Panthers, Cavaliers looking for momentum

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 27, 2013
Pittsburgh linebacker Todd Thomas has seen plenty of things during his three years with the Panthers. Six head coaches. A couple of miserable trips to Birmingham for a bowl game. Not exactly the kind of memories Thomas wants to hold onto. Finally, it seems, things are changing. The Panthers (2-1, 1-1 ACC) can put together their first three-game winning streak since 2010 with a victory over Virginia (2-1) on Saturday, perhaps Pitt's first true test to see where it falls on the grid in the ACC's Coastal Division. A victory also would give the Panthers something they've lacked in years: momentum. ''Since I've been here, I don't think I've been 2-1, we always start off 1-2 or 0-and-something,'' Thomas said. ''Coach Chryst is trying to get the program turned around he's definitely headed in the right direction.'' Technically, Thomas is wrong, though it's hard to blame him. The Panthers began 2011 with wins over Buffalo and Maine under Todd Graham. Of course, Graham's abrupt departure after one season has been blocked out by the players he left behind. Chryst's rebuilding project is starting to gain steam. Pitt's offense is blossoming under senior quarterback Tom Savage and wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Devin Street. The Panthers outlasted Duke in a 58-55 last week in a game that featured the kind of fireworks few thought possible a month ago. The emergence of Boyd and freshman running back James Conner has helped, so has Savage's well-traveled (and still big-time) arm. The Cavaliers are wary but also optimistic. Virginia has sandwiched victories over BYU and VMI around a 59-10 pratfall against No. 2 Oregon. They've started to find themselves behind quarterback David Watford as they head onto the road for the first time this season. Five things to look for as two teams try to stamp themselves as challengers to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in a wide-open division. WATFORD'S APPROACH: The redshirt sophomore said this week that he needs to learn to trust his speed when given an opportunity to pull the ball down and run, and to trust himself when there are opportunities to throw the ball downfield. Adding those elements to Virginia's offense would likely opens things up for a better running game. Watford passed for 206 yards and two scores against VMI and is becoming more involved in the running game. PITT GETTING STOPS: For all of the success experienced by Savage and company, things haven't been quite so stellar on the other side of the ball. Pitt allowed Duke to nearly erase a 23-point second-half deficit. Defensive coordinator Matt House said his players need to find a way to be more disciplined but points out the Panthers did force four turnovers while building a huge lead. THE TRENCHES: Virginia's defensive line is the strength of the unit, and with Savage being a classic pocket passer, the battle between the Panthers' offensive line and the Cavaliers' defensive front will surely be critical in determining if Savage has time to keep to keep Boyd and Street the league's most dynamic pass-catching combination. After getting pushed around against Florida State in the opener, the Panthers have kept Savage's jersey pretty clean the last two weeks. RUN JAMES RUN: While Boyd's quick rise to budding star was expected, Conner has been a revelation. At 6-foot-2, 230-pounds Conner is built more like a linebacker but has an explosive burst of a much smaller player. Conner is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and making the abrupt departure of Rushel Shell in the offseason a mere footnote instead of an obstacle. ''He's big but I think he's an athletic player,'' Chryst said. ''I'm glad he's able to make some guys miss.'' STAYING POISED: The Cavaliers have yet to play on the road this season, where they were 1-4 a year ago. Minimizing mistakes early will be a key. Virginia turned it over four times at home against the Ducks, one of the main reasons they were buried so quickly. The Cavaliers' minus-five turnover margin is also the worst in the 14-team ACC. London is hoping a more aggressive approach will help. ''It's more of a mindset to keep talking about, guys rallying to the ball,'' he said. ''The more you're aggressive in that manner, the more good things that can happen to you.'' --- AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz in Charlottesville, Va., contributed to this report.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER:
The Best Names in College Football for 2016
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

The NFL is thinking about eliminating the preseason

Romo expected to miss 6-10 weeks with broken bone in back

Kaepernick explains why he is protesting national anthem

Dwyane Wade’s cousin shot and killed in Chicago

NFL tries to reduce kick returns, promptly causes more kick returns

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

San Francisco Giants inching closer to a record they really don’t want

Clint Dempsey undergoing testing for irregular heartbeat

Troubling details emerge from Jeremy Jeffress' DWI arrest

Chargers would welcome Joey Bosa if he signed contract

Falcons rookie Keanu Neal needs surgery on knee

Jerry Jones unhappy with Ezekiel Elliott's dispensary visit

Heading into the homestretch: 2016 ROY favorites

Premier League notebook: The love affair at Man U

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

Marshall’s first impression of Fitzpatrick: ‘He was terrible’

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Six worst quarterback situations in the NFL

Can the San Francisco Giants bust their teamwide slump?

A look at 2016 college football conference changes

College Football News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Premier League notebook: The love affair at Man U

Heading into the homestretch: 2016 ROY favorites

One Gotta Go: NFL legends talking comedians is no joke

It's all about timing: The evolution of the clock in sports

Predicting the unpredictable: Your MTV VMAs rundown

10 great moments in the career of Roberto Duran

The 20 best boxing movies of all time

One Gotta Go: NFL legends bring the hate for fast food

What you need to know about the Champions League draw

Can the San Francisco Giants bust their teamwide slump?

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker