Pittsburgh vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistOctober 8, 2013

Pittsburgh vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    With last week's win over North Carolina, the Virginia Tech Hokies improved to 5-1 on the season, 2-0 in the ACC. This Saturday, the Hokies will renew acquaintances with former Big East rival Pittsburgh. 

    The Panthers head into this weekend's tilt with the Hokies at 3-1, 2-1 in conference play. This marks the first time that the schools will meet as ACC opponents. VT and Pitt were Big East rivals from 1993-2003. 

    The two schools played last season with Pittsburgh dominating the Hokies 35-17. It was one of the more embarrassing defensive performances in Virginia Tech's history under defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The Panthers passed for 283 yards and ran for 254 more. Fortunately for the Hokies, Pitt had to replace their quarterback, top two rushers and leading receiver from a year ago.

    VT leads the all-time series, 7-5; however, Pitt has won the last four meetings. The Panthers were off last week after defeating Virginia two weeks ago. 


    • When: Saturday, October 12, 2013
    • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va. 
    • Time: 12 p.m. ET
    • TV: ESPNU
    • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area. 
    • Spread: The Hokies are currently nine-point favorites


Pittsburgh Keys to Victory

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    Tom Savage
    Tom SavageHoward Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Protect Tom Savage

    The Panthers have allowed 13 sacks this season through four games. Virginia Tech has sacked the quarterback 19 times, tops in the nation. This matchup will most likely determine the outcome of the game. If the Hokies can get to Savage, they will win this game by double digits. But if Pitt can keep Savage upright, this game could come down to the wire.


    Run the Football

    Pitt ranks No. 88 in the country in rushing offense, averaging 140 yards per game. The Hokies, meanwhile, are dominant against the run. These factors combined make it seem likely that Pitt will struggle to run. That may be true; however, the Panthers must attempt to run the ball often.

    Yards won’t be easy to come by, but Pitt must stay patient and take the two and three-yard gains early in the game. A player like James Conner can wear down any defense if you keep pounding him into the defense for four quarters.


    Don’t Allow Virginia Tech’s Running Game to Get Off

    Much like the Panthers need to develop the run, they need to stop it as well. It shouldn’t be too difficult as the Hokies are struggling to run the ball. Unlike many teams, though, the Hokies will continue to pound the ball even if the run isn’t working. Pitt cannot allow the VT’s run game to have a big day Saturday.


Virginia Tech Keys to Victory

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    J.C. Coleman
    J.C. ColemanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Come Out Throwing

    It sounds strange doesn’t it? A Virginia Tech game plan heavy on passing the football has lifted the Hokies the past two weeks. The Hokies prefer to run the ball, but realize they have a big, strong-armed passer who can stay in the pocket and challenge all areas of the field. So why not take advantage of that?

    If Tech comes out throwing the ball early, it will eventually open things up for the running game.


    Pressure, Pressure, Pressure

    Tom Savage has shown a propensity to take sacks and turn the ball over this season. Coincidentally, the Hokies are strong in both areas. Expect Bud Foster to come after Savage early in hopes of forcing a turnover and flipping field position for the offense. This is a good matchup for the Virginia Tech defense.


    Clean Up Special Teams’ Mistakes

    The Hokies continue to struggle in this area. The coverage units have gotten much better, but the kickers have combined to miss six field goals and two point-after attempts. This will eventually cost the team a game, and it could against Pittsburgh if Journell can’t end drives with points.

    The return units could use a big day, too. Demitri Knowles and Kyshoen Jarrett, both, who made big plays in the return game last year, have failed to make an impact in 2013. Expect one, or both, to change that soon.

Players to Watch: Pittsburgh

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    James Conner
    James ConnerHoward Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Running Back James Conner

    The 6’2”, 230-pound true freshman is Pitt’s leading rusher this season. Most expected junior Isaac Bennett to be the team’s primary runner, but Conner’s bruising style impressed coaches. Conner is averaging 5.7 yards per carry to go with his four touchdowns. He will be quite the challenge for the Virginia Tech’s front four.


    Quarterback Tom Savage

    Savage, a first-year starter, has impressive numbers entering this weekend’s game. He has thrown for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns through four games. It is important to note, though, 424 yards and six touchdowns came in one game vs. Duke. Savage must get rid of the ball quickly on Saturday in order to avoid sacks and turnovers. Bud Foster will challenge him early and often.


    Wide Receiver Devin Street

    Pitt’s senior wide receiver is one of the more underrated at his position in the conference. He doesn’t get a lot of notoriety, but he is a complete receiver. He has 21 catches for 445 yards and three touchdowns this season. Street is averaging a whopping 21 yards per catch.

    Tech knows him all too well as he finished with 73 yards and one touchdown last season when the two teams met. The Hokies must also be cautious of Street’s counterpart, freshman Tyler Boyd, as he leads the team in receptions. 

Players to Watch: Virginia Tech

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    Demitri Knowles
    Demitri KnowlesBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Wide Receiver Demitri Knowles

    With each passing week, it appears that quarterback Logan Thomas becomes more comfortable with Knowles. The talented sophomore got off to a rough start in 2013 but has progressively gotten better each week.

    He is a big-play guy that is showing more versatility in his routes. The ability to run more shorter and intermediate routes, in addition to the downfield routes he runs well, has paved the way for Knowles to lead the team in catches this season.


    Running Back J.C. Coleman

    The Hokies' running game is just not getting it done. It is unfair to blame starter Trey Edmunds because the run-blocking has been atrocious thus far. Coleman, who missed several games, returned last week and carried eight times for 26 yards. 

    Now that he is another week removed from the injury, the explosive Coleman could ignite Tech's rushing attack if given more opportunities. 


    Defensive End James Gayle

    Gayle is arguably VT's most talented defensive lineman. The senior defensive end is having an outstanding senior season, although it isn't necessarily showing up in the stat column. Gayle has just two sacks on the season, but he consistently pressures the opposing quarterback each week.

    Through six games, Gayle has 17 quarterback hits to lead the team. This could be his breakout game as Pitt has been sacked 13 times in four games.

What They Are Saying

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    Paul Chryst
    Paul ChrystHoward Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    In his weekly meeting with the media, Panthers' coach Paul Chryst was asked to compare this year's Virginia Tech squad to the team Pitt defeated in 2012:

    There are a lot of the same guys, but I think they’re a little bit different. I think they’re doing things a little different this year. You can use last year as a reference point, but you certainly have to concentrate this year. There are a lot of similarities personnel-wise. They’re playing fast in the back end and aggressive up front. They’re physical when they run the ball, and they can create havoc, turnovers and sacks. I think they’re playing really confident, and they should be.

    Virginia Tech senior linebacker Tariq Edwards on this weekend's game and if it is a revenge game for the Hokies, according to the The Daily Press: "Sometimes, in football, you don't want to use the revenge word, but revenge is a must as far as I put it right now."



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    Logan Thomas
    Logan ThomasBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Both teams enter this game on a bit of a roll. The Panthers have won three in a row, while the Hokies are on a five-game winning streak.

    The Panthers are a tough team to get a pulse on. One week, they defeated Duke 58-55 and played no defense. Then, a week later, Pitt holds Virginia to three points in a sloppy victory.

    The Hokies, meanwhile, are dominant on defense. They are finding different ways to win, and quarterback Logan Thomas is coming off of his two best games in a row since 2011.

    Is this the week VT gets the running game going?

    Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Pitt 13