The Virginia Tech Hokies (4-4) are back in action on Saturday as they travel north to face the Pittsburgh Panthers (4-4) in the Steel City.
Saturday’s meeting is a battle of two teams on the brink. Both teams began the season with high hopes and big expectations, yet have struggled in recent weeks. Each team has had elite players choosing to opt out as Caleb Farley opted out before the season for the Hokies, while Pitt safety Paris Ford opted out more recently.
Both players are expected to be high picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Hokies, losers of two in a row, head to a place they’ve traditionally struggled. Virginia Tech has lost five of the last six times its traveled to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers.
Pitt finally got back in the win column last week with a 41-17 win over the Florida State Seminoles. The Panthers had lost their previous four games.
When: Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Odds: Virginia Tech is currently three-point favorites, according to BetMGM
The Hokies lead the all-time series 11-8. The first meeting between these two rivals occurred in 1993 when the Hokies went to Pittsburgh and handled the Panthers 63-21.
Since that time, winning in the Steel City rarely happens for Virginia Tech.
Overall, the Hokies are 4-6 at Pittsburgh and have lose five of their previous six trips to Heinz Field. Virginia Tech’s last win was in 2016 — Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente’s first year — when the Hokies had Jerod Evans at quarterback.
The last time the Hokies went to Pittsburgh was in 2018. Anyone remember that misery? The Hokies lost 52-22 and looked like a high school squad trying to stop Pitt’s rushing offense. It was one of the worst days ever for legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster as the Hokies allowed 492 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and almost 14 yards per attempt.
Tech got some revenge in 2019, however, shutting out the Panthers 28-0 in Blacksburg.
When Virginia Tech has the ball
This is the quintessential strength vs. strength matchup. Virginia Tech’s offensive line against Pittsburgh’s defensive line. This is where the game will be won or lost.
The Hokies have the No. 8 rushing offense in the country, averaging 263 yards per game. Running back Khalil Herbert has been one of the best running backs in the country this season, but injured his hamstring two weeks ago against Liberty. He was still limited in last week’s loss to Miami. The Hokies hope to have Herbert back close to full speed.
Raheem Blackshear will also see plenty of time in the backfield. Blackshear should be used more as a weapon in the passing game. Jalen Holston finally received an opportunity this season and had himself a career game last week. Holston will be more involved moving forward.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker has been outstanding for much of the season. He had one bad game at Wake Forest, but has been steady since that time. However, in last week’s loss to Miami, Hooker struggled in Virginia Tech’s final five possessions. Before that time, Hooker was terrific.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi will force Hooker to beat his outstanding front with his right arm. In last season’s win, Hooker completed 10 of 13 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns. He did just enough as Tech’s defense played one of its better games in years.
Pitt’s defensive ends, Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver, are future NFL players. Virginia Tech’s offensive tackles, Christian Darrisaw and Luke Tenuta, are as well. These will be fun matchups to watch.
The Hokies need tight end James Mitchell back this week. He changes things for Virginia Tech’s passing game as Hooker relies heavily on the junior tight end.
When Pitt has the ball
This year’s Pitt offense isn’t very good. The Panthers rank No. 92 in total offense. Meanwhile, we know the Hokies have struggled on defense in defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton’s first year in the role.
Pitt does have a capable veteran quarterback in Kenny Pickett. It feels like Pickett has been in college for a decade. He doesn’t wow you, but Pickett can make all the necessary throws and is a sneaky athlete. If he is given time in the pocket, Pickett can beat you downfield.
Virginia Tech’s pass rush was good last week. The Hokies got to D’Eriq King several times which helped cover up some issues in coverage. As a team, Pitt has been sacked 16 times, so the opportunities will be there for the Hokies.
Pitt’s top rusher is sophomore running back Vincent Davis. He leads the Panthers with 313 yards and just 3.0 yards per attempt. The Hokies cannot afford to allow Pitt to get its running game going. A big reason for Pitt’s struggles on offense this season is a lack of a running game. That’s something that doesn’t make Narduzzi very happy as he prefers to play strong defense and pound the ball on offense.
Virginia Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield and defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt had career games last week. It was encouraging seeing Hollifield so active and the hope from the Hokies is he builds off that performance.
Pitt’s top receiver is freshman Jordan Addison. Addison has 52 receptions for 611 yards and three touchdowns.
This is another game that could go either way. You can probably ignore Tech’s issues at Heinz Field this time around. Pitt isn’t going to run for 500 yards on the Hokies, and the Hokies aren’t going to shut the Panthers out.
I would expect Pitt to hold Virginia Tech’s offense in check. The Hokies will find some room on the ground to move the ball, just enough to open things up for Hooker to challenge Pitt’s secondary.
Defensively, the Hokies allow a big play or two, but build off last week’s success. This one comes down to the wire, but Hooker is the difference in this one as he makes enough plays to win the game.
Virginia Tech 23 Pitt 17