford and all of the young, unproven receivers, and you could make the argument that his numbers should be even higher. But so far, he's been a solid, reliable target for Pitt.

Overall, he's on pace for one of the best seasons by a Pitt tight end in recent years. Holtz's top output was his 350-yard season last year and that was the top year in terms of yardage since Dorin Dickerson topped 500 yards back in 2009.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Chris Blewitt, Brian O'Neill win ACC awards for play against Georgia Tech

Pitt's football team pulled out a narrow win over Georgia Tech on Saturday and a couple of Panthers were later recognized by the ACC for their play in the game.

Senior kicker Chris Blewitt was named the ACC Specialist of the Week. He had a career-high 13 points on three field goals and four PATs. And while his last field goal (a 31-yarder to win the game as time expired) was a close call, he didn't miss a single kick all day long.

Offensive tackle Brian O'Neill provided protection for quarterback Nathan Peterman and helped Pitt to 407 yards of total offense. His big moment, of course, was the trick play he had, catching a pass and scoring a touchdown. For his efforts, he was the Conference's Offensive Lineman of the Week.

For Blewitt, it was his third time winning the award while it was the first such honor for O'Neill.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Tray Woodall hired by IUP as assistant coach

We're smack dab in the middle of football season, but there was a short basketball item I found noteworthy. Former Pitt guard Travon Woodall is headed to IUP to serve as an assistant coach.

The ties are obvious here. IUP is close to Pitt so he's familiar with western Pennsylvania. He's also serving under Joe Lombardi, the head coach there, who was an assistant at Pitt under Jamie Dixon until 2006.

Some official words from Lombardi on the hire:

"He was very successful as a player and I'm sure that his knowledge and ability to relate young men will have a very positive impact on all of our players," Lombardi added. ... "Playing for Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley at St Anthony's high school, and Jamie Dixon at Pitt has provided him with a great perspective of the game," said Lombardi.

Woodall was a solid player at Pitt. In addition to his knowledge of the game, he's also from New Jersey, so he could even help IUP find players out that way. Woodall was last seen playing professionally in Turkey, Greece, Kosovo, and Mexico.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (S2 Ep6)

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss the Pitt homecoming win vs. Georgia Tech and hand out Midseason Awards.

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In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss the Pitt win vs. Georgia Tech and the entire homecoming weekend. Plus they hand out Midseason Awards and preview the Virginia game.

Pitt at Virginia: Breaking Down the Two-Deep

Looking at Pitt’s depth chart for the Virginia game

QB - 1. Nate Peterman 2. Manny Stocker

Nate Peterman played another solid game last week against Georigia Tech. The senior quarterback was 14-20 for 192 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. These are the type of stat lines we are starting to get accustomed to from Peterman. Overall, I thought it was one of his better games. He hit some big throw throughout the game, and Pitt was efficient from third downs early in the game. He spread the ball around, and of course, limited mistakes. I think Canada seems more and more comfortable letting him air it out more, and we’ve seen that as the season has progressed.

RB - 1. James Conner 2. Chawntez Moss OR Qadree Ollison OR Darrin Hall

Pitt got three of the four running backs into the mix on Saturday. Conner led the way with 60 yards on 14 carries. His consecutive game touchdown streak ended, but Conner still proved to be effective on most of his touches, and broke out for a 21 yard run at one point. Conner isn’t being asked to carry this team by himself, but the running game has been impressive without a dominant stat line from him.

Once again, it was true freshmen Chawntez Moss that got the second most touches of the backs, and he did not disappoint. Moss went for 45 yards on eight carries, and brought down an 11 yard reception. Moss is looking very good for a freshman, and his vision and cutbacks are what is most impressive about his game. Qadree Ollison got three carries for 20 yards and a touchdown, his first of the season.

FB - 1. George Aston 2. Jaymar Parrish

Once again, George Aston proved to be an instrumental part of the offense against the Yellow Jackets. Aston had four carries for 19 yards and caught three passes for 19 yards. He just always seems to be involved, and continues to be an unsung hero to this team.

WR - 1. Jester Weah Quadree Henderson 2. Aaron Mathews OR Maurice Ffrench Tre Tipton 3. Rafael Araujo-Lopes

Going into the season, I thought this position was a question mark. And while this isn’t a group of gang busters, they are showing signs each week and they are making some plays. Both Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson have 17 catches apiece this season, which is tied for the team lead.

Tre Tipton is emerging from the pack as a very good third option. He caught two passes for 18 yards and rushed three times for 21 yards against Georgia Tech. Tipton is becoming apart of the weekly game plan, and he looks capable.

Aaron Mathews caught one pass, but it was a seven yard play on a crucial third down early in the game. Mathews looks the part, and is being targeted more than he was in the first month of the season.

TE - 1. Scott Orndoff 2. Jaymar Parrish

Talk about right place at the right time, but man Scott Orndoff’s 74 yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter will be one of the defining moments of this season. Orndoff had another catch for 12 yards. He’s second on the team in receptions and receiving yardage on the year.

LT - 1. Adam Bisnowaty 2. Aaron Reese

LG - 1. Dorian Johnson 2. Carson Baker

C - 1. Alex Officer 2. Connor Dintino

RG - 1. Alex Bookser 2. John Guy

RT - 1. Brian O’Neill 2. Jaryd Jones-Smith

Once again, Pitt had another productive day of offense. They finished the day with 407 yards of total offense and posted 37 points on the board, which is the team’s season average. Oh, and yeah there was the play that broke the internet when Brian O’Neill had a 24 yard rushing touchdown. That was pretty neat.

Pitt O-lineman Brian O'Neill is listed at 6'6", 300 lbs.He just ran in a touchdown vs Georgia Tech.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 8, 2016

DE - 1. Ejuan Price Rori Blair 2. James Folston Allen Edwards 3. Rashad Weaver

Ejuan Price did some Ejuan Price things on Saturday with a sack and two QB hurries. Price also came down with six tackles as well. Price leads the country with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss this season. Pretty impressive stuff from the sixth year senior, he should start to get more and more national recognition if he keeps up this pace.

DT - 1. Shakir Soto 2. Amir Watts OR Keyshon Camp

Shakir Soto probably played the best game of his Pitt career on Saturday. The senior defensive tackle led the team with eight tackles. He also had two stops for loss. He made plenty of plays throughout the game and looked very comfortable against the triple option. Soto never seemed to put it altogether at defensive end, but I have been impressed with his play on the inside this season. You have to wonder if he should have been playing this spot all along.

NT - 1. Tyrique Jarrett 2. Shane Roy OR Mike Herndon

Tyrique Jarrett came up with the play of the year for the Pitt defense on Saturday. The senior stuffed Georgia Tech on fourth down late in the game which gave the ball to the offense who finished off the win. Like Soto, I’ve been impressed with Jarrett all year long. His biggest concern was conditioning, but he’s held up for six games nicely. You have to credit Mike Herndon as well, as he recorded his first career sack off the bench.

Money LB - 1. Mike Caprara 2. Saleem Brightwell

Neither one of these guys played last Saturday. Caprara is working his way back from an injury, we’ll see if he can get into the mix this week. Brightwell had been playing well, but Narduzzi and Conklin tend to be picky with who plays against the triple option, thus Bam Bradley got most of the reps at this spot.

Mike LB - 1. Matt Galambos 2. Quintin Wirginis

Matt Galambos finished last week with six tackles. He also posted a big tackle for loss early in the football game. Wirginis played, but was held out of the box score.

Star LB - 1. Seun Idowu 2. Bam Bradley

Idowu remains as the starter here at the star, but I wonder if Bradley is knocking on the door to be the starter. Bradley made some very nice plays against Georgia Tech. In fact, he made one of the best plays of the day against the triple option. On the drive where Jarrett stuffed the fourth down attempt, Bradley made a nice play on second down to set up a third and long. Bam Bradley has always had the talent and athleticism to be a great player, it’s unfortunate we only see it in small doses.

CB - 1. Avonte Maddox Ryan Lewis 2. Dane Jackson Phillipie Motley 3. Damar Hamlin Therran Coleman

Well, a lot to get into here. Avonte Maddox is the listed starter, but I expect him to be out for a considerable amount of time, or at the very least this weekend. His injury looked serious enough to miss time. So with that, I expect redshirt freshman Dane Jackson to get his first start of his career. Jackson looked OK last week filling in for Maddox. He’s athletic, and the coaches have given him high praise in the past.

The big there is pretty obvious, and that Damar Hamlin and Therran Coleman are on the depth chart. Sure it’s “third” but they are listed, and they haven’t been listed to date. Hamlin’s presence is especially noteworthy since he hasn’t dressed many games and has been dealing with an injury of some sort. It’s also the fact he was the biggest recruit in last year’s recruiting class. Hamlin has sky high expectations for his career at Pitt, and perhaps his debut is coming on Saturday.

FS - 1. Terrish Webb 2. Reggie Mitchell

Neither of the senior safeties made a big impact on Saturday, as Terrish Webb recorded two tackles and that was it. This position has been under fire for much of the season, Pitt will need a strong performance from them on Saturday.

SS - 1. Jordan Whitehead OR Reggie Mitchell 2. Dennis Briggs

OK, seems a little ridiculous there’s an “OR” between Whitehead and Mitchell. We know who the starter is, and so does everybody else. Whitehead was second on the team Saturday with six tackles. He had one touch on offense, a quiet seven yard run.

K - Chris Blewitt P - Ryan Winslow LS - Pat Quirin

Chris Blewitt was 4-4 on extra points and 3-3 on Field Goal attempts, including the game winner. The last one wasn’t pretty, but hey who’s complaining?

KR/PR - 1. Quadree Henderson 2. Avonte Maddox

Quadree Henderson is second in all-purpose yardage in the entire country with 1,046 yards. The breakdown is 343 rushing yards, 174 receiving yards, 66 punt return yards, and 463 kickoff return yards.

Texas mascot Bevo sent flowers to LSU’s Mike the Tiger days before he died

UPDATE: LSU announced Tuesday that Mike the Tiger has died.

Read the original story below

If any school knows how much a mascot can mean to its team, it’s Texas. What are we without our trusty steer (and his tiny, adorable horns)?

That’s why young Bevo XV (and his Texas Silver Spurs handlers) didn’t hesitate to send LSU’s Mike the Tiger flowers after the recent news that the big cat’s cancerous tumor had resumed growth. The school announced in May that the tiger had been diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma.

The sweet note accompanying the bouquet, a picture of which was tweeted out and posted to the mascot’s Instagram account, promises to keep Mike in “our thoughts and prayers.”

>> Read more trending stories  

Thank you, Bevo XV, for the flowers. #mascotssticktogether A photo posted by Mike VI, LSU's Live Mascot (@miketigervi) on Oct 7, 2016 at 12:21pm PDT

Unfortunately, things aren’t looking up for Mike. The school announced last week that it was prepared to euthanize the tiger when he begins to show signs of suffering. Tuesday he was removed from his public viewing pen and placed in hospice care.

According to Geaux 247, Mike is a “a 10-year old Siberian-Bengal mix male.” LSU won the 2007 BCS National Championship during his first year in the role.

With the loss of beloved Bevo XIV, who was found to have cancer in 2015, only a year behind us, the impending loss is felt by tigers and longhorns alike.

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