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Virginia Tech Football: Previewing the Pittsburgh Defense

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A look at a Pittsburgh defensive unit that features a sixth ranked pass defense.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Coordinator: Matt House

Defensive Scheme: 4-3

Scoring Defense: T-17th (19 PPG)

Rushing Defense: 37th (126.5 YPG)

Passing Defense: 6th (152.2 YPG)

Front Seven:

The Pittsburgh front seven began 2014 with a stout run defense, but struggled to contain Akron and Virginia on the ground in the last two contests. The Panthers run defense now sits 37th in the country, surrendering 126.5 rushing yards per game. The front seven is lead by a pair of senior linebackers -- Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas. Gonzalez and Thomas have registered 36 and 31 total tackles respectively.

Three players on the Panthers front four share the team lead in sacks, with two. Senior lineman David Durham's two sacks have nettled the defensive unit 21 yards. Sharing the sack lead with Durham are junior Darryl Render and freshman Rod Blair.

The Virginia Tech rushing attack has averaged 173.3 rushing yards this season, good for 60th in the nation. Freshman Shai McKenzie went down for the season after five games, finishing with 269 yards on 53 carries. Fellow freshman Marshawn Williams leads the Hokies with 333 rushing yards on 84 carries, and three touchdowns.

Defensive Backs:

Virginia Tech quarterback, junior Michael Brewer has thrown for 234.8 yards per game this season, but will face a Pittsburgh pass defense that is allowing only 152.2 yards through the air. The stingy pass defense ranks sixth nationally, up from 44th a season ago.

Senior free safety Ray Vinopal and sophomore strong safety Terrish Webb each have a pair of interceptions this season, leading the Pittsburgh defense in that category. The 5'10", 200 pound Vinopal uses his toughness, and heart to make up for his lack of size, often outworking bigger receivers to the ball.

For the Hokies, Isaiah Ford has delivered as promised since securing a starting spot on the receiving corps this summer. As a freshman Ford has used his 28 receptions for 366 yards and four touchdowns thus far. Pittsburgh will also have to contain receiver Willie Byrn, who leads the Hokies with 29 receptions, and a pair of tight end targets -- Bucky Hodges and Ryan Malleck.

Special Teams:

Pittsburgh's return teams rank in the lower half of the country this season. The Panthers are 78th in punt returns (20.8 yards per game), and are lead by receiver Tyler Boyd in that category (10 punt returns, 118 yards). Ronald Jones tops a kickoff return unit that ranks 99th in the country (41.3 yards per game), with 132 yards on six returns.

Sophomore Chris Blewitt has taken every kick for the Panthers in 2014. He has converted all nine of his field goal attempts, with a long of 49 yards. He has been nearly flawless on extra points, converting 20 of 21 attempts.

Outlook:

Pittsburgh's defense is solid, if not a spectacular, or flashy unit. Individual stats won't command attention, but their national ranking shows that the Panthers defense is equal to the sum of its parts. Their run defense has struggled in recent weeks, but may get well against a Hokies backfield that lacks a clear cut, dominant runner. To be successful on offense Thursday, Michael Brewer will need to find a way to guide his receivers past the top 10 Pitt pass defense.