The Virginia Tech Hokies (3-2, 1-0) renew their annual rivalry on Saturday with the red-hot Pitt Panthers (4-1, 1-0). This year’s game has major implications for the ACC’s Coastal Division, as both Pitt and Virginia Tech sit atop the division as the only two undefeated teams in the ACC. The winner of Saturday’s game will be in the driver’s seat to represent the Coastal in the ACC championship game.
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s game:
How to watch
When: Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
Radio: 105.3 FM in the New River Valley, The Virginia Tech Sports Network, where you can find a list of affiliates here.
Weather: 58 degrees, partly cloudy, per the Weather Channel
Odds: Pitt is 5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark.
Overall, this has been a competitive series between these two schools since they first met back in 1993 as Big East rivals. Virginia Tech leads the all-time series, 11-9, and the Panthers have owned the Hokies in the Steel City. Fortunately for VT, this game is in Blacksburg.
The last three meetings have been blowouts. The Panthers defeated the Hokies, 52-22, in 2018 in one of the more embarrassing games in the tenure of legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Pitt rushed for almost 500 yards.
The Hokies returned the favor in 2019, in Foster’s last season, shutting out Pittsburgh, 28-0. Then, last season, Pitt once again humiliated the Hokies in Pittsburgh, 47-14. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett passed for 404 yards in the win.
When Pitt has the ball
Pickett seems like he has been around since Dan Marino left Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. No, it’s not quite been that long, but Pickett took advantage of college athletes receiving the extra year of eligibility and is by far having the best season of his career. While I don’t believe Pickett is a first-round pick, he has certainly made himself a lot of money by returning to school.
Pickett has completed 72% of his passes for 1,731 yards, is averaging over 10 yards per attempt with 19 touchdowns and just one interception. Some around college football are even touting Pickett as a potential Heisman winner. For Pickett to be considered a serious Heisman candidate the Panthers cannot lose another game and Pickett will have to be close to perfect. He will present a tough challenge for Tech’s secondary. While cornerback Jermaine Waller is arguably the best in the ACC, VT’s safeties could struggle against a top passing unit.
The Panthers have three running backs who could play in Israel Abanikanda, Vincent Davis and Rodney Hammond.
Pitt has two outstanding receivers in Jordan Addison and Taysir Mack. Both can beat you deep and are complete overall receivers. The Hokies have their hands full with this group. The Panthers have a deep group of pass-catchers.
If the Hokies are going to win this game, they need more from the pass-rush. Pickett is a good athlete, but he isn’t your typical dual threat. Tech needs to win up front, which won’t be east.
When Virginia Tech has the ball
The Hokies are coming off a difficult loss to Notre Dame. Tech controlled a good portion of the game and the defense played well until the last four minutes, when it allowed 11 points and lost the game in heartbreaking fashion.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister had one of the grittiest performances from a quarterback you’ll see last week. Burmeister was beat around and eventually had to leave the game with a shoulder injury. His backup, Connor Blumrick, was also injured, so Burmeister returned. When he returned he made a huge third-down pass to Tre Turner, and, in the process, he took another big hit. A few plays later, Burmeister scored from 19 yards out.
Burmeister will play on Saturday. We could also see Knox Kadum.
The Hokies have yet to see a consistent performance from their running game. There are many reasons. One, there is no Khalil Herbert on this roster. Two, the offensive line took a step back this season. And, finally, there are too many players in the rotation. Raheem Blackshear would be so much more valuable if he were used frequently in the passing game. When he gets a chance, he makes a play. He’s not an every-down hammer.
Jalen Holston is a tough, sturdy back who gives you what is blocked. He runs hard. Keshawn King just feels like he is never going to put everything together, whether that’s all his fault or not. The offensive coaching staff struggles to develop these players. I would love to see Marco Lee get some carries.
At wide receiver, Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson are studs. The Hokies have depth here, too, in Kaleb Smith, Da’Wain Lofton and Jayden Payoute. It’s a shame the team doesn’t have a more sound offensive scheme and a better passer, because no one really sees how good Turner and Robinson are.
Drake Deluliis and Nick Gallo should be more involved when you have a limited passer. It’s almost a crime the talent the Hokies have had at tight end but the staff doesn’t seem to know how to best utilize these players. On Saturday, with Burmeister hurting, it would be a good time to scheme heavily around the tight ends and Blackshear. It won’t happen.
How will Virginia Tech hold up against Pitt’s pass rush? That’s another area to watch. While this isn’t Pittsburgh’s typical defense, it is still a good group and they can rush the passer.
While I will save my prediction for our staff predictions coming out on Saturday, I do not feel great about this game. Maybe it’s the history between these schools. Maybe it’s how Pitt’s strengths perfectly align with some of Virginia Tech’s weaknesses. There is also the quarterback issue.
I do believe Pitt wins this game.