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Virginia Tech football: A closer look at Pitt

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The Hokies haven’t fared too well at Heinz Field over the years.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech
The Hokies celebrate a goal-line stand last November to secure a win over Pitt.
Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Much like last week’s opponent, the Boston College Eagles, the Pittsburgh Panthers first became rivals of Virginia Tech back in 1993 when they were all members of the Big East. The Hokies won the first four meetings—and seven of the first eight—as conference foes. Tech lost the final three meetings before departing for the ACC after the 2003 season.

The schools didn’t meet again until 2012, when the Panthers followed the Hokies to the ACC. The two schools have met every year since, with each school winning three times. So, overall, Virginia Tech is 10-7 all-time against Pitt. Trips to the Steel City have been less kind to the Hokies as Tech has lost four of its previous five meetings at Pittsburgh. The Hokies won at Pitt two years ago in the game we remember most as Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi acting like a complete idiot throughout the night. It’s also the game where then-Hokie quarterback Jerod Evans threw jump ball after jump ball to receivers Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford.

That was a career night for many players on the Hokie offense and that win went a long way in Virginia Tech winning the Coastal Division that season. However, before that game the Hokies saved some of their worst performances during trips to Heinz Field.

So, what do the 2018 Pitt Panthers look like?

Well, at 5-4 (4-1 in the ACC) on the season the Panthers look like your average ACC team. And that would be correct, but their 4-1 mark in league play puts them squarely out in front as Coastal favorites and the right to get obliterated by Clemson on the first Saturday in December. Pitt had an impressive road win at Virginia last week. However, as crazy as it sounds, the Hokies still control their own destiny and can win the Coastal by winning their final three games. Yes, it sounds completely ludicrous but that’s life in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

The Panthers score a lot of points and have some solid victories over Syracuse, Georgia Tech and the aforementioned ‘Hoos. However, they are 1-3 against ranked foes with blowout losses to Penn State and UCF. Pitt did put up a good fight against undefeated Notre Dame.

Sophomore Kenny Pickett is Pitt’s starting quarterback. Pickett is hit or miss and was terrible in last week’s win over Virginia. However, the Panthers didn’t really need him as their running game was terrific. On the season, Pickett has completed just under 60 percent of his passes for 1,217 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s been sacked 19 times and is just 15 of 32 for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the last two weeks.

Pittsburgh has two standout running backs in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. It was Hall who carried the Panthers in the win over Virginia, rushing for 229 yards and three touchdowns. It was also Hall who the Hokies stopped last year to preserve a win in Blacksburg. Both Ollison and Hall are big backs, with each weighing 225 pounds. Ollison leads the Panthers in rushing with 819 yards and Hall is right behind him with 658 yards. The two have combined for 14 touchdowns on the ground and carry this offense.

For the Hokies to win this game, it starts and ends with slowing down Pitt’s running game. They did a decent job on A.J. Dillon last week until they decided to let his backup run wild. Virginia Tech’s offense should be able to move the ball against a suspect Pitt defense.

This is a huge game for the Hokies as they’re surprisingly still in the the thick of things in an ugly Coastal Division.