The Hokies will take to the road Saturday to battle former (and future) conference foe, the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Panthers, while losing in the overall series 7-4, have taken the last three games from the Hokies, two of which in Pittsburgh. The series produced many memorable moments in the Big East, including the 2003 game, where the No. 25 Panthers knocked off the No. 5 Hokies 31-28 on a last minute touchdown despite Kevin Jones putting up 241 yards and all four of the Hokies touchdowns. Talk about a WOW performance in a loss, one that is often forgotten.
The Panthers have had a difficult time finding their footing early this season, and ever since Dave Wannstedt left the program in 2010 (you could even argue since Wannstedt took over). They have a two touchdown loss to an FCS program at home, and a 24-point loss to conference rival Cincinnati on the road in a game in which Cincinnati themselves just looked so-so. But, I do believe the Panthers are better than advertised (could they be worse?) and will be competitive against the Hokies, if for nothing else than old times sake.
For complete analysis of some of the most important factors, players and statistics in the matchup, continue reading after the jump.
Virginia Tech Offense vs. Pittsburgh Defense
Pittsburgh runs a standard 4-3 formation on defense.
The Hokies are No. 74 in the nation in rushing (statistics totaled from the end of Week 2 UPDATE: Now they're tied at No. 76) with 141.5 yards per game. By comparison, the 2011 Hokies finished No. 28 nationally with 186.9 yards per game. Some drop-off was to be expected with the loss of David Wilson and pretty much the entire starting offensive line from a year ago, but more than the statistics say, the Hokies are struggling to run the football.
Pitt has given up an astoundingly high 463 yards so far at 6 yards per carry. If ever there was a game that Tech needed to line up and pound the ball to get their running game going, this is it. If not, the Hokies may be in trouble.
Logan Thomas has been uncharacteristically high with many of his passes so far. Some have pointed out that it may be a footwork issue, but I highly doubt that has caused as many errant passes as he has thrown. I think a great deal of it may be due to him putting extra mustard on the ball trying to thread it in to his receivers who have not shown the ability to get open like last year's core. Subsequently, they end up high and hard.
Thomas has not thrown an interception yet, and Pitt has not recorded an interception yet as a team. That bodes well for the Hokies, who have been able to escape the Georgia Tech game and win the Austin Peay game comfortably, in part due to Thomas' ability to take care of the ball, even with his erratic throws so far.
Virginia Tech Defense vs. Pittsburgh Offense
The Panthers run a pro style Power-I formation under Chryst. A year ago under Graham, the Panthers ran a spread offense...two pretty different concepts.
Despite there being concerns about senior signal caller Tino Sunseri, Sunseri has been adequate and looked good on paper at least. His statistics? Sunseri has thrown for 259 yards per game, completing 64 percent of his passes, and has 2 touchdowns to 1 interception. He has also put up these stats while being pressured often, and being sacked 6 times already.
The Pitt offensive line struggled a year ago, giving up a whopping 64 sacks. However, they have not looked very much improved in the early going. That is a definite concern area for Pitt and a potential gold mine for Virginia Tech defenders.
Ray Graham showed what he is capable of a week ago against Cincinnati on a long run that he almost broke for pay-dirt. Graham suffered an ACL injury a year ago, and has yet to get back to form. But if a guy who is still suffering lingering effects of a pretty significant injury like that can do those things, the Hokies need to watch out. Wrap up.
Pitt doesn't have many big receiving threats. They tend to spread it around. 10 players have already caught a pass this year, and none have caught more than the 11 Mike Shanahan has pulled down for 113 yards.
The Tech defense played a pretty good game against Austin Peay in the box score, especially considering that they went with a lot of guys in the second unit for most of the game due to injury. They have allowed 254.5 yards and 12 points per game so far to their opponents, including a measly 79 yards per game through the air. Pitt is the first offense that has a legitimate passing quarterback, so those numbers should jump in this one.