CHARLOTTESVILLE — Could it be that Virginia’s football fixation with Virginia Tech is fading?
Maybe a little bit.
When linebacker Jordan Mack picked up a sledgehammer Friday and signaled the end of summer conditioning by shattering a rock slab, bystanders thought they heard him say “Beat Pitt.”
That would make sense, given that Virginia will open the season Aug. 31 at Pittsburgh, where the Cavaliers are 0-5.
It’s only the second time since 2007 that UVa will open the season on the road and the first time since the Cavaliers went to UCLA in 2015.
When the ACC media picked a preseason order of finish last week, Virginia was selected as the favorite to win the Coastal Division, but guess what? Pitt went 6-2 in ACC games last year and won the Coastal Division.
The Panthers were 42-10 losers to Atlantic Division champion Clemson in the ACC title game and then dropped a 14-13 decision to Stanford in the 2018 Sun Bowl to finish 7-7.
As fellow Coastal Division members, UVa and Pittsburgh have met annually since 2013, and the Cavaliers’ only win over that span occurred in 2014 in Charlottesville, 24-19.
Last season, when Pitt came to Charlottesville, the Cavaliers had just moved into the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 23, which represented Virginia’s first appearance in the rankings since 2011.
Less than one week later, UVa was gone from the rankings after losing to the Panthers 23-13.
That was a game marked by weather issues, including a downpour before the opening kickoff.
In the previous meeting, Virginia had more total yardage, more first downs and longer time of possession at Pittsburgh in 2017, only to fall to the Panthers 31-14.
So, while it’s understandable that Virginia would want to end Virginia Tech’s 15-game winning streak in its yearly series with the Wahoos, UVa still has four months to stew over it.
“Pitt’s somebody who has definitely had our number since I’ve been here,” said Eli Hancock, a fifth-year defensive tackle who offers proof that nobody on the current UVa team has ever beaten the Panthers.
“They won the Coastal last year and obviously, our goal this year is to win the Coastal. It’s a team [the UVa seniors] haven’t beaten yet. Beating Tech is still one of our mantras, but Pitt is the first team on our schedule.”
Remarkably, this won’t be the first time Virginia and Pitt will have met in a season opener. In 2006, the Cavaliers traveled to Pittsburgh, which was in the Big East at the time and was coached by Dave Wannstedt, previously the head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins.
Pitt won handily that day, 38-13.
Virginia got some measure of payback when it routed Pitt 44-14 the next year in Charlottesville but they didn’t play again until 2013, by which time Pitt had joined the ACC.
That year, the Panthers scored two touchdowns in a three-minute span of the first quarter and that was all they needed in a 14-3 victory at Heinz Field.
Neither UVa head coach Bronco Mendenhall nor his assistants were in attendance Friday at UVa’s practice facility, where the Cavaliers completed summer conditioning under director of football development Shawn Griswold.
Nobody has been more strident about the need for Virginia to end Virginia Tech’s winning streak than Mendenhall.
Griswold, who has been overseeing the conditioning, was quick to confirm that the breaking of the rock was accompanied by a “Beat Pitt” chant.
Also, nobody debated the choice of Mack, who was on track for a second straight 100-tackle season in 2018 before missing four games due to injury.
“Beat Pitt; that’s been our thing since spring ball started,” Griswold said. “Our next opponent is Pitt. So, our focus is on beating Pitt .”