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No. 18 Pitt can clinch ACC Coastal by beating Virginia

Oct 30, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) passes the ball against the Miami Hurricanes during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) passes the ball against the Miami Hurricanes during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 18 Pittsburgh can clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division on Saturday with a win over visiting Virginia.

The Cavaliers, in turn, can take the division crown and berth in the conference title game by winning their final two regular-season games.

Pitt (8-2, 5-1 ACC) is seeking its second berth in the ACC title game in the past four seasons, while Virginia (6-4, 4-2) must beat the Panthers and rival Virginia Tech (5-5, 3-3) next week to advance to the title game for the second time in three seasons.

No. 10 Wake Forest (9-1, 6-0) would clinch the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a win Saturday at six-time defending conference champion Clemson (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday.

The division winners meet on Dec. 4 in Charlotte, N.C.

Pittsburgh and Virginia have vastly different quarterback situations entering Saturday’s game.

Kenny Pickett has been outstanding this season for Pittsburgh, which has won six of its past seven games. He has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 3,517 yards with 32 touchdowns against just four interceptions.

The Panthers have four players with more than 300 yards receiving — Jordan Addison (1,070 yards, 11 TDs), Jared Wayne (566 yards, four TDs), Taysir Mack (461 yards, three TDs) and Lucas Krull (339 yards, six TDs).

Virginia, which is on a two-game losing streak, is allowing 239.8 passing yards per game and has given up three touchdown passes in each of the past three games.

Virginia is coming off a 28-3 loss to visiting Notre Dame last week in a game that showed how much it needs Brennan Armstrong under center. Armstrong injured a rib during a 66-49 loss at BYU on Oct. 30.

Armstrong has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 3,557 yards with 27 touchdowns against eight picks. Virginia averaged just under 40 points per game in his nine starts this season. Dontayvion Wicks (1,004 yards, nine TDS), Keytaon Thompson (773 yards, one TD) and Billy Kemp IV (599 yards six TDs) each has more than 40 receptions this season.

With Armstrong sidelined and freshman Jay Woolfolk making his first start, the Cavaliers were a much different team against Notre Dame, which kept Virginia scoreless until early in the fourth quarter. Woolfolk went just 18-for-33 passing for 196 yards and two interceptions.

“I’m praying that (Armstrong’s health) is more second to second rather than day to day,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall told reporters.

“I thought there were a lot of positive things from the game from how Jay played to how our defense played to how others saw their roles, maybe what they had been with Brennan (Armstrong) and what they would be with Jay, right? That clarity I think was helpful for everyone. It doesn’t mean that the roles can remain the same or possibly even the performance with Brennan versus Jay.”

If Armstrong is out, the Cavaliers will rely more on running back Wayne Taulapapa, who has rushed for 290 yards and two scores on 55 carries. Armstrong is the team’s second-leading rusher, with 271 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns on 81 carries.

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi is preparing for Armstrong to play.

“Virginia is more of a drop-back team,” he told reporters. “They like to throw it 70 percent of the time, so it’s going to be a drop-back, line up at empty with all these different personnel groupings and chuck it deep, chuck it wherever they want to. That’s what they’ve done, and they like to throw the football.”

–Field Level Media