Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh: Complete Game Preview

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2012

Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh: Complete Game Preview

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    This Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies will leave the friendly confines of Lane Stadium for the first time in the 2012 season.

    After two wins to open the season, the Hokies will face former Big East and future ACC rival Pittsburgh.

    This may be the perfect time to get the Panthers as they have begun the season 0-2 with their first loss coming to the FCS Youngstown State Penguins.

    Going to Pittsburgh has always been a tough task for past Virginia Tech teams. The Hokies are sure to get the Panthers’ best shot, as a win against a team like Virginia Tech could turn around Pittsburgh’s season.

    The Panthers, led by first-year coach Paul Chryst, will present a stronger challenge than many in the national media believe.

    Here is a preview of this weekend’s game:

Can the Hokies' Running Game Continue to Improve?

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    The Hokies finished with 187 rushing yards against Austin Peay last week. Facing an opponent like Austin Peay had many Hokie fans believing they should have ran for a lot more. The Hokies did finish the game averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

    Pittsburgh enters this week ranked 72nd in total defense. The Panthers are giving up 231.5 yards rushing per game, which is 95th nationally.

    The Hokies had seven different players carry the ball at least two times last week. Freshman Michael Holmes led the way with nine carries and his first two career touchdowns.

    Look for Holmes and fellow freshman J.C. Coleman to continue getting the majority of carries in the Virginia Tech backfield.

Pittsburgh Has a Talented Backfield

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    The numbers may not belie it, but the Panthers have three very capable running backs led by senior Ray Graham.

    Graham, returning from knee surgery in 2011, actually was leading the NCAA in rushing yards through seven weeks last year before the injury ended his season.

    Sophomore Isaac Bennett is Graham’s primary backup. Bennett has only had 15 carries through two games but has the team’s only rushing score.

    Freshman Rushel Shell, a true freshman from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, saw his first action last week in the loss to Cincinnati. Shell was among those suspended in the season-opener.

    While the Hokies’ defense has been outstanding, one stat to keep an eye on: the Hokies are 72nd nationally in run defense. Keep in mind that stat is skewed somewhat as the Hokies’ first opponent, Georgia Tech, rarely ever passes.

    The Hokies actually held the Yellow Jackets and their triple option offense to only 192 yards rushing, an impressive feat. 

Hokies Should Be Wary of Tino Sunseri

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    Things haven’t gone well this season for Pittsburgh’s senior quarterback. But Sunseri, a three-year starter, is an experienced passer with two big, talented targets at wide receiver.

    Senior Mike Shanahan and junior Devin Street have combined for 20 catches and 218 yards through two weeks.

    One of the most criticized players in recent Pittsburgh history, Sunseri has the ability to make things happen if he can get some support from the running game.

    The Hokies, who have had only three sacks in two weeks, need to get pressure on Sunseri early. If the Hokies can get to Sunseri early in the game then he will get rattled and make mistakes. 

Logan Thomas’ Accuracy Should Continue to Improve

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    During the season-opener against Georgia Tech, Logan Thomas missed several throws that seemed easy for him last season. He wasn’t missing because of a lack of arm strength, but some passes were just a bit high or others were outside. Thomas expressed disappointment in himself after that game.

    That trend continued on Saturday, to a smaller degree. Part of Thomas’ problems has been a new receiving corps with the exception of Marcus Davis. As Thomas continues to get comfortable with Corey Fuller, Dyrell Roberts and Demitri Knowles, he will be just fine.

    Great players like Thomas judge their struggles differently than others. The fact Thomas has been disappointed in his play is a good thing for the Hokies. His personal accountability is something all the great quarterback's possess.

    Through it all he still hasn’t turned the ball over. That’s the most important statistic to head coach Frank Beamer

Can Pittsburgh Pull off the Upset?

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    This could be a scary game for the Hokies and they will not look over the Panthers. Desperate teams like Pittsburgh generally present the toughest opposition. And it isn’t as if the Panthers have no talent.

    No matter how dangerous this game is for Virginia Tech, they will weather the storm and prevail Saturday. The Hokies are too strong on defense and have much more talent at the skill positions.

    Don’t be surprised if the Hokies start slow, but by the third quarter they will have complete control. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster will be much more aggressive this week than in the previous two weeks.

    Look for the Hokies to win this game going away.