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The Hokies vs the Panthers at Lane: A Team We Just Don't Seem to Defeat Often

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This Saturday, the Pittsburgh Panthers come to a probably soggy rainy Lane Stadium to face the Hokies. Pitt has been a past rival from the old Big East, and as a new member of the ACC Coastal Division, they are looking to pick up where they left off. Vexing us, matching us, and generally being a seriously tough opponent.

The Tech Pitt game in 2014, both teams need the win in 2015
The Tech Pitt game in 2014, both teams need the win in 2015
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday the Hokies will run on to the field just before noon, with a .500 record, an embarrassing loss in bad weather, and facing a team that has done more than perplex them over the years.  As Jay mentioned in his article about the history of the series (interrupted by a few years due to the conference shift) Tech's record against various Pitt teams is 8 and 6.  They've only beaten us once in our house, but we also can't seem to pull in a win in "The Big Ketchup".  The odds makers all are giving Tech about half a score.  I am not so sure that spread will hold.  It's just really difficult to tell.

That's what this game is all about Saturday.  It's a noon college game between two teams where neither has a huge advantage, and both have sprung surprises on the other.

Let's take a look at the Pitt offensive numbers, such as they are.  Pitt has played only three games so far this season.  They are currently 2 and 1 with their victories being defeats of teams from non-upper tier schools.  They defeated FCS Youngstown State by a surprisingly tight score of 45 to 37.   Their next opponent was mid major Akron Zips, and Pitt easily beat the 12 point spread.  Their first big test came against the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the Panthers came up just short on a game that was won in the last seconds by an Iowa 57 yard field goal to break the tie.  One of Pitt's touchdowns was on a blocked punt of all things.

So here's the grid set on the offensive statistics to date:*

Passing Statistics

NAME

COMPLETE

ATTEMPTS

YARDS

PERCENTAGE

YDS/A

TD

INT

RATING

Nathan Peterman

34

51

428

66.7

8.39

3

3

144.8

Chad Voytik

16

23

112

69.6

4.87

1

1

116.1

Totals

50

74

540

67.6

7.30

4

4

135.9

Rushing Statistics

NAME

CARRIES

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Qadree Ollison

41

305

7.4

71 (TD)

2

Darrin Hall

29

90

3.1

9

1

James Conner

8

77

9.6

40

2

Chris James

9

32

3.6

14

0

Nathan Peterman

13

6

0.5

17

0

Quadree Henderson

1

3

3.0

3

0

Tyler Boyd

3

1

0.3

5

0

Totals

117

508

4.3

71

6

Receiving Statistics

NAME

RECEPTIONS

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Tyler Boyd

21

226

10.8

36

1

J.P. Holtz

6

79

13.2

25

1

Dontez Ford

3

75

25.0

42

0

Scott Orndoff

2

70

35.0

55 (TD)

2

Darrin Hall

5

30

6.0

14

0

Zach Challingsworth

1

11

11.0

11

0

Elijah Zeise

2

11

5.5

6

0

Qadree Ollison

3

10

3.3

4

0

Chris James

2

10

5.0

19

0

George Aston

2

10

5.0

7

0

James Conner

1

7

7.0

7

0

Quadree Henderson

2

1

0.5

1

0

Totals

50

540

10.8

55

4

The first observation is that Pitt has replaced its original starting QB, Chad Voytik, with Nathan Peterman.  Coach Pat Narduzzi looks like he's settled on Peterman as his starter.  There are some definite fumes of him not settling on a "feature back"; however.  Qadree Ollison is their leading rusher. The next backs on the depth chart are not pushing impressive numbers.  James Connor's standout average and long stats are all based on a very tiny 8 carries, and no other back is rushing on schedule except Ollison.  I am not completely sure why there is controversy, but the weak Pitt rushing attack is likely to play a key role in Saturday's contest.

There is a small benefit for now, Peterman has only rushed a few times, and gotten sacked for most of those attempts.  He's got a half a yard average with a long of 17.  Here's hoping that Pitt gives us a breather from rushing QBs.  Peterman also has thrown three interceptions, and is heavily dependent on good protection and time to make his reads.

The big challenge is going to be executing the passing game consistently and then leveraging in some runs.  Pittsburgh almost beat Iowa in the air even with the turnovers.  Iowa is not at the same level as Pitt, so the loss was an upset.  The receiver stats show a heavy reliance on Tyler Boyd, and a very flat line targeting chart for a total of 11 other receivers.

Pittsburgh is a struggling team, fighting to find a starting set up, a personality, and a consistent offense.  Their defensive numbers are not horrible from their perspective but the offenses their defense faced are not as good as Tech's.  Who'd have thought that the 4th game after losing our starting QB that there isn't as much worry about Tech's offense as its defense?

The Virginia Tech Hokies

We come into this game wounded.  We have our starting QB on the sideline taking light practice and still at least one or two games from playing again.  And now we have lost our star defensive back to a serious knee injury that will require surgery.  By that I mean Coaches Foster and Gray are going to have to do some serious surgery on the Tech secondary.  Again, I don't really think that it matters who is starting or who is at the top of the depth chart.  Everything behind the Defensive line is in flux.  There have been good performances, and some really disappointing efforts.  Stroman is still showing that he's a freshman level player just really starting to learn his job.  Facyson has sometimes participated in important plays; and been unnoticed on others.  This will be an opportunity for the defense to sort out some of its problems without being excessively threatened on the ground.  With its serious struggles defending the 10 to 20 yard pass between the hashes, and getting gashed by a running QB, it's good to have only the passing game to worry about.   But Tech needs to still be wary.  Pitt's running numbers say that they might be struggling at the ground game, but their feature back can run, and if we get too loose, we might get gashed again.

What is surprising, and pleasantly so, has been the manful consistent quarterback play of Brenden Motley.  If he gets plays that he can execute, Motley seems to find a way to keep us in a game.  Whether he uses his feet, or gets a few seams or outlets to Ford, Hodges, or Malleck.  Motley's numbers are respectable, and his effort should get him a lunch pail from the defense.

Passing Statistics (Only active QBs listed)*

NAME

COMPLETE

ATTEMPTS

YARDS

PERCENTAGE

YDS/A

TD

INT

RATING

Brenden Motley

55

92

770

59.8

8.37

6

2

147.3

Dwayne Lawson

3

8

51

37.5

6.38

0

0

91.1

Totals

70

117

990

59.8

8.46

8

2

150.1

Rushing Statistics

NAME

CARRIES

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Travon McMillian

26

209

8.0

63

0

Brenden Motley

45

164

3.6

20

3

Trey Edmunds

34

144

4.2

35

2

J.C. Coleman

32

117

3.7

10

1

Dwayne Lawson

14

55

3.9

10

1

Shai McKenzie

13

50

3.8

11

0

Sam Rogers

8

46

5.8

16

1

Chris Durkin

4

25

6.3

9

0

Isaiah Ford

2

17

8.5

10

0

Michael Brewer

4

0

0.0

6

0

Totals

183

823

4.5

63

8

Receiving Statistics

NAME

RECEPTIONS

YARDS

AVERAGE

LONG

TD

Isaiah Ford

22

361

16.4

61

3

Cam Phillips

13

194

14.9

60

0

Bucky Hodges

10

132

13.2

46

2

Ryan Malleck

9

120

13.3

40

2

Sam Rogers

6

87

14.5

51 (TD)

1

Kalvin Cline

1

31

31.0

31

0

Travon McMillian

5

24

4.8

9

0

Brenden Motley

1

13

13.0

13

0

Kevin Asante

1

13

13.0

13

0

Trey Edmunds

1

8

8.0

8

0

Demitri Knowles

1

7

7.0

7

0

Totals

70

990

14.1

61

8

As you can see Motley has some reasonably respectable numbers.  He's thrown a couple of picks, and fumbled in prior games when hit from behind.  However, he's still in there doing his best, and the Offense has proven that it CAN score points.  Travon McMillon should still be getting the bulk of the carries. He's by far the most successful running back, even factoring out his long break away runs.

The Final Skinny Before the Ramp up to Game Day:

(Note, the weather forecast for Blacksburg this Saturday is currently listed as dismal, with a probability of awful in the 60% range. It will be a challenge for both teams, but with Pitt having trouble on the ground and Motley able to run well without risking too much, Tech gets a slight edge on the weather.)

That being said...

Pitt wins if it can carve up the patched together secondary like East Carolina did last weekend.  Pitt will have to do something to force Tech to put more players in the box, it needs to get some semblance of a running game going, and it's going to have to stuff three tough running backs, and a running quarterback.  It has a not too awful defense, but it still gave up 27 to Iowa.  The Panther defense is going to be challenged.  IF it can stuff the run and force Motley to pass (for which is repertoire is still shy of optimum) they have a chance at getting us to make mistakes.

Hokies win if they keep the ball under control, run it as often as possible, stay out of 3rd and long situation where Motley is still a tad jumpy, and the defense must solve its problems with passes thrown underneath the zone.  This team must control the 2nd level.  If it does, and can stop any surprise breakaway runs.  The pass defense has a chance at winning one-on-one matchups to free up some of those famous Foster blitz packages.   Oh, and once again, the Hokies are killing themselves with penalties.  Yes, last week the refs were awful, but if you don't make the chronic bone-headed mistakes, the occasional big one won't hurt as much.

This game is a tossup in many respects.  Both teams have huge prestige on the line, and both have serious challenges with their rosters.  It's a "No Expectations" game. It's our first ACC Costal game.  We need the win badly, and so does Pitt.

We CAN win.  I'll leave the follow up question to you.

GO HOKIES!!!

*Statistics from ESPN:

http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/_/id/221/pittsburgh-panthers

http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/stats/_/id/259