When the Pitt Panthers and Virginia Tech Hokies hook up Thursday night on national television, they are two teams heading in opposite directions.
The Hokies are coming off back-to-back wins, while Paul Chryst’s Panthers have dropped three in a row.
It’s a must-win game already for both teams as both programs still have a realistic shot at finishing at the top of the Coastal Division standings
Who has the advantage?
Let’s take a look.
When: Thursday, October 16
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
Time: 7:30 pm
Spread: Pick (via Bovada)
Series Began: 1993
Series Overall: VT leads 8-5
ACC Series: VT leads 1-0
At Pittsburgh: Pitt leads 4-3
At Virginia Tech: VT leads 5-1
At Neutral Sites: DNA
Last Meeting at Pitt: Sept. 15, 2012 (Pitt 35, Virginia Tech 17)
Last Meeting at VT: Oct. 12, 2013 (Virginia Tech 19, Pitt 9)
Current Series Streak: VT has won 1 (2013)
Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: 4 games (2001-03, 2012)
Longest Virginia Tech Series Win Streak: 4 games (1993-96)
Largest Pitt Victory Margin: 31 points (38-7, 2001)
Largest VT Victory Margin: 42 points (63-21, 1993)
Keys for Pitt (3-3, 1-1 ACC):
1. Run the Football: Bud Adams will no doubt have a solid game plan devised around taking James Conner out of the game. Pitt must be able to run the football effectively to win the game. Quarterback Chad Voytik has shown he can make plays in comfortable down and distance situations, but has faltered when asked to do too much.
Keep Voytik comfortable and get Conner and the rest of the backs eating up chunks of yardage. It could help that Virginia Tech will be without their key defensive lineman Luther Maddy.
2. Eliminate the Big Play: Somehow Pitt has nation’s No. 4 defense, yielding only 278.7 yards in total offense per game. The Panthers are giving up just 19 points per contest to rank 17th nationally. What’s astonishing about that is the amount of time the Panthers have been torched for big plays this season.
The Panthers have already allowed four touchdowns of 48 yards or more on the season and that number doesn’t include the countless number of big plays that set up other touchdowns. Pitt will need a big game from its defense and they can start by keeping the ball in front of them.
3. Finish, Finish, Finish: During the Panthers three-game skid, they have outgained the opposition in two of the losses. That means they just aren’t finishing in the red zone. When they get inside the 20, they have to start coming away with six.
Keys for Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-1):
1. Find a way to run the ball: The Hokies are down to their fourth and fifth string tailbacks and must find a way to move the chains. Washington High School graduate and freshman Shai McKenzie was lost for the season with an ACL injury against Western Michigan over two weeks ago. In the win over UNC, Trey Edmunds broke his clavicle and was lost for the season.
The Hokies leading rusher, Marshawn Williams, sprained his ankle in that game as well and still has not returned to practice. If Williams does not play, it will be up to sophomore Joel Caleb and junior J.C. Coleman to carry the load.
2. Win the Turnover Battle: When the Hokies are at their best, they are forcing turnovers in bunches. That’s been difficult this year because of quarterback Michael Brewer and his 11 interceptions. Brewer has been picked off at least once in every game this season and Virginia Tech will enter Pittsburgh Thursday night a minus-one in turnover differential.
3. Stop James Conner: If the Hokies are going to lose this game it is going to be because Voytik is going to beat them and if I am Beamer, I will take my chances with that. There’s no way I’m not loading up and throwing everything at Conner if I am the Hokies. Hold Conner under 100 yards and the Hokies should leave Pittsburgh with a win.
Prediction: The Panthers have won their last three games against Virginia Tech at Heinz Field, including a 35-17 win in 2012 that marked Paul Chryst’s first career head coaching victory. That being said, I just don’t see the Pitt offense doing enough this time around against a Virginia Tech defense that ranks 16th nationally in rushing defense (108.8 avg.), 21st in total defense (325.2 avg.) and 23rd in scoring defense (19.8 ppg.). The Virginia Tech defense will make enough big plays and don’t forget the special teams. Sadly Pitt drops their fourth in a row. Virginia Tech 26, Pitt 20
Photo Credit: Associated Press