The Virginia Tech Hokies (5-2, 3-1) are back on Thursday night this week as they travel to Pittsburgh to renew acquaintances with an old foe; the Pitt Panthers (5-2, 2-1) -corrected ed. The Steel City hasn’t been kind to the Hokies in recent years as Tech hasn’t won there since 1999. Heinz Field is a house of horrors for Virginia Tech as the Hokies are 0-4 in that venue.
The Panthers have won the last two meetings and six of the past seven dating back to 2001 when the schools were Big East rivals. Pitt won last season’s meeting, 17-13, in one of the most embarrassing games in recent VT history. Tech finished with just 100 total yards and only nine on the ground.
Two years ago, these two schools met on a Thursday, too. Pitt won that one, 21-16, when the Panthers rushed for over 200 yards. Then-quarterback Chad Voytik rushed for 118 yards; one of many games Tech has lost when opposing quarterbacks have went for over 100 yards on the ground.
A lot has changed since last season’s debacle in Blacksburg.
Pitt’s defense isn’t as good as last season’s unit. While the Panthers’ offense is better, they’re allowing opponents to score over 31 points per game. Head coach Pat Narduzzi, one of the better defensive minds in the nation, must struggle with that number.
VT’s offense, with new head coach Justin Fuente, is also much better. Quarterback Jerod Evans takes care of the football and will present Narduzzi with a major challenge on Thursday night.
Much like last season, Pittsburgh is still stingy against the run. The Panthers are No. 5 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 96 yards per game. Opponents are managing a meager three yards per attempt.
#Hokies' rushing totals in last 4 meetings with Pitt: 9, 26, 76 and 59. Averaged just 42.5 yards per game since rivalry rekindled in '12.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) October 24, 2016
The Hokies, of course, are also strong against the run, allowing opponents just 103 yards per contest. Tech’s opponents are averaging 2.9 yards per attempt. These are the two best run defenses in the ACC.
In total defense, the Hokies are much better, ranking No. 11 in the country. Tech is solid against both the run and the pass. While Pitt is stout versus the run, the same can’t be said for its pass defense. No team in the ACC has given up more yards through the air than Pittsburgh. Opponents have passed for almost 2,100 yards against the Panthers’ pass defense. In pass efficiency defense, Pitt ranks No. 106 in the nation.
Evans, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges and Cam Phillips could all be in store for big numbers on Thursday night.
Pitt’s best pass defense is a strong pass rush. The Panthers have sacked opposing quarterbacks 25 times this season and are tied for fourth in the country in sacks per game. Senior defensive end Ejuan Price leads the Panthers with seven sacks and will give VT’s offensive line all it can handle. The 6’0”, 255-pound Price and Virginia Tech left tackle Yosuah Nijman (6’7”, 300) should be a fun matchup to watch. Nijman’s size advantage won’t matter if he doesn’t play with outstanding technique.
We can throw all the numbers out the door as this is a new era in Virginia Tech football. It’s also Narduzzi’s second season in charge of Pittsburgh. What happened in the past is irrelevant. What’s important is the Hokies show up to play in the Steel City on Thursday night or they’ll be left feeling like they did after the disappointing loss to Syracuse two weeks ago and fans—once again—will be wondering how good this team really is.